Over 120 feature-length films will screen over the course of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, which launches this Thursday and runs until January 26. Before flying out to Park City to present our annual coverage of the event, Indiewire has weeded through the massive lineup to pick the 14 features we're most excited to see. Below are our selections in alphabetical order.
Richard Linklater's "Before" trilogy has enthralled audiences for almost two decades, but it's not the only time-based narrative that the ambitious filmmaker has been guiding along. For years known only as "Linklater's 12 Year Project," the latest addition to the Sundance lineup, "Boyhood," is said to have begun production in Houston in the summer of 2002 and reportedly completed shooting in late 2013. The central drama involves a divorced couple (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) and their impact on their son (Ellar Salmon) as he grows from childhood to his teen years. The experimental production has largely been shrouded in secrecy as Linklater has returned to it each summer, but one can imagine based on the director's recent work that a thoughtful and tremulously innovative analysis of human development is in store.
"Dear White People"
We've got a special interest in "Dear White People," which was Indiewire and Tribeca Film Institute's first-ever Project of the Year. First-time writer/director Justin Simien's semi-autobiographical film centers on four black students at an Ivy League college where a riot breaks out over an "African American" themed party thrown by white students. We're hoping for a smart satire that explores racial identity. Although he's likely to be compared to another African-American Sundance-approved filmmaker, Simien told Indiewire, "I'm not the next Spike Lee. I'm the first me."
This opening night selection for the Sundance Film Festival contains the irresistible qualities of being a non-fiction thriller about dinosaurs. More specifically, Todd Miller’s look at the 1990 discovery of the world’s most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton suggests an element of intrigue that could be applied to all history no matter how distant. In the aftermath of the excavation, the skeleton becomes the center of a battle between the FBI and the National Guard, self-righteous museums and passionate Native American tribes. If documentary can bring this war to life with the same excitement and danger that the story entails, it may very well rank among one of the more enticing stories of the year. More than anything else, "Dinosaur 13" looks well-poised to tap into the massive reverberations of far-flung history in the present moment.
Just as he (surely) receives his first Oscar nomination for "12 Years a Slave," Michael Fassbender will show audiences at Sundance his very different follow-up. A comic take on the true story of Chris Sievey (Fassbender), a comedian who decides to front a pop band via his alter ego Frank Sidebottom (who hides under a cardboard head), "Frank" is a long ways away from "12 Years a Slave." Co-starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Domhnall Gleeson, the film is director Lenny Abrahamson's follow-up to the underrated "What Richard Did," and should definitely be high on the to-see lists of anyone heading to Sundance.
Fela Kuti, the late Nigerian musician who spawned Afrobeat and the political movement that accompanied it, has already inspired a successful musical and there's also a Hollywood biopic in the works. But his Kuti's story warrants the documentary treatment and Academy Award winning documentarian Alex Gibney ("The Armstrong Lie") is just the director to bring it to life. From his musical legacy to his political activism (Kuti was jailed on political grounds in Nigeria) to his love life (he had many wives), Fela Kuti's life should make a gripping documentary – and the music is guaranteed to satisfy.