11 Films To Look Out For From Sundance Film Festival 2016
It wasn't all about Daniel Radcliffe's farting corpse.
It’s always exhausting having the Sundance Film Festival right there in January each year. We’re not even done with the previous year’s movies yet and then lo and behold there’s a whole bevy of new films to look forward to. So while the Oscars are still a few weeks away, and those nominees continue to trickle into Australian cinemas — Best Picture hopeful Brooklyn first premiered at Sundance in 2015 and is only reaching us next week! — we thought we’d take a look at some of the films that we’ll hopefully be seeing in cinemas and on streaming services over the next 12 months.
The Birth Of A Nation: The Film That Got Everyone Talking
Directed by: Nate Parker
Starring: Nate Parker, Gabrielle Union, Penelope Ann Miller, Armie Hammer
Clearly unphased by the so-called Sundance curse (which condemns the festival’s successes to become box office busts), distributor Fox Searchlight paid big bucks for the biggest film of the festival. In the shadow of #OscarsSoWhite, it could be a shrewd move for the film that director/writer/star Nate Parker took a sabbatical from acting to get financed as it at times felt like The Birth of a Nation was the only film anybody could talk about.
Here, Parker — so good in movies like Arbitrage (2012), Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013), and Beyond the Lights (2014) — tells the story of Nat Turner who led a slave revolt in 1831. But Django Unchained, this is not. Even if the film disappoints upon general release — whenever that may be, although they’d be smart to get it out to audiences ASAP to capitalise on the excitement — it will at least succeed in kicking the SEO scores down a peg or two of the 1915 original that bears the same name and is synonymous with American racism.
For fans of: social change, history, diversity on screen.
Manchester By The Sea: The Film That You Can Only Watch On… Amazon?
Directed by: Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Casey Affleck, Kyle Chandler, Michelle Williams
Fans of Kenneth Lonergan’s last movie — the much-delayed masterpiece Margaret (2011) as well as his debut You Can Count on Me (2000) — will be pleased to know he has a new film. And with actors like Affleck, Williams, and everybody’s favourite fictional dad/football coach Kyle Chandler, you know it’s going to be heavy on the brooding. Manchester by the Sea, an original story about an uncle taking guardianship over his nephew, was sold to online retailer Amazon. They weren’t able to make much of an impression last year with Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq, but having spent $10 million on this one, they ought to hope audiences are in the mood for two hours of watching people being sad.
For fans of: gloom and doom, acting powerhouses, originality.
Other People: The Film That Sounds Like A Sundance Cliché
Directed by: Chris Kelly
Starring: Jesse Plemons, Molly Shannon
You could not find a more stereotypically Sundance movie if you tried. The festival’s opening night title was this dramedy about a sad gay writer in the midst of a life crisis who returns to his hometown to care for his dying mother. Other People’s writer and director Chris Kelly is a former writer for Saturday Night Live and has a typically odd cast including former Friday Night Lights star Jesse Plemons and SNL alum (and all ‘round genius) Molly Shannon as well as Bradley Whitford, June Squibb, Maude Apatow, and Parks and Rec’s Retta. Buzz for Shannon’s performance has been big, but this is the title most likely to appear on Netflix in 14 months with barely a whimper.
For fans of: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, quirk, Molly Shannon’s untapped talent.
The Eagle Huntress: The Film To Make Your Heart Soar
Directed by: Otto Bell
Starring: Aisholpan Nurgaiv
This documentary was filmed in Mongolia and focuses on Aisholpan, the daughter of the Nurgaiv clan who took it upon herself to be the first woman to ever become an “eagle hunter” — a practice that goes back over 2,000 years. Aisholpan decides to confront two millenniums of entrenched sexism in a region that is known for its lack of change. Hailed for its beautiful images and heartwarming message, The Eagle Huntress should become a crowd favourite.
For fans of: kickass women, nature, fighting the patriarchy.
Certain Women: The Film For Fans Of Great Female Actors
Directed by: Kelly Reichardt
Starring: Michelle Williams, Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Lily Gladstone
For all the talk about diversity in cinema, it’s frustrating when great movies that embrace it go under the radar. Shouting about the issues isn’t nearly as important as actually supporting the films that encourage them. Hopefully Certain Women, the latest from the director of Wendy and Lucy (2008), Meek’s Cutoff (2010), and Night Moves (2013), gets people into theatres since it’s been met with some really great reviews and her unique brand of slow-burn cinema ought to be better known. Reichardt has reunited with her frequent collaborator Michelle Williams to tell a complex tale of three women’s lives intersecting in small-town Montana. She’s also joined by indie darlings Dern and Stewart as well as Gladstone who has a rare major role for a Native American actor.
For fans of: new stories about women, slow-burn drama, Michelle Williams looking very pained.
Christine: The Film For The Macabre
Directed by: Antonio Campos
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall
When Christine Chubbuck committed suicide live on-air on her Florida morning show in 1974, it quickly became a holy grail for the macabre. While the video is hard to find, seemingly scrubbed from the earth, the story of her death has lived on. After reading a statement that spoke of the network’s “policy of bringing you the latest in blood and guts”, Chubbuck grabbed a revolver and pulled the trigger. In Christine, Chubbock is brought back to life through British actress Rebecca Hall — finally given a role worthy of her talents — and is sure to be a curiosity in the same vein as Gus Van Sant’s To Die For (but without the humour). Also at Sundance was Kate Plays Christine: a semi-fictional documentary about an actress preparing for the role of Christine Chubbock.
For fans of: true crime, horrible things, macabre legends.
Goat: The Film That’s As Homoerotic As It Is Horrific
Directed by: Andrew Neel
Starring: Nick Jonas, Ben Schnetzer, Chase Crawford, James Franco
A movie full of lithe, young male bodies that are frequently shirtless in a frat house. It sounds like porn — and with actors like the famously gay-baiting Nick Jonas, it’s not hard to see why the film was a must-see for gay critics and audiences. However, Goat turned out to be a harrowing look into the world of frat hazing and won praise for more than just its flesh.
For fans of: James Franco cameos, critiques of constructs of masculinity, Nick Jonas: Actor.
Cameraperson: The Film For Those Who Want To Go Behind The Scenes
Directed by: Kirsten Johnson
Starring: Kirsten Johnson
If you were as much of a fan as the frightening and thrilling documentary CitizenFour as I was — or, really, documentary filmmaking in general — then Kirsten Johnson’s autobiographical memoir is a must-see. Johnson, a female cinematographer in a famously male-centric industry (a woman has never been nominated for a Best Cinematography Academy Award), takes viewers to Nigeria, Bosnia, and Edward Snowden as she examines her own life behind the camera.
For fans of: documentaries, women in film, the news.
Love & Friendship: The Film For Those Who Like A Twist On Austin
Directed by: Whit Stillman
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny, Xavier Samuel
Ignore Pride & Prejudice & Zombies and wait to get your fix of 1700s British wit and manners in Whit Stillman’s Love and Friendship. Adapted from the Jane Austin novella Lady Susan, this long-awaited return of Stillman sees him reunite with the stars of his excellent The Last Days of Disco (1998), Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny. The writer/director’s last movie was the wickedly funny Damsels in Distress and is actually a surprisingly spot-on choice for Austin. Xavier Samuel will be representing Australia among the cast that also includes Stephen Fry and Emma Greenwell from the aforementioned zombie/Austin mash-up.
For fans of: literary adaptations, unmatched wit, Woody Allen (but who don’t want to feel gross about watching his movies).
The Intervention: The Film To Inspire Your Own Filmic Dreams
Directed by: Clea DuVall
Starring: Melanie Lynskie, Cobie Smulders, Natasha Lyonne, Alia Shawkat, Clea DuVall, Jason Ritter
It’s the story all debut filmmakers hope for: they write and direct a movie to then have it picked up immediately for distribution by a major studio like Paramount. The first-time director in this case is Clea DuVall: a talented but under-utilised actor who took her career into her own hands after years of Hollywood having no idea what to do with her. She wrote a screenplay, hoping she would be able to get her friends together and give them all the sorts of roles they so rarely get to play. DuVall ended up directing as well as writing and acting and is now an inspiration to all filmmakers.
For fans of: ensemble comedies, actors-turned-directors, indie stars.
Swiss Army Man: The Film About A Horny Farting Corpse
Directed by: Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert AKA The Daniels
Starring: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
The only thing you need to know about Swiss Army Man is that Daniel Radcliffe plays a farting corpse with a boner. Much was made of audiences walking out of the movie, but that happens at everything during a festival. So, I repeat, Harry Potter plays a farting corpse with a boner. Apparently it’s pretty good.
For fans of: Ummm…
Glenn Dunks is a freelance writer from Melbourne. He also works as an editor and a film festival programmer while tweeting too much @glenndunks.