The Sundance Film Festival kicks off on Thursday, meaning for the next 10 days, celebrities will be sporting their best parkas and wool beanies as they traipse around Park City, Utah, to pose with various products in countless branded suites. More importantly, it means the premieres of over 100 films, of which we've highlighted 16, including a Star Wars actress doing Shakespeare, Kristen Stewart falling for a certain infamous ax-wielding murderess and a Robert Pattinson comedy-western co-starring a mini horse.
The Catcher Was a Spy
What it's about: "The true story of Moe Berg -- professional baseball player, Ivy League graduate, attorney who spoke nine languages -- and a top-secret spy for the OSS who helped the U.S. win the race against Germany to build the atomic bomb."
Why it's one to watch: Sundance's days of screening indie films starring little-known actors are mostly long gone. Even by that standard, this cast is extra stacked, with Paul Rudd as the titular spy (reason enough to see it) and co-stars including Jeff Daniels, Guy Pearce, Sienna Miller, Paul Giamatti and Connie Nielsen.
What it's about: "Samuel Alabaster, an affluent pioneer, ventures across the American Frontier to marry the love of his life, Penelope. As Samuel, a drunkard named Parson Henry and a miniature horse called Butterscotch traverse the Wild West, their once-simple journey grows treacherous, blurring the lines between hero, villain and damsel."
Why it's one to watch: Robert Pattinson has perhaps the most interesting career of any young actor working right now, as evidenced by last Cannes' standout, Good Times. Here's hoping his return to the festival circuit is with something equally unexpected.
Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot
What it's about: "John Callahan has a talent for off-color jokes...and a drinking problem. When a bender ends in a car accident, Callahan wakes permanently confined to a wheelchair. In his journey back from rock bottom, Callahan finds beauty and comedy in the absurdity of human experience."
Why it's one to watch: It's far too early to start forecasting the 2019 Oscars race (as we've yet to announce this year's nominees), but Joaquin Phoenix's performance in this Gus Van Sant film could easily be one we continue hearing about long after Sundance.
What it's about: "Thirteen-year-old Kayla endures the tidal wave of contemporary suburban adolescence as she makes her way through the last week of middle school -- the end of her thus far disastrous eighth grade year -- before she begins high school."
Why it's one to watch: YouTube has had a rough go of it lately, but perhaps we'll see the more...encouraging side of social media in this coming-of-age tale? Eighth Grade, which I predict might become the festival's major breakout, marks the directorial debut of comedian Bo Burnham (himself once a YouTuber) and stars newcomer Elsie Fisher.
What it's about: "Lauren Greenfield’s postcard from the edge of the American Empire captures a portrait of a materialistic, image-obsessed culture. Simultaneously personal journey and historical essay, the film bears witness to the global boom–bust economy, the corrupted American Dream and the human costs of late stage capitalism, narcissism and greed."
Why it's one to watch: This feels like a natural follow-up toThe Queen of Versailles, Greenfield's documentary that won her Sundance's directing award in 2012. (If you've not yet seen that one, it's streaming on Hulu and you definitely, definitely should.)
I Think We're Alone Now
What it's about: "The apocalypse proves a blessing in disguise for one lucky recluse -- until a second survivor arrives with the threat of companionship."
Why it's one to watch: Off the top of your head, can you think of a more unexpected onscreen pairing than Peter Dinklage and Elle Fanning? What if I give you literally until the end of time? I, for one, am intrigued. Plus, director Reed Morano is responsiblefor the first three episodes of The Handmaid's Tale, so she knows her way around a dystopia.
What it's about: "Based on the 1892 murder of Lizzie Borden’s family in Fall River, Massachusetts, this tense psychological thriller lays bare the legend of Lizzie Borden to reveal the much more complex, poignant and truly terrifying woman within -- and her intimate bond with the family’s young Irish housemaid, Bridget Sullivan."
Why it's one to watch: This time it's Chloë Sevigny who wields the axe and gets to take a whack (or 40) at playing Borden. Even better: Kristen Stewart plays her lover and will presumably have an Irish accent!
What it's about: "Pacific Northwest. 1983 AD. Outsiders Red Miller and Mandy Bloom lead a loving and peaceful existence. When their pine-scented haven is savagely destroyed by a cult led by the sadistic Jeremiah Sand, Red is catapulted into a phantasmagoric journey filled with bloody vengeance and laced with fire."
Why it's one to watch: Nicolas Cage getting revenge on an unhinged religious sect? Yup, I'm in. Andrea Riseborough, a new favorite, costars as the wife, and this is only one of four films she has at Sundance this year.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post
What it's about: "1993: after being caught having sex with the prom queen, a girl is forced into a gay conversion therapy center. Based on Emily Danforth's acclaimed and controversial coming-of-age novel."
Why it's one to watch: Director Desiree Akhavan's first feature, Appropriate Behavior, debuted at Sundance in 2014 and remains one of my favorite films to emerge from Park City. To say that I've been anxiously awaiting her sophomore effort, fronted by Chloë Grace Moretz, is quite the understatement.
What it's about: "A mythic spin on Hamlet through a lens of female empowerment: Ophelia comes of age as lady-in-waiting for Queen Gertrude, and her singular spirit captures Hamlet's affections. As lust and betrayal threaten the kingdom, Ophelia finds herself trapped between true love and controlling her own destiny."
Why it's one to watch: A long, long time ago in a galaxy not so far away (this one), Daisy Ridley swaps her lightsaber for Shakespeare in director Claire McCarthy's feminist retelling of Hamlet, which co-stars Naomi Watts, Clive Owen, George MacKay (as Hamlet) and, it would appear, wigs.
What it's about: "An intimate portrait of an unlikely rock star: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. With unprecedented access, the filmmakers show how her early legal battles changed the world for women. Now this 84-year-old does push-ups as easily as she writes blistering dissents that have earned her the title 'Notorious RBG.'"
Why it's one to watch: A number of docs about powerful women (Gloria Allred! Jane Fonda! Joan Jett!) will premiere at Sundance this year, but I'm particularly looking forward to directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen's film and the iconic RBG quotes sure to be contained within it.
Sorry to Bother You
What it's about: "In an alternate present-day version of Oakland, black telemarketer Cassius Green discovers a magical key to professional success -- which propels him into a macabre universe."
Why it's one to watch: Where Tessa Thompson leads, I will follow. And that's just one of the numerous reasons this is perhaps my most-anticipated film of Sundance: it also boasts a cast comprising of Lakeith Stanfield, Steven Yeun, Armie Hammer and Terry Crews and sprung from the mind of musician-turned-writer-director Boots Riley.
What it's about: "An investigation into one woman's memory as she’s forced to re-examine her first sexual relationship and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive; based on the filmmaker's own story."
Why it's one to watch: The Dernaissance rages on, and, amid the ongoing conversation around #MeToo and Time's Up, this should provide a topical and powerful starring vehicle for Laura Dern. (Might a return trip to the Oscars follow? Who's to say.) Jennifer Fox wrote and directs, with Jason Ritter, Ellen Burstyn and Common co-starring.
What it's about: "Tyler spirals out of control when he realizes he’s the only black person attending a weekend birthday party in a secluded cabin."
Why it's one to watch: Longtime Sundance wunderkind, Sebastián Silva (of Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus and Nasty Baby), returns with his new film that, at the risk of sounding obtuse, could see a similar reaction at the fest to what Get Out earned last year. Jason Mitchell plays the black friend who sets out with his otherwise all-white buddies (Christopher Abbott, Michael Cera and Caleb Landry Jones) and...something bad happens right?
What it's about: "Montana, 1960: A portrait of a family in crisis. Based on the novel by Richard Ford."
Why it's one to watch: The logline doesn't offer up much detail, but Ford's novel ruminates on a marriage fractured by looming forest fires and an illicit affair, offering up plum roles for Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal. Paul Dano makes his directing debut, with a script co-written by actress Zoe Kazan.
What it's about: "Jamaica, 1973. When a young boy witnesses his brother’s assassination, a powerful Don gives him a home. Ten years later he is sent on a mission to London. He reunites with his girlfriend and their daughter, but then the past catches up with them. Based on Victor Headley's novel."
Why it's one to watch: There's a mix of familiar faces and newcomers leading the cast of Yardie -- including Aml Ameen, Fraser James and first-timer Shantol Jackson -- but it's the man behind the camera you'll want to show up for: Idris Elba, making his feature debut. (Sadly, he stays behind the camera, too, so we won't even get a cameo of that handsome Idris Elba face.)