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

Yesterday, Nicholas Bell and I issued our Top 10 New Voices, and now we launch into our New Faces. They range in age, amount of screen time, and in this year’s batch of New Faces made memorable turns in supporting or principle character roles. Narrowly breaking into our top ten list we have names such as Sand Storm‘s Lammis Ammar and Spa Night‘s Haerry Kim. Here is our top ten countdown.

#10. Royalty Hightower – The Fits.
Move over Creed. The youngest featured actress to be profiled in our ten set was embraced in Park City as the next “it” personality and for good reason. In Anna Rose Holmer’s debut, Royalty Hightower’s Toni has a lot of volume – she physically inhabits a character who is at odds with her burgeoning teenagehood (a transition that is not always welcomed) in a performance that empathically comes across as non-actingly natural.

#9. Markees Christmas – Morris From America
Remarkably with only Markees Vs. web-series as his previous acting credits, the profession of acting is far from “foreign” for this natural. Taking the lead role of Morris Gentry in Chad Hartigan’s coming-of-ager titular Morris from America, in a peer-pressured setting Markees Christmas becomes the poster boy for the need to assimilate, the need to carve out his own niche, and all scenes that feature father (Craig Robinson) and son are both unfamiliar and refreshing when you measure them against their American cinema counterparts. We look forward to the next beats Christmas drops. (EL)

#8. Joe Seo – Spa Night
Actor Joe Seo took home a Best Actor prize at Sundance thanks to his emotionally authentic portrayal of a young gay man coming out in Los Angeles’ Koreatown. Though Seo has been appearing in bit parts for the past several years, Spa Night is a definite breakout for the performer (he’ll next be seen in Fabrice Du Welz’s English language debut, Message from the King). (NB)

#7. Ben Schnetzer – Goat
With previous stints in Matthew Warchus’ Pride and Lone Scherfig’s The Riot Club, Ben Schnetzer had big shoes to fill in Andrew Neel’s Goat. The Brad Land memoir tests the idea of being and playing the victim and transcends the entire notion of what loyalty involves. He’ll next to be in Snowden, Warcraft and The Journey Is the Destination. (EL)

#6. Michael Barbieri – Little Men
Director Ira Sachs built his latest feature Little Men around two newcomers, Jake Jardine and Michael Barbieri, whose performances provide the title with a generously effective portrait of friendship. Barbieri portrays the more gregarious of the two teenagers, stealing most of his scenes from accomplished stars like Paulina Garcia, Greg Kinnear, and Jennifer Ehle. (NB)

#5. Narges Rashidi – Under the Shadow
As a frazzled, repressed mother in war-torn Iran, Narges Rashidi delivers an intense performance in genre thriller, Under the Shadow. Recalling Polanski’s apartment complex trilogy, Rashidi is a sympathetic presence in director Babak Anvari’s innovative supernatural thriller. Though Rashidi’s been appearing in bit parts for the past decade, the title should serve as her breakout hit after a successful festival circuit tour and, with the right marketing strategy, a notable theatrical run. (NB)

#4. Lily Gladstone – Certain Women
She takes up significant weight alongside the Kristen Stewarts, Michelle Williams and Laura Derns of the film, and when we look back at the year in cinema that was, there’ll be no better perf that represents true yearning than the strong silent type Lily Gladstone inhabits in Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women. She previously had a part in Arnaud Desplechin’s Jimmy P., but here with next to no lines of dialogue, the character of Jamie (an early a.m. rancher who moonlights as a student) saddles up for a figure that is filled with hope and a dash of helplessness. (EL)

#3. Kiki Magalhaes – The Eyes of My Mother
You’ll be hard pressed to forget a film this unique, but you’d be even more hard pressed to erase the nightmarish, overbearing, a tad too needy character that Kiki Magalhaes portrays. 2 parts soft and one part sadistic, the lead character of Francisca is adored by Nicolas Pesce’s camera. (EL)

#2. Morgan Saylor – White Girl
Say what you will about Elizabeth Wood’s White Girl, one certifiable, take it to the bank plus for the film is Morgan Saylor’s heavyweight performance. Previously seen as a supporting player in Carter Smith’s Jamie Marks Is Dead and television’s Homeland, here she takes on the embroiled role of Leah who subjugates herself to one bad decision making call onto another. It’s a fierce, non-exploitative role that is full of risk. (EL)

#1. Parker Sawyers – Southside With You
One of the biggest gambles of Sundance 2016 had to have been Southside With You, a portrait of the initial ‘date’ between Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson. While actress Tika Sumpter is equally effective as his other half, newcomer Parker Sawyers is a warm surprise in this composite of the president as a young man full of passion and idealistic verve. From the film’s opening moments featuring Sawyers jamming to Janet Jackson’s “Miss You Much” in a decrepit, yellow Datsun, to a finale centered on a movie date with Spike Lee’s iconic Do the Right Thing, Sawyers manages a mighty weight with significant grace in a performance which should make him a leading man commodity. (NB)

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