This year’s Sundance Film Festival is mere days from unspooling in snowy Park City, Utah and, with it comes a brand new year of indie filmmaking to get excited about. As ever, the annual festival is playing home to dozens of feature films, short offerings, and technologically-influenced experiences, and while there’s plenty to anticipate seeing, we’ve waded through the lineup to pick out the ones we’re most looking forward to checking out.
From returning filmmakers like Desiree Akhavan, Robert Greene, and the Zellner brothers to brand-new names like Christina Choe, Carlos López Estrada, and newly minted director Paul Dano (himself a regular of the festival, though on the other side of the camera), this year’s festival promises a bevy of big treats and perhaps even bigger surprises. Here’s what we can’t wait to see.
This year’s festival runs from January 18 – 28 in Park City, Utah. Check out the full lineup, plus all of our coverage of the festival, right here.
Ring the Andrea Riseborough alarm, because we’ve got a hot one. The lauded — and occasionally woefully overlooked — actress toplines what has to be one of the festival’s most intriguing titles, Christina Choe’s feature directorial debut “Nancy.” In the twisted-sounding drama, Nancy (Riseborough) becomes steadily convinced that she was kidnapped when she was a child, a dangerous enough fantasy made even more potent by her meeting a couple who just so happened to have a child — a girl, Nancy’s age — kidnapped when she was small. This can’t possibly end well, but it sounds like the kind of layered, dense role that Riseborough will be able to truly sink her teeth into. -Kate Erbland
“The Miseducation of Cameron Post”
Courtesy of Sundance Institute
“Appropriate Behavior” filmmaker Desiree Akhavan finally returns to the festival that first introduced her prodigious chops and delightfully off-kilter humor to the world, thanks to her long-gestating adaptation of the Emily M. Danforth novel of the same name. Starring Chloe Grace Moretz as the eponymous Cameron, the film tracks the teenager’s first tenuous steps into understanding her sexuality, a fraught enough endeavor made all the worse by her aunt’s horror at the prospect that Cameron might be gay, a horror that pushes her to send Cameron to gay conversion camp. It’s there that Moretz will be matched up with a slew of compelling supporting stars, including “American Honey” breakout Sasha Lane, “Blame” filmmaker Quinn Shephard, Jennifer Ehle, John Gallagher Jr., and Forrest Goodluck. Akhavan has already shown her deft hand at taking complicated, complex matters of sexuality and family and turning them into rich, wily final products. Here’s hoping “Cameron Post” continues that tradition. -KE
Nicolas Pesce delivered the major discovery of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival with his chilling black-and-white horror film “The Eyes of My Mother,” and now he’s back two years later with a bigger budget, a starrier cast, and hopefully the same level of grisly intensity. “Piercing” stars Mia Wasikowska and Christopher Abbott and is based on the 1994 novel by Ryu Murakami. Abbott plays a businessman who leaves his family behind and checks into a hotel with a plan to hire an escort and kill her, but the woman (Wasikowska) proves far savvier at avoiding death than he could’ve ever imagined. The plot couldn’t be more perfect for Pesce, who proved in his debut that he is more than capable of getting under the skin of sociopath. Expect fireworks to spark between indie darlings Abbott and Wasikowska, too. -Zack Sharf
Sandi Tan’s documentary in the World Cinema competition section stands a good chance at being one of this year’s major non-fiction discoveries. The movie stretches back to 1992, when the teen filmmaker and her friends shot a road movie in Singapore with the help of an American mentor who later disappeared with the footage. Tan hits the road 20 years later to unravel the mystery of this unexpected thievery and finds that there was much more to the story than she imagined. As much as Sundance often supports strong observational and issue-driven filmmaking, it always makes room for these more personal, unpredictable projects, and the peculiar events at the center of “Shirkers” are likely to drum up plenty of conversation in Park City and beyond. —Eric Kohn
“I Think We’re Alone Now”
Before Reed Morano was named the Emmy Award-winning director of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” she impressed the festival circuit with her feature directorial debut “Meadowland.” The drama premiered at Tribeca, which makes Morano’s latest, “I Think We’re Alone Now,” a more-than-overdue Sundance debut. The drama stars Peter Dinklage and Elle Fanning as two people who discover they’re the only humans left in the country and maybe even the world. Morano’s camera has such a piercing subjectivity to it that we can’t wait to see what she’s able to do with the dystopian genre. With a Sundance breakout waiting in the wings and a Blake Lively-starring action drama now filming, Morano is hitting the big leagues like never before. -ZS
It’s been five long years since brothers David and Nathan Zellner were at Sundance with the brilliant and beguiling “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter,” but now the filmmaking duo is finally back at the festival with another unexpected twist on a classic American genre. Sure to be as delirious as their previous work, “Damsel” is a bonafide Western, albeit it one with that turns a drunken mess of familiar tropes upside down. Fresh off his revelatory performance in “Good Time,” Robert Pattinson stars as pioneer Samuel Alabaster, who — accompanied by an alcoholic sidekick (David Zellner) and a miniature horse named Butterscotch — sets out to manifest destiny and marry the love of his life (Mia Wasikowska). Slapstick antics and silly hats ensue. We can’t wait. –David Ehrlich
Poised to be one of the major breakouts of Sundance 2018 (the festival has confidently reserved it a coveted opening night slot at the premier screening venue), “Blindspotting” is a buddy-comedy set in the inner-city. Co-written by and co-starring Rafael Casal and “Hamilton” breakout Daveed Diggs, Carlos López Estrada’s directorial feature debut tells the story of an ex-con (Diggs) who’s on the last day of a long probation, and the troublemaking childhood friend (Casal) who completely derails his path back to the straight-and-narrow. As much of a love letter to a rapidly gentrifying Oakland as “Lady Bird” is to a turn-of-the-millennium Sacramento, “Blindspotting” could pave the way for a number of exciting new voices, and formally bring one of the brightest stars of Broadway to the big screen with a role worthy of his talents. —DE
Robert Greene’s chimeric documentaries — whatever you do, don’t call them hybrids — have been getting progressively more ambitious with each new effort, a trend we hope to see continue with “Bisbee ‘17.” He returns to Park City with a look at Bisbee, Arizona, an old mining town near both Tombstone and the Mexican border that’s (in)famous for a violent deportation in which “1,200 striking miners were violently taken from their homes, banished to the middle of the desert, and left to die”; Greene catches up with the would-be ghost town as it reckons with the centennial of that dark event. He was last at Sundance two years ago with “Kate Plays Christine,” a cerebral look at a news reporter who committed suicide on air in 1974, winning a special screenwriting prize for his efforts — a rarity for a documentary, and an honor that speaks to his predilection for blurring the line between genres. —Michael Nordine
Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Paul Dano has been at Sundance before with movies like “Swiss Army Man” and “Little Miss Sunshine,” but what he really wants to do is direct. He does just that in “Wildlife,” his behind-the-camera debut, an adaptation of Richard Ford’s novel of the same name. About a mother (Carey Mulligan) and son (Ed Oxenbould) left to fend for themselves in 1960s Montana after the man of the house (Jake Gyllenhaal) loses his job and decides the only thing left to do is help fight a fire raging near the Canadian border, the film was co-written by Zoe Kazan and also stars Bill Camp. Ford’s novel has earned praise for its depiction of a teenager helplessly looking on as his nuclear family falls apart, and with it his conception of how things are and how they should be; if Dano can tap into that perspective, “Wildlife” could emerge from Park City as a must-see. —MN
It’s been a decade since writer-director Tamara Jenkins (“Slums of Beverly Hills”) scored an Oscar nomination for her poignant and hilarious screenplay for “The Savages.” She’s back with Netflix’s “Private Life,” about a woman (Kathryn Hahn) trying so many fertility therapies to get pregnant that her husband (Paul Giamatti) is suffering. That’s when dropout Sadie (Kayli Carter) comes into the picture with another option. Produced by Anthony Bregman (“Foxcatcher”) and Stefanie Azpiazu (“Enough Said”), the movie also stars Molly Shannon, John Carroll Lynch, Emily Robinson, and Francesca Root-Dodson. -Anne Thompson