The Sundance Film Festival begins this tomorrow, which means we’re officially eyeballing movies for the 2017 award season. As always, narrowing this down to just ten movies was a son of a bitch. There are a lot of interesting and good-looking movies at Sundance this year, but here are a few that are worth keeping an eye on for one reason or another. This year’s Oscar race includes Brooklyn, which premiered at last year’s Sundance, so there’s always that one Sundance movie that goes the distance.
The Birth of a Nation
No, not THAT Birth of a Nation. This Birth of a Nation is a biopic of Nat Turner, of Nat Turner’s Revolt fame. Nate Parker stars as Nat Turner—he also directs and collaborated on the screenplay—an educated and well-spoken slave who often delivered sermons. In 1831 Turner led a rebellion that did not end well and had disastrous consequences, and I have no idea if this movie will be any good but Turner’s story is timely and relevant. I want it to be good enough to stick in the craw of next year’s Academy voters.
Kelly Reichardt makes pretty incredible movies that no one sees, like Meek’s Cutoff and Wendy and Lucy. Certain Women is her latest, starring Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, and Laura Dern, and it’s about three women in a small town. That’s all we know, but with that cast, this could be the movie that finally puts Reichardt in the way of the mainstream.
Rebecca Hall stars as Christine Chubbuck, who killed herself live on air during a news broadcast in 1974. (There’s also a documentary by Robert Greene called Kate Plays Christine about an actress—not Hall—preparing to portray Chubbuck.) Chubbuck’s suicide is said to have inspired Paddy Chayefsky to write Network, and if Hall’s performance is any good at all, this could have serious award season legs.
This movie has a stacked cast featuring Michael Shannon, Rachel Weisz, Kathy Bates, and Danny Glover, and has already sold to Amazon for distribution. That’s probably going to hobble its award odds—unless the Academy really does eject those members who haven’t worked in the industry for ten years or more from the voting ranks—but I’ll watch anything with Rachel Weisz AND Michael Shannon. Complete Unknown is about a man confronting a woman with whom he shares a mysterious past just as he’s about to make a major life change. It looks kind of psycho-sexual. Or maybe that’s just Michael Shannon. He has that vibe. (He also has another movie at Sundance, Frank & Lola, co-starring Imogen Poots. It doesn’t look as intriguing as this, but I do love Imogen Poots.)
The Fundamentals of Caring
Speaking of streaming platforms splurging at Sundance, Netflix has already bought The Fundamentals of Caring, starring Paul Rudd and Selena Gomez. It’s about sad people being sad until they rediscover the joy of life together. If it weren’t for Paul Rudd I’d tap out, but goddammit, he’s just so watchable.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Usually we hype rising actors, but I am banging the drum loud and hard for Taika Waititi. Not only is he hugely talented, he’s the kind of guy you like rooting for. He’ll direct the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok, and he’s the writer of Disney’s next princess tale, Moana, but before we see any of that, he has this New Zealand-made film about a young boy and his uncle who disappear into the bush and cause a national manhunt. At this point I don’t care what Waititi’s films are about, just sign me up for all of them.
Thoughtful, kind, and funny as f*ck, Waititi deserves the enormous break he’s getting via Marvel and Disney, and I hope he leverages that sh*t for everything it’s worth. I want to live in a world where Taika Waititi gets f*ck you money to make his movies.
Manchester by the Sea
Kenneth Lonergan’s third movie—and first in five years—stars Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams. It’s about a guy taking in his teenaged nephew after he’s orphaned. Surefire Oscar bait.
Last year at Sundance Sarah Silverman earned raves for her performance in I Smile Back, which repositioned her as a serious dramatic actress. Some people are saying Other People will do the same for Molly Shannon, who stars as a dying woman whose son (Jesse Plemons) moves back home to care for her. Sounds an awful lot like James White to me, but I’m willing to see what Shannon can do.
Southside With You
Tika Sumpter (shamefully wasted in Ride Along 2) stars as Michelle Obama and Parker Sawyers as Barack Obama in the days before they were POTUS and FLOTUS. Southside With You is the “Obama date movie”, a fictionalized version of their first date in Chicago. I hope this is as fascinating as they are, and not, like, a Hallmark movie of the week.
Swiss Army Man
Paul Dano stars as a guy stranded in the wild who becomes friends with a dead body that washes ashore which is Daniel Radcliffe. Shut up and take my money.
Bonus Movie: Werner Herzog made a documentary about artificial intelligence called Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World. If I only get to see one documentary this year, it will be this.
Attached - Paul Dano with Zoe Kazan at the Critics' Choice Awards on Sunday.