12 films debuting at Sundance 2016 I can’t wait to see


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 NationalBoy 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]

Equity Equity_2

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.

The Hollars


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?

41 thoughts on “12 films debuting at Sundance 2016 I can’t wait to see

  1. Sundance is BURSTING this year with such diverse and interesting looking films. I’m all in for all of these, especially the new Whit Stillman (love me some Sevigny) and the reteaming of Williams and Reichardt.

    1. Hey Drew! Indeed, the diversity (both race/gender) makes Sundance even more exciting AND relevant. Yes I’m super excited for Stillman and Sevigny in the cast certainly piqued my interest too! I need to see the first film of Williams & Reichardt.

  2. This looks like it’s going to be an excellent year! I’m definitely keen to see Ali & Nino. I hold Kapadia in high regard and I’m really hoping he excels with this one. I’m also a big fan of Michael Shannon (although I haven’t had opportunity to see 99 Homes yet) and Kyle Chandler, so Complete Unknown, Frank & Lola and Manchester By The Sea definitely have my interest too. Nice to see you’ve got lots of films by female directors on here – it’s a really great challenge you’ve set this year.

    1. I really like the premise of Ali & Nino, I hope it delivers. I haven’t seen AMY yet but I LOVE Senna. Shannon is so excellent, I think you’d like 99 Homes, great film. I seek out female directors’ work so it’s great to see quite a few of them at Sundance!

  3. Thanks for sharing your most anticipated from Sundance. Of those, I’m most excited about Manchester By the Sea and Sing Street, based on my appreciation of both directors previous work(Margaret and Begin Again )

    1. I knew you’d be excited for Sing Street! I haven’t seen Margaret yet but the buzz for Manchester By the Sea has been strong, there’s even talks of Casey Affleck for Best Actor next year!

  4. Paul S

    I like the sound of Certain Women. It features 3 of my favourite actresses, and one of my Letterboxd associates described it as quiet, beautiful and profound. Fingers crossed for a UK release.

    1. Oh yeah I heard about that comparison. What’s even more chilling is that it’s based on a true story. I started reading about Christine Chubbuck and it’s such a heartbreaking story.

        1. I know, he’s an excellent actor. I think his family supposedly lived off the grid from modern society, so that might explain the choice of um, fashion 😉

    1. Those five sure have intriguing premise. Birth of a Nation has already Oscar buzz, I bet that’ll be like ’12 Years Of Slave’ of 2017 Oscars!

  5. I haven’t been paying to Sundance in several years, mostly because I had a bad experience the last time I attended the event, I sat through too many bad movies. With the exception of Birth of a Nation, I don’t know anything about the other movies on your list there. Hope some of them will be good.

    1. Hi Ted, which were the movies you saw? Well I suppose Sundance films are typically not action-heavy, perhaps that’s why you didn’t enjoy them? Usually when I go to film festivals I kinda expect to see films that are outside of my comfort zone. These films might not all be my cup of tea, but there’s enough going for them that intrigue me.

  6. Aside from Birth of a Nation, Certain Women (I love Kelly Reichardt), Tallulah, Sing Street, Captain Fantastic, Love & Friendship (Whit Stillman is a big deal to me), and Complete Unknown. Another film that I’m interested in seeing is Lovesong by So Young-Kim who did For Ellen and Treeless Mountain as her film stars Jena Malone and Riley Keough. Those are the films I care about as I’ve become less infatuated with Sundance over the years because I feel it’s become a corporate festival that attracts hipsters whom I loathe.

    1. Aside from Birth of a Nation, Certain Women (I love Kelly Reichardt), Tallulah, Sing Street, Captain Fantastic, Love & Friendship (Whit Stillman is a big deal to me), andComplete Unknown. Another film that I’m interested in seeing is Lovesong by So Young-Kim who did For Ellen and Treeless Mountain as her film stars Jena Malone and Riley Keough. Those are the films I care about as I’ve become less infatuated with Sundance over the years because I feel it’s become a corporate festival that attracts hipsters whom I loathe.

      Hi Steven! Well you seem to be interested in quite a lot of films. I hadn’t heard of the films you mentioned, but I’m curious to see them, too! I know you love Jena Malone, she’s a terrific actress. Hmmm, you think it’s become a corporate festival? I guess I don’t know enough about Sundance but I love how diverse it is and how it celebrates women filmmakers too.

  7. I would probably have to see the trailers to get a better read for this movies but Birth of a Nation sounds promising. Not surprised that John Carney is doing another music related movie, Sing Street could be refreshing. And very cool that Tallulah will find a wider audience on Netflix.

    1. The buzz surrounding Birth of a Nation is through the roof! But I’m happy for Nate Parker who’ve put a lot of his time and passion into it. Yeah, John Carney seems to have cornered the indie music-themed romance thing, hasn’t he? Yeah, I think Netflix and Amazon have become quite the major players at Sundance, very interesting stuff.

  8. Great list, Ruth! A few of these I hadn’t noticed yet, like Sophie and the Rising Sun. That sounds good and Julianne Nicholson is so underrated. I’m also looking forward to Frank & Lola (love Michael Shannon) Tallulah, and Certain Women. I think I’d like to check out Swiss Army Man as well since it sounds so ridiculous and I love Paul Dano.

    1. Sophie and the Rising Sun hasn’t been catching a ton of buzz, but I’m intrigued by the premise and I like Julianne Nicholson too. I’m thrilled to see Michael Shannon in not one but TWO romance-themed films, he’s such a great actor. Swiss Army Man sounds so bonkers, but I admire the brazenness of both Radcliffe and Dano.

  9. eclecticscribe66

    Wow, I hadn’t heard of most of these yet. I am most excited about Birth of a Nation and Love and Friendship. I love the fact that you and I share a deep and abiding affection for Jane Austen.

    1. I love how diverse Sundance is and so many interesting films! These are just a small sampling of so many great films, I sure hope I can see as many of these before too long.

    1. “I love how they are subverting that racist silent epic” Exactly! I think Nat Turner’s journey is far more compelling to see anyway, I don’t think the original has a place at any time in our society.

  10. Great picks! I’m really looking forward to Sing Street, Manchester by the Sea, Birth of a Nation, Certain Women, Maggie’s Plan, Complete Unknown, and Love & Friendship as well.

    1. I really hope these films get a decent release nationwide, Josh! I think Sing Street, Manchester by the Sea, Birth of a Nation will as they’ve been bought by major studios, but not sure about the rest.

  11. Pingback: Everybody’s Chattin + Trailer Spotlight: Love & Friendship w/ Kate Beckinsale + Chloë Sevigny

  12. Pingback: Weekend Roundup: ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ (2016), ’13’ (2010), ‘Toy Story 3’ (2010)

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