Age: 30
Notable films: Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Even though he didn't take home any Oscars, Benh Zeitlin was certainly one of 2012's biggest awards season success stories. In January of that year, he was just a humble, unassuming filmmaker at the Sundance Film Festival, premiering his New Orleans-set coming-of-age adventure Beasts of the Southern Wild. And, before he could process what was happening, Beasts became the indie fest's most critically adored breakout. The onslaught of praise continued through the Cannes Film Festival and all the way into the Academy Awards, where he received two nominations (for directing and adapted screenwriting).

That's a lot for any 30-year-old, independently minded director to handle, but it's also the unavoidable byproduct of making a film as powerful, enchanting, and one-of-a-kind as Beasts of the Southern Wild. Whatever Zeitlin's next move ends up being, please believe that the always looking Oscar will be on high alert. —MB