Sundance kicks off on Thursday, and this year’s slate is VERY stacked with promising entries. I sat down to make up a list of ten interesting titles and immediately had almost thirty films singled out. I had to make some tough calls to whittle the list down to ten films to keep an eye on in 2020, and one thing I did right out of the gate was eliminate documentaries. I could do a whole list of just docs, including Miss Americana, Hillary, and Happy Happy Joy Joy, a documentary about Ren and Stimpy and the dark legacy of its creator, John Kricfalusi. After that, I just went for anything that looks interesting for any reason, be it a particular creative involved on the project, or a gripping premise that stands out from the crowd. No rhyme or reason here, not trying to predict the 2020/21 Oscar race, these are just ten movies that stand out in an all-around extremely promising Sundance lineup.  

The 40-Year-Old-Version

Playwright Radha Blank, who also performs as the hip-hop comedian “RadhaMUSPrime”, makes her feature film debut in The 40-Year-Old-Version, in which she writes, directs, produces, and stars as “Radha”, a woman who decides to become a rapper at age 40 when her playwriting career fizzles out. She then has to juggle a resurgent theater career and budding rap career, as well as commercial pressure and artistic integrity. I am most intrigued by the singularity of Blank’s vision, and as I approach forty and find myself wondering what I have really accomplished in my creative career, this premise cuts a little close to the bone. I feel TOO SEEN.     

The Assistant

Fresh off her surprise Emmys win, Julia Garner stars in The Assistant, about an assistant to a powerful entertainment executive—never seen but frequently heard—who is clearly inspired by Harvey Weinstein. What I love about this movie is how the trailer positions it as a horror movie, which feels not only appropriate but smart. Even more than two years later, people still struggle to understand how a predator like Weinstein goes unchecked for so long, and here is, hopefully, an effective breakdown demonstrating EXACTLY how it happens, that also looks like a chilling psychological thriller.  

Bad Hair

Coming out the Midnight programming is Bad Hair, Justin Simien’s first feature film since Dear White People premiered at Sundance in 2014. Simien has proven himself to be the best kind of provocateur, as sincere as he is sly, as thoughtful as he is provoking. Bad Hair is all about that—the power of hair, hair politics, and how hair, especially ethnic hair, plays into social acceptance and success. Simien has shown he will never quite take the expected tack, so I cannot WAIT to see what he does with this story. 

Horse Girl

The trailer for Horse Girl dropped yesterday, and I immediately watched it three times. I loved the last film from writer/director Jeff Baena, The Little Hours, and Mark and Jay Duplass are producers, and the trailer name-checks another film they produced, The One I Love, which I also, err, love. So I’m sold on the collection of talent here, but also, The One I Love is a film that you think is going in one direction, only for it to turn out to be going somewhere else all along. I get the same feeling from the trailer of Horse Girl, and I am fully willing to take that journey. 

The Last Thing He Wanted

Dee Rees follows up Mudbound with The Last Thing He Wanted, an adaptation of Joan Didion’s novel about a woman (Anne Hathaway) who inherits her father’s arms business after spending years reporting on the arms deals at the center of the Iran-Contra scandal. The logline reads as typical Oscar bait—fathers! Daughters! Political intrigue!—but the combination of Didion, Rees, and Hathaway is irresistible. Like if anyone can make this more than typical Oscar bait, it’s Rees and Hathaway, who, I have no doubt, will not let Didion’s novel be oversimplified for Hollywood consumption.

Lost Girls

Fitting right into the current true crime entertainment boom, Lost Girls tells the story of Mari Gilbert, who shone a spotlight on the disappearance of her daughter, Shannan, which inadvertently led to the first discovery of victims of the Long Island Serial Killer. This is a twisty-turny story ripe for cinematic treatment, and Amy Ryan is already the queen of Sundance with two high profile premieres, this and Sara Colangelo’s Worth. If 2020 is the Year of Amy Ryan, I’m fine with it.

Promising Young Woman

We here at LaineyGossip have been hype for Promising Young Woman ever since the first trailer dropped last month. At this point, there is no film I am more anxious to see than this one. Besides this being one of Carey Mulligan’s interesting choices, this is also the feature directorial debut of Emerald Fennell, lately seen as Camilla Shand in The Crown. Fennell also took over showrunning duties on Killing Eve from Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and she writes a children’s fantasy series of books called Shiverton Hall—Emerald Fennell is the COOLEST, and I cannot wait to see what she is like as a film director. 

The Nowhere Inn

A mockumentary—maybe?—about Carrie Brownstein making a documentary about Annie Clark, the real persona behind the St. Vincent musical persona, is either going to be great or horrible. Like this is either Popstar levels of genius, or I’m Still Here levels of self-indulgence. There won’t be any middle ground here, either the concept works, or it doesn’t. This tension IS the allure of this film. 


FINALLY, a proper biopic of Nikola Tesla. Sure, it stars Ethan Hawke, no one’s good idea of an actor to play Tesla, but f-ck it, I’ll take anything at this point. (Also, watch Hawke win an Oscar for this next year now that I’ve said that.) It is well known that there are three confirmed time travelers who got trapped in the past, and Nikola Tesla was one of them; he’s such a fascinating guy that even if this film hits every typical biopic beat, it will work out well anyway. 

At long last, the promised film based on the famous “Zola” Twitter thread is here. Directed by Janicza Bravo and co-written by Bravo and Jeremy O. Harris—who is currently tearing up Broadway with Slave Play—Zola stars Taylour Paige and Riley Keough as the women at the center of the drama. I cannot WAIT to see how a movie based on Twitter turns out, especially when that movie is co-written by Jeremy O. Freaking Harris. This might be the biggest question mark at Sundance, both for the unlikeliness of its origin and what such talented filmmakers can do with that utterly bizarre story. And if it is a hit, I fully expect to see more “Based on a Twitter thread…” at the movies.