Last year, two of the biggest films coming out of Sundance were Manchester by the Sea and Birth of a Nation. Both bagged huge distribution deals at the festival, and both were early tips for Oscar hopefuls. Manchester has stayed in it all year, and is sure to be a player on Oscar night, for Casey Affleck at least. Birth of a Nation, however, couldn’t withstand the past of its director-star, Nate Parker, and was DOA by the time it was released commercially. Sundance 2017 starts tomorrow, and you have to wonder which film will go the distance like Manchester, or if any will suffer the fate of Birth of a Nation. Not the same exact fate, because that would be super f*cking depressing, but there’s always a film Sundance flips out for that doesn’t translate in the real world. Here are ten films debuting at Sundance that may or may not be the next Manchester, or, if we’re really unlucky, the next Birth of a Nation.
A Ghost Story
Just in case you were wondering, Casey Affleck is still fine. In fact, he’s so fine that it’s 100% probable he will be nominated for an Oscar for last year’s Sundance hit, Manchester by the Sea, while his new film screens in Park City. A Ghost Story reunites Affleck, Rooney Mara, and their Ain’t Them Bodies Saints director David Lowery for a film about a dead guy (Affleck) who haunts his grieving lover (Mara). This film has already picked up distribution (A24) and is already tipped to be an arthouse darling, at the least. So get ready for more of Casey A-Okay in 2017. Oh Goodie.
The Big Sick
Michael Showalter directs this movie from a script written by Kumail Nanjiani and his wife, Emily Gordon. Based on their relationship, Nanjiani stars as himself and Zoe Kazan steps in as Emily. The film focuses on their early relationship, as they deal with their families’ cultural differences and Emily’s illness (Still’s disease). Showalter is a good director (Hello My Name Is Doris, The Baxter), and is an alum of Wet Hot American Summer, and Nanjiani and Gordon come with a slew of comedian friends to call on for their movie. This should be the kind of funny-sad life-affirming “comedy” that plays well at Sundance (see also: Other People).
Call Me By Your Name
Italian director Luca Guadagnino has mastered the grown-up erotic drama (I Am Love, A Bigger Splash), and now he’s bringing his sun-drenched European sensibility to scrappy snowy Sundance with Call Me By Your Name. Set in the 1980s, this time the grown-up erotic drama is between a seventeen year old boy and a twenty-something academic played by Armie Hammer, who is a way better actor than he gets credit for. One of these days, a Guadagnino film is going to win a lot of awards. In the meantime, he keeps making good f*cking movies.
Jenny Slate reunites with her Obvious Child collaborators, writer Elisabeth Holm and director Gillian Robespierre. Landline is about a family discovering an affair in the era of the landline phone and I’m sure it will be a quirky and enjoyable indie comedy, but I’m mostly mentioning this for the smut potential. Chris Evans has been adorably supportive of Slate since they (officially) got together—going to her red carpets, book readings, and comedy shows. He’s certainly more visible with her than he has been with previous girlfriends. So there’s a real chance he’s in Park City with her.
Cate Blanchett performs thirteen different artists’ manifestos as thirteen different characters. This is going to be too weird for the mainstream, but it’s Cate Blanchett playing basically every character in the movie. It’s like the part of Being John Malkovich where everyone is Malkovich except for a whole movie and Cate Blanchett.
Jon Hamm stars as a hologram of a woman’s dead husband, except it’s the young and handsome version of her husband, not the old man who just died. This sounds like an episode of Black Mirror, but it’s based on a Pulitzer-nominated play. Lois Smith, Geena Davis, and Tim Robbins co-star, and with the right kind of marketing, this could be a player like Her or Ex Machina.
Dee Rees follows up Pariah—she directed Bessie in between features—with a story about two World War II veterans who cross the color line in Mississippi to become friends. This is the kind of film we’re going to need in 2017.
To The Bone
Showrunner and terribly accomplished television person Marti Noxon (UnREAL, Mad Men, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, among others) makes her feature film debut directing this film about an anorexic (Lily Collins) taking a chance on a unique treatment to save her life. Keanu Reeves stars as her doctor. I’m mostly in it to see what Noxon does with a film.
Woody Harrelson stars in the latest Daniel Clowes adaptation about a guy trying to meet his estranged teenage daughter. Co-starring Judy Greer and Laura Dern, and directed by Craig Johnson, of previous Sundance stand-out The Skeleton Twins fame, this is another one that’s ideal for audiences at Sundance. Clowes’ graphic novels lend themselves to film (see also: Ghost World, American Splendor), but don’t tend to find an audience beyond their niche. Will this be the breakout?
I like Sicario well enough and I LOVE Hell or High Water, and now actor/screenwriter Taylor Sheridan is making his directorial debut with Wind River, which he also wrote. It’s about a tracker (Jeremy Renner) helping a young FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) investigate a murder on the Wind River Reservation. I’m a fan of Sheridan’s storytelling but these are some deep waters to wade into—the FBI and Native American reservations don’t really mix, and you’d really have to thread the needle to make this story work from an outsider/white perspective. I’ve heard some not awesome things about this movie, but it was still being edited so there was time to get it right. Here’s hoping.