Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey (“I Origins”)
A French actress and model, you may know Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey as the mermaid in "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" or as the young girl in Rithy Panh's indie "The Sea Wall," but unless you bothered to see the aforementioned Depp blockbuster, there’s a good chance you’ve never seen her before. Being beautiful doesn’t hurt her mysteriously spiritual character in Mike Cahill’s heady, slightly sci-fi-ish drama/thriller “I Origins,” but Bergès-Frisbey nails the role. About a PhD student (Michael Pitt) studying molecular biology with a specialty in eye evolution who falls in love with his secretive polar opposite (Bergès-Frisbey), this alluring French actress is only in the first half of the movie, but she’s integral to making this sprawling and involved story about love, faith, science and the afterlife (which we won’t spoil here) work. A role akin to meet cute and then blooming hipster romance, the first half of “I Origins” could have been potentially too precious, but Pitt and especially Bergès-Frisbey with her child-like, wondrous nature, ground the movie in a very convincing dynamic of opposites attract. She’s one to keep an eye beyond her bewitching looks.
Alex Ross Perry & Joséphine de La Baume (“Listen Up Philip”)
If you’re a film critic, hardcore cinephile or proponent of Filmmaker magazine, you probably already know the name Alex Ross Perry, the writer director behind “Impolex” and “The Color Wheel.” But you could be all three and perhaps never had the inclination (or stomach) to hang with these micro-budgeted, divisive indies. Perry’s latest, “Listen Up Philip,” will potentially be just as polarizing as his previous works, but starring Jason Schwartzman, Elisabeth Moss and Jonathan Pryce (as opposed to non-professional players), these actors truly make the filmmaker’s material shine. About a caustic and irritating young novelist (Schwartzman), his equally haughty literary idol (Pryce), and his talented, but disregarded photographer girlfriend (Moss), Perry’s film is an acidic look at a self-absorbed asshole. But apart from being terrifically well-written (shades of Woody Allen and Noah Baumbach) and directed (reminiscent of Cassavetes), Perry makes the wise decision of casting a charmer (Schwartzman) in the role of this insufferable artist. A major artistic leap forward, Perry’s film won’t be for everyone, but it’s easily one of our favorites from Sundance: extremely well-observed and a hilariously trenchant look at the dynamics of artists with complicated egos. Full of terrific actors at the top of their game, one largely-unknown thespian, French actress Joséphine de La Baume, shines through the talent as Schwartzman’s literary enemy/eventual girlfriend. We’ll be seeing more of her no doubt as well.
Josh Wiggins (“Hellion”)
Some of us were a bit mixed on Kat Candler’s “Hellion,” a drama about a motocross-obsessed teenager and the delinquent behavior that pushes his family to the edge. Well-made and well-shot, it does possess a lot of Sundance indie film tropes (a dark, dour depressing drama), but at the film's center is the undeniably good 13-year-old Josh Wiggins. A bruising look at family dysfunction, where Candler’s film sings pitch-perfectly is the way it captures the unbridled rage of teenage angst, that next-level form of anger that comes from severely damaged children that don’t know what to do with their pain. And Wiggins embodies that, going beyond just moody, but tortured, scarred and full of so much anger the kid could just explode. Wiggins goes toe-to-toe with “Breaking Bad” star Aaron Paul too (who plays his negligent father), and, if he wants it, a bright future lays ahead of this astonishing young performer (read our review here).
Jennifer Kent (“The Babadook”)
Now here’s an true discovery. While Aussie writer/director Jennifer Kent’s award-winning short film, “Monster,” screened at over 40 international film festivals and she studied under Lars von Trier on “Dogville,” this young filmmaker has been essentially an unknown up until now. And her feature debut, the terrific and raved-about horror movie “The Babadook,” instantly lands her on the filmmaking map. And kudos should also go to the two leads of the film, Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman, arguably worthy of their own breakout slots. Like an inventive mix of Tim Burton and Roman Polanski, “The Babadook” is psychological horror about a single mother raising a dysfunctional, difficult boy and the boogeyman haunting the child and may or may not be a figment of his imagination. Dark, funny and sometimes downright frightening, “The Babadook” is something horror fans will be cherishing and championing all year long. And it would be hard to fault them for it. Kent’s cachet is earned and we can’t wait to see what she does next.
Ellar Coltrane & Lorelei Linklater (“Boyhood”)
It’s been a long wait for Richard Linklater’s new film, “Boyhood,” which as you probably know by now, was twelve years in the making. The two actors were only seven years old when the project began, but both have appeared on screen in the meantime—Ellar Coltrane appeared in forgotten Joshua Jackson vehicle “Lone Star State of Mind,” and in the director’s “Fast Food Nation,” while Lorelei Linklater (the filmmaker’s daughter, as you might have guessed) popped up briefly in her father’s “Waking Life." But the director really seems to have struck gold with his casting, with both performers (especially Coltrane, who as the title suggests, is the main focus of the movie) doing positively stellar work as kids, and blossoming into legitimately impressive performers as young adults (they’re now nineteen). It’s unlikely that they’ll ever be part of a project like “Boyhood” again, but expect plenty of other directors to come calling.