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Best of Fest: Sundance 2016’s Top 10 New Voices

Commonly known as a lieu that breeds new filmmaking talents, Nicholas Bell and I look back at the filmmakers who made the most noteworthy splash at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Here are our Top 10 New Voices countdown:

#10. Jim Cummings – Thunder Road (Short)
Producer on Patrick Wang’s The Grief of Others and Trey Edward Shults’s Krisha, Jim Cummings showed everyone who is the “boss” with the devilishly funny, conceptually sophisticated and fastidiously well executed short film. In one stroke, Cummings demonstrates a formal rigour, an impressionable, sumptuous pulse and fall-out-of-your-seat choreography. Winner of the top prize with the Short Film Grand Jury Prize, Thunder Road is a crowd pleaser and one heck of a lucky charm calling card. (EL)

#9. Bernardo Britto – Jacqueline (Argentine)
On our radar two years back with his animated short (Yearbook), we were quite surprised by the form and the off the chart text of this unique piece of non-conformist cinema. Easily Camille Rutherford’s most adventurous part to date, the NEXT section selected Jacqueline (Argentine) is informed by film history (I was thinking this was a marriage between Antonioni’s The Passenger and the French New Wave) and the throw away digi era we are currently enmeshed in. Bernardo Britto‘s debut has spunk, has a voice, and refreshingly doesn’t care much about convention. (EL)

#8. Matthew Ross – Frank & Lola
We’ve seen plenty of relationship dramas before, but Matthew Ross gives us a compelling take on male paranoia and control with his debut. An excellent performance from Michael Shannon anchors this sexually tinged drama of emotional manipulation, also featuring an impressive international supporting cast including Imogen Poots, Michael Nyqvist and Emmanuelle Devos. (NB)

#7. James Schamus – Indignation
There was little chance that industry vet James Schamus would make a misfire with this directorial debut, especially with the wealth of film knowledge acquired in what is easily four plus decades of indie and foreign filmmaking. Well versed in all facets of film production, we knew we could count on solid packaging, but there was significant risk involved as well — it’s mature tone and a twenty-minute power dynamic exchange sequence between principle and pupil that is simply mesmerizing. Cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt (Certain Women) offers a crisp look. (EL)

#6. Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan – Swiss Army Man
Winners of the Best Directing award in the U.S. Dramatic Comp section, Swiss Army Man announces the arrival of a pair who’ve got the ingenuity, inventiveness gene in their skillset. Commonly known as The Daniels (Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert), their debut comes across as a goofball friendly, to be taken lightly item, but there is so much more working on the underlying surface. Don’t be surprised if their sophomore feature is a major studio offering. (EL)

#5. Babak Anvari – Under the Shadow
Like Ana Lily Amirpour before him, Babak Anvari brings an exciting sense of genre to post-revolution Iran. This 1980s set tale feature a young mother struggling to accept the death of her dreams amidst war-torn Iran, discovering the conflicted region has left her family vulnerable to the designs of a restless, malevolent spirit. A sharp sense of mounting tension does wonders for this dialed down mother/daughter drama recalls the power fear gains by merely believing in it (and should also remind viewers slightly of Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook). (NB)

#4. Anna Rose Holmer – The Fits
After contributing in the indie film sphere and alongside folks such as Antonio Campos and Lena Dunham, Anna Rose Holmer‘s break out debut (featured in the prestigious Venice Film Fest before making it’s North American preem in the NEXT section) is a film that at throws a curveball to familiarity and convention, with pre-teen concerns reinvigoratedly dosed with a deep sense of mystery and sans the need for resolutions. The Fits gets deep into the skin of its female heroine (beautifully rendered by first time actress Royalty Hightower) and we are left with a film to marvel at well after the film’s economical runtime. (EL)

#3. Agnieszka Smoczynska – The Lure
Polish director Agnieszaka Smoczynska creates a deliciously offbeat universe with this 1980s horror musical of two mermaid sisters and their differing designs on mankind. Upbeat musical pieces (including an “I Feel Love Cover” sung by a chanteuse reminiscent of the white Julie Brown) and grotesque fantasy collide for a slice of strange movie magic. (NB)

2. Nicolas Pesce – The Eyes of My Mother
Clearly working from a different curriculum from his NEXT section peers/counterparts, The Eyes of My Mother is a soaked showcase and solid exercise in style and tone that harkens back to a film era where atmospherics were in-sync with narrative musings. A music video helmer with a vast tool-belt, Nicolas Pesce borrows from dreamscapes and nightmarish worlds to offer a texturized, lyrical b&w rendering of the the darker aspects in the human condition with toplining actress Kika Magalhaes becoming the perfect, reimagined poster child for Norman Bates types of society. (EL)

#1. Nate Parker – The Birth of a Nation
Parker’s debut is already an exceptional success story, and promises to be a major awards contender for 2016. But beyond the superficial discussions of awards glory and profitability, Parker crafts an emotionally harrowing labor of love in this portrait of Nat Turner. Divisive and hard hitting, Parker announces himself as a major player, not only as an actor but a filmmaker of considerable merit. (NB)

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