Chris Evangelista: Sundance is upon us yet again. It’s time to get excited for a whole new year of new movies. Unlike many other festivals that arrive as the year ticks on, Sundance is particularly exciting because almost everything there is fresh and unseen. That means you can either be blessed with wonderful surprises – or crushing disappointments. This year, Ben Pearson and I will be representing /Film on the ground at Park City, and we’ve joined forces to put together 10 films we’re looking forward to.
Ben Pearson: Right you are, Chris. Since we’re essentially flying in the dark here, we’re basing these selections purely on a combination of filmmaker, premise, and cast and praying to the movie gods that everything works out for the best. We have no idea if any of these movies are going to work their way into the public consciousness over the next year, but Sundance is always a great way to wipe the slate clean and kick off the year by taking an early look at what might be driving the conversation for months to come. That spark could come from any movie on this list (or none of them – who knows!), but here are the ten we’re the most excited to see.
Shirley doesn’t sound like your typical biopic, and that’s exciting. The film follows a young couple who move into the spare room of the household of author Shirley Jackson, writer of The Haunting of Hill House, and more. The couple soon begins to suspect something is amiss in the home, as the story blends both Jackson’s real-life with her horror fiction. Rather than just follow biopic trappings to tell the story of Shirley Jackson’s life, Shirley turns a portrait of the author into a thriller. Elisabeth Moss plays Shirley Jackson, and that alone is enough to get me excited. Moss excels at playing eccentric characters, and here she’s working with Josephine Decker, director of the phenomenal Madeline’s Madeline. (Chris Evangelista)
Brenda Chapman, the filmmaker behind The Prince of Egypt and Pixar’s Brave, is making her live-action debut in a movie that stars David Oyelowo, Angelina Jolie, and Michael Caine. But it sounds like kids will largely be the focus here, because Come Away is a fairy tale prequel about the early adventures of Alice before she heads to Wonderland and Peter before he becomes Peter Pan. In this story, the kids grow up as brother and sister, and have to “save their parents from downward spirals until finally they’re forced to choose between home and imagination, setting the stage for their iconic journeys into Wonderland and Neverland.” Sounds like that could be a recipe for a fresh and entertaining take on familiar characters, and the involvement of Chapman and this A-list cast only adds to my curiosity. (Ben Pearson)
The Last Thing He Wanted
Mudbound director Dee Rees is back with The Last Thing He Wanted, an adaptation of Joan Didion’s novel by the same name. Rees is a major force when it comes to filmmaking, and the prospect of the director adapting Didion is too good to pass up. Anne Hathaway plays a journalist who gets caught up in a story she was investigating involving her father (Willem Dafoe) and a U.S. state official (Ben Affleck). Hathaway is an actress who can really deliver with the right material, and this sounds like the type of juicy, emotional part she can really sink her teeth into. (Chris Evangelista)
Omniboat: A Fast Boat Fantasia
This is my most anticipated movie of the entire festival because I have almost no idea what to expect. Omniboat: A Fast Boat Fantasia seems to be an anthology story set in Miami, one that’s said to defy the typical rules of filmmaking and that’s described as “a crazy boat ride that navigates everything from talking dolphins to unconventional love.” It stars Robert Redford, Finn Wolfhard, Casey Wilson, Adam Devine, Jessica Williams, Mel Rodriguez, and more, and is directed by DANIELS (Swiss Army Man), Hannah Fidell (The Long Dumb Road), Terence Nance (Random Acts of Flyness), and many more, and was co-written by Phil Lord. This could be an absolute mess, a total masterpiece, or anything in between, but whatever it is, I can’t wait to sink my teeth into this thing. (Ben Pearson)
How’s this for a set up? In Zoé Wittock‘s Jumbo, Noémie Merlant (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) plays Jeanne, a shy young woman who gets a job at an amusement park and then falls in love a Tilt-A-Whirl. And when I say “falls in love”, I mean that Jeanne is romantically attracted to an amusement park ride. Her mother wants her to go out and meet a nice guy, but Jeanne doesn’t care about that. She just wants the Tilt–Whirl, which she nicknames Jumbo. This premise can either backfire as something unbelievably silly, or it could end up being an amazing, original, and very untraditional love story. No matter how it turns out, I need to see it. (Chris Evangelista)
I always feel like there’s lots of potential for “wedding gone wrong” movies, and Palm Springs has the added benefit of starring Andy Samberg (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) and Cristin Milioti (How I Met Your Mother, Fargo) as its romantic leads. The best part? They’re not even the ones who are supposed to be getting married. Instead, they’re just there to, as the official description states, “[wreak] spirited havoc on the wedding celebration” after they embrace the nihilistic approach that nothing really matters. They may learn cheesy but valuable lessons along the way, but since I really like these two actors, I’m genuinely looking forward to this one. (Ben Pearson)
Brandon Cronenberg (son of David) helms this curiosity which is about a “corporate agent who uses brain-implant technology to inhabit other people’s bodies, driving them to commit assassinations for the benefit of the company.” The always-great Andrea Riseborough plays that agent, and as the film progresses, she finds her own mental state deteriorating. Like his father before him, the younger Cronenberg has a knack for concocting eerie, disturbing nightmare movies that leave you shaken. I can’t wait to see what he does with this material. (Chris Evangelista)
Director Sean Durkin made a big splash with his 2011 Sundance film Martha Marcy May Marlene, a cult film which essentially introduced the world to Elizabeth Olsen. I’m a big fan of that movie, so of course I’m excited to see The Nest, which is Durkin’s first feature film in nine years. This one is a 1980s period piece that stars Jude Law and Carrie Coon as a married couple who move into an English mansion, but they quickly realize they’re living life at an unsustainable, unaffordable pace. It sounds like the Durkin is looking to explore the addictive pull of capitalism and its effects on this family, a topical subject which could prove to be a springboard for an interesting cultural conversation (assuming the movie is good enough and distributed widely enough to jumpstart those discussions). Frankly, Martha Marcy May Marlene was such a solid feature debut that I’d be a fool not to be interested in seeing Durkin’s sophomore effort. (Ben Pearson)
The Night House
David Bruckner, director of The Signal and The Ritual, helms this story of a widow (Rebecca Hall) who begins to suspect her lakeside home is haunted. This inspires her to dig into her dead husband’s past – and she might not like what she finds. Bruckner has fast become a horror filmmaker worth paying attention to, and Hall is one of those phenomenal performers who doesn’t get nearly as much praise and attention as she deserves. I’m always up for a new ghost story, and this sounds like it was tailor-made for me (Chris Evangelista)
Carlos Lopez Estrada, the director of the excellent indie hit Blindspotting, returns to Sundance with Summertime, which sounds like it has the same heart and soul but a bit more of an experimental cinematic approach. 25 diverse high schoolers use poetry to tell stories about their lives in Los Angeles, with a skating guitarist, a tagger, two wannabe rappers, an exasperated fast-food worker, a limo driver, and more weaving in and out of each other’s stories. The combination of the L.A. setting with poetry, magical realism, and a promising up-and-coming director has me dying to check this one out and hoping it becomes the type of memorable, unconventional movie that I’ll still be thinking about years from now. (Ben Pearson)
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