There are many film festivals, but Robert Redford’s Sundance still reigns supreme, I think — and this year’s line-up is very curious. In a good way!
We gripe a lot here at Pajiba about how often it feels like nothing in Hollywood changes. Kayleigh has talked about Bryan Singer’s essential comeback with Bohemian Rhapsody, I’ve complained about the uphill battle Netflix releases like Mudbound face when trying to battle through awards season, and Kristy has noted how often genre films, like horrors or comedies, are ignored by awards-voting bodies, too. We all have complaints!
But in the past year or so, it has certainly seemed like film festival culture is slowly, but hopefully permanently, changing. Film festivals look like swag-heavy parties from the outside but their true purpose is to develop and display filmmaking talent that is usually ignored by the studio system. These are supposed to be the places where you see the movies you never would have expected, and that are then supposed to be picked up for distribution so everyone else can see them, too. But there are two issues here: that for many years film festivals didn’t feature that many movies created by women or people of color, and that the people invited to cover those festivals are rarely women or people of color, either.
After #TimesUp and #MeToo, the Toronto International Film Festival was one of the first to announce that they would be reaching out to media members typically not included in the film festival scene to invite them to attend. (I unfortunately couldn’t act on that invitation this year because of a previously planned trip, but I hope to go next year, and you can check out Kayleigh’s and Joelle’s dispatches from September.) And Sundance Film Festival, with its slate of movies announced yesterday, seems to be moving in the direction of parity, too.
As noted in their announcement yesterday, “53% of the directors in this year’s U.S. Dramatic Competition are women; 41% are people of color; 18% identify as LGBTQIA+.” There are documentaries and dramatic films in competition year from all over the world, with stories about a variety of experiences, and I was REAL PUMPED to read through a lot of these film descriptions. (And to see the first look image Dustin posted of Zac Efron in character as Ted Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. It’s kind of spooky!) Anyway, that’s why I’ve collected some Sundance trends below! So we can nerd out over these films together!
Will Sundance also go in the direction of broadening the critics they accept to view these films from January 24 to February 3 in Park City? Film festivals are expensive as hell to attend, and the reality is that most film writers and critics at this point are freelancers who probably can’t swing a couple of weeks in such a pricey location. (I’ve had friends who go to Sundance who basically save up the entire year to attend.) I’m hoping that information will trickle out of Film Twitter as we get closer to the end of January letting us know which people are actually heading to Utah this year. But until then, let’s pore over the films, hope they all get distribution, and try to hold back our tears at even the thought of a documentary about Anton Yelchin. (I mean, I know at least I will be in full weep mode whenever Love, Antosha comes out.)
From the U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION (films you’ll recognize that were previously included in this category: Wildlife, Eighth Grade, Sorry to Bother You, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Swiss Army Man)
What could be potential Oscar contenders!
Native Son / U.S.A. (Director: Rashid Johnson, Screenwriter: Suzan-Lori Parks, Producers: Matthew Perniciaro, Michael Sherman) — In this modern reimagining of Richard Wright’s seminal novel, a young African-American man named Bigger Thomas takes a job working for a highly influential Chicago family, a decision that will change the course of his life forever. Cast: Ashton Sanders, Margaret Qualley, Nick Robinson, KiKi Layne, Bill Camp, Sanaa Lathan.
Clemency / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Chinonye Chukwu, Producers: Bronwyn Cornelius, Julian Cautherley, Peter Wong, Timur Bekbosunov) — Years of carrying out death row executions have taken a toll on prison warden Bernadine Williams. As she prepares to execute another inmate, Bernadine must confront the psychological and emotional demons her job creates, ultimately connecting her to the man she is sanctioned to kill. Cast: Alfre Woodard, Aldis Hodge, Richard Schiff, Wendell Pierce, Richard Gunn, Danielle Brooks.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco / U.S.A. (Director: Joe Talbot, Screenwriters: Joe Talbot, Rob Richert, Producers: Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Christina Oh, Khaliah Neal, Joe Talbot) — Jimmie Fails dreams of reclaiming the Victorian home his grandfather built in the heart of San Francisco. Joined on his quest by his best friend Mont, Jimmie searches for belonging in a rapidly changing city that seems to have left them behind. Cast: Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Rob Morgan, Tichina Arnold, Danny Glover.
An increased Asian and Asian-American presence!
The Farewell / U.S.A., China (Director and screenwriter: Lulu Wang, Producers: Daniele Melia, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub, Chris Weitz, Andrew Miano, Anita Gou) — A headstrong Chinese-American woman returns to China when her beloved grandmother is given a terminal diagnosis. Billi struggles with her family’s decision to keep grandma in the dark about her own illness as they all stage an impromptu wedding to see grandma one last time. Cast: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Zhao Shuzhen, Lu Hong, Jiang Yongbo.
Ms. Purple / U.S.A. (Director: Justin Chon, Screenwriters: Justin Chon, Chris Dinh, Producer: Alex Chi, Justin Chon) — Kasie, stuck in LA’s Koreatown, works as a karaoke hostess getting paid for her companionship by drunken men. When her dad’s hospice nurse quits she reconnects with her estranged brother, Carey, forcing them to enter a period of intense self-reflection as their single father who raised them nears death. Cast: Tiffany Chu, Teddy Lee, Octavio Pizano, James Kang.
Movies about women “unraveling”!
Hala / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Minhal Baig, Producers: Clarence Hammond, Jamal Watson, Minhal Baig) — Muslim teenager Hala copes with the unraveling of her family as she comes into her own. Cast: Geraldine Viswanathan, Jack Kilmer, Gabriel Luna, Purbi Joshi, Azad Khan, Anna Chlumsky.
Imaginary Order / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Debra Eisenstadt, Producers: Debra Eisenstadt, Cosmos Kiindarius) — The sexual, psychological and moral unraveling of an obsessive-compulsive suburban mom. Cast: Wendi McLendon-Covey, Christine Woods, Max Burkholder, Steve Little, Catherine Curtin, Kate Alberts.
Pete Davidson will be there! Make of that what you will!
Big Time Adolescence / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Jason Orley, Producers: Jeremy Garelick, Mickey Liddell, Pete Shiliamon, Mason Novick, Will Phelps) — A suburban teenager comes of age under the destructive guidance of his best friend, a charismatic college dropout. Cast: Pete Davidson, Griffin Gluck, Jon Cryer, Sydney Sweeney, Emily Arlook, Colson Baker.
What the hell is this!
Honey Boy / U.S.A. (Director: Alma Har’el, Screenwriter: Shia LaBeouf, Producers: Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Anita Gou, Christopher Leggett, Alma Har’el) — A child TV star and his ex-rodeo clown father face their stormy past through time and cinema. Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Lucas Hedges, Noah Jupe.
New York City white people problems!
The Sound of Silence / U.S.A. (Director: Michael Tyburski, Screenwriters: Ben Nabors, Michael Tyburski, Producers: Ben Nabors, Michael Prall, Tariq Merhab, Charlie Scully, Mandy Tagger Brockey, Adi Ezroni) — A successful “house tuner” in New York City, who calibrates the sound in people’s homes in order to adjust their moods, meets a client with a problem he can’t solve. Cast: Peter Sarsgaard, Rashida Jones, Tony Revolori, Austin Pendleton.
The most Walton Goggins movie to ever exist!
Them That Follow / U.S.A. (Directors and screenwriters: Britt Poulton, Dan Madison Savage, Producers: Bradley Gallo, Michael Helfant, Gerard Butler, Alan Siegel, Danielle Robinson) — Inside a snake-handling church deep in Appalachia, a forbidden relationship forces a pastor’s daughter to confront her community’s deadly tradition. Cast: Olivia Colman, Kaitlyn Dever, Alice Englert, Jim Gaffigan, Walton Goggins, Thomas Mann.
From the U.S. DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION (films you’ll recognize that were previously included in this category: Three Identical Strangers)
If you liked First Man!
APOLLO 11 / U.S.A. (Director: Todd Douglas Miller, Producers: Todd Douglas Miller, Thomas Petersen, Evan Krauss) — A purely archival reconstruction of humanity’s first trip to another world, featuring never-before-seen 70mm footage and never-before-heard audio from the mission.
If you liked Chilling Adventures of Sabrina!
Hail Satan / U.S.A. (Director: Penny Lane, Producer: Gabriel Sedgwick) — A look at the intersection of religion and activism, tracing the rise of The Satanic Temple: only six years old and already one of the most controversial religious movements in American history. The Temple is calling for a Satanic revolution to save the nation’s soul. But are they for real?
If you want to be enraged, because how could you not be:
Always in Season / U.S.A. (Director: Jacqueline Olive, Producers: Jacqueline Olive, Jessica Devaney) — When 17-year-old Lennon Lacy is found hanging from a swing set in rural North Carolina in 2014, his mother’s search for justice and reconciliation begins as the trauma of more than a century of lynching African Americans bleeds into the present.
If you want to watch something and have the entire Pajiba staff join you in spirit:
Knock Down the House / U.S.A. (Director: Rachel Lears, Producers: Sarah Olson, Robin Blotnick, Rachel Lears) — A young bartender in the Bronx, a coal miner’s daughter in West Virginia, a grieving mother in Nevada and a registered nurse in Missouri build a movement of insurgent candidates challenging powerful incumbents in Congress. One of their races will become the most shocking political upset in recent American history. Cast: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
From the WORLD DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION (films you’ll recognize that were previously included in this category: Last Men in Aleppo)
Because I think these both sound like portraits of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict we don’t normally get in the news:
Advocate / Israel, Canada, Switzerland (Directors: Rachel Leah Jones, Philippe Bellaïche, Producers: Philippe Bellaïche, Rachel Leah Jones, Paul Cadieux, Joelle Bertossa) Lea Tsemel defends Palestinians: from feminists to fundamentalists, from non-violent demonstrators to armed militants. As a Jewish-Israeli lawyer who has represented political prisoners for nearly 50 years, Tsemel, in her tireless quest for justice, pushes the praxis of a human rights defender to its limits.
Gaza / Ireland (Directors: Garry Keane, Andrew McConnell, Producers: Brendan J. Byrne, Garry Keane, Andrew McConnell, Paul Cadieux) — Gaza brings us into a unique place beyond the reach of television news reports to reveal a world rich with eloquent and resilient characters, offering us a cinematic and enriching portrait of a people attempting to lead meaningful lives against the rubble of perennial conflict.
Because this sounds harrowing and healing:
The Magic Life of V / Finland, Denmark, Bulgaria (Director: Tonislav Hristov, Screenwriters: Tonislav Hristov, Kaarle Aho, Producers: Kaarle Aho, Kai Nordberg) — Haunted by childhood traumas, Veera is trying to become more independent through live roleplaying. As she guides herself and her mentally-challenged brother through worlds of multiple roles and identities, witches and wizards, she finds the courage to face the demons of her own past and her abusive father’s legacy.
Give these to me on VOD right now!
Adam / U.S.A. (Director: Rhys Ernst, Screenwriter: Ariel Schrag, Producers: Howard Gertler, James Schamus) — Awkward teenager Adam arrives to spend his final high school summer with his older sister, who has thrown herself into New York City’s lesbian and trans activist scene. Over the summer, Adam and those around him experience love, friendship, and attendant hard truths in this coming-of-age comedy. Cast: Nicholas Alexander, India Menuez, Leo Sheng, Chloe Levine, Margaret Qualley.
The Infiltrators / U.S.A. (Directors: Alex Rivera, Cristina Ibarra, Screenwriters: Alex Rivera, Aldo Velasco, Producers: Cristina Ibarra, Alex Rivera, Darren Dean) — A rag-tag group of undocumented youth - Dreamers - deliberately get detained by Border Patrol in order to infiltrate a shadowy, for-profit detention center. Cast: Maynor Alvarado, Manuel Uriza, Chelsea Rendon, Juan Gabriel Pareja, Vik Sahay.
Paradise Hills / Spain, U.S.A. (Director: Alice Waddington, Screenwriters: Nacho Vigalondo, Brian DeLeeuw, Producers: Adrian Guerra, Núria Valls) — A young woman is sent to Paradise Hills to be reformed, only to learn that the high-class facility’s beautiful facade hides a sinister secret. Cast: Emma Roberts, Danielle Macdonald, Awkwafina, Eiza González, Milla Jovovich, Jeremy Irvine.
Premature / U.S.A. (Director: Rashaad Ernesto Green, Screenwriters: Rashaad Ernesto Green, Zora Howard, Producers: Joy Ganes, Rashaad Ernesto Green, Darren Dean) — The summer before she leaves for college, Ayanna meets handsome and mysterious outsider Isaiah; her entire world is turned upside down as she navigates the demanding terrain of young love against a changing Harlem landscape. Cast: Zora Howard, Joshua Boone, Michelle Wilson, Alexis Marie Wint, Imani Lewis, Tashiana Washington.
Lupita and zombies? I AM SOLD.
Little Monsters / Australia (Director and screenwriter: Abe Forsythe, Producers: Jodi Matterson, Bruna Papandrea, Steve Hutensky, Keith Calder, Jessica Calder) — A film dedicated to all the kindergarten teachers who motivate children to learn, instill them with confidence and stop them from being devoured by zombies. Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Alexander England, Josh Gad. World Premiere
Riley Keough continues her “I do spooky things” streak after Hold the Dark:
The Lodge / U.S.A., United Kingdom (Directors: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala, Screenwriters: Sergio Casci, Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala, Producers: Simon Oakes, Aliza James, Aaron Ryder) — In this psychologically chilling slow burn, a young woman and her reticent new stepchildren find themselves isolated in the family’s remote winter cabin, locked away to dredge up the mysteries of her dark past and the losses that seem to haunt them all. Cast: Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh, Alicia Silverstone, Richard Armitage. World Premiere
And finally, from the PREMIERES category, which are the “world premieres of some of the most highly anticipated narrative films of the coming year.” An aptly named category because I want to see EVERYTHING LISTED HERE AND MORE. (Oh, and films you’ll recognize that were previously included in this category: The Big Sick, Call Me By Your Name, Boyhood, Mudbound.)
The American remake of Susanne Bier’s 2006 film (and I’m reviewing Bier’s upcoming Bird Box, so you know, shout out to myself!):
After The Wedding / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Bart Freundlich, Producers: Joel B. Michaels, Harry Finkel) — Seeking funds for her orphanage in India, Isabelle travels to New York to meet Theresa, a wealthy benefactor. An invitation to attend a wedding ignites a series of events in which the past collides with the present while mysteries unravel. Based on the Academy Award-nominated film by Susanne Bier. Cast: Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams, Billy Crudup, Abby Quinn.
Alia Shawkat was great in Duck Butter so I am excited for this:
Animals / United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia (Director: Sophie Hyde, Screenwriter: Emma Jane Unsworth, Producers: Sarah Brocklehurst, Rebecca Summerton, Cormac Fox, Sophie Hyde) — After a decade of partying, Laura and Tyler’s friendship is strained by Laura’s new love and her focus on her novel. A snapshot of a modern woman with competing desires, at once a celebration of female friendship and an examination of the choices we make when facing a crossroads. Cast: Holliday Grainger, Alia Shawkat.
As a brown person who loves the Boss, I approve:
Blinded by the Light / United Kingdom (Director: Gurinder Chadha, Screenwriters: Sarfraz Manzoor, Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges, Producers: Gurinder Chadha, Jane Barclay, Jamal Daniel) — In 1987 during the austere days of Thatcher’s Britain, a teenager learns to live life, understand his family and find his own voice through the music of Bruce Springsteen. Cast: Viveik Kalra, Hayley Atwell, Rob Brydon, Kulvinder Ghir, Nell Williams, Aaron Phagura.
Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling together is making me flustered:
Late Night / U.S.A. (Director: Nisha Ganatra, Screenwriter: Mindy Kaling, Producers: Ben Browning, Howard Klein, Jillian Apfelbaum, Mindy Kaling) — Legendary late-night talk show host’s world is turned upside down when she hires her only female staff writer. Originally intended to smooth over diversity concerns, her decision has unexpectedly hilarious consequences as the two women separated by culture and generation are united by their love of a biting punchline. Cast: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow, Paul Walter Hauser, Reid Scott, Amy Ryan.
And some good political thriller shit, this is fine!
Official Secrets / United States, United Kingdom (Director: Gavin Hood, Screenwriters: Sara Bernstein, Gregory Bernstein, Gavin Hood, Producers: Ged Doherty, Elizabeth Fowler, Melissa Shiyu Zuo) — The true story of British Intelligence whistleblower Katharine Gun, who prior to the 2003 Iraq invasion leaked a top-secret NSA memo exposing a joint US-UK illegal spying operation against members of the UN Security Council. The memo proposed blackmailing member states into voting for war. Cast: Keira Knightley, Matt Smith, Ralph Feinnes, Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans.
The Report / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Scott Z. Burns, Producers: Steven Soderbergh, Jennifer Fox, Scott Z. Burns, Danny Gabai, Eddy Moretti ) — The story of Daniel Jones, lead investigator for the US Senate’s sweeping study into the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, which was found to be brutal, immoral and ineffective. With the truth at stake, Jones battled tirelessly to make public what many in power sought to keep hidden. Cast: Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Jon Hamm, Ted Levine, Maura Tierney, Michael C. Hall.
Image sources (in order of posting): Sundance Institute: Emily Aragones, Anton Yelchin, Matthew Libatique, Ante Chen, Natasha Braier, Eric Lin, Rachel Lears, Andrew McConnell, Lisa Rinzler, Manolo Pavón, Ben King, Bernard Walsh, Nick Wall, Emily Aragones, Atsushi Nishijima