Sometimes calling someone a “Sundance darling” can feel patronizing, as if their onscreen achievements, whatever those may be, only rank within Park City’s altitudinous, hyperbolic bubble.
It is fair to say that a lot of over-anxious praise germinates at Sundance—it’s the first major festival of the year, after all, and there seems to be no ceiling to audience expectations. We want to be wowed every night. We want the next Jennifer Lawrence. We’re relieved when genuine talent makes itself known. Luckily, the following 13 (OK, 16—some came in groups) breakthroughs from this year announced themselves in no uncertain terms.
To compile this list, team MovieMaker (Carlos Aguilar, Lara Colocino, Kelly Leow and Jeff Meyers) considered formerly unheralded talents whose careers should, by right, launch into the big time after this January. Like last year, we’ve ranked these moviemakers alphabetically. Keep an eye out for them in theaters in 2015.
If any film at Sundance 2015 deserved more attention, it was writer/director Gerard Barrett’s Glassland. The Irish drama, about an alcoholic mother and her devoted son, contains a heavy dose of raw humanity and surprising warmth delivered by its stellar cast. It’s a visual triumph, too, utilizing familiar elements within enclosed spaces, like doorframes and windows, as a smart storytelling device. Barrett channels his homeland’s gloomy climate into a melancholy that permeates the film—a subtly complex, layered exploration of family, addiction, desperation, and unconditional love. This is the Irish director’s sophomore feature (he previously directed 2013’s Pilgrim Hill), and the one that will earn him a place in the international stage: an unexpected treat among many other overbearing offers at the festival. – Carlos Aguilar
With more than two dozen shorts and nearly half a dozen indie features under his belt (including last year’s SXSW-premiering I Believe in Unicorns), no one can say the 36-year-old Jarin Blaschke hasn’t paid his dues. But if anything should finally get his skills behind the camera noticed, it’s The Witch, one of the buzzier debuts at Sundance this year. More “horrific” than outright “horror,” this 17th-century psychological tale of faith and madness benefits from Blaschke’s ravishing, mist-filled compositions and masterfully framed candle-flame nighttime shots. The little-known DP turns Ontario’s overcast skies and deep-shadowed woods into a convincingly nightmarish New England landscape for director (and former collaborator) Robert Eggers’ tormented puritans. Hollywood, take note: this is a man who knows how to lens a movie. – Jeff Meyers
Robert Eggers (writer and director, The Witch)
Much has been made already about first-time feature director Robert Eggers’ (we’ll say it) maniacal devotion to period authenticity in The Witch. The sets, the costumes, the dialect—Eggers, an accomplished production designer/art director/costumer, crafted his spooky fairy tale with a ground-up attention to detail that sets him far, far apart from his indie contemporaries. Let’s not forget about his confident pacing, his ability to sell moments of both creeping, uneasy understatement and bombastic full-blown terror, and the excellent steering of his cast (led by the wonderfully sympathetic Anya Taylor-Joy, a veritable breakthrough in her own right lest we populate this whole list with people who worked on The Witch). A Sundance Institute Cinereach Feature Film Fellow, Eggers’ directorial work prior to this feature was two shorts; he recently completed a third, “Brothers.” – Kelly Leow