It seemed as if it was still 2015 just five minutes ago. But suddenly, we’re well into January, the Oscar nominations have been announced, a Michael Bay movie has opened, and now the 2016 edition of the Sundance Film Festival is nearly upon us. What the hell happened?
While the early weeks of a new year are often about looking back on the cinema of the past 12 months, as awards contenders roll out wider and organizations give out prizes, Sundance is where the agenda for the year ahead begins to be set. The festival has of course discovered countless filmmakers who are now household names and has picked out movies that have gone on to be big box office hits, Oscar nominees or winners, both, or neither.
With the festival kicking off this Thursday, I’ve run down 30 of the most promising movies in this year’s line-up, across the various strands. You can take a look below, but suffice to say, it looks like another vintage year in Park City, Utah. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments.
Synopsis: Two brothers start up a bar and get caught up in its fortunes as part of Belgium’s nightlife scene.
What You Need To Know: It’s a great shame that not enough people saw Felix Van Groeningen‘s last film, the almost preternaturally affecting, beautifully observed “The Broken Circle Breakdown,” which won the Panorama award at the Berlinale and an Oscar nod, among many other plaudits (Our own review is here, and the film comes highly recommended). In that story regarding the rambunctious and ultimately heartbreaking relationship between two Belgian bluegrass performers, the director’s talent with actors and his acute sense of an insider-y, lived-in authenticity to the subcultures of Flemish Belgium, from where he hails, were more than proven. If those qualities translate to this next film (and the storyline, as much as we know of it, suggests they might), this could be very special, and if so should kick Van Groeningen’s stateside profile up deservedly higher.
“The Birth Of A Nation”
Synopsis: The story of Nat Turner, the leader of the biggest slave rebellion in American history.
What You Need To Know: The American legacy of slavery seemed like cinema’s last taboo, but filmmaker have begun addressing it in the last few years with films like “12 Years A Slave” and “Django Unchained.” “The Birth Of A Nation” (its title a canny echo of D.W. Griffith’s racist silent epic, which was released 100 years ago) looks to meld the historical accuracy of the former film with the cathartic bloodletting of the latter, and the director is the excellent Nate Parker, who you’ll know as an actor who’s stood out in films like “Arbitrage” and “Beyond The Lights.” He writes and directs for the first time, as well as playing Turner (Armie Hammer and Gabrielle Union are among the supporting cast). This looks like it has the potential to be visually striking, provocative and utterly timely. If Parker can pull it off, maybe we won’t have to talk about #OscarsSoWhite next year.
Synopsis: After a tragedy, a family living in isolation must reintegrate into society.
What You Need To Know: Last year, one of the sensations of Sundance was the documentary “The Wolfpack,” about a family of bright sparks raised in seclusion. This year, a fictional take on similar subject matter could turn out to cause at least as much fuss. Marking the second directorial feature of actor Matt Ross (Gavin Belsom in “Silicon Valley”), this has drawn comparisons with the likes of “Little Miss Sunshine” so far, promising quirky dramedy with an emotional punch. And the cast involved is thoroughly superb: Kathryn Hahn, Frank Langella, rising star George MacKay, “Jessica Jones” actress Erin Moriarty, Steve Zahn, and most excitingly, Viggo Mortensen, an actor who’s decidedly picky and has rarely made a movie like this in his decades-long career. Ross’ previous feature “28 Hotel Rooms” wasn’t very good, but we’ve got our fingers crossed for this one.
Synopsis: The story of the intersecting lives of three women in present-day Montana.
What You Need To Know: We dug Kelly Reichardt’s last movie, the Patricia Highsmith-ish paranoid art thriller “Night Moves,” but it felt like many critics and filmgoers didn’t quite know what to make of such a left turn from one of the indie world’s most talented filmmakers. She’s back on more familiar territory for her latest “Certain Women,” which sees her adapt a series of short stories by author Maile Meloy, with Laura Dern playing an attorney involved in a hostage situation, Michelle Williams as a married woman trying to build a house, and Kristen Stewart as a lawyer teaching an adult-education class. Few are better than Reichardt at telling the stories of women in the American West, and she’s assembled one of her best casts to date here. The presence of Todd Haynes, hot off “Carol,” as an exec producer, can only help this films chances.
Synopsis: The true story of Christine Chubbuck, a Florida news reporter who committed suicide live on air.
What You Need To Know: In an odd Capote-like coincidence, this year Sundance brings two movies about the sad true story of Christine Chubbuck. One is Robert Greene’s follow-up to his acclaimed “Actress” called “Kate Plays Christine,” a similarly meta documentary that sees indie fave Kate Lyn Sheil researching the true story and investigating the acting process. But we’re more keen to see this, the latest from the “Martha Marcy May Marlene”/“James White” Borderline Films crew, and director Antonio Campos’ first film since the bruising “Simon Killer.” Rebecca Hall plays Chubbuck, with Michael C. Hall (no relation, obvs) as her crush and colleague, and it should provide excellent big-screen showcases to two fine actors who’ve been slightly lacking as such of late. With a potent and timely subject, this has every chance to be as provocative and powerful as Campos’ previous picture.
Synopsis: When a woman turns up at a dinner party for his birthday, a man becomes convinced he knows her and follows her into the city.
What You Need To Know: An Audience Award winner at Sundance over a decade ago for “Maria Full Of Grace” (which also won an unlikely Best Actress Oscar nomination), Joshua Marston hasn’t been the most prolific filmmaker in the indie world, with just a single feature following, 2011’s equally-good “The Forgiveness Of Blood” (though he has kept busy in the TV world, helming episodes of “The Good Wife” and “The Newsroom,” among others). So it feels like an event to have him back with a new movie, five years on from the last, and it’s particularly intriguing because “Complete Unknown” marks his first English-language feature. It seems to be a riff on the one-long-conversation “Before Sunrise” vibe, and if you’re going to spend most of a movie in the company of two people, spending it with Michael Shannon and Rachel Weisz sounds like a good idea (though Kathy Bates and Danny Glover are just two of the supporting cast). The premise sounds familiar, but I suspect in Marston’s hands, it’ll be anything but.
Synopsis: This drama follows the lives of various people who will intersect at a mass shooting at a movie theater.
What You Need To Know: The last few years have seen the NEXT strand become increasingly important at Sundance, with some of the most exciting and important movies that debuted in Park City landing there — it was“Tangerine,” “James White” and “Entertainment” last year, and “A Girl Who Walks Home Alone At Night,” “Obvious Child,” “Listen Up Philip” and “Appropriate Behavior” the year before. The same looks to be true this year, and one of the more intriguing movies in the section in “Dark Night.” Helmed by Tim Sutton, who made a striking debut with “Memphis” awhile back, the film promises to meld poetry and docudrama with a ripped-from-the-headlines subject matter (the title presumably evokes the shooting on the opening night of “The Dark Knight Rises”) that sadly only becomes more and more topical every day. The cast are mostly unknowns, but Sutton’s a real talent, and we’re amped for this one.
“The Eyes Of My Mother”
Synopsis: A Portugese family in a sheltered farmhouse are disrupted by a mysterious visitor.
What You Need To Know: “Christine” isn’t the only movie hailing from the Borderline Films crew at Sundance this year, with Antonio Campos (“Afterschool”), Sean Durkin (“Martha Marcy May Marlene”) and Josh Mond (“James White”) welcoming another filmmaker into their stable, namely Nicholas Pesce. A music video veteran who served as assistant editor on Mond’s film, Pesce makes his feature debut with this lean (just 66 minutes long!) genre-inflected curio, shot in black-and-white. It seems just as singular as some of its Borderline stablemates, but in a very different way, and though I don’t quite know what to make of it right now, I can’t wait to check it out.
“Frank & Lola”
Synopsis: A Las Vegas chef falls for an enigmatic, mercurial young woman.
What You Need To Know: This in no way should be taken as a criticism — in fact, it’s entirely welcome — but Michael Shannon is suddenly everywhere this year. The character actor has no fewer than eleven movies scheduled for release this year, with two at Sundance, and the second, after “Complete Unknown” (see above), is “Frank & Lola.” Written and directed by former film journalist Matthew Ross (no relation to “Captain Fantastic” director Matt Ross, and, full disclosure, a former senior editor at Indiewire, long before our time), the film sees Shannon hopefully doing what Bradley Cooper couldn’t and make a chef character cinematically compelling, while Imogen Poots plays the object of his desire, and Justin Long, Rosanna Arquette and “John Wick”/“Ghost Protocol” villain Michael Nyqvist complete the cast. It’s the kind of movie that could go either way, but given the caliber of the actors involved, I hope it’ll be something special.
“The Free World”
Synopsis: After being freed from prison, a man working in an animal shelter forms a bond with a woman who puts him in a difficult situation.
What You Need To Know: Boyd Holbrook’s become of a Sundance staple in recent years without quite becoming a household name, but the success of Netflix show “Narcos” has put him on the map in a bigger way, which should help bring more eyes to U.S. Dramatic Competition entry “The Free World,” especially as it pairs him with Elisabeth Moss, who only gets better and better with every movie she makes. They’re joined by Octavia Spencer and “Fast & Furious” franchise star Sung Kang in the directorial debut of Jason Lew, an actor who wrote Gus Van Sant’s “Restless.” That film was pretty awful, but I’ve heard some good things about this one, as bleak as it sounds, and in particular about the central performance from Holbrook.
Synopsis: A 19-year-old recovering from trauma joins his brother in the same college fraternity, and is put through the wringer by the pledging process.
What You Need To Know: When fraternities and pledges are brought to the screen, it’s normally in a more comedic way, like “Old School” or “Neighbors.” But while this adaptation of Brad Land’s memoir is co-written by David Gordon Green and produced by James Franco, you can expect a far more harrowing look at the subject matter. The latest from “King Kelly” director Andrew Neel promises to be an almost docu-drama-ish look at young masculinity and its more insidious, violent side, with the movie promised to be “part neorealism, part horror film.” And its two leads should make this an interesting one: the excellent Ben Schnetzer (“Pride”) takes the lead, with the in-search-of-a-Zac-Efron-ish reinvention Nick Jonas, who we hear is pretty good on TV series “Kingdom,” as his older brother. This year’s “Stanford Prison Experiment,” perhaps?
Synopsis: A graphic novelist whose girlfriend is about to give birth returns home when his mother is diagnosed with a brain tumor.
What You Need To Know: Fresh from his abs & action movie makeover in Michael Bay’s “13 Hours,” John Krasinski gets back in the director’s chair for the first time (excluding a few “Office” episodes) since his first movie, “Brief Interviews With Hideous Men,” which screened at Sundance back in 2009. This pic, penned by “People Places Things” writer James C. Strouse, feels a little more mainstream, with Krasinski and Anna Kendrick as the central couple, while there’s a deep supporting bench including Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Charlie Day, Sharlto Copley, Randall Park, Mary Kay Place and Josh Groban. And while there’s a distinct whiff of “Garden State” about it, the film features Margo Martindale and Richard Jenkins as Krasinski’s parents, and just you try and keep me away from a movie where those two play a couple.
Synopsis: This documentary tells the story of life inside a cult, as filmed by the director over twenty years.
What You Need To Know: The reveal of “Holy Hell” in the U.S. Documentary Competition strand at Sundance this year marks of a Sundance first: it’s the only time that a movie has been announced at the festival with the director’s name kept secret. It didn’t last long, with the filmmaker eventually revealed as first-timer Will Allen, who lived in the as-yet-unnamed ‘spiritual community’ for two decades and continuously filmed his existence, documenting his increasing disillusionment with the guru who led the cult until he freed himself from the group at the age of 44. This is still tightly under wraps, but assuming it’s more than a publicity stunt or a gimmick, it has the potential to provide a perspective on cults unlike any that cinema’s previously seen.
“Hunt For The Wilderpeople”
Synopsis: A hip-hop-loving city kid and his foster uncle go on the run in the New Zealand countryside.
What You Need To Know: Of all the curveballs that Marvel have thrown in their choices of directors, picking Taika Waititi to helm the upcoming “Thor: Ragnarok” might be one of the curviest: the New Zealander is a little-known filmmaker with no U.S. credits so far beyond a couple of episodes of “Flight Of The Concords.” But he’s nevertheless a real talent, having gone from overly-twee rom-com “Eagle Vs. Shark” to very sweet homegrown hit “Boy” to the tremendous vampire comedy “What We Do In The Shadows,” and there’s another chance to see what he can do at Sundance this year with “Hunt For The Wilderpeople.” Pairing newcomer Julian Dennison and the great Sam Neill, it looks to combine everything that he’s done to date ahead of his foray into the Marvel Cinematic Universe —it seems like a sort of Kiwi take on a Jeff Nichols movie, mixing laughs and drama.
Synopsis: A young Jewish boy attempts to find his place at a college in 1951 while forming a relationship with a troubled, beautiful classmate.
What You Need To Know: The heavily Roth-influenced but not officially adapted “Listen Up Phillip” aside, we’re arguably still waiting for the first great Philip Roth movie —“The Human Stain,” “Elegy” and “The Humbling” all disappointed recently. This year brings a couple of attempts, with Ewan McGregor directing and starring in “American Pastoral” later in the year, but coming first and seeming more promising is this version of the writer’s 2008 novel “Indignation.” It’s particularly interesting because it marks the directorial debut of James Schamus, an independent film luminary who’s been both Ang Lee’s long-time screenwriting partner and the CEO of Focus Features. It’s a period coming-of-age piece with the increasingly promising Logan Lerman in the lead role and Sarah Gadon, Tracey Letts and Ben Rosenfield in support, and if it’s half as well-executed as Schamus’ last comparison point in this genre, “The Ice Storm,” I’ll be very excited.
Synopsis: A woman attempts to stage an intervention to save the toxic, failing relationship of two of her friends.
What You Need To Know: Another Sundance, another directorial debut from an actor about a gathering of white people starring a host of character faces and TV names. But this one’s more intriguing than most, given that the actor in question is Clea DuVall, a spiky, undervalued presence in everything from “The Faculty” to “Argo.” DuVall also appears as one half of the four couples in question, and she’s got a great selection of pals, including the always-welcome Melanie Lynskey, Cobie Smulders (so good in “Results” and “Unexpected” last year), OITNB’s Natasha Lyonne, “Arrested Development” star Alia Shawkat, Jason Ritter, Ben Schwartz and “Boardwalk Empire” actor Vincent Piazza.
Synopsis: A documentary filmmaker travels to Argentina to interview a young French woman who claims to have evidence of an international assassination conspiracy.
What You Need To Know: We seem to be close to the end of the found-footage genre: the mock-doc style energized the horror genre (and a few select others), but it seems to produce increasingly diminishing returns at the box office —see Ti West’s “The Sacrament,” for one. But “Jacqueline (Argentine)” looks to do something truly interesting with the faux-documentary. Directed by Brazilian-born helmer Bernardo Britto, who won a Jury Prize for his short two years ago, it’s a droll comedy/political thriller hybrid that looks to examine its own artifice and filmmaking, as well as using it as a cheaper way to make a movie. With “The Daily Show”’s Wyatt Cenac and “Blue Is the Warmest Color” actress Camille Rutherford in the lead roles, and featuring the catchiest title of the festival, this could be a true original.
Synopsis: A crew of Cleveland skaters find a bag of pills in a stolen car, only to come face to face with their owner, the fearsome drug queen Momma.
What You Need To Know: ‘Kids discover drugs and get over their heads’ is definitely a plot that we’ve seen once or twice before, but “The Land” looks to bring the right amount of specificity and a killer cast to make that conceit interesting anew. The feature directorial debut of Steven Caple Jr, a USC grad with a DGA Student Film Award under his belt, the film is set in his hometown and involves both some impressive young names (local rapper Ezri Walker, “Kings Of Summer” star Moises Arias, the underrated Rafi Gavron from “Breaking And Entering”), and some veterans, including what sounds like a meaty role for singer Erykah Badu, rapper/actor Machine Gun Kelly and the always welcome Michael K. Williams. The soundtrack should be a belter: Nas is curating it, as well as executive producing the film.
Synopsis: A sensitive, artistic boy befriends a more extroverted kid at his grandfather’s funeral, but the friendship is put to the test when their parents become embroiled in a rent dispute.
What You Need To Know: Over time, director Ira Sachs has found an ever growing audience with his finely honed, nuanced movies: “Keep The Lights On” was a critical hit, and “Love Is Strange” even more so. His latest premieres at Sundance later in the month and sees him return to NYC for another movie that looks to be compassionate and moving. Gentrification is the subject here (it was a subplot in “Love is Strange”), seen through the eyes of two young boys, but we’re not lacking in big-screen talent here, with Paulina Garcia, star of “Gloria” making her English language debut, and Talia Shire, Alfred Molina, Jennifer Ehle and Greg Kinnear also appearing. There’s always some risk involved at Sundance, but Sachs feels like one of the safest bets at the festival this year.
“Lo & Behold: Reveries Of The Connected World”
Synopsis: A documentary that sees Werner Herzog examining the internet.
What You Need To Know: If he was licking his wounds after the hostile reaction to “Queen Of The Desert” at Berlin last year, Werner Herzog didn’t show it (if he was, he probably would have made a short film called “Werner Herzog Licks His Own Wounds”). He’s already wrapped his next fiction feature “Salt and Fire,” starring Gael Garcia Bernal and Michael Shannon (him again), and has a new documentary, his first for the big-screen proper since “Into The Abyss” five years ago, premiering at Sundance. Moving away from the capital punishment theme of that and TV spin-off “On Death Row,” his latest sports arguably the most Herzogian title he’s ever had (just imagine him saying it!) and examines the internet. Featuring interviews with everyone from web pioneers to harassment victims to people suffering from wireless radiation, it should be a wide-ranging look at the thing that’s changed our lives the most in the last two decades, and coming from Herzog, the doc should have an utterly unique perspective. You can watch the trailer here if you need more convincing.
“Love And Friendship”
Synopsis: In 1790s England, Lady Susan Vernon tries to find husbands for herself and her daughter, as rumors fly about her personal life.
What You Need To Know: There’s always been something Jane Austen-ish about Whit Stillman’s comedies of manners, so it was probably only a matter of time before the writer-director tackled one of her works directly. But rather than go back to the familiar sources like “Emma” or “Pride & Prejudice,” Stillman’s adapted the obscure “Lady Susan,” which wasn’t published until long after Austen’s death (and then named it after another little-known Austen work, “Love and Friendship”). Intriguingly, the cast features a “Last Days Of Disco” reunion, with Kate Beckinsale as Lady Susan and Chloe Sevigny as her confidante, with a mix of up-and-comers and familiar British faces in support.
Synopsis: A man must take care of his teenaged nephew after the boy’s father dies.
What You Need To Know: There are few movie release tales more tortured than the story of Kenneth Lonergan‘s “Margaret,” a sprawling, flawed but also quite brilliant film that took more than five years to endure a fractious post-production, only to be buried in a minuscule release. With luck, the journey of Lonergan’s new film will be a lot smoother, because it sounds like it could be another of his brilliantly human, deeply insightful observational dramas, this time concerning familial relationships and surrogate parenthood and what sounds like a return to the territory of his breakthrough “You Can Count On Me.” He has a mouthwatering cast this time, with Casey Affleck in the lead role, and Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Gretchen Mol, Tate Donovan and “Moonrise Kingdom” star Kara Hayward in support.
“Morris From America”
Synopsis: A young African-American boy living in Germany with his father falls in love with a local girl.
What You Need To Know: Chad Hartigan once won the title of ‘Ultimate Film Fanatic’ on an IFC gameshow, so it’s not entirely surprising that he’s gone on to become one of the most interestingly singular voice in independent film. A friend and collaborator of Aaron Katz, Hartigan’s first feature “Luke And Brie Are On A First Date,” went mostly unseen, but follow-up “This Is Martin Bonner” was a big hit at Sundance back in 2013, going on to win the John Cassavetes Spirit Award that year. “Morris From America” looks to be an interesting extension of some of the themes of the last picture, but in a very different way that could be even more crowd-pleasing and with a unique setting and with the always-welcome “The Office” star Craig Robinson in an intriguing foray to the indie world as Morris’ father. DoP Sean McElwee and composer Keegan DeWitt are coming along, so there’s every reason to think this could be just as good as ‘Martin Bonner.’
Synopsis: A 14-year-old boy in 1980s Dublin forms a band in order to win over a girl at his school.
What You Need To Know: Given that he’s the man behind “Once” and “Begin Again,” it would probably not surprise you that John Carney’s latest movie involves a mix of music and romance. In this case, it’s a teen movie with echoes of “The Commitments” and “Son Of Rambow,” which sees him return to his native Ireland with a cast of mostly unknowns and a few familiar faces in support (Jack Reynor of “What Richard Did” and “Macbeth” and Aidan Gillen of what-the-hell-is-that-accent-in-Game-Of-Thrones fame). But this film happily looks closer to “Once” than his more recent Keira Knightley starrer: in fact, it looks from the recent trailer to be utterly charming. Even if it somehow isn’t, the film is likely to turn out to have one of the most high-profile soundtracks of the festival, if not the year, with Bono and The Edge writing the original songs.
Synopsis: A young high schooler and aspiring magician starts dealing drugs to take care of his little sister, but must turn to his sleight-of-hand skills when his boss threatens his family.
What You Need To Know: If I had to pick a ‘most likely to break out in a big way’ award going purely by how these movies look on paper, it would go to “Sleight.” The feature debut of music video director J.D. Dillard (who’s now developing a movie at J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot) mixes a love story, a gritty coming-of-age drama and genre heroics in a way that seems instantly appealing from a commercial point of view (and its selection in the NEXT strand bodes well for it critically). The cast seems charming as well: “Maze Runner” and Disney Channel vet Jacob Latimore is in the lead, Dulé Hill of “The West Wing” and “Psych” as his adversary, and SNL’s Sasheer Zamata and comedian Cameron Esposito also appear.
“Sophie And The Rising Sun”
Synopsis: In the fall of 1941, a Japanese-American moves to a small South Carolina town, and is drawn to a lonely, beautiful woman.
What You Need To Know: Though her films “The Ballad Of Little Jo” and “Songcatcher” were well-liked (the latter was an award winner at the festival in 2000), director Maggie Greenwald hasn’t received much attention over the last decade or so. But that could change with this historical romance, which takes a potent setting and set-up that has been tackled surprisingly little by the movies —the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War Two. And she’s cast the living hell out of this film: “Letters From Iwo Jima” actor Takashi Yamaguchi plays the new arrival, while Margo Martindale, Lorraine Toussaint and Diane Ladd play some of the women in the town. Best of all, the title character is played by Julianne Nicholson, who’s spent the last few years consistently being the best aspect of whatever she does, from “Boardwalk Empire” and “Masters Of Sex” to “August Osage County” and “Black Mass.” This year’s “Brooklyn,” maybe?
Synopsis: After washing up on a desert island, Hank must find his way back to his love with the help of his only friend, a dead body.
What You Need To Know: Not every choice has worked, but you have to give Daniel Radcliffe some respect for not playing it even remotely safe with his post-‘Harry Potter‘ choices. “Swiss Army Man” might mark his most daring turn yet, given that he plays a dead body who never speaks. The film co-starring Paul Dano and Mary Elizabeth Winstead hails from DANIELS, aka Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan, who’ve wowed with their short-form and music video work (they did the DJ Snake and Lil Jon “Turn Down For What” video, and clips for The Shins and Battles, among others), and make their feature debut here. Some Park City-premiering movies sometimes feel like parodies of loglines for Sundance movies, but this feels like it could be entirely different, and I’ve been hearing good buzz about this for a while now. Fingers crossed that that buzz is right.
Synopsis: A fiercely independent drifter impulsively kidnaps a child from a negligent mother, and takes it to her ex-boyfriend’s mother for help.
What You Need To Know: It might revolve around parenthood, and star Ellen Page and Allison Janney, but don’t expect “Tallulah” to be “Juno 2.” The movie comes from Sian Heder, a writer and producer on “Orange Is The New Black,” who was lauded at Cannes and elsewhere for her short film “Mother.” This doesn’t appear to be quite as Dardenne-ish as the logline might suggest — it’s being billed as a dramatic comedy — but expect something a bit tougher and gnarlier than “Juno” too, even with Chris Columbus as a producer. And if nothing else, it’s going to be a treat to see Page and Janney, who are always wonderful and are terrific paired together, leading a movie again, while Zachary Quinto, Tammy Blanchard and Heder’s OITNB colleague Uzo Aduba are also involved.
Synopsis: A dachshund travels around the country and impacts the lives of all he meets for the better, bringing comfort and joy to all.
What You Need To Know: A sorta-sequel to Todd Solondz‘s wonderfully eccentric 1995 dramedy “Welcome to the Dollhouse,” his new film will feature a few of those characters later in life, notably ‘Dollhouse’ protagonist Dawn Wiener, previously played by Heather Matarazzo, here by Greta Gerwig. It’s great to have Solondz, one of our most willfully idiosyncratic independent auteurs, back on screens for the first time in the five years since his underseen “Dark Horse,” and he has assembled quite the cast of indie ringers for this very sweet-natured sounding canine-oriented tale (though we’re on the lookout for Solondz’s mile-wide dark streak to manifest somewhere in there). The loose-limbed sound of the narrative would give us pause ordinarily (do I get a reward for not writing “paws”?), but if Gerwig, Julie Delpy, Zosia Mamet, Danny DeVito, Ellen Burstyn are the stars of the vignettes along the way, actually we’re more than fine with it. “Carol” photographer Ed Lachman returns to shoot as well, which is exciting.
Synopsis: A privileged college girl falls in love with a coke dealer, and when he is arrested, is left with his supply.
What You Need To Know: Yes, that title could describe 80% of Sundance movies, but “White Girl” looks to be much more than a quirky dramedy. The feature debut from director Elizabeth Wood (who co-helmed documentary “Wade In The Water, Children”), this looks to meld social satire, spikiness and vulnerability in a provocative way that’s reminiscent of Sofia Coppola, Todd Solondz and Larry Clark. The film comes with a certain amount of buzz attached — Wood (who based the script loosely on her experiences) has already been named as one of Variety’s directors to watch in 2016, and has the thumbs up from both indie icon Christine Vachon, and “Catfish” team Ariel Schuman and Henry Joost, who are all serving as producers. And if nothing else, it could provide this year’s Carey Mulligan/Bel Powley-esque breakout, in the form of “Homeland” actress Morgan Saylor, who plays the title role.
Documentaries: We didn’t include that many docs, but trust us when we say that there’s plenty to keep an eye on at the festival. The potential highlights look to be “We Are X,” about the seminal Japanese glam-rock band and hailing from the director of the excellent “Scott Walker: 30 Century Man”, “Lovers And The Despot,” about the kidnapping of two movie stars by North Korea, “Author,” about pseudonymous writer J.T. LeRoy from the director of “The Devil & Daniel Johnston,’” “Life, Animated” from the helmer of “God Loves Uganda,” the powerful-sounding “Newtown,” the bizarre “NUTS!,” Kevin MacDonald’s latest “Sky Ladder,” Doug McGrath’s “Becoming Mike Nichols,” “Mapplethorpe: Look At The Pictures,” Spike Lee’s latest Michael Jackson doc, the return of D.A. Pennebaker with “Unlocking The Cage,” teen sex assault doc “Audrie & Daisy,” “Maya Angelou: Still I Rise,” “Richard LInklater: Dream Is Destiny,” “Jim: The James Foley Story” and “Kiki,” about New York’s voguing scene.
Honorable Mentions: And the line-up goes deeper than that even. Also worth keeping an eye on are Diego Luna’s “Mr. Pig,” outsider horror “The Greasy Strangler,” exec produced by Ben Wheatley, period romance “Ali & Nino” from “Amy” director Asif Kapadia, opener “Other People” starring Jesse Plemons and Molly Shannon, intriguing moon-landing-faking NEXT pic “Operation Avalanche,” Rob Zombie’s return with “31,” and “Southside With You,” which is basically “Before Sunrise,” but set on Barack & Michelle Obama’s first date.
Then there’s Iranian horror flick “Under The Shadow,” Korean-American LGBT drama “Spa Night” comedy “Joshy,” from “Life After Beth” director Jeff Baena and starring Jenny Slate and Thomas Middleditch, “Fundamentals Of Caring” with Paul Rudd and Craig Roberts, “The First Girl I Loved,” which seems to be a sort of American “Blue Is The Warmest Color,” NEXT movies “How To Tell You’re A Douchebag,” “Equity” starring “Breaking Bad” actress Anna Gunn, “Wild,” a German movie about a woman who falls in love with a wolf, “Agnus Dei,” from “Coco Before Chanel” director Anne Fontaine, hipster comedy “The 4th” with Eliza Coupe, pot-smoking genre-bender “Antibirth” with Natasha Lyonne and Chloe Sevigny, sniper thriller “Carnage Park,” western “Outlaws & Angels,” and midnight Southern Gothic “Trash Fire” with Adrian Grenier. Plus a few dozen more that could be great too. Let us know what you’re most looking forward to in the comments.