IMAGES COURTESY OF SUNDANCE INSTITUTE.
Sundance is the springboard from which early awards contenders leap with the hopes of landing a late-calendar release. With the right amount of buzz, these films can ride the wave all the way to Oscar season a year later (see Boyhood, Whiplash, Searching for Sugarman … Call Me By Your Name?). It’s the official beginning to the film festival season and there are a lot of promising entries that could be the next blockbuster breakout. Here are 10 of the most exciting flicks that are likely to emerge on the other side of the festival as potential winners.
Eighth Grade (Above)
Eighth Grade is about Kayla, a 13-year-old who would rather blend into a locker than bump into a fellow middle schooler. In her downtime, she posts videos about the mores of social anxiety to her tens of YouTube subscribers, phone tethered to palm as she tries to forge connections with her peers online. Her entire year has been a disaster, and as middle school wheezes out its last breath before the daunting start of high school, Kayla has to figure out where she fits in. Produced by Scott Rudin, this marks comedian Bo Burnham’s directorial debut.
A heist drama hinged on the theft of a university’s rare book collection doesn’t exactly sound like a shot of adrenaline, but director Bart Layton’s American Animals promises to be just that. Based on a “mostly” true story, a group of teens in Lexington, Kentucky, band together to pull off an idea—lifting the school’s special collections library—you’d think was hatched in a post-keg stand boozy haze. But how many books can one man carry? Starring Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, and Blake Jenner, it will be Layton’s follow-up to the eerie BAFTA-winning documentary The Imposter .
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot
Gus Van Sant hopes to get back in the good books of film critics after all-around flop Sea of Trees, and he’s betting it all on Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of a down-and-out bottle hound who reluctantly decides to give up drinking and enter rehab. The story, all true, is based on author John Callahan’s memoir of the same name. Along his journey to sobriety, Callahan (Phoenix) finds a livewire confidante in his sponsor (Jonah Hill). He then starts drawing cheeky cartoons which bring him national acclaim and give him a reason to keep on going. The cast, which includes his real-life girlfriend Rooney Mara, also boasts Jack Black, Carrie Brownstein, Beth Ditto and Kim Gordon.
Accused of a crime he didn’t commit, 17-year-old honors student Steve Harmon ends up in a fierce legal battle. A guilty verdict could do more than result in a life sentence—it could scrub away any possibility of pursuing his dreams as a young filmmaker. Starring promising newcomer Kelvin Harrison Jr., who will appear in three films screening at Sundance, Monster is director Anthony Mandler’s adaptation of the novel of the same name by Walter Dean Myers. This quote from the novel should tell you just how powerful the film aims to be: “The best time to cry is at night, when the lights are out and someone is being beaten up and screaming for help.”
Crystal Moselle—the formidable director behind The Wolfpack, an insane fly-on-the-wall documentary about a family of boys holed up in the Lower East Side—returns with a new film blending surreality and fiction. Skate Kitchen is both the name of the film and the badass girl group of skaters who adopt an 18-year-old Camille into their skate crew. The Long Island native is thrust into the unpredictable world of these girls, but her loyalty to her new friends is tested when a boy from a rival skate group enters her life.
Underappreciated character actor and Daniel Radcliffe corpse rider Paul Dano is now a director with Wildlife. Hs wife, the actress Zoe Kazan, wrote the script. A suburban family—golf pro Jerry, housewife Jeanette, and their 14-year-old son Joe—have to grapple with a curveball when Jerry loses his job and decides to leave the family to go fight a forest fire raging near the Canadian border. Joe then witnesses his mother, once thought strong and impervious, struggle to make ends meet in his absence.
Lizzie tells the true-life horror story of Lizzie Borden (Chloë Sevigny), a woman who grew up in a wealthy neighborhood with a stingy, controlling father and stepmother. Their house in Fall River, Massachusetts, had no indoor plumbing or heat despite his incredible wealth. When a live-in maid, Bridget (Kristen Stewart), is hired, Borden strikes up an unlikely friendship, which turns intimate. Then, well—the infamous double axe murders of her parents, a crime for which she was acquitted. Lizzie, however, centers more on the forbidden romance between Borden and Bridget.
Monsters and Men
Reinaldo Marcus Green directs a chilling tale about a Brooklyn street hustler who films a white police officer illegally killing a black man on his phone. The aftermath of that discomfiting injustice is explored in an interwoven narrative, whereby events unfold which pull an African-American police officer and a high school baseball star into the fray.
I Think We’re Alone Now
Nobody is left on earth, except for Del (Peter Dinklage). As the human race has been all but obliterated, Del ambles around burying the dead and generally enjoying his newfound life of solitude. Until, that is, his peace and quiet is brutally disrupted by Grace (Elle Fanning). What the hell does she want? Instead of being bowled over by the presence of another human, Del is instead desiring nothing but his old life back collecting batteries and reshelving books in the library, which he has fashioned into a makeshift home.
Never Goin’ Back
Already perceptively described by Variety as “a cross between Spring Breakers and Tangerine, as directed by Richard Linklater,” Never Goin’ Back takes two disillusioned teen girls who hate their dead end diner jobs and follows them as they attempt to carry out their simple plan of living on the beach. Director Augustine Frizzell already shot and directed the feature back in 2004, but was dissatisfied with the results. Spurred on by her husband, A Ghost Story director David Lowery, she shot it again with up-and-comers Maia Mitchell and Camila Morrone.
Lily (Odessa Young), a high school senior, is caught in a Doxxing shitstorm when an anonymous entity in her hometown of Salem begins to publicize details from the intimate lives of its teen residents. As the drama heats up—think nudes leaked, browser histories exposed, ugly group chats laid bare—the girls decide to seek revenge. A fictional, much campier version of Nanette Burstein’s sweeping documentary American Teen, Assassination Nation from writer/director Sam Levinson is a hilariously prescient warning about privacy in the digital age.
SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM JANUARY 18, 2018 TO JANUARY 28, 2018.