I’ve been dreaming of Sundance all week! I had planned on going initially, I even had the press application ready to go last December but I decided it was cutting it too close to my Christmas trip to the East Coast. But I’ve been closely following Sundance and reading some of the buzz/reviews.
“The Sundance Film Festival is truly a place for discovery,” said festival director John Cooper (per Screendaily) and it’s so great to see a variety of genres AND many female filmmakers represented in the lineup. Seems that Sundance is far more progressive in terms of gender/race diversity than Hollywood. For this purpose, I’m only highlighting feature films, though certainly there are quite a few documentaries at Sundance that caught my eye.
Anyway, without further ado, here’s the list:
[in alphabetical order – ‘W’ marks films directed by women]
1. Ali & Nino
Muslim prince Ali and Georgian aristocrat Nino have grown up in the Russian province of Azerbaijan. Their tragic love story sees the outbreak of the First World War and the world’s struggle for Baku’s oil. Ultimately they must choose to fight for their country’s independence or for each other.
Director: Asif Kapadia
Cast: Adam Bakri, Maria Valverde, Mandy Patinkin, Connie Nielsen, Riccardo Scamarcio, Homayoun Ershadi.
“… an epic love story set against the backdrop of the First World War, expansionist Communist Russia and the independence movement in Azerbaijan.” (per UAE’s The National) Boy you don’t hear that every day. Nor do you hear a love story between two faiths, which is many parts of the world could be even more problematic than love story between two races. Kapadia is the filmmaker behind two acclaimed docs, Senna and Amy, so I’m curious how he’d fare with his dramatic feature.
2. Birth of a Nation
Nat Turner, a former slave in America, leads a liberation movement in 1831 to free African-Americans in Virgina that results in a violent retaliation from whites.
Director and screenwriter: Nate Parker
Cast: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Aja Naomi King, Jackie Earle Haley, Gabrielle Union, and Mark Boone Junior
This is perhaps the buzziest film out of Sundance this year. I had read last week about how Nate Parker quit acting for two years and raised $10 mil to get this film made. I’ve only seen him in Beyond the Lights so far and I think he’s a pretty charismatic actor. It’s been a passion project for him for years and it seemed to have paid off big time. Fox Searchlight Pictures has bought the worldwide distribution rights for the film for $17.5 million, apparently the biggest deal in the history of the Sundance Film Festival. You can read this THR article about his journey to get this film made. So far the reviews have been universally positive, at least from what I gather on Twitter. Vulture calls it ‘… a beautiful, reflective film even as it is also a brutal, visceral one.’ The subject matter is as timely as ever and it’s definitely a film I’ll keep an eye on.
3. Captain Fantastic
In the forests of the Pacific Northwest, a father devoted to raising his six kids with a rigorous physical and intellectual education is forced to leave his paradise and enter the world, challenging his idea of what it means to be a parent.
Director and screenwriter: Matt Ross
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Frank Langella, George MacKay, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, Ann Dowd
The premise sounds intriguing, esp. with Viggo Mortensen in the lead. It seems quirky, even bizarre on the outset, but promises a lot of heart. This Huffington Post reviewer describes it as ‘… a spirited film celebrating life and ingenuity’ that sparked his spirit after a long, hectic day at Sundance.
4. Certain Women [W]
The lives of three woman intersect in small-town America, where each is imperfectly blazing a trail.
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Cast: Michelle Williams, Laura Dern, and Kristen Stewart
I’m not familiar with Reichardt’s work at all but I’m immediately intrigued by the premise of this film and the mostly-female cast. The Guardian says, ‘Like Reichardt’s directorial hand, the performances are understated across the board, but deeply felt.’ I should check out her earlier film Meek’s Cutoff, which also stars Michelle Williams.
5. Complete Unknown
Michael Shannon plays Tom, a married man who, at his birthday celebration, feels sure he knows Alice (Rachel Weisz), and pursues her during a long, adventurous night.
Director: Joshua Marston
Cast: Rachel Weisz, Michael Shannon, Kathy Bates, Danny Glover, and Michael Chernus
This is one of the two Michael Shannon films that caught my eye from Sundance. Interestingly enough both have romantic tones and I haven’t seen Shannon as a romantic hero before. But I LOVE Rachel Weisz and the premise of her playing a mysterious woman definitely intrigues me. Per Screen Daily, ‘It’s hard to imagine Complete Unknown working as well as it does without Weisz in the lead role. She is equally adept at embodying some kind of ideal vision of a woman—charming, intelligent, and sociable—as she is revealing the vulnerabilities and insecurities that exist underneath her alluring surface.’ Sounds like it’s worth a watch just for miss Weisz!
6. Equity [W]
The first female-driven Wall Street film, follows a senior investment banker who is threatened by a financial scandal and must untangle a web of corruption.
Director: Meera Menon
Cast: Anna Gunn, James Purefoy, Sarah Megan Thomas, and Alysia Reiner
Ok so Working Girl was technically a female-driven Wall Street film, but this one is not about a woman trying to get into the male-driven industry. As Variety puts it, it’s a female spin of The Big Short and Margin Call about a group of women caught up in the world of high finance. The fact that there’s a female director at the helm naturally made me even more intrigued by it. Oh, and having James Purefoy here doesn’t hurt either. Sony Pictures Classics has bought it so it’s likely we’ll see this in cinemas soon.
7. Frank & Lola
Set in Las Vegas and Paris, this love story covers the full circle of emotions: love, obsession, sex, betrayal, revenge and eventually the search for redemption.
Director & Screenwriter: Matthew M. Ross
Cast: Imogen Poots, Michael Shannon, Justin Long, Rosanna Arquette
Check out this short clip:
It’s billed as a romantic thriller and it’s got Shannon in the romantic lead. Color me intrigued. As I mentioned before, I haven’t seen Shannon in a romantic role before, but he’s a terrific and versatile actor so I’m sure he’d acquit himself well. I haven’t seen Rosanna Arquette in anything for a long time, I wonder what role she’ll be playing here.
8. Love & Friendship
Set in the 1790s, Love and Friendship centers on beautiful widow Lady Susan Vernon, who has come to the estate of her in-laws to wait out colorful rumors about her dalliances circulating through polite society. Whilst there, she decides to secure a husband for herself and her rather reluctant debutante daughter, Frederica.
Director: Whit Stillman
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny, Xavier Samuel
You already know I have a penchant for Jane Austen. Per Variety, this film is an adaptation of Austen’s earlier work called “Lady Susan” that was published posthumously in 1871. I haven’t seen Kate Beckinsale in ages (I think the last time it was the ghastly Total Recall sequel) so nice to see her in a period drama once again. Here she stars as Lady Susan, described as the most irresistibly devious of Austen protagonists. Yes please! Interesting to see Chloe Sevigny here, I don’t think I’ve seen her in this genre before.
9. Maggie’s Plan [W]
A young woman’s determination to have a child catapults her into a nervy love triangle with a heart-throb academic and his eccentric critical-theorist wife.
Director: Rebecca Miller
Cast: Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Travis Fimmel.
I had missed a lot of Greta Gerwig’s films though I realize she’s quite the indie darling. So perhaps this will be my first movie I see her in. But what intrigued me right away was Rebecca Miller directing. She’s the daughter of playwright Arthur Miller and she’s married to acting legend Daniel Day-Lewis, but she’s a multi-talented artist herself being a painter/sculptor/writer/director. This is her fifth film and yet I haven’t seen a single one. [Note to self: watch The Ballad of Jack and Rose which stars Day Lewis)
10. Sophie And The Rising Sun [W]
In a small Southern town in the autumn of 1941, Sophie’s lonely life is transformed when an Asian man arrives under mysterious circumstances. Their love affair becomes the lightning rod for long-buried conflicts that erupt in bigotry and violence with the outbreak of World War ll.
Director: Maggie Greenwald
Cast: Julianne Nicholson, Margo Martindale, Lorraine Toussaint, Takashi Yamaguchi, Diane Ladd, Joel Murray.
Check out this short clip:
Interesting seeing Nicholson and Martindale in a film together again since August, Osage County. Last time Nicholson was paired with Benedict Cumberbatch whose relationship ended up being a shocking revelation in the plot. Well, this time around it’s her relationship with a Japanese man that causes a stir in her community. The whole ‘forbidden love story’ thing always intrigues me, too. As for Greenwald, I haven’t seen any of her work but I really should check out Songcatcher (2000) starring Janet McTeer and Aidan Quinn.
11. Sing Street
A boy growing up in Dublin during the ’80s escapes his strained family life and tough new school by starting a band to win the heart of a beautiful and mysterious girl.
Director: John Carney
Cast: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Jack Reynor, Aidan Gillen, Mark McKenna.
Having loved two of Carney’s earlier films, Once and Begin Again, naturally I’m looking forward to what he’s going to do next. Surely it’ll be music-related and who doesn’t love 80s music? I love movies set in Ireland and this one has an Irish cast, too, including Jack Reynor whom I met during his Transformers 4 press tour. The Guardian says Carney ‘…hits the bullseye again with a goodnatured 80s-set comedy’ and many reviewers have called it ‘joyful.’ I can’t wait to see this one!
12. Tallulah [W]
Desperate to be rid of her toddler, a dissatisfied Beverly Hills housewife hires a stranger to babysit and ends up getting much more than she bargained for.
Director and screenwriter: Sian Heder
Cast: Ellen Page, Allison Janney, Tammy Blanchard, Evan Jonigkeit, and Uzo Aduba
My pal Kirsten Gregerson gave me some updates right from from Park City. The reason she was able to attend Sundance in the first place was because her dear friend, Stacey Thunder, played the reporter in Tallulah. She and Heather Rae, Tallulah‘s producer, have been friend’s for some time, meeting through Kimberly Guerrero who also was in The Jingle Dress with Stacey.
“I was very thankful to be a part of the Tallulah weekend as well as help Stacey with her new show called Indigenous with Stacey Thunder. I was able to attend the Sundance Native Forum Brunch and take pictures behind the scenes of her interview with Chris Eyre who directed the film Smoke Signals.” – Kirsten
Tallulah‘s written & directed by Sian Heder (Orange is the new Black), who was pregnant during the shoot and is now the mother of two young children. This is her mini review of the film:
A smart and touching comedy about taking the risk of needing someone and being needed. I have often felt judged as a mother by other moms, probably the hardest though on myself. This film helped me to realize that mothering is not black or white but shades of grey. The role of Carolyn played by Tammy Blanchard was a difficult one to play and she nailed it. She is a woman that desperately wants to feel needed but, like many of us, looks to fill that void with alcohol and men. She has a child that so desperately needs her and wants her but she can’t see that until that child is taken away from her.
The two leads, Allison Janey and Ellen Page, are magic on screen as we have seen before in Juno. Some scenes are dramatic, others are really funny, kind of like life. It was also refreshing to see the woman who plays Crazy Eyes in Orange Is The New Black (Uzo Aduba) as a reporter in this film, who is also a mother. Although he had limited screen time, Lu’s (Ellen Page) boyfriend, played by Evan Jonigkeit, gave a memorable and truthful performance. You will definitely be seeing more of him.
In a nutshell, I absolutely loved the film and left the theater feeling good about what kind of mom I have been over the years. We are all just trying are best and want to feel loved and needed, but in a healthy way.
I can’t wait to see this one. I’ve mentioned in this post that Netflix has bought this film for $5mil and an unnamed theatrical partner will release the film in the latter part of 2016.
For more info on which films have been sold at Sundance so far » The Wrap
The story of 1970s TV reporter Christine Chubbuck who committed suicide on live TV.
Director: Antonio Campos
Cast: Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, Maria Dizzia, Tracy Letts, and J. Smith-Cameron
Manchester By the Sea
After his older brother passes away, Lee Chandler is forced to return home to care for his 16-year-old nephew. There he is compelled to deal with a tragic past that separated him from his family and the community where he was born and raised.
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler.
Aspiring New York City artist John Hollar returns to his Middle America hometown on the eve of his mother’s brain surgery. Joined by his girlfriend, eight months pregnant with their first child, John is forced to navigate the crazy world he left behind.
Director: John Krasinski
Cast: John Krasinski, Anna Kendrick, Margo Martindale, Richard Jenkins, Sharlto Copley, Charlie Day.
Sources: Variety | Screen Daily | Buzzfeed
Have you been keeping up with Sundance? Which film(s) are YOU looking forward to the most?