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Our 20 Most-Anticipated Sundance Film Festival 2019 Premieres

Written by on January 21, 2019 

Comprising a considerable amount of our top 50 films of last year, Sundance Film Festival has proven to yield the first genuine look at what the year in cinema will bring. Now in its 41st iteration, we’ll be heading back to Park City this week, but before we do, it’s time to highlight the films we’re most looking forward to, including documentaries and narrative features from all around the world.

While much of the joy found in the festival comes from surprises throughout the event, below one will find our 20 most-anticipated titles. Check out our picks below and for updates straight from the festival, make sure to follow us on Twitter (@TheFilmStage, @jpraup, @djmecca, and @joshencinias), and stay tuned to all of our coverage here.

20. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (Joe Berlinger)

From Brother’s Keeper to his Paradise Lost films to Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, documentary extraordinaire Joe Berlinger is returning to the realm of narrative feature filmmaking for the first time in nearly a decade with this drama about serial killer Ted Bundy starring none other than… Zac Efron. Even in less-than-stellar films, the actor proves his charisma, so it’ll be intriguing to see what he does with more dramatic material here in the film which looks to explore more of his family life and his unassuming wife, played by Lily Collins.

19. The Sound of Silence (Michael Tyburski)

One of the more compelling-sounding films in the Sundance Film Festival is the directorial debut of Michael Tyburski, which follows Peter Sarsgaard as a self-described “house tuner.” His career path takes him into people’s homes (notably Rashida Jones’ character) to analyze their aural experience and if it’s creating a disturbance in their lives. The director was a feature film fellow for Sundance Institute’s Music and Sound Design Lab at Skywalker Sound, so with this plot and that experience, we imagine this will be something special.

18. We Are Little Zombies (Makoto Nagahisa)

After winning the top short film prize at Sundance two years ago with And So We Put Goldfish in the Pool., Japanese director Makoto Nagahisa returns this year with his feature-length debut We Are Little Zombies. Following a group of thirteen-year-olds whose parents die, they form an eccentric rock band to help heal the wounds. A seasoned director in the world of commercials and music videos, we imagine this will be a kinetic, dazzling debut.

17. Knock Down the House (Rachel Lears)

Every year there are so many timely documentaries at Sundance, one always hopes they aren’t rushed to the finish line and have at least a bit of perspective with the subject(s) they are depicting. One that has our attention is from Rachel Lears as she focuses on four women in the primary race for Congress: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Amy Vilela, Cori Bush, and Paula Jean Swearengin. When it comes to AOC rightfully disturbing the peace in her new position, we imagine Lears may still be editing this one right up until the premiere.

16. Ms. Purple (Justin Chon)

Two years ago, Justin Chon brought his L.A. riots drama Gook to Sundance Film Festival where it picked up the top prize in the NEXT section. He’s now back with his follow-up Ms. Purple and he’s stepped up to U.S. Dramatic Competition. Once again focusing on Los Angeles, this story follows Kasi (Tiffany Chu) who works as a doumi girl in Koreatown’s karaoke bars as she reconnects with her family when her father’s caretaker departs. Chon showed his gift for cultural specificity with his debut and we imagine it will be carried through with his second feature.

15. Hail, Satan? (Penny Lane)

For many, the Satanic Temple only enters their radar when they make headlines, whether it is suing the producers of Sabrina for using the likeness of their deity or putting their stamp of approval on The Witch. At Sundance this year, one can dive much deeper into the religious movement with a new documentary from Penny Lane, the filmmaker behind The Pain of Others, NUTS!, Our Nixon, and more. Lane has always been a playful director and we can’t wait to see what devilish fun she has in store here.

14. The Sunlight Night (David Wnendt)

Five years ago, David Wnendt brought his debut Wetlands to Sundance and it was among the talk of the festival for its shocking take on the coming-of-age story. He’s now back this year with something that at least on the surface might be a bit more palatable, but hopefully retain his distinct touch. Starring Jenny Slate, Zach Galifianakis, Alex Sharp, and Gillian Anderson, The Sunlight Night follows a woman who has reached a dead end in her life in America and ventures to a Norwegian island for an art residency that becomes much more strange then expected.

13. Them That Follow (Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage)

An outsider’s look into strange communities seem to be a running theme when it comes to Sundance premieres and the most promising one this year is Them That Follow. Starring Olivia Colman, Kaitlyn Dever, Alice Englert, Jim Gaffigan, Walton Goggins, and Thomas Mann, the film follows a community of Pentecostal snake handlers in rural Appalachia. If that’s not enough to sell you, Goggins plays the lead pastor of this insular, strange group, which should prove a meaty role.

12. American Factory (Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert)

Oscar-nominated filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert return to the arena of blue-collar industry with their latest documentary, American Factory. Back in 2014 at a defunct General Motors plant in Dayton, Ohio, a Chinese billionaire opened a Fuyao glass factory, which meant thousands of new jobs in the area. Bognar and Reichert were on the ground to capture the excitement, the cultural collision, and more in what promises to be a documentary that’s a microcosm of our global marketplace.

11. Judy & Punch (Mirrah Foulkes)

Australian actor-director Mirrah Foulkes (who you may have seen in Top of the Lake, Animal Kingdom, and Sleeping Beauty) makes her feature-length debut with Judy & Punch. Starring Mia Wasikowska, it follows her story as she takes revenge on a cohort in a marionette theatre act they run after he beats her senseless. Joining the recent streak of movies in which the actress ingeniously humiliates self-serving men (after two other Sundance films, Piercing and Damsel), this is a thematic trilogy we can get behind.

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