Sundance is here again, opening under the shadow of the government shutdown. Harvey Weinstein has hired Rose McGowen’s legal team, and the Oscars once again have nominated no female directors. I’m in a hotel in Wyoming, on my way, but delayed by a windstorm that closed interstate 80… somehow, I want to blame that on the government shutdown too. Anyway, this year’s festival is wide open for me. Despite some much-publicized changes in the programming team to raise more female programmers up on the team (which I fully applaud) the festival lineup feels pretty similar to years past. That doesn’t mean there aren’t lots of unseen gems, I just can’t see any difference.
Here are the films I am most looking forward to at this year’s festival:
Director: Patrice Brice
Synopsis: A company retreat turns deadly when a team-building exercise leads to a cave-in.
What Excites Me: Demi Moore and Ed Helms star as the megalomaniac CEO and the useless guide respectively and I cannot wait to see their on screen chemistry. Brice’s last two films Creep and The Overnight and both perfect character studies, and this premise seems ripe to dive into what happens to people under pressure.
Director: Joe Berlinger
Synopsis: An arrest breaks up an otherwise perfect marriage, in this case, the one arrested is Ted Bundy.
What Excites Me: Berlinger is a documentary filmmaker who has done a number of true crime works, as well as Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, and seems the perfect, if unexpected, choice to make this film. On the other hand, Zac Efron as Bundy is either brilliance or misguided chance-taking – hopefull he can get his head in the game, break free, and start something new.
Director: Penny Lane
Section: U.S. Doc
Synopsis: The Satanic Temple fights for religious expression and the right to place a statue of Baphomet next to the ten commandants on the Arkansas State Capital lawn.
What Excites Me: This is the same group that staged Black Masses with the release of The Witch – are they just attention seeking exhibitionists or do they have a point to make. As a card caring member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, I have been following the Satanic Temple for several years, and this offers a peek inside what may be the most important (at least politically) religious movement in America.
Director: Lee Cronin
Synopsis: A child, a new house, a mysterious sinkhole, a cryptic neighbor, and a mother escaping her past only to find something far worse.
What Excites Me: Well, this is already an A24 pickup, so its going to be good, but the Irish tell the best ghost stories and this simple setting makes me think we are in for a tense nail biter. This is a first-time feature director, so we may be witnessing the birth of new master.
Director: Grant Sputore
Synopsis: A teen girl living in a bunker after the humanity’s extinction and raised by a computer meets her first human from outside.
What Excites Me: Um…. This is an obvious pick for me, a SciFi thriller that brings our faith in AI into question. Hillary Swank plays the wounded woman from external world, Rose Byrne is the voice of ‘Mother’ the computer that may not be telling her charge the full truth. The Robot Design cones from Weta Workshop.
Director: Alex Gibney
Section: US Doc Premiere
Synopsis: A woman arrives with a medical convention guaranteed to change the world, and soon raises up a company to a nine-billion-dollar value – unfortunately the invention was a lie.
What Excites Me: Gibney is a doc master, having exposed Scientology, Enron and Lance Armstrong. This story is more of a mystery than most of his work, how did this happen? Silicon Valley is ripe to be laid bare, and I trust Gibney to do it fairly and thoroughly.
Director: Abe Forsythe
Synopsis: A school outing to a popular children’s show becomes a full-scale zombie invasion in this comedy starring Lupito Nyong’o and Josh Gad.
What Excites Me: Forsythe directed my favorite film of 2016, Down Under, a comedy set during a race riot, so he can mine uncomfortable situations for hilarity. Also, this synopsis as written by the Sundance team, may be the best paragraph synopsis ever written. http://www.sundance.org/projects/little-monsters
Director: Alexandre O. Philippe
Synopsis: A deep dive into the greatest Science Fiction film of all time, Alien, and its birth from the mind of screenwriter Dan O’Bannon
What Excites Me: Philippe follows up his brilliant 78/52 doc about Hitchock’s Psycho with another cinematic hall-of-fame examination. Diane O’Bannon, Dan’s widow is one of the executive producers of the film, so you know it had great access. And of course, I cannot miss the opportunity to mention that my festival Other Worlds Austin has given out the Dan O’Bannon Award for the last three years with her blessing.
Director: Alice Waddingon
Synopsis: Emma Roberts plays a privileged young woman who wakes up on a strange island that serves as a reformatory boarding school. Overseen by Milla Jovovich, the center for emotional healing may be hiding something below its fairy tale décor.
What Excites Me: With a supporting cast of Danielle Macdonald (Patti Cake$), Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians), and Eiza González (Baby Driver), and screenplay cowritten by Nacho Vigalondo (Time Crimes, Colossal), this feature debut has a lot backing it up. Plus the costumes look amazing,
Director: Michael Tyburski
Section: US Dramatic
Synopsis: Peter Sarsgaard works as a ‘house tuner,’ identifying sonic combinations that may be affecting residents’ mood.
What Excites Me: This was a short in 2013 (Palimpsest) that I saw and programmed at Austin Film Festival that I have been anxiously awaiting a feature of for years. The original film was atmospheric and beautiful, as well as full of suspicion that the entire profession is invented and bullshit. But he believes it so we WANT to believe it. Can’t wait.
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