The Sundance Film Festival kicks off today, the biggest and buzziest of the indie film fests – and something of starter pistol for the year, unveiling a fair number of the films and performances we’ll be talking about in the months ahead, even while we’re still taking about last year’s. (For example: current awards circuit contenders Call Me By Your Name, The Big Sick, Mudbound, and Get Out all debuted at Sundance ’17.) So here’s a sneak peek at what your film editor is most anticipating in Park City this year.
Sorry to Bother You
Until now, we knew Boots Riley as the lead vocalist for the unassailable political hip-hop group The Coup. And his feature directorial debut borrows not only the title of the group’s four-star 2012 album, but a fair amount of its music as well, complementing a concept that sounds bananas. Lakeith Stanfield plays a nowhere telemarketer who discovers (let me quote so I get this right) “a magical selling power living inside of him,” which takes him to the upper echelons of his corporation, much to the chagrin of his radical artist girlfriend (Tessa Thompson). Oh, and Armie Hammer co-stars as “the company’s cocaine-snorting, orgy-hosting, obnoxious, and relentlessly optimistic CEO.” I’m getting a very Putney Swope vibe off this thing – and that’s about the highest compliment I can think of.
The Big Sick was one of last year’s big Sundance breakouts, so it’s no surprise that producer Judd Apatow is back with another complicated romance. Based on Nick Hornby’s wonderful 2009 novel, Juliet concerns a love triangle between a music geek, his girlfriend, and his favorite musician. They’re played by, respectively, Chris O’Dowd, Rose Byrne, and Ethan Hawke, so the casting couldn’t be better; Hornby adaptations can hit (High Fidelity, About a Boy) and miss (A Long Way Down), but under the direction of Jesse Peretz – who helmed the film Our Idiot Brother and epsiodes of GLOW, Girls, Divorce, Nurse Jackie, and Orange is the New Black – this one looks promising.
This is a movie about Lizzie Borden, who famously murdered her father and stepmother with an axe in 1892. Chloë Sevigny plays Lizzie; Kristen Stewart plays the family’s maid, with whom she first becomes a friend, and then an intimate. That’s all I know about this movie. That’s all I need to know about it.
The latest from Sebastian Silva – the provocative filmmaker who’s brought five previous films to the festival, including The Maid, Crystal Fairy, and Nasty Baby – sounds like it could be this year’s Get Out. The great Jason Mitchell (of Straight Outta Compton and Mudbound) stars as a regular guy who heads out to the Catskills for a drunken weekend birthday party and realizes, upon his arrival, that he’s the only POC in the house. It’ll probably turn out fine, right? RIGHT? Christopher Abbott, Silva alum Michael Cera, Get Out alum Caleb Landry Jones, and Ann Dowd co-star.
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter was one of the strangest and most heartbreaking movies of Sundance 2014, so whatever directors David and Nathan Zellner were going to get up to next was going to be interesting, and now they’re back – with their first Western. And they’re going for it; according to Sundance, there is (squints at website) “rotgut, rawhide, rootin’, tootin’, and hootin’. Plus, a little tiny horse.” Robert Pattinson stars, fresh off his Good Time triumph, as the hero (maybe?), alongside Mia Wasikowska, Robert Forster, and the Zellner brothers themselves.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Another member of the class of 2014 making a triumphant return, Desiree Akhavan made a big splash by writing, directing, and starring in the wise and funny Appropriate Behavior. That film’s matter-of-fact bisexuality was one of its most endearing features, so she’s a good fit for this comedy/drama about a high-school girl who’s sent off to gay conversion therapy – where she unexpectedly finds herself, for the first time, part of a queer community. Akhavan co-writes and directs but doesn’t appear in this one, unfortunately; that said, she cast Chloë Grace Moretz, American Honey’s Sasha Lane, John Gallagher Jr., and Jennifer Ehle, so cancel the complaints.
Leave No Trace
Debra Granik’s 2010 Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner, Winter’s Bone, was a sleeper hit and the recipient of four Academy Award nominations, including the first Best Actress nod for its then-unknown star, Jennifer Lawrence. We’ve waited a good long while for her follow-up – though the documentary she made in the meantime, Stray Dog, is excellent – which concerns Ben Foster and newcomer Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie as a father and daughter living “off the grid” in a nature reserve in Orgeon, and what they do when their cover gets blown.
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot
The latest from Gus Van Sant features Joaquin Phoenix as a man confined to a wheelchair, so the gallows humor of the title should give you some idea of what they’re doing here. Yes, it’s the true story of an alcoholic’s recovery after a catastrophic automobile accident, but it also co-stars Jack Black and Jonah Hill, and it really seems like it’s a comedy, which is not exactly what we think of when we think of Gus Van Sant (at least, lately)? Also, it co-stars Rooney Mara, and how has she not been in a Gus Van Sant movie yet?
You can’t always bank on a list of names, but if there’s one movie at this year’s best that seems an assemblage of reliable personnel, it’s this one: Brad Anderson (who did Session 9, The Machinist, and Next Stop Wonderland) directs a screenplay by Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton, Duplicity, the good Bourne movies), starring Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike. It looks like exactly the kind of smart, mid-budget, made-for-grown-ups drama that barely gets made anymore, so here’s hoping it lives up to its pedigree.
Panos Cosmatos’ 2010 feature Beyond the Black Rainbow was one of the strangest movies in recent memory, an invigorating and potentially alienating full-on descent into experimentation and madness, so it makes sense that he would team up with Nicolas Cage – whose acting an often be described in similar terms. Playing in the festival’s Midnight line-up, it’s a revenge tale, and if the idea of a bloodied and wound-up Nicolas Cage hell-bent on vengeance doesn’t do it for you, well, friend, I don’t know how to help.
Sundance runs through next week; keep an eye on this space for news and wrap-ups.