The 2017 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, has drawn to a close, but these actors and filmmakers may have much bigger things ahead of them.
2. Nnamdi Asomugha, actor and producer, Crown Heights
Lakeith Stanfield, Natalie Paul, and Nnamdi Asomugha are all excellent in the film Crown Heights, which is based on the This American Life segment about the real-life wrongful imprisonment of Colin Warner. Much like Making a Murderer or The Night Of, Crown Heights depicts how grueling and unfair the criminal justice system in America can be. While Stanfield embodies the overwhelming dread that comes with trying to prove one’s innocence from a prison cell, Asomugha (Carl King) both as actor and producer makes sure to explain the great lengths Carl went in order to help free Colin. At times he’s a lawyer, a detective, a complicated father; but overall Asomugha’s portrayal reveals what it is to have unconditional love for a friend in a story that proves ordinary people can still beat a system meant to break them. —Marcus Jones
3. Abby Quinn, actor, Landline
Landline — the follow-up to Jenny Slate, Gillian Robespierre, and Elisabeth Holm’s collaboration on Obvious Child — has ‘90s charm and a winsome cast including Edie Falco, Jay Duplass, and John Turturro. But it’s 20-year-old newcomer Abby Quinn’s Ali who steals the show.
The movie follows two sisters (Quinn and Slate) in 1995 Manhattan, trying to figure out whether or not their father is having an affair. Quinn navigates her onscreen persona’s selfish, annoying adolescent behaviors with ease — saying “fuck” just to piss off the adults, slamming doors, calling her sister the human equivalent of constipation. However, she also grounds her with a unique old-soul quality. One minute she’s strumming a guitar, improvising a dirty song with her very real musical talent, and the next she smokes a cigarette while cradling her mom on the bathroom floor.
Quinn captures what it’s like to be a teen going through a family breakup; sure, you want to escape and go clubbing and shove dangerous powders up your nose to forget, but at the end of the day, you still have to go home and deal. —Keely Flaherty
4. Adam Long, actor, When the Street Lights Go On
In the pilot for Brett Morgen’s debut narrative TV show, Adam Long (Happy Valley) plays bad boy Casper, who may or may not be connected to the murder of two people in a small Illinois town. He scares the shit out of me. —Katie Hasty
Laia Costa, actor, Newness
While the initial draw of Newness was the always charismatic Nicholas Hoult, the real payoff is Laia Costa. A story about two twentysomethings meeting on a dating app, Newness is bloated in its storytelling but, like any other Drake Doremus movie (Like Crazy, Equals), the performances are what truly drive the story. Costa, who is best known for her role in Victoria (which was all shot in one take), is a Spanish-born actor who actually gets to play a Spanish-born character. She’s gripping and charming and makes a somewhat unlikable character extremely likable and relatable. Her relationship with Hoult and their ability to bounce off each other heightens an otherwise predictable movie. —April Salud
5. Macon Blair, writer, director, and actor, I Don’t Feel at Home In This World Anymore
As an actor, Macon Blair is best known for his work with Green Room director Jeremy Saulnier — chief among them the merciless Blue Ruin, in which Blair starred as a sad-eyed wreck of a man refusing to let his inexperience get in the way of his desire for retribution. In his first film as a director, I Don’t Feel at Home In This World Anymore, Blair takes that same tendency toward brutal-but-clumsy violence and expands it into a dark comedy that’s equal parts amateur detective tale and revenge saga. The delightful Melanie Lynskey stars as a depressive woman determined to figure out who robbed her house, while Elijah Wood plays her unlikely partner in crime-solving, a martial arts–obsessed neighbor with a spectacularly bad haircut.
As a debut, it’s incredibly run, and is as funny as it is astoundingly destructive: the story of two drifting people going to extreme lengths to teach others not to be jerks. And in these tumultuous times, that’s a message we all can relate to. —Alison Willmore
Chanté Adams, actor, Roxanne, Roxanne
Chanté Adams had never auditioned for a project before going out for the lead in Roxanne, Roxanne, one of near 600 girls to try out. Many people working behind the scenes of Roxanne, Roxanne — including rapper Roxanne Shanté herself — consider it fate that they were able to find a girl as talented as Adams (and who also happened to share a similar name). The film really makes the audience wait for a long time in suspense before we get to hear her rap, but watching Adams spit her lines with Shanté’s same teenage brashness is joyous. It’s a hard job balancing playing a young rap star and a battered baby mother, and maybe even harder making braces look good, but Adams nails it all. —Marcus Jones
6. Danielle Macdonald, actor, Patti Cake$
The strength of crowd-pleaser Patti Cake$ lies in its cast of misfits. National treasure Bridget Everett and Cathy Moriarty are Barb and Nana, the matriarchal lords over Patti and the film’s cold-tender comedy bits. Lead actor Danielle Macdonald plays Patti, a young, talented, insecure, yet determined rapper who flexes in parking lots and in private with her weirdo collaborators (Mamoudou Athie and Siddharth Dhananjay), all the while working odd jobs to keep mom and grandma afloat in their trashy Jersey town.
The hitch with Patti’s aspirations is that she’s a big woman, and white, outside of both beauty and hip-hop norms, facts that are jabbed in her face with juvenile glee by detractors at every opportunity. Aussie Macdonald’s performance — in Patti feeling sorry for herself, or as a bellicose breadwinner, or as a swaggering rhyme master — is palpable and distinguished. —Katie Hasty
7. Taliyah Whitaker, actor, The Incredible Jessica James
In Roxanne, Roxanne, we meet Taliyah Whitaker when she plays the young version of Shanté with chants of “The champ is here, the champ is here!” It such a fun sequence and Whitaker wears confidence well — which also helps when she has to go toe-to-toe with Jessica Williams in The Incredible Jessica James. As Shandra, Jessica James’ favorite theater student, Whitaker is adorable yet grounded. While it’s a joy watching Jessica James decide between love interests (Chris O’Dowd and Lakeith Stanfield), it is her relationship with Shandra that is most meaningful in the end. —Marcus Jones