Well folks, another January is upon us and you know what that means: to distract ourselves from the garbage in the movie theaters, the nation’s filmmakers, actors, critics, and film fans will assemble in Park City, Utah, to spend a week trudging through the snow and seeing new movies. Yes, it’s Sundance time, and as your humble film editor finishes packing his bag (warm socks, lotsa warm socks), here are a few of the most anticipated titles on the docket.
The wise and witty abortion-based comedy Obvious Child was one of the breakouts of Sundance 2014; writer/director Gillian Robespierre and star Jenny Slate reteam for this comedy/drama set in 1995, which (per the description) “follows three women in one family having lots of sex, drugs, and Japanese food.” More specifically, it concerns a teen girl and her adult, live-in sister, who discover their dad is having an affair. Good supporting cast on this one as well, with the great Edie Falco and indie stalwart John Turturro on hand, as well as the Sundance-mandated minimum of one Duplass (Jay, in this case).
Six years ago, director Dee Rees brought Pariah to Sundance – a tiny movie, yet a revelatory one, exploring issues of youth, sexuality, and identity with sensitivity and insight. In the years since, she’s directed for television (the HBO movie Bessie, an episode of Empire, and two installments of the forthcoming Stonewall mini-series When We Rise) but this is her first theatrical feature since Pariah, and she went big: a post-WWII period piece, adapted from Hillary Jordan’s novel, with a name cast (including Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell, Jonathan Banks, and Mary J. Blige). We’ve seen what she can do with a small canvas; can’t wait to see how she handles this big one.
The Incredible Jessica James
Jessica Williams’s disinterest in taking over The Daily Show was a loss for the show, but at least she was free to finally get the feature film vehicle she deserves. Writer/director James C. Strouse first worked with Williams on the terrific People Places Things (Sundance 2015), where she played a supporting role; Jessica James places her firmly front and center, as a New York City playwright navigating love and loss and all that. The endlessly charming Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids) co-stars.
The Big Sick
Kumail Nanjiani has spent the past few years stealing scenes (on Silicon Valley, Portlandia, Community, Adventure Time, and many more), brightening up podcasts, doing killer stand-up, and hosting The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail. Now he’s playing his first feature film leading role, and it’s a decidedly personal picture – a romantic comedy/drama written with wife Emily Gordon, based on their own courtship. Nanjiani stars as, well, himself; Zoe Kazan steps in as Emily, with Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, and Aidy Bryant in support. Judd Apatow is among the producers, and Michael Showalter (Hello, My Name is Doris) directs.
To The Bone
Marti Noxon’s name has appeared on some of the best television shows of recent years – she was a writer/producer on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Mad Men, and co-created UnREAL (and, we hasten to note, departed before its terrible second season). Her film work hasn’t exactly set the world on fire – she penned the okay-I-guess remake of Fright Night and the adaptation of I Am Number Four, which I didn’t see and you probably didn’t either – but that was all for-hire work in studio productions for other directors. To the Bone finally finds her at the helm of a feature (she directed episodes of Buffy and Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce), both writing and directing this story of a young anorexic woman (Lily Collins) and the doctor (Keanu Reeves) who might save her.
Nobody Speak: Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and Trials of a Free Press
Director Brian Knappenberger’s previous documentaries of note were We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists and The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, both of which lived at the intersection of online activism and government intrusion. So he’s an ideal choice to chronicle the much-discussed but much-simplified story of the case that brought down a media empire (and the shadowy figure that bankrolled it) – a story with much broader implications as we head into an era that looks to be monumentally hostile to critical media.
One of our favorite documentaries of 2015 was Hitchcock/Truffaut, a deep dive into the history and influence of Alfred Hitchcock, guided by some of his foremost students in the industry. This new doc from director Alexander O. Phillipe takes on an even more specific topic: Psycho’s shower scene, one of the most revolutionary single sequences in all of film. (The title is taken from the number of setups and the number of edits in the scene.) Guillermo del Toro, Peter Bogdanovich, Karyn Kusama, Danny Elfman, Walter Murch, and (of course) Jamie Lee Curtis are among the famous faces on hand to discuss Hitchcock’s most iconic moment.
The Little Hours / Ingrid Goes West
Watching Aubrey Plaza transform from beloved TV supporting player to weirdo indie movie leading lady has been one of the true pleasures of the past few years, and lucky for us all, she’s got two new films at Sundance this year. The Little Hours reunites Plaza with Life After Beth writer/director Jeff Baena and that film’s co-stars John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon – and it co-stars Alison Brie, Kate Micucci, Dave Franco, Fred Armisen, and Nick Offerman. Oh, and if all that’s not promising enough, Plaza, Brie, and Micucci play nuns in the Middle Ages. And her co-stars in Ingrid Goes West aren’t slouches either: Elizabeth Olsen plays a social media “star” who’s the object of Plaza’s obsession, and Wyatt Russell and O’Shea Jackson Jr. turn up as well.
The Sundance Film Festival begins tonight; watch this space for our daily reports on the festival’s movies, deals, and happenings on the ground.