Comprising at least a fifth 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 37th 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, narrative features, and even a short.
While much of the joy found in the festival comes from surprises throughout the event, below one will find our 25 most-anticipated titles off the bat, as well as five films we’ve already seen and admired. Check out everything below and for updates straight from the festival, make sure to follow us on Twitter (@TheFilmStage, @jpraup, @djmecca and @JackGi), and stay tuned to all of our coverage here.
25. Stockholm, Pennsylvania (Nikole Beckwith)
Perhaps one of the bleakest films amongst the Sundance Film Festival line-up, Stockholm, Pennsylvania follows Saoirse Ronan as a young woman who gets abducted for seventeen years and is told the world outside her has ended, only to be reunited with her parents and forced to adjust to life as it is. Also starring Cynthia Nixon, Jason Isaacs, and David Warshofsky, hopefully Nikole Beckwith‘s directorial debut is an impressive one. – Jordan R.
24. H. (Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia)
Part of the NEXT line-up (which boasted such titles last year as A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Listen Up Philip, Obvious Child, and more) this sci-fi drama has been on our radar, particularly after it also got announced to be part of the Berlin Film Festival line-up. Following two women in upstate New York both named Helen who live their own lives until a meteor crashes down, will this be an Enemy-esque showdown or something else entirely? Starring Robin Bartlett, Rebecca Dayan, Will Janowitz, Julian Gamble, and Roger Robinson, we’re certainly intrigued by the first trailer. – Leonard P.
23. Ten Thousand Saints (Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman)
The duo behind American Splendor, Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, will return to Sundance this year with a new drama led by Ethan Hawke, Asa Butterfield, Emily Mortimer, Julianne Nicholson, Hailee Steinfeld, and Emile Hirsch. Ten Thousand Saints follows Butterfield’s adventure to reconnect with this dad (Hawke) in the Lower East Side of New York City. Considering a Richard Linklater feature won’t be a Sundance this year, hopefully this turn from Hawke (seemingly best these days working on the independent side) will fill the void. – Jordan R.
22. The Nightmare (Rodney Ascher)
After ruffling some feathers with Room 237, his documentary behind the theories of The Shining (which was an entertaining depiction at over-analyzation more than anything else), Rodney Ascher will be taking on something altogether different for his next project. The Nightmare, blending documentary and horror, explores the phenomenon of sleep paralysis, hopefully making for a frightening experience in Park City. – Jordan R.
21. Brooklyn (John Crowley)
Following the aforementioned Stockholm, Pennsylvania, Saoirse Ronan is shaping up to have a major year at Sundance with another one of our most-anticipated films, Brooklyn. Coming from a script by Nick Hornby, based on Colm Tóibín‘s book, and direction from John Crowley (Boy A), the drama follows a young Irish immigrant navigating her way through 1950s Brooklyn. Also starring Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Jim Broadbent, and Julie Walters, if it’s as half as good as last year’s The Immigrant, it’ll be one of the best of Sundance. – Jordan R.
20. The Overnight (Patrick Brice)
Much of the charm at a festival like Sundance is knowing virtually nothing about a film going in and we’re hoping that stays the case with The Overnight. Led by Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling, Jason Schwartzman, and Judith Godrèche, we’re intrigued at the synopsis, which reads: “Alex, Emily, and their son, RJ, have recently moved to Los Angeles’s Eastside from Seattle. Feeling lost in a new city, they are desperate to find their first new friends. After a chance meeting with Kurt at the neighborhood park, they gladly agree to join family pizza night at his home. But as it gets later and the kids go to bed, the family “playdate” becomes increasingly more revealing as the couples begin to open up.” – Jordan R.
19. Listen to Me Marlon (Stevan Riley)
Considering his influence and legacy in Hollywood, we’re always up for a new look at the life and career of Marlon Brando. This year’s Sundance Film Festival will provide just that with a new documentary that features previously unseen and unheard audio from Brando’s personal archive. With no talking heads or interviewees, we go through his life featuring audio and footage from the actor himself, hopefully helping to provide a complex look at his life. – Jordan R.
18. Hellions (Bruce McDonald)
Seemingly an under-appreciated talent in some circles, director Bruce McDonald (Pontypool, Hard Core Logo) will be returning to Sundance Film Festival this year with a new entry in the horror genre. Hellions (not to be confused with last year’s singular Sundance drama Hellion) follows a town on Halloween night and specifically the treacherous journey of a young teenager as she encounters dark forces. – Jordan R.
17. Partisan (Ariel Kleiman)
Few actors can get us interested in a film on name alone, but Vincent Cassel certainly holds that honor. He’ll be taking part in the feature debut of Ariel Kleiman, which follows him overseeing a closed community and specifically his mentoring of a young boy who does dangerous jobs for him. We’re not entirely sure what to expect from the drama, one of the reasons why we’re looking forward to it. – Jordan R.
16. Western (Bill and Turner Ross)
After their acclaimed documentary Tchoupitoulas, the Ross brothers will head to Sundance with a new feature, Western. Capturing the divide between the two border towns of Eagle Pass, Texas, and Piedras Negras, Mexico due to cartel violence, this will likely be one of the most visually arresting documentaries to come out of this year’s festival. – Jordan R.
15. Knock Knock (Eli Roth)
He further proving his action chops in last year’s better-than-expected John Wick, but Keanu Reeves will return in 2015 in a much different genre. Eli Roth‘s psychological horror Knock Knock is getting a Sundance premiere, following Reeves as happy family man who greets two young woman at his door and, well, things get weird. Said to be much less gore-filled then Roth’s previous films, hopefully his knack for uncomfortable tension is at the forefront here. – Jordan R.
14. Nasty Baby (Sebastián Silva)
Last appearing at Sundance with two features in one year (Magic Magic and Crystal Fairy), Sebastián Silva may be slacking with a mere sole effort, but it’s one we are greatly looking forward to. Nasty Baby follows Kristen Wiig‘s character as she gets recruited to have the baby of her best friend couple, played by the director himself and TV on the Radio‘s Tunde Adebimpe, then a violent turn occurs. – Jordan R.
13. I Am Michael (Justin Kelly)
While James Franco might get more attention at Sundance with his drama True Story, we’re more looking forward to the Gus Van Sant-produced feature I Am Michael. The film follows the account of Michael Glatze, a former gay activist based in San Francisco who went on to denounce homosexuality and became a Christian fundamentalist. Also starring Zachary Quinto and Emma Roberts, it’ll also stop by Berlin soon after Park City. – Jordan R.
12. The Wolfpack (Crystal Moselle)
Out of the many documentaries premiering at Sundance Film Festival, the one that has most caught our attention follows a group of brothers who are locked away from society from their father. Living in an apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, they get their knowledge through films (which they re-enact), but when one brother escapes, their view of the world starts to shifts. Based on the subjects alone, The Wolfpack promises to be one of the most intimate, revealing stories at this year’s festival. – Jordan R.
11. Sleeping With Other People (Leslye Headland)
With her debut Bachelorette, Leslye Headland tackled dark issues not only with reverence, but a comedic touch. Hopefully the same is in store for her next feature, Sleeping With Other People. Starring Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis as characters who lost their virginity to each other in college, we then follow them a few years later as they meet at a sex addicts meeting and attempt to launch a friendship. Promising to be something more substantial than Friends with Benefits and the ilk, the film also starring Adam Scott, Amanda Peet, Jason Mantzoukas, and Natasha Lyonne. – Jordan R.
10. World of Tomorrow (Don Hertzfeldt)
It may be part of the shorts line-up, but we’re anticipating the latest work from animator Don Hertzfeldt more than most features in the Sundance line-up. Running 17 minutes and following “a little girl who is taken on a mind-bending tour of the distant future,” not much is known about World of Tomorrow, but if it lives up to past work from the animator, it’s bound to be one of the best of the festival. – Jordan R.
9. Last Days in the Desert (Rodrigo Garcia)
There’s one major reason we’re looking forward to this drama: Emmanuel Lubezki. After capturing virtually all of time with The Tree of Life, going to space in Gravity, and recently getting into a fractured psyche with Birdman, his next cinematography gig will take him to the desert. Rodrigo Garcia‘s feature follows Ewan McGregor as Jesus (and the Devil) during his fasting in the desolate landscape. Perhaps the boldest of concepts amongst the Sundance line-up, we can’t wait to see Lubezki’s approach to the potentially controversial material – Jordan R.
8. Mississippi Grind (Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden)
After crafting two of the finest independent dramas of the last decade with Half Nelson and Sugar, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck‘s last feature It’s Kind of a Funny Story left much to be desired, but they are now back five years later with what’s hopefully a return to form. The drama follows Ben Mendelsohn as poker player whose gambling habit is getting out of control, but links up with Ryan Reynolds‘ character to head down South for a high-stakes game. Out of the many reasons to look forward to this one, seeing Mendelsohn in a leading role is near the top. – Jordan R.
7. The Forbidden Room (Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson)
As is usually the welcome case with films by Guy Maddin, we’re not quite sure what to expect from his latest, The Forbidden Room, which premieres shortly at Sundance and stars Mathieu Amalric, Charlotte Rampling, and Udo Kier. As described by the festival, “One might never guess what’s in store from Canadian auteur’s Guy Maddin’s ode to the lost movies of the silent era, honoring classic cinema while electrocuting it with energy. Bursting with playful cacophony, Maddin’s opus takes us high into the air, under the sea, around the world, and into dreamscapes, spinning tales of amnesia, captivity, deception, and murder.” – Jordan R.
6. Slow West (John Maclean)
With at least five (maybe six, if Terrence Malick gets his act together) films arriving for Michael Fassbender this year, the first out of the gate will be at Sundance this year with Slow West. From up-and-coming director John Maclean, the nineteenth century-set drama follows a “16-year-old Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who journeys across the American frontier in search of the woman he loves. He is joined by Silas (Fassbender), a mysterious traveler, and hotly pursued by an outlaw along the way.” With a cast also including Ben Mendelsohn, here’s hoping Fassbender kicks off 2015 in a major way. – Jordan R.
5. Entertainment (Rick Alverson)
After dividing audiences with the rather brilliant The Comedy, director Rick Alverson is returning with a feature led by On Cinema’s other host, Gregg Turkington. The drama follows an aging comedian who “tours the California desert, lost in a cycle of third-rate venues, novelty tourist attractions, and vain attempts to reach his estranged daughter.” Also starring Tye Sheridan, John C. Reilly, Michael Cera, and Amy Seimetz, we can’t wait to see the results — and the reaction. – Jordan R.
4. Results (Andrew Bujalski)
Despite how one may feel about the term, Andrew Bujalski was indeed one of the talents to bring “mumblecore” to the forefront. Following the lo-fi Computer Chess, our curiosity abounds when it comes to his next project, hopefully melding that approach with his highest-profile ensemble yet, featuring Guy Pearce, Cobie Smulders, Giovanni Ribisi, Anthony Michael Hall, Brooklyn Decker, Constance Zimmer, and Kevin Corrigan. Following a pair of mismatched personal trainers’ lives that are upended by the actions of a new, wealthy client, it’s one of our most-anticipated of the festival. – Jordan R.
3. Mistress America (Noah Baumbach)
Immediately after the completion of Frances Ha, Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig jumped right into shooting another film together called Mistress America. Like Frances Ha, the film’s creation and subject were kept a secret, so much so that Baumbach shot another film, While We’re Young, which is set for release at the beginning of this year. Mistress America resurfaced when it appeared on the Sundance Film Festival 2015 list and was quickly bought by Fox Searchlight for distribution. The film follows Greta Gerwig again and sounds very similar to Frances Ha — hardly a bad thing — and is about “dream-chasing, score-settling, makeshift families, and cat-stealing.” The team-up between Gerwig and Baumbach was electric before and I’m hopeful they will do it again. – Dan G.
2. Z for Zachariah (Craig Zobel)
Z for Zachariah marks Craig Zobel‘s newest feature film, following Compliance, an almost unbearably intense film that milked a single fast food location for maximum horror. The director gets great performances, and we should expect a similar result with his next directorial effort, considering this Robert C. O’Brien adaptation stars Chris Pine, Margot Robbie, and Chiwetel Ejiofor in this post-apocalyptic love triangle. – Jack G.
1. James White (Josh Mond)
After working together to create some of the most gripping character studies of the last few years with Afterschool, Martha Marcy May Marlene, and Simon Killer, the Borderline Film guys return at this year’s Sundance with James White. Led by Christopher Abbott, the wildly promising drama follows a young New Yorker who struggles to take control of his reckless, self-destructive behavior in the face of momentous family challenges. – Jordan R.
5 Recommended Sundance 2015 Films We’ve Already Seen
‘71 (Yann Demange)
In an AFI Fest post-screening discussion of his new film ’71, director Yann Demange expressed the legitimate concern that certain audiences, specifically those of an American stripe, may not know enough about “The Troubles” to appreciate the film’s historical accuracy. While a good number of Americans can likely draw on enough existing knowledge about their national conflicts (e.g. WWII or Vietnam) to grasp the significance of films depicting such events, comprehension of the Northern Ireland conflict is seemingly surface-deep. Demange was adamant that the political elements on display in ’71 are, in fact, historically accurate. – Brian P. (full review)
99 Homes (Ramin Bahrani)
Ramin Bahrani made a name for himself with three independent films over the last decade, focusing on humanity’s daily struggles, reinvented foreign lives in America, and a fundamental sense of decency. With 2012’s At Any Price and this year’s 99 Homes, Bahrani has twice returned to the festival that launched his career, presenting the evolution of those themes. Not coincidentally, the worst years of the financial crisis stand between his acclaimed Goodbye, Solo and the tepidly received 2012 picture, and they must have had a profound effect on the direction of Bahrani’s filmography. With a broader canvas, flashier casts, and a more overt penchant for melodrama, At Any Price and 99 Homes single out agriculture and real estate as the catalysts of contemporary American sufferings. – Tommaso T. (full review)
It Follows (David Robert Mitchell)
A teenage girl, captured through a static wide shot, runs through a quaint Detroit suburb, her body dwarfed by its trees and middle-class homes. The sense that something is not as it seems becomes realized quite quickly. This prologue, while one of the most formally well-executed sequences in the film, sets up a certain expectation, and luckily It Follows isn’t so much interested in that now-tired the-evil-that-lurks-under-the-surface-of-small-towns brand, but rather its invasion onto the iconography of it. – Ethan V. (full review)
Eden (Mia Hansen-Løve)
It begins with a dark night in the woods and the occasional sight of a half-complete face or full-figure silhouette, such impressions stemming only from pale moonlight. These figures are followed over multiple shots, and what little can be discerned herein is quietly expanded upon with some illumination — soft, spotty, and artificial, but with an expressive quality that lets us know we’re outside all boundaries of normal civilization. After the first real exchange of dialogue comes the first true close-up: not of a face, but hands, this Bressonian gesture guiding the camera’s vision from a turntable to a stack of records to one record in particular, that special item an unidentifiable young man wishes to hear. The music starts, and, as if it is only through these sounds that the world can expand past this hermetic set, a cut proclaims “let there be light” — merely daylight to them, sure, yet the first thing through which “them” could be identified as more than just a shape. Without a spinning record, they are nothing. – Nick N. (full review)
The Tribe (Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy)
Devoid of any spoken words, music, voice-over or even subtitles, Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy‘s debut feature film The Tribe is communicated through sign language, for all the characters are deaf. This provides a unique challenge for any audience member not versed with how to sign, as the filmmaker provides no direct explanation of what characters are actually saying. While this may initially seem daunting, a viewer’s patience and keen observation is rewarded by a haunting cinematic experience that truly is unlike anything else this year. – Raffi A. (full review)
Wild Tales (Damián Szifrón)
Zipping through its six unconnected stories, Wild Tales is a mix of Buñuel-ian absurdism and violent black comedy, subtly raising issues of sexual and national politics, bureaucracy and class while never losing focus of the surface-level entertainment that you’re there to see. Each story builds from a simple everyday event — a man helping a woman stow a suitcase on a plane, for example, or a man’s car being towed — to an unexpected and shocking ending. It’s worth avoiding plot information or trailers to keep retain surprise from first step to last, even though not knowing about these moments will make for a hard sell. – Martin J. (full review)