David & Nathan Zellner (“Kumiko The Treasure Hunter”)
Given that it’s a movie that tips its hat to, and is directly about, the Coen brothers’ masterpiece “Fargo,” it feels very appropriate that “Kumiko The Treasure Hunter” comes from a pair of filmmakers who are 1) brothers, and 2) work closely together, but are billed differently: like Joel and Ethan Coen for the early part of their career, David and Nathan Zellner co-wrote the script, but David takes the directing credit, and Nathan the producing one. The pair have been familiar faces on the underground indie scene for a while thanks to a brace of impressive shorts and low-budget features “Goliath” and “Kid-Thing” (the latter of which was nominated for a Gotham Award in 2012). But ‘Kumiko,’ which stars Rinko Kikuchi as the Coens fan who heads to Minnesota to find the loot buried by Steve Buscemi in “Fargo,” looks to bring them into the mainstream: the film has already won the backing of Alexander Payne, who came on as an executive producer before the festival kicked off, and our review, which called it “a bizarre joy and a beautiful delight” was one of many that praised it to the skies.
Charlie McDowell & Justin Lader (“The One I Love”)
“The One I Love,” starring Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass, is an ingenious little romantic-comedy-drama with a killer conceit that (fortunately) has so far remained under wraps, and hopefully will until it’s long been in theaters. And it marks the arrival of two very bright young things in writer Justin Lader and director Charlie McDowell. The former has only a couple of shorts under his belt but is likely to be highly in demand from now on, drawing comparisons to Charlie Kaufman with his first feature script, which our review said is “funny, emotionally honest and nails its pivot from the conventional to something much richer.” Meanwhile, McDowell is someone that you’d be irrationally jealous of even if he wasn’t a hugely talented filmmaker: he’s the son of Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen, he wrote the popular ‘Dear Girls Above Me’ Twitter feed and book, and is dating Rooney Mara. Oh, and by all accounts, he knocked it out of the park with this first feature. Radius-TWC picked it up, so you’ll be able to see for yourself very soon.
Sophie Hyde, Tilda Cobham-Hervey & Del Herbert-Jane (“52 Tuesdays”)
We’ve been big fans of the recent renaissance in Australian cinema (“Animal Kingdom,” “Snowtown Murders,” et al.), but it’s been decidedly testosterone-heavy. But that changed at Sundance this year: not only did we get Jennifer Kent’s “The Babadook” (see above), but also “52 Tuesdays,” which won filmmaker Sophie Hyde the World Directing award at the festival. Shot in a unique, and somewhat “Boyhood”-esque manner—it shot on every Tuesday, and only Tuesday, for a year, with elements from every shoot finding their way into the film—it tells the story of a teenager dealing with her mother’s transition into a man. Sensitively dealing with matters of fluid gender and sexuality, the word is that the film is as powerful and authentic as it is formally playful, and definitely marks out Hyde as one to watch. Her cast (mostly non-professionals) are also stand up: Tilda Cobham-Hervey and Del Herbert-Jane both impressed pretty much everyone who saw the movie, and we look forward to seeing more from both of them down the line too.
Malik Vitthal (“Imperial Dreams”)
After the success of last year’s “Fruitvale Station,” everyone was on the look out for its 2014 equivalent, and that seemed to arrive in “Imperial Dreams,” the feature debut of writer/director Malik Vitthal, which won the audience award in the competitive NEXT strand. Developed with help of the Sundance Labs, the project hails from L.A. native Malik Vitthal, who’s been behind a string of shorts but steps confidently into features with this project, the tough but moving story of a reformed gangster (played by “Attack The Block” breakout John Boyega) trying to forge out a career as a writer while protecting his young son, despite the influence of family members and his environment. Vitthal (who started out in the post-production world) is clearly a serious talent: our review called it “a gem” and “incredibly moving,” with a central performance that looks to cement Boyega’s megastardom. The film’s still seeking distribution, but all being well, someone will step up to the plate and see Vitthal’s picture find the wide audience it deserves.
Desiree Akhavan (“Appropriate Behavior”)
Given its Brooklyn setting and frank depiction of sex, the specter of being "the next Lena Dunham" always threatened to follow Desiree Akhavan, the 29-year-old Iranian-American filmmaker behind “Appropriate Behavior.” But fortunately, the comparison is more than superficial: according to most, including our review, the film shares most of its strengths with Dunham’s work—sharp, acerbic humor, autobiographical, painfully true situations, and a fresh and unique voice. Akhavan is best known, before now, for web series “The Slope,” but this should be a “Tiny Furniture”-style boost up for her. Katie Walsh wrote in her review that its “light and ironic outlook on the things that make Brooklyn life what it is” is balanced by “the very real issues of culture, identity and sexuality, and the two work so well together due to the genuine honesty that Akhavan brings to the material.” Drawing comparisons to Louis C.K. and Noah Baumbach, Akhavan looks to be a real comic talent going forward. Get on board now, and you can tell everyone else you were an early adopter once she has the million-dollar-book-deal and the Vogue cover.