This years Sundance Film Festival was the 21st – 31st of January and here are our the 20 films we would have seen at Sundance and are excited about for 2016.
[NOTE: All quoted film descriptions are from the Sundance Program. Movies that are directed by women are denoted with an * after their title. ]
1. As You Are
DIRECTOR: Miles Joris-Peyrafitte
SCREENWRITER: Madison Harrison, Miles Joris-Peyrafitte
CAST: Mary Stuart Masterson, Scott Cohen, John Scurti, Amandla Stenberg, Charlie Heaton, Owen Campbell
AWARDS: U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award: Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, As You Are
“Set in the early 1990s, As You Are unfolds as a series of disparate memories. Prompted by a police investigation, we witness alternating perspectives of pivotal moments in the relationship between three teenage friends: Jack, Mark, and Sarah. Bound by their aversion to the culture around them, Jack and Mark explore the limits of friendship and love until Mark’s judgmental father tears them apart…”
This movie sounds interesting and I am always in the market for a “…refreshing take on the coming-of-age tale boasts a plethora of young talent with boundless potential.” This movie also stars one of SLLS faves, Amandla Stenberg who is definitely an actor to watch and I’m glad she is doing more projects because Rue in The Hunger Games and Orlando Jones’ daughter in Sleepy Hollow seem so long ago.
DIRECTOR: Nate Parker
SCREENWRITER: Nate Parker
CAST: Gabrielle Union, Penelope Ann Miller, Jackie Earle Haley, Aja Naomi King, Armie Hammer, Nate Parker
AWARDS: Audience Award and the US Grand Jury Prize, Dramatic
“When a little slave boy, Nathaniel “Nat” Turner, was taken to meet the Elders in the deep woods of 1800s Southampton County, Virginia, it was determined he would be a prophet. It became evident that the unusually intelligent boy would become able to read, so he was encouraged to study the Holy Bible and be a preacher to his fellow slaves. But when Nat’s master decides to profit from his preaching skills by putting him on an inter-county preaching tour, Nat begins to see the full contours of slavery and is moved to become a different kind of leader…”
The Birth of the Nation was written, directed, and stars Nate Parker who was in Beyond the Lights which is a really lovely romantic-drama and the Big Chill-esque movie About Alex. Parker received a standing ovation before the show ever aired. Not only did it sell for a record breaking $17.5 million it also won ALL THE AWARDS. Thanks to the awards and huge price-tag it has a ton of 2017 Oscar buzz which is refreshing to hear after the second consecutive year of #OscarsSoWhite. Due to the buzz, Parker has been making the rounds and giving a lot of really good interviews about the struggle to make this movie. [From what I hear, this is not a typical heartwarming Sundance indie, but it’s more akin to Braveheart, which is awesome, because people will actually go see it. Sorry, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. -M]
Distribution was picked up by Fox Searchlight after a bidding war.
DIRECTOR: Matt Ross
SCREENWRITER: Matt Ross
CAST: Ann Dowd, Steve Zahn, Kathryn Hahn, George MacKay, Frank Langella, Viggo Mortensen
“Ben (Viggo Mortensen) lives with his wife and six young children, isolated from society deep in the forest of the Pacific Northwest. A devoted father, Ben dedicates his life to transforming his kids into extraordinary adults. He immerses them in an academically and physically rigorous environment and instills in them a rare and primal connection to the natural world.
When a tragedy strikes, the family is forced to leave their self-created paradise…”
I’m not going to lie, nor am I particularly proud, but this movie had me at Viggo Mortensen with a beard. As for the plot I’m hoping it stays clear of the “CRAZY PATRIARCH who never learns and is abandoned.” It seems via its publicity notes that not only will the outside world effect the children but will cause the father to “reexamine his idea of what it means to be a parent.” [The beard might also be enough for me too. -M]
4. Certain Women*
DIRECTOR: Kelly Reichardt
SCREENWRITER: based on the stories by Maile Meloy, Kelly Reichardt
CAST: Lily Gladstone, Jared Harris, James Le Gros, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern
“Certain Women drops us into a handful of intersecting lives across Montana. A lawyer (Laura Dern) tries to diffuse a hostage situation and calm her disgruntled client (Jared Harris), who feels slighted by a workers’ compensation settlement. A married couple (Michelle Williams and James Le Gros) breaks ground on a new home but exposes marital fissures when they try to persuade an elderly man to sell his stockpile of sandstone. A ranch hand (Lily Gladstone) forms an attachment to a young lawyer (Kristen Stewart), who inadvertently finds herself teaching a twice-weekly adult education class, four hours from her home…”
This movie is one of those sprawling multi-character intersecting story movies I personally love, this one is even more exciting for centering on women AND for taking place in my dream home of Montana. It also feels like it has been forever since Michelle Williams made a movie, not sure how I feel about her playing someone married to James Le Gros (I think I like him more now but he used to creep me out) but I’m excited to see her in a movie especially with Laura Dern. Kristen Stewart seems an odd choice to play a lawyer but that has more to do with me still thinking of her as a kid. [Fun fact: Malie Meloy is the sister of Katie’s indie rock boyfriend Colin Meloy. She is a lovely writer, and Laura Dern stars, so I definitely want to see this. -M]
DIRECTOR: Kerem Sanga
SCREENWRITER: Kerem Sanga
CAST: Pamela Adlon, Tim Heidecker, Jennifer Prediger, Mateo Arias, Brianna Hildebrand, Dylan Gelula
AWARDS: Audience Award: NEXT, Presented by Adobe
“Anne is a 17-year-old headstrong, cool nerd who lives with her single mom. While covering a softball game for the high school yearbook committee, she becomes infatuated with Sasha, the pretty star of the team. The two girls charmingly hit it off and quickly become close. But when Anne excitedly shares her newfound attraction to Sasha with her best friend, Cliff, he reveals his feelings for Anne and lashes out at her in unanticipated ways…”
I really enjoyed star Dylan Gelula in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt as surly teenager Xanthippe. She has good comic timing but also a lot of depth so I think she will be great as the lead in a coming-of-age movie. Also it’s so refreshing that this is from the girls point-of-view and not the point-of-view of her BFF Cliff.
6. The Fits*
DIRECTOR: Anna Rose Holmer
SCREENWRITER: Lisa Kjerulff, Saela Davis, Anna Rose Holmer
CAST: Inayah Rodgers, Makyla Burnam, Lauren Gibson, Da’Sean Minor, Alexis Neblett, Royalty Hightower
“Toni, an 11-year-old tomboy, trains as a boxer with her brother at a rec center in Cincinnati’s West End, but becomes fascinated by the dance drill team that also practices there. Drawn to their strength and confidence, Toni eventually joins the group, tirelessly rehearsing the routines, befriending some of the girls, and even piercing her ears to fit in. But when members of the tight-knit group start experiencing mysterious fits of shaking and fainting, Toni’s desire for acceptance becomes complicated…”
One of the things I love about independent film festivals is that there are so many different kinds of stories from differing perspectives it’s so nice to read film plots that don’t all center around men. This movie has an intriguing plot by working in an element of the fantastical into a coming-of-age story.
Distribution was picked up by Oscilloscope Laboratories
DIRECTOR: Rob Burnett
SCREENWRITER: Rob Burnett
CAST: Frederick Weller, Megan Ferguson, Jennifer Ehle, Selena Gomez, Craig Roberts, Paul Rudd
“Having suffered a tragedy, Ben becomes a caregiver to earn money. His first client, Trevor, is a hilarious 18-year-old with muscular dystrophy. One paralyzed emotionally, one paralyzed physically, Ben and Trevor hit the road on a trip into the western states. The folks they collect along the way will help them test their skills for surviving outside their calculated existence. Together, they come to understand the importance of hope and the necessity of true friendship…”
Who doesn’t love a road-trip movie where people pick up odd balls along the way, especially if you’re stuck in said road-trip movie with Paul Rudd and Selena Gomez.
8. The Hollars
DIRECTOR: John Krasinski
SCREENWRITER: Jim Strouse
CAST: Charlie Day, Sharlto Copley, Richard Jenkins, Margo Martindale, Anna Kendrick, John Krasinski
“John Krasinski’s big-hearted family comedy takes a touching look at the ties that bind. Krasinski plays John Hollar, a frustrated graphic novelist anxiously awaiting the birth of his baby with girlfriend, Rebecca (Anna Kendrick). When his mother, Sally (Margo Martindale), is diagnosed with a brain tumor, John flies back home, where denial runs deep in the family tree. While his loving but fractured family pulls together to prepare Sally for surgery, John takes a second look at the life he left behind…”
Big-hearted family comedies from Sundance are not always my jam they are either overly weird/quirky or too sentimental but I have faith in John Krasinski, Anna Kendrick, and SLLS fave Margo Martindale (in her first of TWO movies in this post) that this will be good (at least I hope).
Distribution was picked up by Sony Pictures Classic.
9. The Intervention*
DIRECTOR: Clea DuVall
SCREENWRITER: Clea DuVall
CAST: Ben Schwartz, Natasha Lyonne, Clea DuVall, Alia Shawkat, Cobie Smulders, Melanie Lynskey
AWARDS: U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Individual Performance – Melanie Lynskey
“Control freak bride-to-be Annie gathers her group of thirtysomething friends at the picturesque Savannah family summer home of sisters Jessie (writer/director Clea DuVall) and Ruby to convince Ruby and her workaholic husband, Peter, that their relationship has turned irreparably toxic. Joined by Annie’s easygoing fiancé, Jessie’s partner (Sarah), as well as the reluctant Jack and his sprightly 22-year-old girlfriend, the group makes fumbling attempts to jump-start the intervention throughout the booze-fueled weekend, while resolutely avoiding dealing with their own vices and regrets…”
I am having two polar opposite reactions to this movie:
- The good, it was directed by a woman whom I really like and I love every member of the cast.
- The bad, it is a Big Chill-esque group movie (why are there so fucking many of these lately and why do they all star Jason Ritter) with no people of color. How is this even possible in 2016?
Distribution was picked up by Paramount Home Media.
10. Little Men
DIRECTOR: Ira Sachs
SCREENWRITER: Ira Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias
CAST: Michael Barbieri, Theo Taplitz, Paulina Garcia, Jennifer Ehle, Greg Kinnear
“Jake (Theo Taplitz) is a quiet, sensitive middle schooler with dreams of being an artist. He meets the affably brash Tony (Michael Barbieri) at his grandfather’s funeral, and the unlikely pair soon hit it off. The budding friendship is put at risk, however, when a rent dispute between Jake’s father, Brian (Greg Kinnear), and Tony’s mother, Leonor (Paulina Garcia), threatens to become contentious.
Little Men is a critical yet empathetic look at the dangers of gentrification…”
One thing I love about independent cinema is it’s ability to tell small human stories about really big issues like gentrification. I think people respond better to intimate personal struggles rather than Hollywood dramas that sanitize the issues. I also think they do a better job at showing each side of an issue. [Richard Lawson, formerly of Gawker and now critic for Vanity Fair and participant in the Little Gold Men podcast, LOVES this director, and said this was one of the best things he saw so I am very optimistic. -M]
DIRECTOR: Whit Stillman
SCREENWRITER: Whit Stillman
CAST: Stephen Fry, Tom Bennett, Emma Greenwell, Xavier Samuel, Chloë Sevigny, Kate Beckinsale
“Set in the opulent drawing rooms of eighteenth-century English society, Love & Friendship focuses on the machinations of a beautiful widow, Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale), who, while waiting for social chatter about a personal indiscretion to pass, takes up temporary residence at her in-laws’ estate. While there, the intelligent, flirtatious, and amusingly egotistical Lady Vernon is determined to be a matchmaker for her daughter Frederica—and herself too, naturally. She enlists the assistance of her old friend Alicia (Chloë Sevigny), but two particularly handsome suitors (Xavier Samuel and Tom Bennett) complicate her orchestrations.
Adapting Jane Austen’s unpublished early novella Lady Susan, Whit Stillman returns to the Sundance Film Festival (where hisMetropolitan premiered in 1990) in top form with his latest comedy of manners…”
Nothing says “I’m there” more than Whit Stillman (Metropolitan, The Last Days of Disco) adapting a Jane Austen novella. I’m also really excited this stars The Last Days of Disco’s Chloë Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale (who has spent the last decade of her career in black vinyl as a vampire) as they had great chemistry and wit in the earlier film. [Agreed. Whit Stillman doesn’t make a lot of movies but I cherish every stinking one of them. -M]
Distribution was picked up by both Amazon and Roadside Attractions and a release day has been set for May 13, 2016.
DIRECTOR: So Yong Kim
SCREENWRITER: Bradley Rust Gray, So Yong Kim
CAST: Rosanna Arquette, Ryan Eggold, Amy Seimetz, Brooklyn Decker, Riley Keough, Jena Malone
“Sarah (Riley Keough), a young mother, raises her precocious daughter in their country home while feeling abandoned by her husband, who perpetually travels for work. When Sarah’s old friend Mindy (Jena Malone) comes to visit, they decide to take a road trip, and after an alcohol-infused heart-to-heart, a long unspoken intimacy emerges between the longtime friends. Later Sarah is unable to articulate her thoughts about her husband or Mindy, and Mindy makes the decision to leave the trip and go home. Three years later, the two women are reunited for Mindy’s wedding, and Sarah is forced to reconcile the reality of her feelings…”
Two types of movies I love, friendship dramas and road trip movies and this is both. It’s also directed by a woman and stars Jena Malone. Here’s hoping the precocious child is “independent precocious” and NOT “Hollywood precocious.” [Jena Malone picks really interesting projects and I have a strong affinity for her. I do not share that affinity for Brooklyn Decker. -M]
DIRECTOR: Kenneth Lonergan
SCREENWRITER: Kenneth Lonergan
CAST: Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams, Casey Affleck
“Lee Chandler is a brooding, irritable loner who works as a handyman for a Boston apartment block. One damp winter day he gets a call summoning him to his hometown, north of the city. His brother’s heart has given out suddenly, and he’s been named guardian to his 16-year-old nephew. As if losing his only sibling and doubts about raising a teenager weren’t enough, his return to the past re-opens an unspeakable tragedy.
Casey Affleck’s astonishing performance captures all the substance and crumbling complexity of Lee—a guy frozen in anguish and barely holding it together—who must now step beyond self-imposed isolation to connect with his nephew…”
Kenneth Lonergan wrote and directed You Can Count on Me which is the reason we know who Mark Ruffalo is and think of him as a lovely man. That movie is one of my absolute favorite independent movies. His last film Margaret took forever to get released but is why I think Anna Paquin is actually a really good actress who has a bad habit of picking really bad projects. Manchester by the Sea has a current Metacritic score of 90% and was highly critically praised. Casey Affleck (the better Affleck) has been particularly praised for his performance. [I really thought this was going to be the story of Sundance, and then Birth of a Nation fucked everything up. Poor Casey Affleck, always a bridesmaid (though he will probably get award attention). -M]
Distribution was picked up by Amazon for $10 million and they are trying to find a theatrical distributor as this movie has OSCAR BUZZ.
DIRECTOR: Chad Hartigan
SCREENWRITER: Chad Hartigan
CAST: Levin Henning, Jakub Gierszał, Lina Keller, Carla Juri, Craig Robinson, Markees Christmas
AWARDS: Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic and U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Individual Performance: Craig Robinson
“Morris from America revolves around a 13-year-old African-American boy named Morris and the relationship he has with his father, Curtis, during the transitional period of adolescence. Complicating matters, they are new residents of Heidelberg, Germany—a city of rich history but little diversity. Morris falls in love with a local German girl named Katrin, and his tumultuous connection with her takes him on a journey that ends in self-discovery and a new dynamic to his relationship with Curtis…”
So many of these Father-Son or person-in-foreign-land movies are from the point of view of white people so I’m so happy this movie explores these issues from the perspective of an adolescent African-American boy. There is so much more drama to be mined from this and it’s perfect for independent film. The Vulture review for this was fantastic so I am super excited for this to come out in 2016. [Hartigan’s last movie, This is Martin Bonner, was also well received and available for Prime subscribers! -M]
Distribution was picked up by A24 (who released Ex Machina and Room)
15. Other People
DIRECTOR: Chris Kelly
SCREENWRITER: Chris Kelly
CAST: June Squibb, Zach Woods, Maude Apatow, Bradley Whitford, Molly Shannon, Jesse Plemons
“David, a struggling comedy writer fresh off from breaking up with his boyfriend, moves from New York City to Sacramento to help his sick mother. Living with his conservative father and much-younger sisters for the first time in ten years, he feels like a stranger in his childhood home. As his mother’s health declines, David frantically tries to extract meaning from this horrible experience and convince everyone (including himself) that he’s “doing okay.”…”
This is the second “dude has to move home because his mother is dying of cancer movie,” I’m not really sure I want this to become a trend in film. However I will watch Landry/Ed (Jesse Plemons) in anything (BATTLESHIP 4EVS) and June Squibb is a treasure so I’m there whenever it comes to Netflix. [Katie, you forgot ZACH WOODS. Dude is a pile of charm and awkward hilarity. I counter with a GABE 4EVS. -M]
DIRECTOR: Maggie Greenwald
SCREENWRITER: Maggie Greenwald
CAST: Joel Murray, Diane Ladd, Takashi Yamaguchi, Lorraine Toussaint, Margo Martindale, Julianne Nicholson
“…Director Maggie Greenwald returns to the Sundance Film Festival (Songcatcher) with an elegant historical drama and moving love story. Takashi Yamaguchi appealingly plays Ohta, while three strong female characters—and performances—create the driving force of the film: Sophie (Julianne Nicholson), Anne (Margo Martindale), the guarded but kind widow who takes Ohta in, and Salome (Lorraine Toussaint), Anne’s intelligent, all-seeing domestic help. As Southern women unwilling to accept their lot in society, they fight for their beliefs and dignity against an inescapable reality.”
If you have never seen Songcatcher than you should just go and watch the movie right now, it’s wonderful. Because of my love for that film I am ridiculously excited for this follow-up. I was also all in after reading the last line of the description above, who doesn’t love movies where a group of women are “unwilling to accept their lot in society.” This is the second film to feature fave Margo Martindale (just in case you judge all things on her involvement unless it is that terrible TV show with Will Arnett).
DIRECTOR: Richard Tanne
SCREENWRITER: Richard Tanne
CAST: Vanessa Bell Calloway, Parker Sawyers, Tika Sumpter
“One Chicago afternoon in 1989, a Harvard Law summer associate named Barack Obama finagled a tête-à-tête with an attorney from the prestigious corporate law firm where they both worked. Her name was Michelle Robinson, and his pretense was a friendly outing to a community organizer meeting. In Michelle’s eyes, it was most certainly not a date. But as ice cream gives way to a stop at the Art Institute, and the community gathering conveniently becomes a chance for Barack to lecture brilliantly on activism, it’s stunningly obvious to Michelle that this cigarette-smoking smooth talker is desperately trying to woo her. As their epic encounter continues into evening and these fiercely bright minds go head-to-head, sparks fly…”
This movie had me at a-day-in-the-life-romance but the fact that it is a historically fictional account of when Michelle Obama fell for Barack makes it all the more exciting. I’m also glad that the story is told mainly from Michelle’s point-of-view and not Barack’s.
18. Swiss Army Man
DIRECTOR: Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
SCREENWRITER: Daniel Scheinert, Daniel Kwan
CAST: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Daniel Radcliffe, Paul Dano
AWARDS: Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic
“Alone on a tiny deserted island, Hank has given up all hope of ever making it home again. But one day everything changes when a dead body washes ashore, and he soon realizes it may be his last opportunity to escape certain death. Armed with his new “friend” and an unusual bag of tricks, the duo go on an epic adventure to bring Hank back to the woman of his dreams…”
Swiss Army Man AKA “The Harry Potter farts movie” directed by “music video gurus “The Daniels,” was probably the most contentious movie at this years festival –not everyone is apparently into magical realism and corpses that break wind. I wouldn’t be either but Daniel Radcliff is the flatulating corpse (I’m having a lot of fun coming up with different ways to say tooting) and Paul Dano as the stranded man he saves has me intrigued. [I can’t believe this was picked up. Also, FARTFARTFARTFARTFARTFART. -M]
Distribution was picked up by A24.
DIRECTOR: Sian Heder
SCREENWRITER: Sian Heder
CAST: Uzo Aduba, Evan Jonigkeit, Tammy Blanchard, Allison Janney, Ellen Page
“Young vagabond Lu lives in a van and is fiercely independent in her hand-to-mouth existence. This daily struggle has become tiresome for her privileged boyfriend, Nico, who unceremoniously leaves her one night. When a chance encounter incites her to impulsively “rescue” a baby from a negligent mother, Lu, at a loss for what to do, turns to the only responsible adult she knows: Nico’s unsmiling academic mother, Margo, who believes she’s the child’s grandmother. Thrown together despite differences in class and worldview, Margo and Lu make a lovable, if tense, odd couple. The two are bound to each other as they tentatively form a haphazard family, though Margo has no idea that the police are hot on Lu’s trail for absconding with a child…”
It seems like forever since I saw Ellen Page in something fun and the idea of her, Allson Janney, and Uzo Aduba hanging out with a baby is AWESOME.
Netflix picked up streaming video on-demand rights but theatrical rights are still unavailable.
DIRECTOR: Todd Solondz
SCREENWRITER: Todd Solondz
CAST: Zosia Mamet, Julie Delpy, Ellen Burstyn, Danny DeVito, Kieran Culkin, Greta Gerwig
“Wiener-Dog tells several stories featuring people who find their life inspired or changed by one particular dachshund, who seems to be spreading a certain kind of comfort and joy. Man’s best friend starts out teaching a young boy some contorted life lessons before being taken in by a compassionate vet tech named Dawn Wiener. Dawn reunites with someone from her past and sets off on a road trip picking up some depressed mariachis along the way. Wiener-Dog then encounters a floundering film professor, as well as an embittered elderly woman and her needy granddaughter—all longing for something more…”
I’m not the biggest fan of Todd Solondz but I am down with a story of a cute dachshund inspiring people especially if they are played by Greta Gerwig and Ellen Burstyn. [This cast is so cute and indie sweet it gives me a toothache. -M]
Distribution was picked up by Amazon and they are trying to find a theatrical distributor.