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Sundance 2017 Breakouts: Here Are The Movies You Can Expect To See In Next Year’s Oscar Race

Sundance always breaks out new talent and advances select winners into Oscar contention. Others will get lost in the VOD fray.

"Patti Cake$" cast

Mamoudou Athie, Siddharth Dhananjay, Cathy Moriarty, director Geremy Jasper, Danielle Macdonald, and Bridget Everett

Daniel Bergeron

city of ghosts

“City of Ghosts”

Courtesy of Sundance

“City of Ghosts”

Matthew Heineman follows his Oscar-nominated border drug war thriller “Cartel Land” with another daring documentary, which was not as dangerously gonzo for him as it looks. Any footage from Syria comes from the fearless Raqqa journalists he tracks through Turkey and Germany, where they find out they are not necessarily safe, either. Here, Heineman reveals delicacy and sensitivity while filming his subjects up close. This timely movie is heartbreaking. (Tomatometer: 100%)


Courtesy of Netflix


Marathon biker Bryan Fogel started out exploring the effects of human growth hormone on athletes, and stumbled onto a major global story: the Russian Olympic doping scandal. Backed by Impact Partners, Fogel ran with the ball, delivering the movie at zero hour to Sundance, where it sold to Netflix for $5 million. (Tomatometer: 100%)

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power Al Go

“An Inconvenient Sequel”

Courtesy of Sundance

“An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power”

Bonni Cohen & Jon Shenk took over Participant/Paramount’s sequel to Davis Guggenheim’s Oscar-winning Al Gore eye-opening climate-change documentary. In the post-Trump era, Gore has not given up the fight, nor should we. (Tomatometer: 77%)

“Chasing Coral”

The Ocean Agency / XL Catlin Seaview Survey / Aaron Spence

“Chasing Coral”

This heartrending, eye-popping follow-up to Jeff Orlowski’s “Chasing Ice” similarly documents the technological feats required to go underwater to film the process of vivid live coral reefs succumbing to warm-water temperatures, killing them as they’re bleached white, turning into skeletons. This received the festival’s U.S. Documentary grand prize, and will be a must-see when it’s released by Netflix. (Tomatometer so far)


Not necessarily in Oscar territory but definitely breaking out at Sundance are a gaggle of talents.

Danielle MacDonald

Daniel Bergeron

Danielle MacDonald (“Patti Cake$”)

The Australian actress carries this crowd-pleasing New Jersey comedy as a girl nick-named “Jumbo” who can rap like a dream — and her neighborhood buddies know it. The question is whether she can rise above her crazy family, with support from her grandmother (“Raging Bull” veteran Cathy Moriarty), and let her freak flag fly. Fox Searchlight paid $10 million.  (Tomatometer: 60%)

Taylor Sheridan (“Wind River”)

The screenwriter not only picked up an Oscar nomination during Sundance for “Hell or High Water,” but launched his directorial debut starring Jeremy Renner as a hunter of predators in the wild who chases after a murderer-rapist. Sheridan is a capable writer-director, with one weakness: his shallow women characters. This clueless FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the one played by Emily Blunt in “Sicario.” Alas, this weakness is hardly unusual and won’t hinder his career in the slightest. (Tomatometer: 79%)

Jenny Slate and Abby Quinn in “Landline”

Abby Quinn (“Landline”)

Last year, Jenny Slate broke out in Gillian Robespierre’s “Obvious Child.” This year, it’s the actress playing her younger sister. The New York family comedy got picked up by Amazon Studios. (Tomatometer: 74%)

O’Shea Jackson (“Ingrid Goes West”)

He made his acting debut in “Straight Outta Compton,” but steals the show here as a Hollywood screenwriter carrying a torch for the heartless social climber Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza). He’s hilarious and sexy. (Tomatometer: 60%)

menashe lustig

Menashe Lustig

Daniel Bergeron

Menashe Lustig (“Menashe”)

A Hasidic Jew discovered in Brooklyn by director Joshua Z. Weinstein, Lustig’s insular community doesn’t know he made a movie. (Eric Kohn’s story here.) (Tomatometer so far)

Josh O’Connor and Alec Secareanu in Francis Lee’s “God’s Own Country”

Courtesy of Sundance

Josh O’Connor (“God’s Own Country”)

This British actor (“Florence Foster Jenkins”) plays a Yorkshire farmer who escapes boredom with alcohol and transactional sex before finding a real connection with an immigrant farmhand. Expect to see more from him. (Tomatometer: 83%)

Margaret Qualley (“Novitiate”)

Andie MacDowell’s daughter moves on from “The Leftovers” as a nun with some very bad habits in Maggie Betts’ comedy. (She also starred in “Sidney Hall,” which scored less favorable reviews.) (Tomatometer: 100%)

Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke in Thoroughbred


Cory Finley (“Thoroughbred”)

Sundance talent spotters know directing talent when they see it. In this case, this dark thriller about two wealthy high school pals (Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy) hellbent on doing the wrong thing got picked up by Focus Features. Finley has a promising career ahead. (Tomatometer: 100%)

Finally, here’s my report card of Sundance movies.

My Life as a Zucchini

“My Life as a Zucchini”


Top of the Line


“The Big Sick” (Michael Showalter, Amazon Studios) A
“My Life as a Zucchini” (Claude Barras, GKids) A
“Patti Cake$” (Geremy Jasper, Fox Searchlight) A
“Call Me By Your Name” (Luca Guadagnino) A
“Mudbound” (Dee Rees, Netflix) A
“A Ghost Story” (David Lowery, A24) A-
“Menashe” (Joshua Z. Weinstein) A-
“Wind River” (Taylor Sheridan, Voltage Pictures) A-
“The Hero” (Brett Haley, The Orchard) B+
“Landline” (Gillian Robespierre, Amazon Studios) B+
“Thoroughbred” (Cory Finley, Focus Features) B+
“Ingrid Goes West” (Matt Spicer, Neon) B
“Newness” (Drake Doremus, Scott Free) B

city of ghosts

“City of Ghosts”

Courtesy of Sundance


“City of Ghosts (Matt Heineman, Amazon Studios) A
“Icarus” (Bryan Fogel, Netflix) A-
“Chasing Coral” (Jeff Orlowski, Netflix) A-
“An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” (Bonni Cohen & Jon Shenk, Paramount) A-
“Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton” (Rory Kennedy, Moxie Firecracker) A-
“Water + Power: A California Heist” (Marina Zenovich, NatGeo) B+

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