Over the years Sundance has developed its own star system, launching the careers of actors who in turn become regulars (Steve Buscemi, Parker Posey, Sam Rockwell, Ryan Gosling, Vera Farmiga, Zooey Deschanel, et al). Here are 10 of the greatest performances in festival history.
10. Jacqueline Bisset in THE SLEEPY TIME GAL (2001)
Known as a sex symbol her entire career, Bisset reveals unexpected depth and assurance in this portrayal of a cancer-stricken woman, taking stock at the end of a messy life and understanding that some loose ends will have to remain that way.
9. Mo'Nique in PRECIOUS (2009)
The comedian attacks her daunting monstrous-mom role with an operatic ferocity and has been an Oscar favorite from the moment the film screened at Sundance last year.
8. Steve Buscemi in PARTING GLANCES (1986)
Bill Sherwood's only feature (he died in 1990), one of the first AIDS dramas, gave Sundance stalwart Buscemi his first big role, and he steals the film with his nimble, moving, utterly unsentimental turn as an HIV-positive downtown rocker.
7. Vincent Gallo in BUFFALO '66 (1998)
Gallo co-wrote, directed, and composed and performed the score for his singular directorial debut. Crucially, he also appears in almost every scene. No one else could have played the hectoring, paranoid, fully self-absorbed Billy Brown, and no one else could have turned his narcissism into such a riveting and even touching spectacle.
6. Danny Glover in TO SLEEP WITH ANGER (1990)
Gifted with a richly fascinating character by writer-director Charles Burnett a mysterious, possibly diabolical Southern gentleman who wreaks havoc on the California family he's visiting Glover delivers the performance of his career, a marvel of sly ease and wicked humor.
5. Lili Taylor in I SHOT ANDY WARHOL (1995)
As would-be assassin Valerie Solanas, the always surprising Taylor is note-perfect, both weirdly adorable and a little scary, playing up the comedy of the sore-thumb outsider but also tapping into her desperate need to belong.
4. David Morse in THE SLAUGHTER RULE (2002)
After decades of fine character parts, Morse reached a career peak with this extraordinary portrait of a lonely football coach, a broken man concealing the wounds of defeat and regret behind a mask of tough-guy masculinity.
3. James Spader in SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE (1989)
Capping his terrific '80s run of Brat Pack villains and sleazeballs, Spader brings both pathos and wit to his portrayal of an emotionally blocked voyeur who compensates for his impotence with his trusty camcorder and a passive-aggressive interview technique. (It's not hard to imagine Spader's kinky lawyer in 2002's s&m office romance SECRETARY as his SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE character, all grown up.)
2. Ryan Gosling in HALF NELSON (2006)
Gosling's string of electrifying Sundance performances began with 2001's THE BELIEVER, in which he played a Jewish neo-Nazi; he returned the following year in THE SLAUGHTER RULE, as an angry teenager working through his issues on and off the football field. (And he's back this year, opposite Michelle Williams in BLUE VALENTINE.) The most affecting of all the desperately intelligent young men this remarkable actor has played remains the conflicted idealist of HALF NELSON, who wants to change the world but whose life is falling apart.
1. Julianne Moore in SAFE (1995)
In Todd Haynes's harrowing existential horror movie, one of the very best American films of the past few decades, Moore plays a blank-slate Southern California housewife who becomes allergic to her own life. In a performance of exquisite restraint, she does the seemingly impossible: she tunnels into the inner existence of a woman who may not have one.