My second trip to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah promises to be much colder, though no less exciting than last year’s unseasonably-warm introduction. You could barely hear yourself think over the constant roar of snow cannons trying to preserve the anemic ski slopes. This year finds a return to freezing temperatures and the emergence of female directors. Over 40 feature films are helmed by women.
My personal approach to this year’s festival will be to focus on diversity. Rather than plunging into one particular Section, I will sample generously from each, with no regard to the obscurity of the title. Last year’s Next Section, for example, produce three of my favorite films of 2015, including H., James White, and Tangerine. With that in mind, here are my 10 most anticipated films from Sundance 2016.
What to make of a film that promises mermaids, musical numbers, and romantic horror? This debut effort from Polish director Smoczynska was just too delicious to ignore, as it follows the exploits of two alluring but bloodthirsty mermaids, Silver and Golden. There are more than a few hints of last year’s brilliant charmer Spring, but it sounds like the gore quotient has been tweaked up a notch for The Lure.
In the early 80s, writer John Hull went blind. Like all writers, his best defense against the uncertainty and terror was to document his thoughts and emotions. This film is a recreation of Hull’s diaries, and, by all accounts, an unforgettable journey into a place most of us would rather avoid. Directors Middleton and Spinney promise a mix of the surreal and the sublime in their life-affirming examination of our most-treasured of senses.
Co-written by David Gordon Green, Goat reads like a treatise on millennial masculinity. A young man’s indoctrination into a college fraternity forces him to reconcile his newly-minted macho persona with his longstanding insecurities. How does one establish their self-identity awash in debauchery, violence, and alcohol?
In the follow-up to her impressive debut, Farah Goes Bang, director Meera Menon turns her attention to the male-dominated turf of Wall Street. Anna Gunn plays a high-powered investment banker beset by all manner of professional and personal turmoil. It will be interesting to see Gunn break from the confines of Skyler White and tackle what looks to be a challenging role.
Proving once again that truth is stranger than fiction comes the story of Shin Sang-ok and Choi Eun-hee. This South Korean film couple (Shin a director and Choi his leading lady) were kidnapped by North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il and forced to make movies for his production company. Directors Cannan and Adam take a fascinating look at the couple’s imprisonment, artistic output, and their eventual escape from the world’s most demanding producer.
Kenneth Lonergan has a lifetime pass for making You Can Count on Me. His third directorial effort, the story of a loner called back home to care for his 16 year-old nephew, sounds like the kind of intimate drama that best showcases Lonergan’s filmmaking talents. It also features Casey Affleck in a welcome leading performance. Expect this one to be quiet, thoughtful, and pack a bitter-sweet punch.
Perhaps it’s the geographic isolation that makes us Pacific Northwesterners a different breed of “unusual.” Matt Ross’ second feature follows the backwoods adventures of a dedicated father (Viggo Mortensen) and his extended family. Suddenly thrust into the outside world, these fiercely independent spirits must adapt to their new surroundings while remaining true to their old ideals.
This is the latest documentary from the legendary Werner Herzog. Nothing else really needs to be said.
In what sounds like the ultimate hangover film, director Danny Perez presents the systematic freak out of a drug-addled trailer dweller. The lines between fantasy and reality blur as our heroine descends deeper into nightmarish paranoia. Perfect fodder for the late night Sundance crowd!
Much like the haunting Fruitvale Station a few years ago, Dark Night immediately squashes all hope for a happy ending. In this case, director Sutton follows the daily routine of several characters who are doomed to collide that night at a mass shooting. This premise is practically oozing with drama and social subtext, which should make for a final act that packs quite a wallop.