Sundance Film Festival: 10 Park City Breakthroughs 2017

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Danielle Macdonald (actress, Patti Cake$)

Danielle Macdonald in Patti Cake$

With a few minor roles to her name, Australian charmer Danielle Macdonald arrived in Park City as a virtually unknown actress and left as an instant star, thanks to her fantastic work as the title character in Geremy Jasper’s inventive and endearing first feature, Patti Cake$. Daydreaming of becoming a rapper, Patti is a girl from “Dirty Jersey” whose life is divided between her part-time job as a bartender, caring for her grandmother, and writing songs alongside her best friend Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay). Financially disadvantaged, and lacking support from her mother, Barb (Bridget Everett), who has her own musical goals, Patti struggles to find confidence. Without missing a beat, Macdonald nails both the rap battles and dramatic sequences with crowd-pleasing ease. Sassy, vulnerable, defiant and lyrically gifted, the young performer showcases her wide range while hilariously winning hearts. – C.A.

Dave McCary (director, Brigsby Bear)

Dave McCary. Photograph by Nate Slevin

Comedy nerds familiar with McCary’s exceptional work with comedy group Good Neighbor and Saturday Night Live might be expecting a straight-up comedy from Brigsby Bear (especially since The Lonely Island, Phil Lord and Chris Miller are producers). While his feature debut is absolutely hilarious, at its core lies a unique and sincere drama about family, friendship and connection that showcases McCary’s talent for balancing tone and executing a fresh, creative vision. As the film unfolds, Brigsby becomes a love letter to intense fandom and the power of storytelling, one that’ll no doubt inspire passionate young filmmakers to grab their friends and just make movies—much like McCary did. – Andy Young
Todd McMullen (Director of photography, Walking Out)

Walking Out, shot by DP Todd McMullen

In television, directors may come and go, but it’s the DP who is responsible for idiot-proofing a show’s look and feel. It can be a good gig, but one that rarely earns notice or accolades. Todd McMullen deserves both. The unsung hero of the critically acclaimed series Friday Night Lights, McMullen has brought his evocative visual style to shows like The Leftovers and The Newsroom (as well as Netflix’s upcoming Santa Clarita Diet). But its his first feature, Walking Out, that has provided him with the proper canvas for his work. Kudos to directors Andrew and Alex Smith, who were smart to recruit McMullen for their outdoor Montana survival drama. He matches TV’s need for speed and efficiency with imagery that looks several times their indie budget. – Jeff Meyers
Ashleigh Murray (actress, Deidra & Laney Rob a Train)

Ashleigh Murray in Deidra & Laney Rob a Train. Photograph by Fred Hayes

It’s hard to pin down actor Ashleigh Murray’s age while watching her in Sydney Freeland’s chipper teen caper Deidra & Laney Rob a Train. A quick look-up on IMDb offers no real answers. Is Murray in the ballpark of the over-achieving teen character she plays in her Sundance debut, or is she one of those blessed individuals who defies temporal classification? Whatever the answer, Murray clearly has charisma to burn, and her star turn as a smarty-pants, opportunistic high school senior saddled with looking after her siblings when mom is arrested proves she’s ready for the limelight. And graduating from short films to her first feature couldn’t have come at a better time. Murray has just landed the role of Josie McCoy (of Josie and the Pussycats) in the CW’s live-action Archie Comics series Riverdale. No doubt more is to come. – J.M.
Jessica Williams (actress, The Incredible Jessica James)

Jessica Williams in The Incredible Jessica James

It was common in the Golden Age of Hollywood for studios to tailor entire films around the talents of a particular star, though that’s a strategy rarely seen in indie filmmaking (barring exceptions like Frances Ha). Yet that’s exactly what writer-director Jim Strouse did for Jessica Williams in the Sundance 2017 Closing Night film, The Incredible Jessica James. It’s not hard to see why. Williams, a former correspondent for The Daily Show, is magnetic in her first starring role. From the opening credit sequence—a colorful, Spike Lee-esque dance through her Brooklyn apartment building—to dialogue and outfits that only she could pull off, Williams lights up the screen with her unique charisma. The audience fell for her, and you will too. – D.J. MM
The Sundance Film Festival ran January 19-29, 2017. See our list of 2016 breakthroughs here; for more from this year, check out our 2017 Sundance Survey here. Images courtesy of the Sundance Institute.
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1 Comment

  1. Vincent Le

    February 6, 2017 at 10:42 am

    Can’t wait to see Call Me By Your Name! Really liked Timothee Chalamet in Homeland so I’m excited to see what he can do. Great to hear that he’s a commanding screen presence!

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