The 30th annual Sundance Film Festival began with a literal drumroll in the form of the ferocious opening-night movie, Whiplash, which pits a jazz-drumming prodigy against his teacher in a battle of wills. It quickly sold to Sony Pictures Classics for a reported $3 million, propelled by lead performances by Miles Teller, pounding the skins until his hands bleed, and J. K. Simmons, abandoning his usual dopey-dad mode to play a drill sergeant of a band conductor. The theme of the movie — the pursuit of one’s passion beyond all reason — seemed to set the tone for the rest of the festival, with many other actors following Simmons into unfamiliar territory. Here are a few of the performances we’ll be beating our drums for this year.
*This article is an expanded version of one that appears in the February 3, 2014 issue of New York Magazine.