Yesterday, the Sundance Film Festival announced the brunt of its 2019 lineup, setting the course for the year of American independent cinema to come. For a small handful of filmmakers, the slate was a dream come true. For many, many others, the news was a crushing disappointment. Several of the projects that IndieWire included in our annual Sundance wish list made the final cut; a huge number of equally tantalizing features did not. And yet, the seemingly monolithic festival is not the end-all be-all that the media (and the movie community as a whole) often makes it out to be. To quote indie veteran Mark Duplass: “Sundance is awesome, but Sundance is not everything.” Just because a movie isn’t privileged to premiere in the thin and rarefied air of Park City doesn’t mean that it’s not worth being excited about — sometimes it just means that it wasn’t the right fit for this particular program, or perhaps that it wasn’t finished in time in order to meet the festival’s stringent winter deadlines. Some of the movies we hoped to see there next year may not have even been submitted. We should be so lucky that one festival isn’t nearly big enough to hold all of the indies we can’t wait to see.
So, with that being said, here are 10 movies that (probably) won’t be playing at Sundance 2019, but that we encourage you to keep on your radar as the year unfolds.
“Bad Hair” (Justin Simien)
Justin Simien is already a Sundance darling thanks to his critically acclaimed feature debut (and eventual Netflix series) “Dear White People,” which premiered at the festival in 2014. His follow-up — a horror-satire that follows an ambitious young woman who gets a weave with a mind of its own and fights to survive the image-obsessed world of music television — promises to be a work that both entertains and holds a mirror up to society. Simien has called the project “a love letter to black women and a critique of the cultural forces our society puts them through.” “Bad Hair” didn’t crack the 2019 lineup, but considering Simien’s track record, that likely has less to do with quality than it does to the film not being ready in time. —TO
“Corporate Animals” (Patrick Brice)
Patrick Brice has established himself as both an unnerving and resourceful horror director (“Creep,” “Creep 2”), and someone who’s capable of handling extreme modern comedy with a straight face (to see “The Overnight” is to be scarred by it forever). With “Corporate Animals,” Brice will try to find the sweet spot between his two favorite genres. If the premise sounds benign, the details hint at stomach-churning hilarity: Demi Moore stars as Lucy, the tyrannical CEO of a company that makes edible cutlery. And while that alone could be the basis of a horror movie, things get even more ominous when she leads her staff (Karan Soni, Jessica Williams) on a team-building retreat in the caves of New Mexico. Naturally, the team gets trapped when the caves implode, and their hired guide (Ed Helms) doesn’t seem like he’s going to be much help. Are they going to eat their knives, or use them on each other? “Corporate Animals” seemed like a sure bet to premiere in either the NEXT or Midnight sections at Sundance, but it’s currently nowhere to be found. At this point, it seems likely to pop up at SXSW just a few months down the road. — DE
“High Flying Bird” (Steven Soderbergh)
Steven Soderbergh is synonymous with Sundance and with independent filmmaking in general, and even his misfires are defined by his iconoclastic spirit. He shot “Unsane,” which was released earlier this year, entirely with an iPhone 7. And apparently now he’s done the same for this satire of rapacious capitalism in the sports world about an agent (Andre Holland, so electrifying in “Moonlight”) who comes up with a controversial way for a rookie pro-basketball player to make some money during an NBA lockout. Soderbergh, a huge proponent of digital production and editing tools, boasted that he assembled a first cut of the movie on his laptop less than three hours after he wrapped shooting, so presumably the film would be ready to go by January. At this point, the smart money says that it will debut in Berlin the following month. —CB
“The Kill Team” (Dan Krauss)
After bringing instant hits like “Hereditary” and “Eighth Grade” to the festival last year, A24 has made it clear that Sundance is the perfect launching pad for the label’s edgy brand of high-quality indie fare, and yet one of their biggest titles for 2019 is currently missing in action. “The Kill Team” is an Afghanistan War drama that writer-director Krauss has adapted from his Emmy-nominated 2013 documentary of the same name. Nat Wolff stars as a young soldier who witnesses his fellow American troops murdering civilians, and wrestles with whether or not to report on his trigger-happy platoon (a unit led by Alexander Skarsgård). War films seldom pop in Sundance, which might explain the film’s absence. Look for it to premiere at another major festival slightly later in the year. — DE
“The Kindness of Strangers” (Lone Scherfig)
A sprawling ensemble piece about the intersecting lives’ of various people at a Russian restaurant in New York City, “The Kindness of Strangers” comes from Dogme 95 alum Scherfig, who debuted her most acclaimed film to date, “An Education,” at Sundance 10 years ago. She followed up that Oscar-nominated film with a misfire in her adaptation of David Nicholls’ “One Day,” then rebounded with “The Riot Club” and “Their Finest.” With a spectacular cast, “The Kindness of Strangers” could recapture Scherfig’s 2009 magic. Here’s hoping that its omission from the Sundance 2019 roster isn’t an indication to the contrary. —CB
“Limited Partners” (Miguel Arteta)
In the aftermath of “Girls Trip,” audiences have been clamoring for Tiffany Haddish to expand her range. “Limited Partners” may be the first window into that potential, as it pairs the actress with Sundance regular Arteta (“Star Maps,” “Beatriz at Dinner”) for a Paramount-produced dramedy about two women whose friendship is threatened when their successful business reaches a big turning point. Arteta remains an unpredictable filmmaker whose careful balance of mood and attention to nuanced characters stands a good shot at deepening Haddish’s range. We can only hope. —EK
Untitled Miranda July Film (Miranda July)
It’s been nearly a decade since singular talent July took her last feature, “The Future,” to Park City, and it turns out we may have to wait a little bit longer. Though the multi-hyphenate has certainly kept busy in the interim (she even co-starred in last year’s breakout Sundance feature “Madeline’s Madeline”), the festival could always use a dose of her special talents. Her next project sounds as intriguing as ever, billed as a heist film with a funny bent, following criminal parents who invite an outsider to join them on their biggest job yet. Now that it’s not playing at Sundance, it’s possible that Berlin might bite. Otherwise, the wait may stretch into the fall, or even the following year. —KE
“Us” (Jordan Peele)
“Get Out” became such a giant cultural phenomenon that it’s easy to forget the movie started its journey at Sundance as a surprise midnight screening. It’s safe to say that the comedian-turned-auteur’s second feature is one of the most anticipated movies of 2019, even though much about it remains under wraps. Reportedly another social thriller on race relations in the 21st century, the movie has real potential as an actor’s showcase as well, with Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, and Tim Heidecker heading up the cast. The pressure’s on for Peele to deliver on insanely high expectations, but the confidence of his debut suggests he knows exactly what he’s doing, and “Us” will be a hot title no matter where it surfaces. There’s always a chance it could still show up at Sundance as a secret screening — and with a March 2019 release date, the film will certainly be ready in time — though it would be unusual for the festival to do that twice for the same filmmaker. As it stands, SXSW might now be the safest bet. — EK
“Wendy” (Benh Zeitlin)
It’s been eight years since Zeitlin’s dreamlike “Beasts of the Southern Wild” took Sundance by storm, heralding the arrival of a major visionary filmmaker. Zeitlin made the lyrical portrait of a New Orleans community with a delicate, DIY approach in the confines of his film collective, Court 13; while the movie’s Oscar nominations and critical acclaim brought him more resources, he has continued to take his time working on his own terms. At long last, it seemed like he may have been ready to unveil his “Peter Pan” riff “Wendy,” the story of a young girl kidnapped and taken to a destructive ecosystem where mystical pollen breaks the relationship between aging and time. In fact, “Wendy” has been so long in the making that IndieWire included it on last year’s Sundance wish list. Alas, Zeitlin still has a few odds and ends left to shoot, and so a bow at the 2019 festival was out of the question. Perhaps the film might premiere in France a few months later. —EK
“Wyrm” (Christopher Winterbauer)
At the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, a young Damien Chazelle arrived to debut a short film called “Whiplash.” The project became so beloved in Park City that Chazelle quickly was able to get funding together to make a feature adaptation and bring it to Sundance in 2014, and the rest is history. “Whiplash” is a Sundance success story, and “Wyrm” seemed poised to follow in its footsteps. Director Christopher Winterbauer turned heads at Sundance earlier this year with his short about an alternate reality where teens have to pass a Sexuality Requirement to get past puberty, making the festival seem like a natural launching pad for his feature-length adaptation. Where it will turn up now is anyone’s guess, but be sure to keep your eyes peeled. —ZS
Sundance will announce other lineup additions, including Shorts, Indie Episodic, and New Frontier selections in the coming days. The 2019 festival runs from January 24 – February 3 in Park City, Utah.