By this time tomorrow I'll be on the plane snoozing as it heads to the snowy climes of Park City. The Sundance Film Festival is here and it looks like my sixth year could be one of the best. When asked why I prefer Sundance to some of the later festivals, my answer is simple. Months in advance I get to see the movies that everyone will be talking about throughout the year. But there is more to it than that. I also get to help drive the conversation about these movies, and as a film critic that is tremendously exciting.
While there are always a ton of surprises to be found, everybody goes into Sundance with movies that are high on their must-see lists. I'm no different, and I've plucked out 10 that I really must check out, even if it means roughing somebody up for their ticket. In the case of Wind River, I might actually have to do that, so look for me on America's Most Wanted or something.
So here are my choices in no particular order, and once the festival starts you'll be able to check out all of my reviews here of course. You can follow my updates on Twitter (@punchycritic) and those of Mae Abdulbaki (@MaeAbdu) in real time. Who knows who we'll run into? And bear in mind that this is just a small handful of the moves I'm eager to see. My schedule is nearly triple this number, although honestly the only way I can see them all is if I get cloned.
A Ghost Story
Director: David Lowery
Cast: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara
The "secret" project by David Lowery finds him reuniting with his Ain't Them Bodies Saints stars, Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara for a drama that is being kept mostly under wraps. After stepping into studio territory with Disney's heartfelt live-action Pete's Dragon, it's good to see that Lowery hasn't forgotten where he came from.
Director: Charlie McDowell
Cast: Jason Segel, Rooney Mara, Robert Redford, Jesse Plemons, and Riley Keough
Speaking of surprises, McDowell floored me at Sundance a couple of years ago with the Twilight Zone-esque rom-com, The One I Love, and I've been waiting eagerly for The Discovery ever since. He's tackling a love story of a different kind this time, as the setting is a future when the afterlife's existence has been scientifically verified. It's also pretty cool to see Redford in another movie at his festival because there won't be too many more of them, if any.
Director: Gillian Robespierre
Cast: Jenny Slate, Jenny Slate, John Turturro, Edie Falco, Abby Quinn, Jay Duplass, Finn Wittrock
Obvious Child duo of director Gillian Robespierre and star Jenny Slate reunite for a period piece set in 1990s Manhattan. Yes please. The comedy follows sisters who set out to expose their parents' various affairs, although it sounds like everybody in this family has issues. If Robespierre and Slate stuck together for the rest of their careers I'd be quite happy.
I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore
Director: Macon Blair
Cast: Melanie Lynskey, Elijah Wood, David Yow, Jane Levy, Devon Graye
Nobody owns Sundance quite like Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood, so it's cool to see them together for what is sure to be a popular festival choice. That it's also written and directed by Macon Blair, the star of Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin (he also was in Saulnier's Green Room), I don't know if there will be enough seats to accommodate this one. Lynskey stars as a depressed woman who sets out to find the thieves who burglarized her home. I'm expecting a different kind of revenge tale out of Blair, based on his experience with Saulnier.
Director: Michael Larnell
Cast: Chante Adams, Mahershala Ali, Nia Long, Elvis Nolasco, Kevin Phillips, Shenell Edmonds
The rap game is fierce this year in Park City, but the hip-hop flick I'm down for most is Roxanne Roxanne. For one thing, it follow the career of the one of the best battle rappers ever, '80s icon Roxanne Shante. The film also stars Mahershala Ali and Nia Long, who I'll follow pretty much anywhere.
Director: Matt Ruskin
Cast: Keith Stanfield, Nnamdi Asomugha, Natalie Paul, Bill Camp, Nestor Carbonell, Amari Cheatom
Based on a true story chronicled in This American Life, Matt Ruskin's Crown Heights stars Short Term 12 and Atlanta breakout Keith Stanfield as Colin Warner, who is wrongfully convicted of murder. A surprising twist is the co-starring role of former Oakland Raiders All-Pro cornerback, Nnamdi Asomugha, who plays the man who dedicates his life to proving Warner's innocence. I don't know much about Ruskin but the material is powerful and the cast potentially exciting. Count me in.
Director: Craig Johnson
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern, Judy Greer, Margo Martindale
The Skeleton Twins director Craig Johnson returns for what I'm hoping will be an upbeat break from all the serious festival dramas. Woody Harrelson plays a middle-aged misanthrope (think American Splendor) who reunites with his estranged wife and learns of a teenage daughter he's never met. I'm not expecting anything groundbreaking here, just make me laugh. Chances are I'll need it.
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens, Austin Stowell, Tim Blake Nelson
I don't know what to make of Colossal, but I do know it has a great cast and a nifty concept. Anne Hathaway plays a party girl who forges some kind of bond with a rampaging monster on the other side of the world. The film is directed by Nacho Vigalondo who is best known for visually inventive flicks like Open Windows and Timecrimes. But his movies tend to be pretty forgettable overall, and there has been little buzz about Colossal since it debuted at TIFF last year.
Director: Taylor Sheridan
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Jon Bernthal
Man, don't make me jack somebody up to get into this one. The directorial debut of Taylor Sheridan, writer of both Sicario and Hell or High Water, Wind River looks like one of the more mainstream efforts at the festival this year. It stars fellow Avengers Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner as government agents who must discover the truth about a dead body found in the rugged wilderness of a Wyoming Indian reservation.
The Yellow Birds
Director: Alexandre Moors
Cast: Tye Sheridan, Jack Huston, Alden Ehrenreich, Jason Patric, Toni Collette, Jennifer Aniston
One of the films I've pegged as a potential awards film, The Yellow Birds is the sophomore feature effort by Blue Caprice director, Alexandre Moors. I adored that movie and its lead performance by Isaiah Washington, and expect to see Moors pull equally great performances out of this star-studded cast. The story, which is based on the Kevin Powers novel and co-written by David Lowery (who has another movie on this list), follows two young Iraq War soldiers, and the solemn promise one struggles to keep after a terrible tragedy.
Director: Dee Rees
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Mitchell, Jason Clarke, Mary J. Blige
Another one that has awards prestige written all over it, Pariah director Dee Rees return to Sundance with her biggest movie yet. Set in the Post-WWII South, the story follows two warring families as they face racism and an unrelenting social hierarchy. Any movie that has Mulligan in it will grab my attention immediately, but I'm also interested in seeing how Rees handles a much larger scope than usual. This could be the film that elevates her in the way Selma did for Ava DuVernay, at least I hope it is.
The Big Sick
Director: Michael Showalter
Cast: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Anupam Kher
Michael Showalter, who scored a sleeper darling last year with Hello, My Name is Doris, is back with a movie that reminds me of Paper Heart. Penned by real-life couple Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon chronicle their culture-clashing romance, with Zoe Kazan taking on the role of Gordon. With a supporting cast that includes Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, there's a wealth of comic potential here, which may be why Judd Apatow signed on as a producer.