Typically reserved for post-Thanksgiving bingeing, the first round of Sundance programming arrived early this morning, thanks to the announcement of the annual festival’s Midnight section, complete with new offerings from the likes of Kevin Smith and Rob Zombie. Other announcements likely won’t roll out until after the holiday, right about the time most turkey dinners have finally settled.
Ahead of those announcements, Indiewire is offering 32 films as a Sundance wish list (in honor of the festival’s 32nd year). Basically, it’s a wholly unscientific collection of films that might reasonably make the cut and/or we hope will make it to Park City, a practice we long ago made our own annual tradition.
Much more so than fellow festival powerhouses Cannes or Toronto, Sundance is a hard lineup to predict. Small films from up-and-coming directors often end up being the most talked-about films at the festival, but some of the lineup will be comprised of more high-profile possibilities (many of them likely filled with lots of familiar recurring Sundance faces), and it’s all but certain that some of the festival’s big discoveries are not going to be on our list.
So with those caveats in mind, here are 32 titles to consider (in alphabetical order). And if you have a title to add, tell us in the comments.
"20th Century Women"
Director: Mike Mills
Cast: Elle Fanning, Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, Alia Shawkat, Billy Crudup
Why We Hope It Heads To Park City: We’ve been missing Mike Mills in the five years since his Oscar-winning "Beginners" warmed our hearts. But that could be remedied come January if his follow-up — which began shooting this summer — is done in time for Sundance. Set in 1979 Santa Barbara, the film follows three women (Fanning, Bening and Gerwig) who "explore love and freedom." It’s an amazing cast, and Mills — who also wrote the film — has yet to let us down.
Director: Ewan McGregor
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning, Rupert Evans, Uzo Adoba
Why We Hope It Heads To Park City: Sundance regular McGregor is making his feature directorial debut with an ambitious take on Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name. McGregor himself stars as Seymour "Swede" Levov, a Jewish-American businessman who finds his happy life shaken to the core by a changing culture and world that may not have any space for him.
"The Autopsy of Jane Doe"
Director: André Øvredal
Cast: Emile Hirsch, Ophelia Lovibond, Brian Cox
Why We Hope It Heads To Park City: Norwegian director Øvredal’s "Trollhunter" was a delightful creature feature that revitalized the found footage formula. Now he’s back with another peculiar-sounding supernatural tale, this one involving a father-and-son coroner team who encounter a homicide victim with no obvious cause of death. One look at "Trollhunter" proves Øvredal is the real deal when it comes to spooky storytelling and dark comedy; "The Autopsy of Jane Doe" hopefully continues that perception.
"The Bad Batch"
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Jason Momoa, Jim Carrey
Why We Hope It Heads To Park City: "A dystopian love story in a Texas wasteland and set in a community of cannibals." So reads the premise for this followup from the director of 2013’s wondrous debut "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night." Just as that film revitalized the vampire drama by setting it in an Iranian ghost town, "Bad Batch" seems poised to explore a deranged horror premise in more romantic terms — this time with a much bigger cast. There may be no more anticipated sophomore feature this year.
Director: Antonio Campos
Cast: Rebecca Hall, Maria Dizzia, Michael C. Hall, Kim Shaw, Timothy Simons, Tracy Letts
Why We Hope It Heads To Park City: Campos is a familiar face around Park City, thanks to both his involvement with the Borderline Films collective and his directorial work on such bold features as "Simon Killer," so Sundance would be a natural premiere environment for his next offering. And what an offering it is. Based on the true-life story of reporter Christine Chubbuck (Hall), the film will follow the WXLT-TV on-air reporter in her final months before she committed suicide live on the air in July of 1975. It’s a compelling story with a solid cast, and it’s the kind of real-life drama that would fit right in at the fest.
Director: Danny Ward
Cast: Liam Aiken, Amber Tamblyn, Jason Dohring, Lucy Fry, Jackie Cruz
Why We Hope It Heads To Park City: Child actor Liam Aiken ("Road To Perdition," "Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events") is all grown up and at the center of Danny Ward’s directorial debut "Cleveland." As a young writer struggling with a broken heart and addiction issues, Aiken stars alongside Amber Tamblyn (who is also on this list for her own directorial debut) and Jason Dohring ("Veronica Mars") in the film.
Directors: Daniel Patrick Carbone, Lauren Wolkstein, Lily Baldwin, Josephine Decker
Why We Hope It Heads To Park City: Kickstarter’s Dan Schoenbrun curated this mysterious anthology of five short films cobbled together based off contributing filmmakers’ "dream statements." Pitched as "The Twilight Zone" by way of Buñuel, the project features work from Carbone ("Hide Your Smiling Faces") and Decker ("Thou Wast Mild and Lovely"), whose formally daring character studies rank as some of the most promising new American independent films in recent years. That makes "collective:unconscious" just the kind of showcase that would fit right in at Sundance.
Director: Tim Sutton
Why We Hope It Heads To Park City: Sutton’s two features to date, "Pavilion" and "Memphis," both deal with characters intertwined with their locations through a remarkable kind of visual poetry. A sophisticated filmmaker for whom narrative is only part of the story, Sutton’s latest feature is shrouded in secrecy, but seems likely to deepen the slowly emerging appreciation for this marvelously subtle director.
Directors: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Cast: Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton, Josh Charles, Christopher Abbott, Alfred Molina
Why We Hope It Heads To Park City: Kim Barker’s memoir "The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan" is getting an adaptation (with the title "Fun House") thanks to a bunch of folks one wouldn’t want to bet against. Tina Fey is starring as Barker, with Lorne Michaels producing, Robert Carlock (who wrote a ton of episodes of "30 Rock" and "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt") penning the screenplay, and Glenn Ficarra and John Requa ("Bad Santa") in the director’s chair. Now one wouldn’t think those would be the people to handle a film about journalism in the Middle East, but Barker’s book is pretty hilarious in parts. It also won’t make for an easy adaptation, but we can’t wait to see how this team attempts to pull it off (or to see Fey in what is potentially her most challenging leading role yet).
Director: Andrew Neel
Cast: Nick Jonas, Ben Schnetzer, Chase Crawford
Why We Hope It Heads To Park City: Based on Brad Land’s memoir of the same name, Neel’s first feature since the 2012 festival breakout "King Kelly" centers on a series of horrific events that drive Brad (Schnetzer) to enroll in his little brother Brett’s (Jonas) college and pledge his fraternity. What he finds there is perhaps just as disturbing as the events that forced him to change his life, and with a real-world story to push the dramatic envelope, it’s just the kind of shocker Sundance audiences would love. Add in a script co-written by David Gordon Green and producers as sundry as Christine Vachon, John Wells and James Franco, and you’ve got fact-based magic.
"In Dubious Battle"
Director: James Franco
Cast: Nat Wolff, Analeigh Tipton, Josh Hutcherson, Selena Gomez, Bryan Cranston, James Franco, Vincent d’Onofrio
Why We Hope It Heads To Park City: With an upcoming slate that includes no less than seven directorial outings, it’s safe to assume that at least one Franco feature will make the Sundance lineup. A good bet? "In Dubious Battle," an adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel of the same name that features a starry cast and an activism-driven storyline.
"The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards"
Directors: Mark Columbus, Lauren Hoekstra, Sarah Kruchowski, Ryan Moody, Simon Savelyev, Vanita Shastry, Shadae Lamar Smith, Jeremy David White
Cast: James Franco, Rico Rodriguez, Kristen Wiig, Natalie Portman, Matthew Modine, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara, Abigail Spencer, Jimmy Kimmel
Why We Hope It Heads To Park City: Based on short stories from American novelist Robert Boswell’s collection, "The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards" is made up of seven separately directed vignettes that explore the difference between fantasy and reality, memory and history, and the joy and agony of the human condition. Along with them comes an extensive cast including everyone from James Franco (all over this wishlist, as he tends to be annually) to Natalie Portman, it could make for a starry addition to the Sundance lineup.
Director: Clea DuVall
Cast: Cobie Smulders, Alia Shawkat, Natasha Lyonne, Melanie Lynskey, Jason Ritter, Clea DuVall
Why We Hope It Heads To Park City: "But I’m a Cheerleader" cast reunion, anyone? Actress Clea DuVall has recruited her "Cheerleader" co-stars Natasha Lyonne and Melanie Lynskey for her directorial debut "The Intervention" and that trio alone is enough to get us excited. Not much is known about the film’s plot, but it’s based on an original script by DuVall and also stars Cobie Smulders and Alia Shawkat. DuVall has always been an underrated, interesting actress in our eyes and we’re definitely curious to see what she can do behind the camera.
Director: Jeff Baena
Cast: Thomas Middleditch, Adam Pally, Alex Ross Perry, Nick Kroll, Jenny Slate
Why We Hope It Heads To Park City: Baena’s "Life After Beth" was a clever reimagining of the zombie-horror genre that doubled as an endearing tale of teen heartbreak. Not much is known about this mysterious followup aside from its promising cast, but Baena’s clever manipulation of tone and performances — "Beth" was alternately absurd and touching — is reason enough to get excited.
"Katie Says Goodbye"
Director: Wayne Roberts
Cast: Olivia Cooke, Mary Steenburgen, Christopher Abbott, Keir Gilchrist, Mireille Enos, Nate Corddry, James Belushi
Why We Hope It Heads To Park City: "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" and "James White" helped make Olivia Cooke and Christopher Abbott two of this year’s Sundance’s biggest breakouts. They could be coming back to Park City together thanks to Wayne Roberts’ "Katie Says Goodbye." Following kindhearted seventeen-year-old (Cooke) in the American Southwest who turns to prostitution to fulfill her dream of a new life in San Francisco, the film is the first for director Roberts. It also brings together a stellar supporting cast including Mary Steenburgen and Mireille Enos.
Directors: Sam Blair, Joseph Martin
Why We Hope It Heads To Park City: Produced by John Battsek ("One Day in September," "My Kid Could Paint That"), this fascinating-sounding documentary involves a conservative Hungarian politician who figures out he has Jewish heritage and ultimately becomes an activist in the Orthodox Jewish community. The best docs at Sundance are the ones so filled with dramatic twists they may as well be narrative features. The premise of "Keep Quiet" suggests it fills that slot.
Director: Justin Kelly
Cast: James Franco, Molly Ringwald, Christian Slater, Alicia Silverstone
Why We Hope It Heads To Park City: Kelly made his feature directorial debut at last year’s Sundance with the Franco-starring "I am Michael," and it seems that the duo could pop up in 2016, too, thanks to this biopic about Bryan Kocis (Slater), who founded the infamous gay pornography label Cobra Video. Filled with all sorts of wild drama, including a rivalry with a fellow porn producer (Franco), the story sounds too wild to be believed, perfect for a big screen treatment.
"The Light Between Oceans"
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Cast: Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender, Rachel Weisz
Why We Hope It Heads To Park City: Derek Cianfrance was the talk of Sundance five years ago when his "Blue Valentine" made its debut there, and he could very well be back with his adaptation of M.L. Stedman’s novel "The Light Between Oceans." Following a lighthouse keeper (Michael Fassbender) and his wife (Alicia Vinkander) living off the coast of Western Australia as they raise a baby they rescue from an adrift rowboat, the film would certainly come to Park City atop most to-see lists given its director, cast and source material. It also seems like the kind of film we might be talking about a year from now with respect to awards season.
Director: Ira Sachs
Cast: Greg Kinnear, Paulina García, Jennifer Ehle
Why We Hope It Heads To Park City: Sundance regular Sachs tends to do well at the festival, with "Forty Shades of Blue," "Keep the Lights On" and "Love is Strange" all receiving accolades there. His latest production takes place in New York over the course of several years and involves the friendship between two boys from very different kinds of families. Nobody explores the fragmented nature of urban life better than Sachs, and "Little Men" seems poised to keep it up.
Director: Whit Stillman
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny, Xavier Samuel
Why We Hope It Heads To Park City: Stillman re-teams with his "Last Days of Disco" stars for a Jane Austen-based comedy of manners. Based on Austen’s novella "Lady Susan," the film is Stillman’s latest since 2011’s "Damsels in Distress," and it would see the director returning to the very festival that put his debut, "Metropolitan," on the map way back in 1990.
Director: Jeff Nichols
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Jaeden Kieberher, Kristen Dunst, Adam Driver, Michael Shannon, Sam Shepard
Why We Hope It Heads To Park City: Jeff Nichols opted to take his last film "Mud" to Cannes, but with his follow-up "Midnight Special" already slated for release in March, it seems Sundance will be his best bet for a festival debut this time around. A science-fiction tale of a father (Michael Shannon) and son (Jaeden Kieberher, who was so good in "St. Vincent") on the run after the former discovers the latter has special powers, it’s an interesting change of pace for Nichols — who has yet to hit a false note in his career). He’s already filming his "Midnight" follow-up "Loving Story" (which also stars Joel Edgerton and Michael Shannon), meaning 2016 could be quite the year for the director, and Sundance might be where all that starts.
"Morris From America"
Director: Chad Hartigan
Cast: Craig Robinson, Carla Juri, Jakub Gierszal
Why We Hope It Heads To Park City: Hartigan’s tender drama "This Is Martin Bonner" was a major discovery at Sundance two years ago, particularly for the way it managed to deal with a sentimental situation (the story of an older man who helps prisoners to readjust to society) with a remarkable degree of subtlety. Hartigan’s latest film follows an adolescent American boy living in Germany, which suggests that Hartigan has maintained his ability to explore the exploits of unique protagonists.
"My Blind Brother"
Director: Sophie Goodhart
Cast: Zoe Kazan, Adam Scott, Jenny Slate, Nick Kroll
Why We Hope It Heads To Park City: Complete with a pitch perfect "Sundance movie" cast, Goodhart’s feature directorial debut, adapted from her 2003 short of the same name, just sounds like the kind of charming silliness that Sundance always needs to lighten the darker corners of its lineup. Sibling rivalry comedies do gangbusters at the festival, why not throw a new one into the pile?
"Paint It Black"
Director: Amber Tamblyn
Cast: Alia Shawkat, Alfred Molia, Janet McTeer
Why We Hope It Heads To Park City: Based on Janet Fitch’s third novel, Amber Tambyn’s directorial debut "Paint It Black" represents two potential trends at next year’s Sundance: Actresses-turned-directors (see also Clea DuVall’s "The Intervention") and movies that star Alia Shawkat. Shawkat has supporting roles in a handful of likely Sundance picks (including, oddly enough, "The Intervention") but it’s "Black" where she is given one of her first lead roles. Set in the 1980s L.A. punk rock scene, the film follows Shawkat’s character as she navigates the aftermath of the death of her lover (played by up-and-comer Rhys Wakefield).
"Swiss Army Man"
Directors: Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Paul Dano
Why We Hope It Heads To Park City: This star-studded product of the Sundance Institute’s Feature Films Labs program from a pair of former music video directors revolves around a man who gets trapped in the wilderness and befriends a corpse. That premise may suggest the Wilson element of "Castaway" with a dead guy, but with these promising actors and a pair of filmmakers whose background is non-narrative suggests a fresh kind of survival story.
Director: Jeffrey Blitz
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Stephen Merchant, Lisa Kudrow, June Squibb, Amanda Crew, Craig Robinson
Why We Hope It Heads To Park City: From a screenplay by the Duplass brothers, Jeffrey Blitz is finally following up his 2007 Sundance award winner "Rocket Science" with "Table 19." Reunited with Anna Kendrick (who broke out thanks to "Rocket Science"), Blitz has also assembled the wonderful likes of Lisa Kudrow, Stephen Merchant and June Squibb for "19," which is told from the point of view of the collection of strangers grouped together at a wedding’s "singles table." With these folks involved, we already wish were sitting at it.
Director: Sian Heder
Cast: Ellen Page, Zachary Quinto, Allison Janney, Uzo Aduba
Why We Hope It Heads To Park City: A spin-off of Heder’s 2006 short "Mother," "Tallulah" will see "Juno" stars Page and Janney doing some big screen bonding in a very new way, despite the fact that this film is also centered on a baby. As the eponymous Talulah, Page’s character will find herself engaged in a weird relationship with one bad mama after the two women (sort of, kind of) battle it out over her cute kid. The dramedy sounds like the kind of thing well-suited to both of their tastes and talents, and the chance to see Heder finally make her directorial debut is just the cherry on top.
Director: Martin Bell
Why We Hope It Heads To Park City: Martin Bell’s 1984 documentary "Streetwise" explored Seattle’s extreme homelessness problem through the tribulations of a child prostitute named Tiny. Thirty years later, the new film picks up the pieces of Tiny’s life and finds a mature woman with 10 children and many more stories to tell. No matter what, this one sounds like a powerful update to a story that was already compelling in the first place.
"The Untitled Grateful Dead Documentary Project"
Director: Amir Bar-Lev
Why We Hope It Heads To Park City: A regular at Sundance whose "My Kid Could Paint That" and "The Tillman Story" both generated hype at the festival, Bar-Lev now turns his camera on the legacy of Jerry Garcia and his cohorts. The band’s history is well-documented, but anyone familiar with Bar-Lev’s work knows that he tends to dig beneath widely-reported stories to unearth bigger secrets, which means this one might not be just for the Deadheads.
Director: Todd Solondz
Cast: Brie Larson, Danny DeVito, Zosia Mamet
Why We Hope It Heads To Park City: Solondz’s universe of sad, ostracized people has become a wondrous universe of melancholy that has kept expanding ever since "Welcome to the Dollhouse" 20 years ago. This movie — his first since 2011’s "Dark Horse" — calls up memories of poor Dawn Wiener in that aforementioned dramedy, though now the role has fallen to Greta Gerwig. Solondz’s somber tales of discomfort are an acquired taste, but they get richer with age, as do his characters, and this Megan Ellison-backed ensemble looks well-positioned to enrich an already-fascinating self-contained world.
Director: Craig Johnson
Cast: Judy Greer, Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern,Cheryl Hines
Why We Hope It Heads To Park City: What’s more exciting? That this is the new film from Craig Johnson, who won our hearts at Sundance two years ago with "The Skeleton Twins"? Or maybe that it involved Daniel Clowes ("Ghost World"), adapting his own graphic novel? Or how about a cast that includes Laura Dern, Judy Greer and Woody Harrelson (who stars as the lonely titular character)? Whatever the case, "Wilson" is high up on our hopes for Sundance, which seems like a pretty solid bet given the people involved and the fact that the film wrapped in August.
Director: James Franco
Cast: Megan Fox, Joey King, James Franco, Seth Rogen, Will Ferrell, Dave Franco, Danny McBride
Why We Hope It Heads To Park City: Another possible Franco entry (a Franco-bility?) is "Zeroville," a comedy and drama all about Hollywood’s "transitional time" in the late sixties and early seventies, based on Steve Erickson’s novel of the same name. With so many heavy features on his plate ("Bukowski" alone sounds like an emotional gut punch), how refreshing would it be to see some funny Franco on screen in Park City this year?
The 2016 Sundance Film Festival runs from January 21-31.