Sundance Preview 2018: 10 to Watch

Sarah Posted by Sarah at January 18, 2018 15:00:11 January 18, 2018 15:00:11

The Sundance Film Festival kicks off today, during an uncertain period in the industry. Theatrical exhibition is dying, Fox is disappearing into the Disney fold—indie arm Fox Searchlight is operating “business as usual” this year, but it could very well be their last—and Netflix, driver of big deals in the recent past, has 80 films of their own slated already, so no one knows how much they’re really looking to acquire (they were relatively quiet at TIFF last fall). There’s a lot up in the air right now, and overshadowing it all is the pall of the ongoing pervert reveal nightmare. Whose Sundance is about to be ruined? Who knows! Could be anyone! At least there is some good news—to celebrate its 20th anniversary, there will be a special screening of Smoke Signals. And as part of the Sundance Institute’s Native American and Indigenous Program, eight films from Native filmmakers are premiering across the festival slate, including the documentary Akicita: The Battle of Standing Rock. That’s a documentary to keep an eye on this year. And here are ten narrative films to watch out for, too.


Daveed Diggs co-wrote this film with Rafael Casal, his pre-Hamilton creative partner, and Diggs’ Hamilton fame helped them get the project off the ground. It’s described as a “buddy comedy in a world that won’t let it be one”, and it’s about an ex-con (Diggs) during his last days of parole, and the idiot friend (Casal), who might jeopardize his freedom. Though the log line claims “buddy comedy”, Blindspotting is kicking off the dramatic competition, a plum spot for what looks like a competitive lineup. 


Two historical dramas starring two classy British actresses. Colette stars Keira Knightley and is about a woman forced to publish her novels under her husband’s name—and what happens when her literary fame grows. And Ophelia stars Daisy Ridley, and Naomi Watts, and is a retelling of Hamlet from Ophelia’s perspective (it’s adapted from Lisa Klein’s book). In the era of Time’s Up, it will be interesting to see how projects centered on historically sidelined women do, if there’s any kind of halo effect. Also, while Knightley is well established, Ridley is still finding her footing outside Star Wars, and it will be interesting to see if she can make the same kind of prestige-drama leap that Knightley made after her own franchise days.


Post-Twilight, Robert Pattinson has been doing consistently interesting work, but in 2017 he really leaped forward with a pair of performances in The Lost City of Z and Good Time that really get the lead out and give a hint to where he’s heading in the next phase of his career. Damsel, the new film from brothers David and Nathan Zellner (Kumiko the Treasurer Hunter), looks to build on that, as Pattinson plays a wealthy dude crossing the American frontier to marry his one true love (Mia Wasikowska). So, like, Slow West but less bleak?

I Think We’re Alone Now

Before she won an Emmy for The Handmaid’s Tale, Reed Morano made her directorial debut with a film, Meadowland. She returns to film with I Think We’re Alone Now, a post-apocalyptic tale in which Peter Dinklage and Elle Fanning find themselves as the only people left in the world. The twist is that Dinklage’s character is actually enjoying his solitude and a companion is kind of ruining his vibe. 

Leave No Trace

Her first feature film since 2010’s Winter’s Bone, Debra Granik returns to Sundance with Leave No Trace, about a father (Ben Foster) and daughter who live in a Portland forest until a “small mistake derails their lives forever”. It sounds a little like Captain Fantastic except bleak—or the under-seen Sam Rockwell gem A Single Shot—and knowing Granik’s work it’s probably going to be seedy and painfully observant of class in America.


The Chloe Sevigny/Kristen Stewart Lizzie Borden movie. Sevigny plays Borden and Stewart a maid in her household, and the well-known axe-murderer’s tale is given a Sapphic slant this time around. Although it’s impossible to ignore the bloody conclusion, this looks less like a horror movie and more like a parlor drama about repression. Lizzie has everything going for it, but the bar has recently been raised for “historical repressed women violently lashing out” by the OUTSTANDING Lady Macbeth


Totally linking these two as a way to sneak in more than ten films (see also: Colette/Ophelia), Monster is an adaptation of Walter Dean Myers’ novel about a black teen caught up in the juvenile justice system. It has both the allure of YA and timeliness, so this could be a popular title coming out of the fest. Burden, meanwhile, stars Garrett Hedlund as a Klansman who sees the error of his ways. All I really want to know is if this is the movie that gave Hedlund that bizarre accent he was sporting at the Golden Globes.

Sorry to Bother You

Rapper Boots Riley makes his directorial debut with this film, which is already getting buzz, thanks to the Get Out halo effect (see also: Tyrel). Lakeith Stanfield stars as a telemarketer who suddenly gains the ability to sell anything, Tessa Thompson is his suspicious girlfriend, and Armie Hammer plays his douchebag boss. Between the talent and the timeliness, this is DEFINITELY going to pop in the sales market.


As mentioned above, Tyrel is already drawing Get Out comparisons. It comes from Sebastián Silva and stars Jason Mitchell as a guy who spirals out when he realizes he’s the only black dude on a trip to the Catskills. It also stars Michael Cera, Caleb Landry Jones (a Get Out connection), and Christopher Abbott, who, post-Girls, seems hell bent on playing unlikeable characters (see also: James White, Sweet Virginia). So that bodes well. Like Sorry To Bother You, this is bound to be a stand-out title in the sales market.


Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan star in Paul Dano’s directorial debut, which he adapted from Richard Ford’s novel along with Zoe Kazan. It’s a “midcentury white family falling apart” movie, which, given the talent involved, seems destined for award-bait conversations. Also debuting as a director is Idris Elba with Yardie, which is also a novel adaptation. Set in the 1980s, it’s a revenge thriller about a Jamaican gangster getting revenge on the guy who killed his brother. It will be very interesting to see how these two films turn out, and whether or not Dano and/or Elba can establish themselves as viable directors and not just vanity-project dabblers. 

Attached – recent photos of Idris that we’ve not yet posted. 

Backgrid, Splash News, Mark R. Milan/ David M. Benett/ Ricky Vigil/ Getty Images

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