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 39th 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 everything below and for updates straight from the festival, make sure to follow us on Twitter (@TheFilmStage, @jpraup, @djmecca and @FinkJohnJ), and stay tuned to all of our coverage here.
20. Come Swim (Kristen Stewart)
With her pair of career-best performances under the direction of Olivier Assayas, as well as working with Kelly Reichardt, Woody Allen, Ang Lee, David Fincher, David Gordon Green, Walter Salles, and more, Kristen Stewart has had no shortage of considerable filmmaking talent to learn from. She’s now helmed her first short, Come Swim, which utilizes a both impressionistic and realistic style to capture a man’s day. Set to premiere in the shorts program at this year’s festival, followed by a release by Refinery29, we can’t wait to see the results.
19. Kuso (Steven Ellison)
You may not have heard the name Steven Ellison, but we’re betting you’re familiar with Flying Lotus. In the past few years, Ellison’s music persona has been one of the most influential in the world of hip-hop, electronica, and whatever other genre he’s interested in at the moment. Following his short film Royal, he’s now made his feature directorial debut with Kuso, which follows the survivors after Los Angeles’ worst earthquake. Promising to be psychedelic fever dream, this will certainly be the trippiest film at the festival.
18. Sidney Hall (Shawn Christensen)
After his Oscar win for the short film Curfew, director Shawn Christensen adapted it into the feature-length drama Before I Disappear. For his follow-up, he’s amassed quite an ensemble. Sidney Hall, which stars Logan Lerman (who gave one of last year’s best performances at the festival with Indignation), Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Michelle Monaghan, Blake Jenner, and Nathan Lane, follows the life of a writer as we flashback to his dark past. That logline may not be anything new, but with the talent of this cast, we can bet it’s something special.
17. Columbus (kogonada)
Whether online (potentially at this very site) or on a Criterion collection disc, you’ve likely seen the video essay work of the artist known as kogonada. He’s now segued to feature filmmaking with his debut Columbus. Starring John Cho, the film follows his character in the wake of his father’s coma as he strikes up a conversation with a local woman as they venture around their midwestern town. With the director’s clear knowledge of film history, it has the makings of the kind of well-composed, relaxed feature that could delight.
16. Ingrid Goes West (Matt Spicer)
Staples at Sundance Film Festival the last few years, Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen have now teamed for their own comedy Ingrid Goes West. While the former star has proved her comedic talents numerous times, we’re looking forward to seeing what Olsen has in store in the film that follows an mentally unstable woman who ventures to Los Angeles to connect with a social media influencer. Featuring a score from Islands frontman Nick Thorburn, this is one comedy that could get dark and for that we look forward to it.
15. I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (Macon Blair)
One of the most exciting careers to witness on the rise the last few years has been that of Macon Blair. After breaking out under the direction of Jeremy Saulnier in Blue Ruin, he’s now made his directorial debut with I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore. Starring Melanie Lynskey as a woman who teams with her neighbor, played by Elijah Wood, to track down a burglar, Blair certainly seems in his wheelhouse to deliver a revenge tale in his unique language.
14. The Yellow Birds (Alexandre Moors)
After bringing his harrowing drama Blue Caprice to Sundance a few years back, director Alexandre Moors is back with a film of a bigger scale. The Yellow Birds, starring Tye Sheridan, Jack Huston, Alden Ehrenreich, Jason Patric, Toni Collette, and Jennifer Aniston, follows the disappearance of a solider in Iraq and the aftermath when the survivors return home. Co-scripted by David Lowery (whose next film also appears on this list), it has the makings of another intense drama set in a post-9/11 world.
13. City of Ghosts (Matthew Heineman)
Coming off the Oscar-nominated Cartel Land, director Matthew Heineman is returning to Sundance and has once again embedded himself into a vital part of global conflict. City of Ghosts finds the director capturing a group of journalists who were in exile after ISIS took over their homeland in 2014. With the makings of one of the most essential documentaries of the year, hopefully Heineman once again proves himself as an superb visual journalist.
12. 78/52 (Alexandre Philippe)
If one thought Room 237 was an exhaustively detailed look at The Shining, how about a feature-length documentary that looks at a single iconic scene in film history? That’s precisely what 78/52 does, named after the 78 set-ups and 52 cuts found within the legendary shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Featuring Guillermo del Toro, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Eli Roth, Peter Bogdanovich, and more, the film takes an in-depth look at its creation and influence, promising to be an essential watch for cinephiles.
11. Landline (Gillian Robespierre)
We imagine after the success of Obvious Child that writer-director Gillian Robespierre had no shortage of Hollywood comedies to choose from. Thankfully she’s decided to stick with something in her own voice, Landline, marking another re-team with Jenny Slate. This time going the period piece route, the film finds her in a 1995 Manhattan following the Jacobs family, a dysfunctional group whose daughters attempt to expose their father’s affair.
10. Wind River (Taylor Sheridan)
After proving his screenwriting talents with Sicario and Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan’s latest film finds him behind the camera. Set for a premiere this weekend at the festival, Wind River sets Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen’s characters in an unforgiving Wyoming as they attempt to discover the mystery behind a dead body. Unfortunately, The Weinstein Company has decided to drop the film ahead of its Sundance premiere, so hopefully that’s no indication of quality and another distributor steps up to the plate.
9. Manifesto (Julian Rosefeldt)
What’s better than one Cate Blanchett? Thirteen, of course. After giving a career-best performance in Todd Haynes’ Carol, the actress is coming to Sundance with what’s sure to be the biggest display of her acting range yet. Manifesto, which debuted as a multi-screen art exhibition back in 2015, has been turned into feature film form by Julian Rosefeldt and features Blanchett taking on the different roles. With wide-ranging characters from a homeless person to a punk, we’ll be mighty curious how this transition from art gallery to silver screen goes, so return for our review from Park City.
8. The Discovery (Charlie McDowell)
One of the primary pleasures of Charlie McDowell‘s directorial debut The One I Love was his ability to realistically inject a dose of science-fiction into a relatable romantic drama. The director, along with writer Justin Lader, have now re-teamed for a follow-up in the same vein. The Discovery, which stars Jason Segel, Rooney Mara, Robert Redford, Jesse Plemons, and Riley Keough is a love story set one year after the existence of the afterlife is scientifically verified. That hook is all I need to make sure it’s on our must-see list at Sundance. For everyone else, Netflix has the rights and will release it later this year.
7. Mudbound (Dee Rees)
Since she impressed at Sundance Film Festival back in 2011 with the coming-of-age drama Pariah, we’ve been waiting for the next proper feature from Dee Rees, who recently teamed with HBO for Bessie. It will arrive at this year’s festival with Mudbound, which finds Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Mary J. Blige, Jason Mitchell, and Garrett Hedlund in the post-WWII south in the story of two battling families. With Rees working on a bigger scale here, it has the makings of one of the most impressive films of the festival.
6. Where Is Kyra? (Andrew Dosnunmu)
We are there for any film shot by Bradford Young, doubly so when it’s a re-team with Restless City and Mother of George director Andrew Dosunmu. Their latest collaboration, Where is Kyra? (formerly titled Beat-Up Little Seagull), stars Michelle Pfeiffer as a woman dealing with the loss of her mother and finding another lost soul in Kiefer Sutherland‘s character. Dosunmu has proven to be a skilled actor’s director, so we hope he can lead these two actors to some of their best performances.
5. Beach Rats (Eliza Hittman)
If you’ve seen her disarmingly intimate debut It Felt Like Love, then you already know why we are highly anticipating Eliza Hittman‘s follow-up Beach Rats. Her latest drama follows a Brooklyn teen who is confronted with his dying father and requests from this mother to get a girlfriend. To escape, he goes to a cruising beach as well as begin a relationship with a woman. We’re not entirely sure what to expect, which is why we’re so intrigued.
4. Marjorie Prime (Michael Almereyda)
After last coming to Sundance Film Festival with Experimenter — a formally daring drama which unfortunately went overlooked — Michael Almereyda is back with quite the intriguing prospect: a sci-fi film starring Jon Hamm and scored by Mica Levi (Under the Skin, Jackie). Marjorie Prime, adapted from Jordan Harrison‘s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play, follows Lois Smith‘s character as she utilizes a service to create a hologram of her deceased husband, played by Hamm. If that doesn’t sound like one of the most compelling prospects of the year, I can’t help you with that.
3. A Ghost Story (David Lowery)
David Lowery proved he could navigate the prickly big-budget waters of Hollywood with his touching, sincere adaptation of Pete’s Dragon — one of the few tentpoles of last year that didn’t disappointment. His next two features will find him back in the independent realm and first up, at Sundance will be the premiere of A Ghost Story, a peculiar-sounding existential drama starring Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck, which was shot in secret last summer and just acquired by A24.
2. Golden Exits (Alex Ross Perry)
In between lining up some higher-profile projects, writer-director Alex Ross Perry found time to helm a feature in line with the size of Listen Up Philip and Queen of Earth. Titled Golden Exits, Emily Browning, Adam Horovitz, Mary Louise Parker, Lily Rabe, Jason Schwartzman, Chloe Sevigny and Analeigh Tipton lead the drama, which finds two families in Brooklyn who become disrupted when a Australian girl comes to visit. Featuring the return of DP Sean Price Williams and editor Robert Greene, we greatly look forward to seeing this ensemble convey the biting honesty of this writer-director.
1. Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino)
After waiting years for his follow-up to I Am Love — this past summer’s eclectic A Bigger Splash — Luca Guadagnino certainly isn’t taking as long with his next two films. Before his Suspiria remake later this year, there is Call Me By Your Name, a romantic drama about a boy’s connection with his father’s friend. Already picked up by Sony Pictures Classics, the adaptation of André Aciman‘s novel, scripted by James Ivory and the director, stars Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Armie Hammer, as well as featuring new songs by Sufjan Stevens. What more could you ask for?
If one is looking for more than these twenty recommendations, we’ve seen a handful of films coming to the festival already and had a range of reactions to them all, including Colossal, Frantz, Lady Macbeth, Raw, Their Finest, and My Life as a Zucchini.
As for premieres, we can’t wait to see the female-directed horror anthology XX, with a short by St. Vincent, the Woody Harrelson-led Wilson, Lemon and Person to Person, both starring Michael Cera, Michael Showalter‘s The Big Sick, starring and co-written by Kumail Nanjiani.
There’s also the Lakeith Stanfield-led Crown Heights, Cate Shortland‘s Lore follow-up Berlin Syndrome, Michelle Morgan‘s L.A. Times, the Aubrey Plaza and Alison Brie nun comedy The Little Hours, Miguel Arteta‘s Beatriz at Dinner, starring Salma Hayek, as well as the documentaries Nobody Speak: Hulk Hogan, Gawker, & Trials of a Free Press and Whose Streets?.