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The Future is Now: Top 20 New Faces from TIFF 2013

Now that the dust has settled and the behemoth TIFF is in our rear-view mirror, the team are comparing notes, grading films and looking back at our personal experiences, our rapport with the films we saw and the characters that vividly remain with us. Among our favorite fest recaps, our discerning fivesome (Eric Lavallee, Jordan M. Smith, Nicholas Bell, Leora Heilbronn, Caitlin Coder) have created a Top 20 List of New Faces from the 2013 of up-and-coming actors and actresses (of all age demos) that stole some thunder in lead or supporting player roles. Here they are:

#20. Zoe Levin (Palo Alto, Beneath the Harvest Sky)

Zoe Levin Palo Alto, Beneath the Harvest Sky TIFF 2013 Top 20 New Faces

Unlike the characters of Emily and Tasha in Gia Coppola’s Palo Alto and Aron Gaudet & Gita Pullapilly’s Beneath the Harvest Sky, Zoe Levin‘s future is a a bright one. Respectively playing a teens suffering from suburban and country-setting ennui, in Palo Alto Levin manages to explore the bratty yet vulnerable teen girl socialite without much confidence, and in Beneath the Harvest Sky she is the one without a backbone and incredibly naive. She got her debut bit part in David Schwimmer’s Trust and in the Sundance preemed The Way Way Back, and appears to be set up for further supporting player roles most likely in pre-adult, indie type dramas. We’re looking forward in seeing what more screen time, beefier roles might bring her. (EL)

#19. Laurent Lafitte (Bright Days Ahead)

 Laurent Lafitte – Bright Days Ahead TIFF 2013 Top 20 New Faces

Swiftly rising French star Laurent Lafitte has perhaps been more noted in his native country with bit parts in films from Mathieu Kassovitz, Claude Miller, and Michel Gondry (Mood Indigo has yet to be released in the US), and he may be familiar as part of Guilluame Canet’s regulars, appearing both in Tell No One and Little White Lies. But it’s his role as the romantic lead opposite icon Fanny Ardant in the charming and effervescent Bright Days Ahead that should finally see him as a more recognized figure outside of France as the film has received unprecedented distribution in both the US and the UK. Lafitte shares a warm and believable chemistry with his leading lady in a complicated relationship drama that’s reminiscent of a bygone age of elegant, intelligently written cinema where love and sexual attraction aren’t relegated to formulaic instances. (NB)

#18. Guillaume Gouix (Attila Marcel)

Guillaume Gouix (Attila Marcel)  TIFF 2013 Top 20 New Faces

Director Sylvain Chomet has often been said to be the animation-based spiritual successor to comedic genius Jacques Tati, and with Attila Marcel, starring Guillaume Gouix, the filmmaker moves even closer, delving into live-action. Strangely, the film, bearing Chomet’s signature comedic melancholy, is partially a musical, but Gouix’s character, Paul, is nearly as silent as any of the filmmaker’s leads prior, his bottled up emotions bubbling to the surface in hilarious and heartbreaking expressions. Gouix has been bopping around French cinema and television for over a decade, with his biggest cinema credit being that of ‘1920’s party goer’ in Woody Allen’s surprise smash Midnight In Paris. Beautifully suited to non-verbal comedy, but obviously capable of much more, expect him to be leaving bigger footprints from here on out. (JS)

#17. Callan McAuliffe (Beneath the Harvest Sky)

Callan McAuliffe Beneath the Harvest Sky TIFF 2013 Top 20 New Faces

In Beneath the Harvest Sky, Callan McAuliffe does more than manage to lose his Aussie accent for a French Canadian, Maine type, with the role of Dominic he excels in breathing life into the hard working, earnest ways that have been passed down by generations before him. There is a small town gloss to the film, and compared to the volatile character of Casper (see actor below), McAuliffe (who appeared in I Am Number Four and as the young Gatsby in The Great Gatsby) adds a much needed authentic take on soft-spoken, sensible, un-movie like type of character. His performance might be more subdued – but that was exactly the point. (EL)

#16. Macon Blair (Blue Ruin)

 Macon Blair (Blue Ruin) TIFF 2013 Top 20 New Faces

It’s always a lovely thing when a director finds a creative partner in crime to act as an extension of himself on screen. For Jeremy Saulnier, writer and director of the lean, mean, Cannes-preemed, TIFF-screened revenge thriller Blue Ruin, that actor is the babyfaced Macon Blair. Blair starred in Saulnier’s horror-comedy debut, Murder Party, but since has only found middling parts in other lukewarm features like last year’s Hellbenders and 2011’s You Hurt My Feelings. In his turn as Dwight in Blue Ruin, Blair plays a homeless heartsick son of murdered parents whose only reprisal is the blood of their killer. Within this role he brings a truly authentic full range of emotions that lend this often brutal film an empathetic air that demands your compassion in killing. (JS)

#15. Nimrat Kaur (The Lunchbox)

TIFF 2013 Top 20 New Faces Nimrat Kaur The Lunchbox

Already a big name in the Mumbai theatre community, stage actress Nimrat Kaur started as a career ad model. With delightfully executed humor and grace, her leading role as Ila in first-time writer-director Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox is a far cry from Cadbury commercials. Kaur plays a lonely housewife and hobby chef, mastering new recipes in hopes of spicing up her flavorless marriage. The meal prepared for her husband is serendipitously misdirected by the age-old tradition of otherwise efficient lunch couriers to a number-crunching widower. Trading increasingly intimate notes, romantic possibility presents itself without sugary sentimentality. Hopefulness lingers long after the textured film’s end to treat even the pickiest of taste-buds. With attention-grabbing Irrfan Khan costarring, the agreeable feature is a grand introduction for up and coming Nimrat Kaur to an audience beyond her Bollywood home. (CC)

#14. Rohan Chand (Bad Words)

Rohan Chand Bad Words TIFF 2013 Top 20 New Faces

Jason Bateman directs and stars as a fortysomething misanthrope guiltlessly outcompeting children at spelling bees in his raucously hilarious debut Bad Words. Doe-eyed Rohan Chand steals the show, playing a brainy and consequently friendless ten year-old desperately striving for the attention of his much-older opponent. Bateman’s sharp-tongued vulgarity is perfectly matched by the genial charisma of Chand. Recent buyer Focus Features has likely struck gold, as the smartly scripted contrast and innate chemistry between them makes up for the flimsily told backstory with great strides. The promised theatrical release is good news for the lovable actor, though he has shared the silver screen with Adam Sandler (Jack and Jill) and Mark Wahlberg (Lone Survivor), pint-sized Rohan Chand is about to get big. (CC)

#13. Sami Gayle (Hateship Loveship)

Sami Gayle Hateship Loveship TIFF 2013 Top 20 New Faces

In Liza Johnson’s Hateship Loveship, based on Alice Munro’s short story, two malicious teenaged girls (Hailee Steinfeld and Sami Gayle) trick their defeated housekeeper Johanna (Kristen Wiig) into believing that recovering drug addict Ken (Guy Pearce), also estranged father to one of the girls, is in love with her. The all-star cast includes scene stealers Nick Nolte, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Christine Lahti but it is Sami Gayle’s Edith who enigmatically sparkles on screen despite her malevolent intentions. No stranger to starring opposite powerhouses, Gayle catapulted her career acting and singing opposite Patti LuPone in an off-Broadway production of “Gypsy” and had a bit role in the indie classroom drama Detachment. She has since been seen on CBS’ “Blue Bloods” and will hopefully become a household name in the coming year when she can be seen in Aronofsky’s Noah and the much anticipated film adaptation of the popular Vampire Academy. (LH)

#12. Mothusi Mogano (Of Good Report)

Recognizable perhaps from his turns in award winning fare like Hotel Rwanda and Tsotsi, South African actor Mothusi Mogano turns in a deliciously striking lead performance as Parker Sithole, the lonely hearted protagonist at the center of Jahmil X.T. Quebeka’s dark and controversial film Of Good Report. Filmed in striking black and white, Mogano drifts from soft-spoken teacher to needy lover to unhinged killer with believable aplomb, his melancholy and stern gaze the only indication of a being in utter turmoil. Opening with a queasy scene where Mogano picks teeth that are lodged in the back of his head from an apparent assailant, Quebeka quickly plunges us into a foreboding mise en scene of a present day affair between pupil and teacher juxtaposed with ominous snippets of Sithole’s past involving an abusive character that begins to haunt him. A striking and extremely enjoyable debut film from Quebeka, it’s Mogano’s desperate lead performance that anchors this dark, disturbing tale with a tenuous note of compassion. (NB)

 #11. Jenny Schily (The Strange Little Cat)

Jenny Schily The Strange Little Cat

Ramon Zürcher’s lively, poetic debut The Strange Little Cat has a structuralist sensibility, as choreographed movements through the cramped domestic space of a Berlin apartment play with frame limitations. The meticulously controlled mise en scène breathes surrealist life into dormant objects, so even a glass bottle has personality. Spatial arrangements of this energetic environment, filled also by strange little pets, de-emphasize the role of passive aggressive but tender relatives. Performing perfectly for visual artist Zürcher, Jenny Schily, who plays the mother of the house, has no dominance over whirring appliances or anchoring presence of the kitchen table. Nevertheless, her memorable gaze and relaxed monologue about a strange movie theater experience recommend that Schily would thrive in a more character-driven feature. Jenny Schily has acted in many German television programs, but the deserved recognition of The Strange Little Catmay be her international breakout. (CC)

#10. Nat Wolff (Palo Alto)

Nat Wolff Palo Alto TIFF 2013 Top 20 New Faces

Among the plethora of fresh faces in Gia Coppola’s debut, perhaps the most at ease in his skillset is relative newcomer Nat Wolff. Taking on a character who is a different branch, but not to far off the likes of the hollow core character of Telly (played by Leo Fitzptrick) in 1995’s Kids, Wolff first got into acting via youth programming television before merging into film via Peace, Love & Understanding, New Year’s Eve, Stuck in Love, and Admission. It’s in Palo Alto and perhaps other future indie items such as Behaving Badly and The Faults in Our Stars where we get the anti-thesis of say Miles Teller. Playing the enfant terrible character of Fred, the “loaded gun” of the character set, Wolff delivers a solid interpretation of emotional imbalance found in your typical teen who fights boredom, lack of adult supervision with knife-wielding wits. At times charming, a little too smart for his own good, you don’t want Fred dating your daughter, as he is ultimately driven towards his own auto-destruction. (EL)

 #9. Pierre-Yves Cardinal (Tom at the Farm)

Pierre-Yves Cardinal (Tom at the Farm) TIFF 2013 Top 20 New Faces

Young Quebecois director Xavier Dolan is revered for his stunning visual orchestrations of love and loss often played out in lavish hues. For Dolan, however, the scrutiny tends to be on his age (24) and it is often neglected in the interim that he elicits powerfully evocative performances from his leading actors, including Monia Chokri (Heartbeats) and Suzanne Clement (Laurence Anyways). In his latest, Tom at the Farm, an adaptation of the French play by Michel Marc Bouchard, the standout performance is by Pierre-Yves Cardinal, playing the potentially closeted brother of the titular Tom (as played by Dolan)’s deceased lover. Over the course of the psychological Hitchcockian thriller he seamlessly alternates between charming and eerily menacing, taunting the audience (and Tom) to question his true nature. The searing Cardinal should receive accolades for his memorable turn in the film. (LH)

#8. Angeli Bayani (Ilo Ilo & Norte, The End of History)

Angeli Bayani Ilo Ilo TIFF 2013 Top 20 New Faces

Young Singapore writer and director Anthony Chen’s intimate family drama won the Camera d’Or award for best debut feature at Cannes and has been nominated for next year’s best foreign language Academy Award. Angeli Bayani plays Terry in Ilo Ilo, a Filipino domestic worker that has moved in with a middle-class family discretely struggling during the Asian financial crisis of 1997. After insufferable ten-year old trouble-maker Jaile attempts to frame his seemingly timid new caretaker for shoplifting, Terry makes it crystal clear that she will not be bullied. Her character containing multitudes serves to show cultural difference and how easily nannies replace their preoccupied employers. With realism running faithful to banal domestic life and understated emotional nuances throughout, the profound film would have fallen flat without her proportionately subtle acting. Not only is Terry an elemental force in the story-world but Bayani’s affecting performance is unmatched, so her final advice to “learn to take care of yourself” nearly materializes into a lasting souvenir to be carried away from Ilo Ilo. The seasoned indie actress starred in Norte, The End of History from Philippine New Wave master filmmaker Lav Diaz which also screened at TIFF. Taking the lead in this years’ stand-out cinema, Angeli Bayani could soon be a household name. (CC)

 #7. Jack Kilmer (Palo Alto)

Jack Kilmer (Palo Alto) TIFF 2013 Top 20 New Faces

For those involved with Palo Alto, it is all in the family. The surnames Coppola and Kilmer are instantly recognizable. It was with great anticipation that the audiences at TIFF looked to Gia Coppola’s directorial debut, Palo Alto, which introduced filmgoers to a River Phoenix-like Jack Kilmer, her leading actor. The film follows four young lost souls desperately wrestling with their loneliness and seeking connection in the disjointed sleepy suburb of Palo Alto. Though the focus is primarily on insecure April (played by Emma Roberts, yet another famous last-named star), it is Kilmer’s character Teddy who brings sparkling energy to the film. Palo Alto marks his acting debut, yet the range he evokes in the film is that of a well-seasoned actor. (LH)

 #6. Jack O’Connell (Starred Up)

Jack O'Connell Starred Up

With startling charisma and an intensely physical presence, Jack O’Connell brings director David Mackenzie’s hard-knocks prison drama Starred Up to life.  The young British actor has played alongside Michael Caine in Harry Brown and Michael Fassbender in Eden Lake, and had a bit part in the BAFTA award winner This Is England, but he hasn’t really had his own time in the spotlight until now. O’Connell brings a ferocious magnetism to his performance of Eric, a fresh faced inmate locked up in the same prison as his father after a lengthy stay in juvy for violent outbursts. His cocky confidence and emotionally subtle on-screen transformation seems but a preview of brilliance to come. (JS)

#5. George MacKay (How I Live Now & Sunshine on Leith)

George MacKay (How I Live Now & Sunshine on Leith) TIFF 2013 Top 20 New Faces

In Kevin Macdonald’s breathtaking How I Live Now, the heroine, Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) is immediately spellbound by the quietly intense yet solicitous Edmond, played by George MacKay, and it is her all-consuming connection with him that drives her forward, in the heartbreaking war drama. Though the horrors of battle are not explicitly shown, but instead implied in the film, MacKay’s predominantly silent performance transcendentally displays to the audience the trauma his character has experienced. In the charming musical Sunshine on Leith his character Davy physically parts from the war in Afghanistan but finds himself tormented by guilt over his fellow soldier’s loss of legs in a roadside bomb. Once again MacKay wordlessly triumphs over his post-traumatic stress yet his pain is strongly felt. The stoic MacKay resplendently juggles both comedic and dramatic tones and he is doubtlessly one to watch, seek out the 2013 Cannes preemed For Those in Peril where he delivers a stellar performance and look out for him in next year’s Duane Hopkins’ Bypass. (LH)

#4. Kimke Desart (I’m the same I’m an other)

Kimke Desart (I’m the same I’m an other) 2013 Top 20 New Faces

Kimke Desart won best actress at Filmfestival Oostende and the international film festival in Ourense for Lost Persons Area, which premiered at Cannes as the first in an unfinished trilogy from director Caroline Strubbe. Years after her debut, Desart again plays obsessive compulsive Tessa in I’m the same I’m an other. Well acquainted with her young leading lady, Strubbe readily shared during her TIFF Q&A that Desart is actually lighthearted and lovely. Considering her off-screen disposition and age, the haunting performance is that much more astounding. Tessa was kidnapped after the concurrent death of her parents, with existing mental ailments worsening from trauma, her quiet devastation is told through compulsive gestures and heart-breaking twitches. I’m the same I’m an other requires patience, but the reward, owed in part to Kimke Desart, is deeply moving. She is set to play Tessa at eighteen struggling with Stockholm syndrome, but her career will foreseeably continue long after this remarkable series. (CC)

#3. Tye Sheridan (Joe)

 Tye Sheridan – Joe  TIFF 2013 Top 20 New Faces

While he received considerable notice for his turn in Jeff Nichols’ Mud, and his screen debut was Malick’s Tree of Life, Tye Sheridan turns in a performance as equally as rewarding as a surprisingly great turn from co-star Nicolas Cage in David Gordon Green’s latest film. Playing the son of a pair of homeless drunks, he’s an adolescent hopelessly enmeshed in a series of violent and despicable circumstances, his bond with an older father figure with issues of his own akin to a similar relationship Sheridan’s character develops with McConaughey in the Nichols film. Greene, no stranger to capturing local colors and textures of the downtrodden and disenfranchised returns to filmmaking that follows in the footstep of his first three great titles, albeit with more sensational flair here. Sheridan, who won the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor here, is quickly becoming a notable name, with upcoming roles in The Forger, Grass Stains, and Dark Places alongside Charlize Theron. (NB)

#2. Emory Cohen (Beneath the Harvest Sky)

Emory Cohen (Beneath the Harvest Sky) TIFF 2013 Top 20 New Faces

We could technically say that we saw him exactly one year to the date with his role in The Place Beyond the Pines, but with a voraciousness of a bulldozing early Marlon Brando and a street smart entrepreneurial spirit we witness in very few, the potato-launching character of Casper is Beneath the Harvest Sky’s alluring main protagonist. Under the guise of co-directors Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly, Emory Cohen owns the screen by going method in the state of Maine. A mixture of Good Will Hunting’s lead characters (Affleck and Damon), Casper is a brawn and brains (the outside the classroom smarts type) type with an unmatched loyalty towards family, his best friend and none towards those who try to sabotage or sidetrack him from his course. Cohen’s first cred goes to Antonio Campos’ Afterschool, but his most recent work, noteworthy entries such the Cianfrance film, Four, Nor’easter and television series “Smash” demonstrates he might have the goods – in this instance, he mastered the regional accent and personality of the lieu. (EL)

#1. Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)

TIFF 2013 Top 20 New Faces Lupita Nyong’o 12 Years a Slave

While 12 Years a Slave won the People’s Choice at TIFF and is destined to be an Oscar front runner, in a sea of standout performers, newcomer Lupita Nyong’o’s performance as viciously abused slave Patsey will be seared into your subconscious. This is Nyong’o’s feature film debut, and her performance belongs to a scant few that deservedly employ the words profound and gut wrenching. Previously, Nyong’o, who was born in Mexico but raised in Kenya and graduated from the Yale School of Acting Drama Program, has floated around as a production intern and publicist along with acting in short film projects, so her turn here should make her an instant force to reckon with (she’ll appear in Jaume Collet Serra’s 2014 film Non-Stop starring Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore). (NB)


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