The Sundance Film Festival is right around the corner, and as expected, this venerable independent film showcase — the brainchild of iconic storyteller Robert Redford — promises to deliver ten days of sheer cinematic bliss. And it’s set to a breathtaking snowy Park City backdrop, no less. As an enthusiastic attendee since 1994, I should mention that one of the most unique and exciting aspects of Sundance is that there’s no real buzz going in to the festival because many of the titles showcased are playing for the very first time. Translation: Sundance attendees actually create the almighty buzz that will, hopefully, carry the strongest of these films through a successful festival (and theatrical) run.
The 2018 Sundance Film Festival will run from Jan. 18 to 28. For ticket info and a look at the entire lineup, click here.
Without further ado, here’s an alphabetical list of 10 films we’re really excited to see at this year’s highly anticipated fest!
Cassie, a single mom and realtor, hustles to sell increasingly worthless subdivision houses in the midst of the 2009 housing slump, even as she dodges collection calls on her own multiple past-due mortgage payments. When the unstable Sonny, a disgruntled buyer in danger of losing his home, turns up at Cassie’s office, things quickly spiral out of control. Despite Sonny’s assertion that he’s “a really good person,” he knocks Cassie out, kidnaps her, and drags her along on his impulsive spree of violence. An extensive game of cat-and-mouse between the two ensues, set within a sparsely inhabited housing development. While the synopsis for “Arizona” makes it sound like a thriller, the film stars Danny McBride, so you have to believe this will offer up a substantial amount of irreverent humor, too. Plus, it’s part of the Sundance midnight category to boot. This one should be fun.
Mike Burden (Garrett Hedlund) is a taciturn repo man rising through the ranks of the Ku Klux Klan in small-town South Carolina, 1996. Orphaned as a child, he is fiercely loyal to local Klan leader and toxic father figure Tom Griffin (a terrifying Tom Wilkinson). But Burden has a change of heart when he falls for Judy (Andrea Riseborough), a single mother who stirs his social conscience. His violent break from the Klan sends him into the open arms of Reverend Kennedy (Forest Whitaker), an idealistic African American preacher who offers him safety and a shot at redemption. Actor Andrew Heckler (“Oz”) takes racial tension head-on in his directorial debut, and he’s bringing Garrett Hedlund (fresh of a career best performance in “Mudbound”) along with him.
“The Catcher Was A Spy”
In the midst of World War II, major league catcher Moe Berg (Paul Rudd) is drafted to join a new team: the Office of Security Services (the precursor to the CIA). No ordinary ballplayer, the erudite, Jewish Ivy League graduate speaks nine languages and is a regular guest on a popular TV quiz show. Despite his celebrity, Berg is an enigmatic man with a knack for keeping secrets. The novice spy is quickly trained and sent into the field to stop German scientist Werner Heisenberg before he can build an atomic bomb for the Nazis. This one is directed by Ben Lewin (“The Sessions”), and it sounds like an offbeat gem. Plus, it stars the forever affable Paul Rudd. Bonus!
“Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot”
John Callahan has a lust for life, a knack for off-color jokes, and a drinking problem. When an all-night bender ends in a catastrophic car accident, John wakes up to the reality of being confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. In his journey back from rock bottom, his honesty and wicked sense of humor turn out to be his saving grace as he makes friends with an oddball AA group, finds that love is not beyond his reach, and develops a talent for drawing irreverent and sometimes shocking cartoons. Gus Van Sant is a giant, particularly in the independent film world, and this drama starring the great Joaquin Phoenix (who’s generating a lot of buzz for the upcoming “You Were Never Really Here”) looks to be more akin to accessible titles like “Good Will Hunting” than the likes of his more experimental fare (“Elephant”).
“A Futile and Stupid Gesture”
The “National Lampoon” name became globally recognized after the monumental success of “Animal House,” but before the glory days, it was a scrappy yet divinely subversive magazine and radio show that introduced the world to comedic geniuses like Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, John Belushi, and Gilda Radner. The driving force behind “National Lampoon” was Doug Kenney (Will Forte), and his truly wild and crazy story unfolds in “A Futile and Stupid Gesture” from Harvard to Hollywood to “Caddyshack” and beyond. A movie about the early days of “National Lampoon” from the comical mastermind behind “Wet Hot American Summer,” “Role Models,” and “They Came Together”?! Yes, please!
“Hearts Beat Loud”
As single dad, Frank (Nick Offerman) prepares to send hardworking daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) off to UCLA pre-med. He also reluctantly realizes he has to accept that his own record-store business is failing. Hoping to stay connected with his daughter through their shared love of music, he urges her to turn their weekly “jam sesh” into an actual band. Channeling Sam’s resistance into a band name, they unexpectedly find We’re Not a Band’s first song turning into a minor Spotify hit, and they use their songwriting efforts to work through their feelings about the life changes each of them faces. Beyond the fact that I used to run a record store, I’m also a sucker for a music-tinged comedy/drama, and “Hearts Beat Loud” certainly appears to fit the bill. If it’s even half as good as “High Fidelity,” “Sing Street,” “School of Rock,” or “Once,” it’ll be well worth watching.
The Graham family starts to unravel following the death of their reclusive grandmother. Even after she’s gone, the matriarch still casts a dark shadow over the family, especially her loner teenage granddaughter, Charlie, whom she always had an unusual fascination with. As an overwhelming terror takes over their household, their peaceful existence is ripped apart, forcing their mother to explore a darker realm in order to escape the unfortunate fate they’ve inherited. Two words for you; Toni Collette!
Sensitive 14-year-old Joe is the only child of Jeanette and Jerry — a housewife and a golf pro — in a small town in 1960s Montana. Nearby, an uncontrolled forest fire rages close to the Canadian border, and when Jerry loses his job — and his sense of purpose — he decides to join the cause of fighting the fire, leaving his wife and son to fend for themselves. Suddenly forced into the role of an adult, Joe witnesses his mother embark on her own adventure as she transgresses into an affair with an older man. Stars Carey Mulligan (“An Education”), Jake Gyllenhaal (“Nightcrawler”), and Ed Oxenbould (“The Visit”) are enough reason to watch this film, but the fact that it’s the Paul Dano’s directorial debut is the icing on the cake.
“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”
With his gentle voice and heartfelt words of wisdom, Fred Rogers served as a compassionate surrogate father for generations of American children who tuned in to public television. He believed in love as the essential ingredient in life and was able to assist kids through difficult situations armed merely with handmade puppets suggesting tolerance and acceptance. An ordained Presbyterian minister, Mr. Rogers made speaking directly and openly to children his life’s work, both on and off his long-running show. He was at the forefront of a movement devoted to meeting the specific needs of children and was considered a radical back then for saying, “I like you just the way you are.” When I was a child, there were two television shows that towered above all others. One was “Sesame Street” and the other was “Mr. Rogers.” Why it’s take so long for someone to make a documentary about this icon is beyond me.
On a hot night in Kingston, Jamaica, 1973, Jerry Dread stops the music at an outdoor party to encourage a truce between warring gangs. His little brother Denis looks on from the crowd as an assassin’s bullet rings out, taking Jerry’s life. A decade later, Denis is the right-hand man to gang boss Fox, who sends him on a loyalty-testing mission to London. But when the mission goes wrong, Denis hides out with an old flame and decides to find his brother’s killer. If Idris Elba directs with the same intensity he injects his performances with, “Yardie” will emerge as one of the most powerful movies of the year.
Of course, the previous titles only scratch the surface. Sundance offers hundreds of films from all over the world, ranging from features to shorts to documentaries in several different categories. And this is to say nothing of all the filmmaker seminars (including A Conversation With Tod Haynes), live performances (be sure to take a look at the Music Cafe slate), and special events (including “The Isle of Dogs” VR experience). Simply put, if you’re a film fan, you owe it to yourself to go to The Sundance Film Festival at least once in your life. It’s quite the experience.
Again, for ticket information, a complete film lineup, and a list of events, click here.
Keep checking back here at The Independent throughout The 2018 Sundance Film Festival for our special coverage!