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Sundance 2019: Movies to Watch Out For

Sundance 2019 will almost certainly present some of the films we’ll be talking about throughout the rest of the year. Here are some movies you’ll want to check out.

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Movie festivals have their own personalities. Some cater to highly experimental fare, others focus on European art-house royalty, and still others are laden with American, mid-budget prestige pictures. Of all the great film festivals, however, perhaps none has such a distinctive style as the Sundance Film Festival. There’s even the (sometimes derogatory) designation of a “Sundance film,” used in a way that no one would ever apply to a “Cannes film” or a “Toronto film.”

From its inception in 1978, the Robert Redford-founded festival has focused exclusively on quality independent films. Over the decades, the festival began to incorporate more low-budget films and works by burgeoning directors, and the “Sundance film” came out of this effort — it describes a low-budget (but not too low-budget) movie, often a dramedy, that tells an offbeat story in quirky ways. (If they haven’t already, Sundance programmers would be wise to ban “quirky” and “off-beat” from all film descriptions.)

Sometimes unconventional horror films take off at the festival, or talky Tarantino-esque crime films succeed. Sundance is largely responsible for the indie success of Clerks (1994) and the cross-over hit Little Miss Sunshine (2006), as well as early Tarantino crime films and Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000). Hugely influential horror films like The Blair Witch Project (1999) and Saw (2004) got the necessary boost at Sundance to become as widely imitated as they now are. If mediocre dramedies like Me and Earl and the Dying Girl sometimes get signal boosts from the festival, it shouldn’t detract from the number of great films the process has fostered. Here are some noteworthy films at 2019’s Sundance Film Festival, worth looking into when they make it to a wider release.

Sundance 2019

Apollo 11

This documentary, directed by Todd Douglas Miller, gathers original footage shot by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins on their historic voyage to the moon. The appeal of the movie lies squarely in that original footage. Anyone who has ever seen For All Mankind knows the appeal of seeing space and celestial bodies as they really exist. CGI has gotten extremely accurate in its representations of outer space in recent years, but there’s still a noticeable difference when you see the real thing. Audiences mostly ignored the excellent First Man last year, but anyone fascinated by its sense of exploration should give Apollo 11 a try.

Sundance 2019

Big Time Adolescence

Pete Davidson has carved out an interesting role with his abrasive stand-up routines, but his comic talents have been overshadowed by tabloid interest in his former relationship with Ariana Grande, as well as his public mental health struggles. This film may give him the first chance to really show off his acting and comic skills. Directed by Jason Orley, Big Time Adolescence involves a teenager struggling to mature in the presence of the charismatic but destructive college dropout, played by Davidson. The dark comedy seems like an appropriate display for his brand of comedy.

Sundance 2019

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

Like the underrated My Friend Dahmer (2017), this film takes an intriguing path in its quest to understand the charming serial killer Ted Bundy. Rather than looking at his adolescent life before his crimes (like the earlier film), this one examines his spree of depravity from the perspective of his girlfriend, played by Lily Collins. Zac Efron, who plays Bundy, is an intriguing choice for the part. Though he’s appeared in mostly execrable comedies in the past few years, their lack of quality has had less to do with his performances than their shoddy scripts and direction. On-set photos show Efron has a disturbing resemblance to the serial killer, and his upcoming work on Harmony Korine’s The Beach Bum — as well as a future film directed by Ana Lily Amirpour — suggest that he may be entering a more respectable phase of his career.

Sundance 2019

The Farewell

This story might be familiar to regular listeners of This American Life. Writer and director Lulu Wang originally shared a story on the radio program about her trip to China to see her grandmother one last time before she died from a terminal illness. Complicating matters was the fact that her family desperately tried to hide the fatal prognosis from her grandmother. Awkwafina, who plays Wang’s role, is certain to energize the comic aspects of the otherwise heartbreaking story.

Sundance 2019

Late Night

Mindy Kaling writes and stars in this comedy that takes a somewhat different approach to the #MeToo movement. Rather than focusing on the more headline-grabbing aspects, the film zeroes in on representation in the entertainment industry. Emma Thompson plays the host of a long-running late night program who seems to have the same gender biases as most of her male compatriots. In an attempt to pay lip service to social crusaders, she hires a single woman (Kaling) to join her all-male writers’ room, though it may be too late to right the ship. Kaling is a more talented writer than an actor, but the collaboration with Thompson looks to be a fresh take on an overheated subject.

Sundance 2019

The Lodge

Riley Keough is an electrifying presence on screen, someone so captivating that she can briefly make trash like The House That Jack Built watchable. Perhaps because of her concentrated skills, Keough often ends up in small but affecting roles, but The Lodge offers her a rare lead role, one in which she plays the new wife of a man who left his previous spouse for her. During a snowstorm, she becomes housebound with his two children, who despise her. But even as they work out their differences, demons from her tortured path begin to appear. The film’s Austrian directors, Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz, previously directed the chilling Goodnight Mommy (2014), also about children stuck with a troubling mother figure, so this should be right up their alley.

Sundance 2019

The Nightingale

Jennifer Kent rocketed to fame almost overnight when her 2014 horror film The Babadook premiered at Sundance’s Midnight section. Her follow-up, The Nightingale, is (on paper) a revenge drama about a young convict living in what is now Tasmania, whose family is brutally attacked by British soldiers. With the help of an Aboriginal guide named Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), Clare (Aisling Franciosi) sets off to find the men responsible. The film premiered at Venice and has received strong reviews in Australia, suggesting it’s a worth follow-up. It’s also certain to be far bloodier than the relatively sanitized Babadook.

Sundance 2019

The Report

Adam Driver stars in this impressively cast drama about the investigation into the CIA’s torture program (or “enhanced interrogation techniques”). It’s only Scott Z. Burns’ second film as a director, but he has already shown himself to be a talented screenwriter of politically engaged dramas and thrillers in his repeat work with Steven Soderbergh. The political drama is a departure from most of Driver’s performances, so there’s a good chance he’ll show off new aspects of his technique.

Sundance 2019

Velvet Buzzsaw

Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler (2014) is one of the best and most incisive American satires of the current century, as well as a chilling thriller. For his third feature, the director reunites with Jake Gyllenhaal in this horror-comedy that satirizes the art world. It’s a bit of a lazy subject, considering a fine art satire comes out every few years, but this one looks a bit wilder and more delirious than usual, at least based on its trailer. Gyllenhaal seems to be working in his more heightened mode, a cross between his zany Okja character and his Nightcrawler lead. The impressive cast, which also features Rene Russo, Toni Collette, Billy Magnussen, and John Malkovich, is stocked with actors who know how to play hilariously unmoored.

Sundance 2019

Wounds

British-Iranian director Babak Anvari made his feature-length debut in 2016 with the acclaimed Under the Shadow, a supernatural horror film set in war-torn Tehran during the Iran-Iraq War. His follow-up seems to hew closer to a traditional film by discarding the more socially relevant aspects of the earlier work. Armie Hammer stars as a New Orleans bartender who picks up a misplaced cellphone after a violent encounter at his bar. He begins receiving sinister messages and phone calls, which lead him and his girlfriend (Dakota Johnson) down an ever-twistier rabbit hole. Under the Shadow showed off Anvari’s gift for visual flair and signaled a horror filmmaker who wasn’t beholden to gore or jump scares. If Wounds shares any of those stylistic hallmarks, it’ll be a worthy follow-up.

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and Tilt Magazine. Host of the NXpress Nintendo Podcast and the Sordid Cinema Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound on Sight. Former host of several other podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead shows, as well as Sound On Sight. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

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