By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com January 25, 2013 at 1:06PM
There's still a couple days left of this year's Sundance Film Festival, but for all intents and purposes it's winding down. Most of the press have departed, pretty much every major movie has screened at least once, and many of them have been bought, or will be over the next few days.
One of the great things about the festival and its place in the calendar is the way that it introduces a host of new names (and gives a leg-up to some established ones) at the start of the new year; actors, writers and directors who, having impressed in Park City, will go on to big things throughout the rest of 2013.
And while no one film united the critics in the way that "Beasts of the Southern Wild" did last year (for example), the wealth has been spread around in 2013, with a wide range of films and talent winning approval from critics and festivalgoers. So, while we've still got some Sundance reviews to come, we thought we'd start our wrap-up coverage of the festival by picking out a selection artists who got noticed and stood out at Sundance 2013. Check out our picks below and let us know who you think will be the next big deal.
When 22-year-old Oscar Grant was killed by a policeman on New Year's Day 2009, Ryan Coogler, then a 22-year-old USC film student, was only a few miles away in Oakland. Four years later, he's at Sundance with his feature film debut "Fruitvale," which tells the story of Grant's last day, and the film was one of the most celebrated of the festival, winning strong reviews and getting picked up by The Weinstein Company, who may well have awards season plans. Coogler's film school work won him a meeting with Forest Whitaker and his Significant Productions shingle, and when he pitched the idea of a film based on Grant's murder, Whitaker agreed to produce it on the spot. Once Coogler graduated in 2011, he set to work, and thanks to development help from the Sundance Labs, shot the film last summer. The 26-year-old filmmaker had only ever had one actor in mind for the part, Michael B. Jordan of "The Wire" and "Friday Night Lights," and the actor is likely to get just as much of a boost as his director. He was already hot property thanks to a strong supporting role in last year's sleeper hit "Chronicle" and his small-screen work, but "Fruitvale" seems to establish him as a leading man, and could well lead to year-end recognition if the film takes off.
When we caught the short film "Successful Alcoholics," starring Lizzy Caplan and T.J. Miller, which premiered at Sundance three years back, it was clear that the filmmaker behind it was poised for great things, and we resolved to keep an eye on him. And Jordan Vogt-Roberts more than justified all that this year when his debut feature, "Toy's House," premiered and became one of the best-liked films of the festival. The Detroit-born filmmaker first came to attention after setting up the website Blerds.com, which showcased comedians including T.J. Miller and Kumail Nanjiani. This led to him being snapped up for commercial work, and to "Successful Alcoholics," a raw, yet hilarious look at a high-functioning young couple of heavy drinkers. It landed Vogt-Roberts work directing banners for Sundance the year after, and he also went on to helm a number of episodes of the Will Ferrell/Adam McKay-produced HBO series "Funny Or Die Presents... " But 2012 was even better. He created and directed the excellent, inventive Comedy Central stand-up series "Mash Up," which we only just caught up on, and also went into production on "Toy's House." Based on a Black List-approved script by Chris Galletta, the story of three teenage boys who run away to live in a house in the woods mixes breakout new talent like Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso and Moises Arias with beloved comic stars like Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally and Alison Brie. And since it premiered in Park City last weekend, we've scarcely heard a bad word about it, least of all from our review, which called Vogt-Roberts "a fresh new comic voice." The movie's been snapped up by CBS Films, and probably has as good a chance of becoming a crossover hit as anything that screened at the festival this year. And we're sure we'll see much more of Vogt-Roberts as a result.
Two years ago, Felicity Jones was the big festival breakout at Sundance, thanks to the British actress' starring role in Drake Doremus' "Like Crazy." This year, Doremus was back with the excellent "Breathe In" (which also stars Jones), and the filmmaker clearly still has an eye for talent, as Mackenzie Davis, who co-stars in the film, was one of the most talked about actresses in Park City. The Canadian thesp had only one tiny role in last year's Sundance entry "Smashed" -- and that hadn't even premiered yet -- when Doremus cast her as the daughter of Guy Pearce and Amy Ryan's characters in his fourth feature. And just as Jones leapt off the screen two years ago, Davis' role as the girl who befriends the new exchange student living with her parents, even as she remains deeply suspicious of her, saw her shine by all accounts. Long before the film premiered Davis already started to get buzz. She was snapped up by UTA after they saw rushes from "Breathe In," and she's gone on to win roles opposite Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan in "The F Word," Zac Efron, Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan in "Are We Officially Dating?" and, only this week, signing on to her studio debut with Sony's genre flick "The Kitchen Sink," about a vampire, a werewolf and a zombie who team up to fight off aliens. Expect it to be the first of many.
Not many people saw John Cameron Mitchell's undervalued "Rabbit Hole" a few years ago, but those who did recognized a potential star in Miles Teller, the then-23-year-old actor who played Jason, the guilt-ridden teenager who hit and killed the 4-year-old child of Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) in a car accident. Even among a cast of heavyweights, Teller impressed, more than holding his own against the Oscar-nominated Kidman. Since then, Teller's had some supporting roles in big movies (the comic relief best friend part in the "Footloose" remake, an older jock in "Project X"), but this year's Sundance saw the actor really cement his talent with the lead role in "The Spectacular Now." In James Ponsoldt's excellently-received teen drama, Teller plays Sutter Keely, a popular, hard-partying, borderline-alcoholic high schooler, a sort of dark, realistic version of Ferris Bueller, who falls for an introverted classmate (Shailene Woodley). Teller's won absolute raves for the performance (our review called him "effortlessly real," and there's even some early awards buzz for him). Casting directors caught on early as the actor has got no fewer than four lead roles on the way. It starts with anarchic comedy "21 & Over," the directorial debut from the writers of "The Hangover," followed by Dylan Kidd's "Get A Job" alongside Anna Kendrick, Alison Brie and Bryan Cranston, high-concept rom-com "Two Night Stand" with Analeigh Tipton, and, yes, "Are We Officially Dating?," the film that's providing employment for seemingly half of this list. Teller's equally adept at comedy and drama, so we're sure this is only the beginning.
With Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck leading an excellent cast, '70s-set crime tale "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" was one of the most anticipated films of the festival, and happily, turned out to be one of the best received, with our review calling it "a wholly engrossing and impressive piece of work that the movie world will be talking about all year long." And rising directorial star David Lowery is certainly going to be part of that conversation too. The Dallas-based filmmaker has been one of the best-kept secrets of the indie world thanks to his microbudgeted feature debut "St. Nick" in 2009, and short follow-up "Pioneer" in 2011 (starring Will Oldham), and he developed 'Saints' through the Sundance Labs, before WME helped bring it to the attention of Mara and Affleck, whose presence helped him to raise the $6 million budget. The film picked up some of the best reviews of the festival, and is a strong contender for the Grand Jury Prize, but that was hardly Lowery's only contribution to the festival; he also wrote the NEXT film "Pit Stop," and was an editor on Shane Carruth's equally acclaimed "Upstream Color." He has a couple of scripts in development, along with a documentary, and the future only looks much brighter from here.