The 2016 Sundance Film Festival begins this Thursday, January 21, and we’ll be in Park City to cover opening weekend for the very first time. I’ve dreamed of going to Sundance for as long as I can remember, and while I’ll only be at the festival until Monday morning, rest assured I’ll be taking in as many films as I possibly can.
Three days isn’t nearly enough time to experience all that Sundance has to offer – in fact, there are several selections I’d love to see that won’t premiere until after I’ve returned home – so I’ve decided to focus on the positive. With that being said, here are the films I’m most excited about checking out during my all-too-brief stay in Park City.
Directed by Felix van Groeningen
Belgica is the story of two brothers: charismatic and temperamental Frank—a husband, father, and an incurable womanizer—and his ambitious-but-green, one-eyed younger brother Jo, who owns a dive bar called Belgica. When Frank helps Belgica become the place to be for great music, beautiful people, and debauched fun, the brothers become business partners to expand the bar. Belgica quickly becomes bigger and better, and the brothers seem to have discovered the formula for success—until they learn that running a business on this scale is more complicated than they realized, and their relationship and personal lives suffer.
Directed by Chris Kelly
David, a struggling comedy writer fresh off from breaking up with his boyfriend, moves from New York City to Sacramento to help his sick mother. Living with his conservative father and much-younger sisters for the first time in ten years, he feels like a stranger in his childhood home. As his mother’s health declines, David frantically tries to extract meaning from this horrible experience and convince everyone (including himself) that he’s “doing okay.”
Swiss Army Man
Directed by Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan
Alone on a tiny deserted island, Hank has given up all hope of ever making it home again. But one day everything changes when a dead body washes ashore, and he soon realizes it may be his last opportunity to escape certain death. Armed with his new “friend” and an unusual bag of tricks, the duo go on an epic adventure to bring Hank back to the woman of his dreams.
Author: The JT LeRoy Story
Directed by Jeff Feuerzeig
New York magazine’s October 2005 issue sent shockwaves through the literary world when it unmasked “it boy” wunderkind JT LeRoy, whose tough prose about his sordid childhood had captivated icons and luminaries internationally. It turned out LeRoy didn’t actually exist. He was dreamed up by 40-year-old San Francisco punk rocker and phone sex operator, Laura Albert.
The Bad Kids
Directed by Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe
On a remote patch of the Mojave Desert, amidst dusty tumbleweeds and rangy Joshua Trees, sits an anomaly: a high school where educators believe empathy, life skills, and the constancy of a caring adult are the differences that will give at-risk students command of their fates. On any given day, principal Vonda Viland calls kids at the crack of dawn to see if they’ll make it to school. And if they need a ride? Well, she’ll pick them up. Vonda knows each student’s challenges and coaches them tirelessly, never fostering false hopes. Her philosophy combines loving compassion with realism, and given her school’s rising graduation rate, it seems to be working.
Directed by Todd Solondz
Wiener-Dog tells several stories featuring people who find their life inspired or changed by one particular dachshund, who seems to be spreading a certain kind of comfort and joy. Man’s best friend starts out teaching a young boy some contorted life lessons before being taken in by a compassionate vet tech named Dawn Wiener. Dawn reunites with someone from her past and sets off on a road trip picking up some depressed mariachis along the way. Wiener-Dog then encounters a floundering film professor, as well as an embittered elderly woman and her needy granddaughter—all longing for something more.
Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
Struggling punk band The Ain’t Rights are in the midst of a failed tour in search for any gig paying enough money to get them the fuck home. The group soon unwittingly find themselves on the afternoon bill at a local skinhead hangout. After the bassist witnesses something horrific backstage, management locks the band in their green room while they sort out the mess. There’s no easy way out of this.
Directed by Matt Johnson
1967, the height of the cold war: the global race to put a man on the moon is afoot. Suspicions are brewing within the CIA that a Russian spy has infiltrated the inner-circle of NASA in an attempt to sabotage the Apollo Program. Two young agents from the CIA’s A/V department present a plan to expose the mole, and their supervisors reluctantly agree. They go undercover as filmmakers tasked with documenting the nation’s journey from the earth to the moon. To the chagrin of the powers that be, these crack agents uncover a conspiracy far more shocking than Soviet spies… The government is hiding a dark secret about Apollo, and the White House will stop at nothing to silence those who discover it.
Directed by Andrew Neel
Reeling from a terrifying assault, a 19-year-old boy enrolls in the same college as his brother and pledges his fraternity. Swept up in a world of shotgunning beer, all-night ragers, and hooking-up with nameless coeds, a protective shell forms to mask his insecurities. But as the hazing escalates in the name of “brotherhood,” his loyalty to his brother is tested in brutal ways.
Directed by JD Dillard
When Bo, a handsome and gifted high school student, suddenly becomes the sole caretaker for his little sister, Tina, he foregoes college to dedicate his talents to the craft of magic. He wows audiences as a street magician but still has to make ends meet, so he cleverly uses his skills to peddle drugs for the local dealer, Angelo. However when Bo falls for Holly, an adorable teenager in need of support, he decides to get out of the drug business, causing Angelo to threaten his family. Bo must now rely on his sleight of hand and brilliant mind to save the day.
Manchester by the Sea
Directed by Kenneth Lonergan
Lee Chandler is a brooding, irritable loner who works as a handyman for a Boston apartment block. One damp winter day he gets a call summoning him to his hometown, north of the city. His brother’s heart has given out suddenly, and he’s been named guardian to his 16-year-old nephew. As if losing his only sibling and doubts about raising a teenager weren’t enough, his return to the past re-opens an unspeakable tragedy.
Directed by Agnieszka Smoczyńska
One dark night, at water’s edge, a family of musicians encounter aquatic sirens Silver and Golden. After assuring the family that they won’t eat them up, the winsome mermaids are recruited to join the Figs and Dates band at a neon-lit Warsaw dance club. When Silver becomes romantically entangled with beautiful blonde bassist Mietek, the more cunning Golden, who cannot escape her bloodthirsty nature and assimilate, worries that her sister’s relationship will doom their shared dream of swimming to a new life in America.
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Recently dumped by his wife, David (Colin Farrell) goes to a countryside hotel where guests (John C. Reilly and Ben Whishaw amongst them) must find a suitable mate within 45 days or be turned into the animal of their choice. They attend group meetings and mixers designed by staff (a wryly Nurse Ratched-esque Olivia Colman) to foster compatible pairings. But David’s search ultimately leads to the “loners,” militant outcasts (led by Léa Seydoux) who live in the woods and are routinely hunted by hotel guests. Although the loners forbid intimacy, he befriends a short-sighted woman (Rachel Weisz).
Directed by Antonio Campos
Christine (Rebecca Hall) is an ambitious 29-year-old news reporter in Sarasota, Florida, circa 1974. Relentlessly motivated to succeed, she knows she has talent, but being a driven career woman in the 1970s comes with its own challenges, especially when competition for a promotion, unrequited love for a coworker, and a tumultuous home life lead to a dissolution of self. With ratings in the cellar, WZRB’s station manager issues a mandate to deliver juicier and more exploitative stories, a style firmly at odds with Christine’s serious brand of issue-based journalism. To accomplish her goals, she must overcome her self-doubt and give the people what they want.
Directed by Rob Zombie
It sure sounds fun: a band of carnies road trippin’ on a sunny Halloween day in 1976—just a freewheelin’, magical mystery tour of good times and better weed. But this here mellow is getting harshed, baby. First, the sky gets darker. And then everything else does, too. Our huckster heroes are forced to match wits with a fiendish crew of psychobilly fascists who love chaos, pain, and greasepaint.
Directed by Kevin Smith
Colleen and Colleen are BFFs AF. Manitoba is where they go to school together, do yoga together, play in a band together, and work together at a boring convenience store. Life is whatevs, but also on fleek. That’s kinda what being 15 and a half is all about. #RealTalk
So when two older guys invite the Colleens to a senior party, the girls are determined to go no matter what—even if that “what” is a terrible, secret evil that threatens to destroy everything decent and polite about Canada. Can Colleen and Colleen save the day and go viral? Will those senior boys prove squad-worthy? And what was that about a convenience store? I swear it sounded familiar…
The Sundance Film Festival takes place January 21-31 in Park City, Utah. For more information, please visit www.sundance.org