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Best of Fest: Sundance 2013’s Top 10 New Faces

It was a longer process than we had anticipated, but post Sundance, Jordan M. Smith, Nicholas Bell and I weighed in on the best of the fest (tomorrow we launch our Top 20 New Voices) and after defining what constitutes a “new face”, we ranked our top performances from relatively new folk, pushed into the forefront of their films and within the sphere of independent cinema. Here are our Top 1o New Faces for Sundance 2013.

#10. Gina Piersanti (It Felt Like Love)

Top 10 New Faces Sundance Gina Piersanti
NYC-based indie film casting folk will take notice if Eliza Hittman’s gem of a debut film breaks out beyond the film fest circuit. Not unlike the faces we found in Larry Clark’s Kids, newbie teenage actress Gina Piersanti will be the latest poster-child of innocence lost. With only a handful of short film experiences, the teenage actress gives low-key, self-contained bulldozing performance — every step, and misstep her naive/strategic character makes a strong case for what a youth portrait should look like. Future audiences will view the character of Lila and will attempt to push back the flood of memories best forgotten and not re-lived, much like the film’s central character, we credit It Felt Like Love for being the type of film that comes without artifice. (EL)

#9. Tequan Richmond (Blue Caprice)

Top 10 New Faces Sundance Tequan Richmond
The only mention-worthy big screen credit came in a bit part in Taylor Hackford’s Ray, Tequan Richmond grew up professionally as a television actor for the past decade with a lengthy gig on Everybody Hates Chris, but I imagine the culmination of all this work hardly prepared the actor for the type of surprisingly physical, dramatically all-encompassing role based on cold-blooded killer Lee Boyd Malvo. Embodying a character that makes the transition from lost puppy in need of a father to a pit-bull angered son who proves his worth and love with bloodshed, there are some intensity levels reached between Richmond and Isaiah Washington that are borderline disturbing. No easy shoes to fill, Richmond takes on Malvo with bravura, and in the late stages of Blue Caprice that brilliantly evokes how a human could become a murderer without remorse. (EL)

#8. Mackenzie Davis (Breathe In)

MacKenzie Davis Breath In Top 10 New Faces Sundance
After debuting in a supporting role in James Ponsoldt’s 2012 film, Smashed, Mackenzie Davis scores a noticeable turn in Drake Doremus’ Breathe In, escaping as one of the few sympathetic characters about a family whose existence gets turned upside down by the presence of a foreign exchange student. Davis, like a willowy cousin of the Fannings, excellently conveys the neediness and blinding emotions of an adolescent caught between the angst of parental indiscretion and her own sexual longing for a young man that abuses her affections. Reminiscent of a young and leggy Laura Dern, Davis’ already has some other noted projects in the can, including a Daniel Radcliffe vehicle from Canada’s Michael Dowse, and a film also starring some other notable 2013 Sundance darlings including Michael B. Jordan, Miles Teller, and Imogen Poots with Are We Officially Dating?.

#7. Kevin Paulo (Shopping)

Top 10 New Faces Sundance Kevin Paulo
As a first time actor under the direction of the award winning, short directing duo of Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland, Paulo appears an admirable new screen presence. Plucked from obscurity, the teenager possesses a natural sense of compassion and physical cognizance in facial expression necessary for the conflictedly empathetic role. While he currently seems to have nothing in development, hopefully he an opportunity to reinforce his sturdy first impression. (JS)

#6. Skylan Brooks (The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete)

Top 10 New Faces Sundance
Child actor Skylan Brooks has been acting in shorts (and an uncredited appearance in Seven Pounds) since 2008, with his most notable credit being 2010’s Our Family Wedding. That will all change after the release of The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, a harrowing drama set in the Brooklyn projects in which the young thesp dominates every scene, carrying the film’s success on his shoulders. It’s even more impressive considering he outshines Jennifer Hudson, Geoffrey Wright, Jordin Sparks, and Anthony Mackie. While director Tillman’s directorial career has been a bit patchy of late, mostly thanks to dipping into mainstream B fare like the Dwayne Johnson headliner, Faster (2010), with his latest he captures the best performance in his filmography from Brooks turn as a young kid trying to desperately to act on his dreams. (NB)

#5. Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now)

Miles Teller Top 10 New Faces Sundance
Billed as the flatly broken, accidental murderer in Rabbit Hole and a generic party boy in Project X, The Spectacular Now is the young actor’s first real opportunity to show some depth. With Ponsoldt’s long takes and a script that houses three dimensional high schoolers with real emotional turmoil, Teller’s facile charm is highlighted, acting as a lead in to earnest processing of young love, self loathing and substance abuse. Here he proves to be a substantive young lead, free of self-conscious reservations and full of vivacious tenacity. (JS)

#4. Amari Cheatom (Newlyweeds)

Amari Cheatom Top 10 New Faces Sundance
Though already having some significant titles on his resume (Django Unchained; Night Catches Us) actor Amari Cheatom really gets a chance to shine as the lead in Shaka King’s Newlyweeds as a likeable stoner whose favorite thing to do is get high, while all is secondary. Transcending stereotypes for a humorous yet subtle melancholic performance, Cheatom proves to be the engaging center of King’s debut, and he plays expertly off Trae Harris’ Nina. For once, we see a romantically inclined drama that shows us sometimes the things we have in common are the things that can pull us apart. (NB)

#3. Nick Robinson (Toy’s House)

Nick Robinson Toy's House Top 10 New Faces Sundance
Kept thinking throughout my sitting of Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ debut feature that his face felt familiar, a quick scan of his acting creds (he developed the majority of his skill-set on the sitcom Melissa & Joey) only pointed out that Nick Robinson simply owned the screen as if he’d be doing so for a decade. With the sort of on-screen charisma that serves young-adult break-out roles so well (I think back to Ellen Page in Juno), Robinson is almost Sean Astin in Goonies-like (both characters yearn for a break away from the adult world, find themselves in very adult situations and are millimeters away from a first kiss). A mixed bag of vulnerability and courage, immaturity, abandon and civility, Robinson’s Joe Toy character is the center of Toy’s House, and his perf totally sells the notion that manhood might be thousands of kilometers away but yet remains within sight. (EL)

#2. Robin Weigert (Concussion)

Robin Weigert Concussion Top 10 New Faces Sundance
This magnetic actress has been floating around the industry since the late 90s, finally landing a solid part in the HBO series Deadwood, but even after some recognition, she still never found her own star vehicle. With Concussion, she has finally found it. With intelligent, relaxed confidence and red hot middle-aged sex appeal, she embodies her character, Abby, with pronounced assurance. A heady yet physical actress, she holds the minut details of inner conflict in the flicker in her eyes and the patience in her movements. (JS)

#1. Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale)

Michael B. Jordan Fruitvale Top 10 New Faces Sundance

While not exactly a face unknown (he’s been popping up all over the small screen for the last decade in The Wire and Friday Night Lights and on the big screen in Red Tails and Chronicle), Jordan has never found himself in the vanguard, but there is no denying that his striking turn as Oscar in Ryan Coogler’s devastating debut, Fruitvale, has certified him as an explosive leading performer with charisma to spare. As Coogler’s career is about to take flight, Jordan is strapped in right alongside. (JS)


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