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Sundance 2019 Market: 20 Movies That Could Sell Big

From buzzy crowdpleasers with name cast to intriguing documentaries, there are many Sundance 2019 titles with serious sales potential.

“After the Wedding”

High Profile, Big Potential

“Late Night”

Buyers describe this talk-show comedy starring Emma Thompson and writer-star Mindy Kaling as this year’s “The Big Sick.” Developed at Fox 2000, the comedy was co-financed by 30West and international sales/production company FilmNation; 30West and CAA are selling only U.S. rights, which will put a crimp in the upside potential for a world-rights buyer like Fox Searchlight, especially if it heads into stratospheric numbers.

“After the Wedding”

“After the Wedding” 

Bart Freundlich’s opening night drama is a remake of Susanne Bier’s Oscar-nominated “After the Wedding” and stars the director’ wife, Julianne Moore, and Michelle Williams as two women who meet in New York and then attend a wedding that brings unforeseen disastrous results. This is expected to sell fast.

“The Report”

“The Report”

One of the rare projects to escape in turnaround from HBO, the question is whether this widely-read post-9/11 CIA thriller about CIA agents using intense interrogation tactics will introduce Steven Soderbergh collaborator Scott Z. Burns (“Contagion”) as not only an ace screenwriter but a filmmaker. Annette Bening stars as Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein, along with Adam Driver, Maura Tierney and Jon Hamm.

“Official Secrets”

Keira Knightley stars in the true story of Katharine Gun, a 2003 U.K. intelligence agency whistleblower who revealed American NSA secrets to a journalist at The London Observer (Matt Smith) as she tried to stop the impending Iraq War. This Gavin Hood movie co-starring Ralph Fiennes as her defense attorney screened ahead of the festival for buyers, who will likely wait to see how it plays with audiences in Park City. Last year, Bleecker Street scooped up Knightley’s “Colette.”

“Honey Boy”

“Honey Boy” 

Talk about writing what you know: Shia LaBeouf penned the semi-autobiographical script for this U.S. Dramatic Competition title while he was in rehab. He stars as his own abusive father in a fractured narrative also starring Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges as the young and older LaBeouf, respectively. Documentary filmmaker Alma Ha’rel (“Bombay Beach”) directs. If the film plays in the room, the question for buyers is how ready they are to deal with the neurotic actor on the promo trail.

“Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” 

Zac Efron stars as serial killer Ted Bundy and Lily Collins is his long-term girlfriend in a tricky film that director Joe Berlinger has re-edited since it was shown to buyers at Toronto and has solid buzz. The question is whether Efron fans will turn out to see the star play such a contemptible character.

Breakout Potential

AwkwafinaShopbop Let's Play Holiday!, New York, USA - 06 Dec 2018

Awkwafina

Benjamin Lozovsky/BFA/REX/Shutterstock

“The Farewell”

“Crazy Rich Asian” star Awkwafina stars in sophomore filmmaker Lulu Wang’s personal family story (told on “This American Life”) about a young woman who travels with her family to China to see her grandmother, who hasn’t been told she is dying, but thinks she’s participating in a lavish wedding. Wang’s only previous feature was “Posthumous,” which dealt with an artist deciding to reinvent himself by assuming his brother’s identity after he’s been falsely declared dead. The high-concept comedic film — shot in English and Mandarin — has intrigued buyers for some time, but its foreign-language dialogue could dampen the sale price.

“The Sound of Silence”

Rookie American director Michael Tyburski follows up his Sundance short with this romantic drama starring Peter Sarsgaard as a man who fine-tunes noise and ambience in living spaces. Critical reaction will measure the results on this execution-dependent drama.

“Animals” 

Australian filmmaker Sophie Hyde’s movie version of Emma Jane Unsworth’s novel stars “Patrick Melrose” star Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat (“Blaze”) as long-time best friends adjusting to romantic changes in their 30-something lives. Sales prospects will depend on just how much the movie delivers on the original material.

“Big Time Adolescence”

Joe Orley makes his debut with this suburban tale of a high school student (Griffin Gluck) and his college-age mentor (Pete Davidson). Machine Gun Kelly also stars. This one might be a big crowdpleaser with plenty of appealing stars, but buyers may be wary of “SNL” star Davidson after his recent public issues with mental health.

“Brittany Runs a Marathon”

In playwright-turned-filmmaker Paul Downs Colaizzo’s raunchy comedy, Jillian Bell (TV’s “Workaholics”) takes control of her messy, unhealthy New York life by running. Sellers will be afraid to overpay for a small-scale indie without a well-known cast.

“Luce”

This dark African adoption drama stars Naomi Watts as a mother who learns disturbing things about her son’s past from his teacher, played by Octavia Spencer. It has been described as “American History X” meets “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” Based on a 2013 play, it serves as director Julius Onah’s return to more serious terrain after “The Cloverfield Paradox,” and its themes of race and class could generate a lot of discussion. But the subject matter could be a hard commercial sell.

“Hala”

Produced by Will Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment and expanded from her short by “Bojack Horseman” story editor and music video director Minhal Baig, this coming-of-age drama shot in English and Urdu stars Geraldine Viswanathan (“Blockers”) in the title role as a Muslim teenager dealing with her dysfunctional family. Smith’s involvement, as well as the underrepresentation of Muslim stories in American cinema, could excite buyers — if the movie plays well.

“The Sunlit Night”

“The Sunlit Night” 

Produced by Beachside’s Michael Clark (“The Miseducation of Cameron Post”), this German-Norwegian-European co-production is successful German filmmaker David Wnendt’s first film shot in English. The romantic fish-out-of-water tale takes a young New York painter (Jenny Slate) to Arctic Norway.  Zach Galifianakis and Alex Sharp costar.

“The Lodge”

More chills and thrills from the filmmakers who brought you “Good Night Mommy,” this is the one midnight movie expected to truly energize audiences hungry for an original genre experience. The British production co-stars Riley Keough and Alicia Silverstone in the story of a family haunted by dark secrets as they hole up in a winter cabin. Horror movies always come equipped with a built-in audience, especially if the movies are critical hits as well, and “The Lodge” stands a good chance of hitting both marks.

“Blinded by the Light”

Gurinder Chadha’s coming-of-age story set in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain in 1987 shows a teenager obsessed with Bruce Springsteen, whose music is all over the movie. Chadha’s “Bend It Like Beckham” was a Sundance hit way back in 2002. Now she seems to have delivered a crowdpleaser that checks the diversity box and should appeal to Springsteen fans alike.

“Corporate Animals”

Patrick Brice’s dark comedy tells the horrifying and amusing tale of a corporate retreat gone wrong as an executive (Demi Moore) winds up trapped in an underground cave with her fractious team, including Ed Helms and Jessica Williams. Cannibalism is involved. The film has been compared to “The Creek” and “Overnight,” Brice’s comedy that sold big at Sundance a few years ago.

Documentary Contenders

“American Factory”

This is the anticipated follow-up to 2009’s Oscar-nominated documentary short “The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant,” directed by veteran filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, who are based in Yellow Springs, Ohio. The feature (which veteran documentary sales company Submarine is selling) follows the Fuyao Glass auto glass plant as it opens a new factory inside the same abandoned General Motors plant in Moraine, Ohio, a suburb of Dayton. Fuyao hires two thousand blue-collar locals, but all does not proceed smoothly as high-tech China tries to impose its workplace norms on American workers who have complained and filed lawsuits, resulting in a culture clash. Participant Media is already on board.

Harvey Weinstein, left, and his attorney Benjamin Brafman leave court in New York, . Weinstein pleaded not guilty Tuesday to rape and criminal sex act charges. The hearing comes after a grand jury indicted the former movie mogul last week on charges involving two womenSexual Misconduct Weinstein, New York, USA - 05 Jun 2018

Harvey Weinstein leaving a New York courthouse on June 5, after pleading not guilty to three charges

Mark Lennihan/AP/REX/Shutterstock

“Untouchable”

Ursula Macfarlane’s portrait of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s lust for power and alleged abuse of women goes back to his start as a concert promoter in Buffalo, New York. She talks to many men and women he encountered along the way. As Weinstein’s courtroom drama continues to unfold, “Untouchable” is poised to put his alleged crimes in context; the question is whether buyers will see commercial potential in this upsetting saga.

 “Where’s My Roy Cohn?” 

Another hot documentary comes from prolific Matt Tyrnauer, who decided to take a deeper dive into New York powerbroker attorney Roy Cohn (played by Al Pacino and Nathan Lane in Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America”) while making “Studio 54.” Tyrnauer tracks Cohn’s influence from the 50s McCarthy hearings through Donald J. Trump, to profile a complex, closeted gay man so in love with power that he was willing to do just about anything to win.

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