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Best of Fest: Sundance 2014’s Top 20 New Voices (10-1)

Continued from yesterday’s countdown….
20. Tessa Louise-Salome (Mr. Leos Carax)
19. Janicza Bravo (Gregory Goes Boom)
18. Michael Rossato-Bennett (Alive Inside)
17. Andrew Droz Palermo & Tracy Droz Tragos (Rich Hill)
16. Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard (20,000 Days on Earth)
15. Maya Forbes (Infinitely Polar Bear)
14. David Cross (Hits)
13. Justin Simien (Dear White People)
12. Kat Candler (Hellion)
11. Sydney Freeland (Drunktown’s Finest)

#10. Peter Sattler (Camp X-Ray)

 Peter Sattler (Camp X-Ray)

After working as a graphic artist and designer for the past decade, Peter Sattler makes a remarkable screenwriting and directorial debut with Camp X-Ray. Even with some dubious reservations after the announcement of Kristen Stewart being cast as a Guantanamo Bay guard, the role isn’t an ungainly fit, and Sattler has created a genuinely moving and captivating feature. Stewart’s name will attract a whole audience of people potentially unaware of the controversial subject matter, making this an excellent conversation starter. But beyond all that, Sattler gets an amazing performance from Peyman Mooadi, best known to US audiences for a pair of fantastic roles in Asghar Farhadi films (About Elly/A Separation). (NB)

#9. Malik Vitthal (Imperial Dreams)

#9. Malik Vitthal (Imperial Dreams)

After graduating from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, Los Angeles native Malik Vitthal co-wrote the screenplay with Ismet Prcic, which was developed at the 2011 Sundance Screenwriters Lab. Almost three years later, Vitthal’s assured directorial debut brilliantly encapsulates the way social lives are marked by the prevalence of incarceration. Unlike moralistic tales of redemption from the ghetto, Imperial Dreams acknowledges institutionalized poverty as perpetuating crime. While the relationship between John Boyega’s beautifully acted character Bambi and his four-year old son is downright heartwarming, Vitthal has delivered a timely reflection on those unexpectedly affected by our bloated (and racialized) prison population. (CC)

#8. Sara Colangelo (Little Accidents)

Sara Colangelo (Little Accidents)

Inexplicably absent from the U.S Dramatic Comp but programmed with big boys in the Premieres section, Little Accidents manages to transcend stereotypical role assignments found in white and blue collar folk and its writer-director filters these complex and colliding worlds sans button pushing manipulation. Sara Colangelo fined-tuned her short of the same name and pulse at the 2011 Sundance Screenwriters and Directors labs resulting in well-executed character study of a small town tending to deep, personal and collective wounds. Flawless perfs, strong aesthetic and location choices further strengthened by its anti-climatic denouement means that the Rust Belt gets some shine. (EL)

#7. Eskil Vogt (Blind)

Eskil Vogt (Blind)

Having written both of Joachim Trier’s award winning films, Reprise and Oslo, August 31st, it should come as no surprise that Vogt’s debut is a screenwriting marvel, but who could have guessed his directorial virtuosity on his first time out? Vogt analyzes the painful practical challenges of losing one’s sight by playfully reimagining such circumstances as an on screen narrative sandbox in which his leading lady lives out her darkest fantasies. With a stark, steely tone, Vogt toys with our sense of reality and comments on our own morbid obsession with visual beauty all with an elegant anecdotal ease. A complete package? Me thinks so. (JS)

#6. Desiree Akhavan (Appropriate Behavior)

Desiree Akhavan (Appropriate Behavior)

If Desiree Akhavan was a penny stock – I’d bet about one month’s Bedford rent on the writer-director-actress being a major “brand” in the current decade serving her style of self-deprecating humor and one-liner trove of zingers to a populous larger than just Brooklynites, Iranian Americans and LGBT community. The only personality to be profiled on both of our Sundance Best lists, Akhavan broke out of film school with web-series (a Rotterdam Film Fest entry) The Slope, and short Nose Job before making the micro-budgeted Appropriate Behavior which will catch several off guard for its strong comedic timing and gloriously beat-up protag.

#5. David Wnendt (Wetlands)

#5. David Wnendt (Wetlands)

Look for Wetlands to be on John Waters’ favorite films at the end of the year, as German director David Wnendt makes a considerable splash with this crass, perverse, and genuinely entertaining embrace of female sexuality. Featuring a memorable lead role from Carla Juri, Wnendt’s adaptation of Charlotte Roche’s novel has to be seen to be believed. At the very least, it’s the type of outrageous success that should make his follow-up of instant interest. (NB)

#4. A.J. Edwards (The Better Angels)

#4. A.J. Edwards (The Better Angels)
Having been mentored under the wing of Terrence Malick’s enigmatic direction for the past decade, A.J Edwards has seemingly absorbed both the technical and spiritual wonder that pervades each of Malick’s singular pictures, all while developing his own historically sound aesthetic. Exploring the pivotal period of future president Lincoln’s upbringing in Indiana, The Better Angels is grounded in the written words of primary sources and the emotionally subtle performances of its talented cast, yet Edwards leans heavily on an intrinsic visual lyricism and aural poetics unique to the cinematic form. And as with Malick’s work, a vast array of personal and moving interpretations can be gleaned from Edwards’ dazzling debut, something only great works of art tend to afford. (JS)

#3. Gillian Robespierre (Obvious Child)

Gillian Robespierre (Obvious Child)

Gillian Robespierre’s feature debut is the obvious love child of two super talented ladies, but the hilarious screenplay guiding Jenny Slate’s naturalistic performance deserves an extra “Amen”. Robespierre takes a progressive stance on womanly issues without burning her bra or spewing hostility at those prophetizing eternal doom and sharing statistics on baby fingernails. The writer and director instead contextualizes the right to choose in a remarkably honest and familiar story However uncomfortable it may be praising Obvious Child for breaking new ground in 2014, the film does just that. (CC)

#2. Mona Fastvold (The Sleepwalker)

Mona Fastvold (The Sleepwalker)

Unbeknownst to me, this Fjord import has worked in front of the camera as a child actress, is a Paris/New York based music video helmer (here is a sampling) and will technically have worked on not one, but a pair of feature film projects in 2014 as an artistic, writing and directing partner with actor Brady Corbet on The Sleepwalker and is a few months shy from making his feature debut, The Childhood of a Leader. Moody and mysterious in a Lynchian sense and Bergmanesque in design and in its character set, Mona Fastvold might be in a class of her own of the new voices in terms of skill-set prowess. It makes for a cocktail that keeps you guessing and lulling over past its run-time. (EL)

#1. Cutter Hodierne (Fishing Without Nets)

#1. Cutter Hodierne (Fishing Without Nets)

Winning the Best Director award for his first feature at this year’s fest has only solidified that obvious, that Hodierne is an exciting new cinematic voice. Culling superb performances from a mixed cast of nonprofessional actors and French notables (Reta Kateb), Fishing Without Nets is an indie anti-thesis to blockbuster fare like Captain Phillips, and is certainly an interesting conversation piece in comparison with other recent fare like Tobias Lindholm’s A Hijacking. Tense, distressing, and against the grain, it’s an arresting film that features one doozy of a final sequence. Seek out the short as you wait for the feature. (NB)


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