Age: 29
Notable role: Sophina in Fruitvale Station (2013)

Everyone knows that Melonie Diaz can do comedy with the best of them. Before 2013, the NYC native was on a funny-movie roll, providing her hilarious and spark-plug charms to indie comedies like Hamlet 2, Be Kind Rewind, and last year's underrated Supporting Characters. In 2006, she even powered the Itty Bitty Titty Committee to its Jury Prize victory at the SXSW Film Festival.

It's no mystery that Diaz brings the funny, but the fact that she's also a heartbreaking dramatic whirlwind? Few saw that coming, even those who've watched her impressive work in the 2002 indie darling Raising Victor Vargas. In the new buzz-heavy, based-on-a-true-story film Fruitvale Station, though, Diaz is a devastating revelation as Sophina, the girlfriend of Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan), the 22-year-old Bay Area who, while unarmed, was killed by a police officer in January 2009.

Diaz's performance balances compassion and vulnerability with the quiet rage of a lover scorned by infidelity. But it's in Fruitvale Station's tragic climax, when Grant's shooting is played out to the last wrenching detail, that Diaz knocks your socks off. —MB