2016 Sundance Wrap-up!
And so, another edition of the Sundance Film Festival is in the books. This year marked my seventh trip to Park City, Utah and as always it was an amazing experience full of good movies, great friends and lots of writing. In all, I filed twenty-nine written reviews, three video reviews and extended sit-downs with EDDIE THE EAGLE stars Taron Egerton & Hugh Jackman (as well as director Dexter Fletcher). In between I managed to sneak-off to a handful of parties, and had a memorable experience meeting the great Rob Zombie (as well as his wife Shari Moon) before the midnight premiere of 31.
As far as the movies go, this edition of the fest was pretty great. I saw a handful of great movies, many more good ones and just a few lousy ones. Pretty much everything I covered wound-up with big distribution deals, meaning they’ll eventually make their way either to theaters near you or (more likely) your favorite streaming service.
Like every year, there were loads of trends and things to take away from the fest, and here are a few that stuck out to me:
Potential Oscar contenders: Sundance always winds up premiering a few future Oscar nominees, with BROOKLYN having fit the bill last year, and WHIPLASH and BOYHOOD having made their debuts in 2014. This year, the big juggernauts seem to be Nate Parker’s THE BIRTH OF A NATION and MANCHESTER BY THE SEA. THE BIRTH OF A NATION sold to Fox Searchlight for a huge $17.5 million, and an Oscar campaign is certainly in the cards. Expect this one to get tons of play closer to the end of the year. My prediction is a possible Cannes bow, followed by a TIFF run and then an Oscar-qualifying run towards the end of the year. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is a trickier case, with Amazon having snapped-up the rights for $10 million. Casey Affleck is a definite best actor contender, but it remains to be seen whether the streaming service will be able to launch an effective Oscar campaign. We’ll have to wait and see.
Streaming dominates: Last year, Amazon and Netflix barely made a dent, but between them they picked up a huge variety of titles this year, including buzzy hits like LOVE & FRIENDSHIP for Amazon, and UNDER THE SHADOW, THE FUNDAMENTALS OF CARING and TALLULAH for Netflix. Worth mentioning is that Netflix only bought SVOD rights for their titles, meaning they’ll likely get theatrical distribution too.
Diversity rules: Following the #OscarSoWhite controversy, Sundance sported a wide range of diverse projects, telling multi-racial, mainstream stories, with one of the best examples being MORRIS FROM AMERICA, a charming culture clash comedy starring Craig Robinson, who picked up the best actor jury prize at the festival awards ceremony.
Weak midnight titles: The only area Sundance really came up short this year was in the Midnight movies selection. While THE GREASY STRANGLER generated some gross-out buzz (I only lasted thirty minutes), too many of the other titles ranged from mediocre (CARNAGE PARK) to just awful (THE BLACKOUT EXPERIMENTS and Kevin Smith’s horrible YOGA HOSERS). The only title everyone really agreed was great was the Iranian horror flick UNDER THE SHADOW, which played to raves.
Best (fake) movie: ABRACADEBORAH. Now, there’s a story here. Every year, Eric D. Snider, Jordan Raup and more host a big blogger party at the festival midpoint. As I happened to be rooming with these gents this year, I became a defacto party host. Among all the merriment, Uproxx’s Mike Ryan had the idea to send-up our own post-premiere tweet blasts by inventing a fake movie called ABRACADEBORAH. Initially thought-of as a vehicle for Kristen Wiig where she’d play a woman who gets magic powers and joins a carnival, the fake film soon began to grow. Someone decided James Marsden should play her blind love interest (I believe it was Angie Han), while I contributed a cameo for the late Abe Vigoda. Not to be outdone, Jordan made a fake poster and soon #AbracaDeborah was trending, to the point that in their awards press release, Sundance had to note that it wasn’t a real film. To their credit, the Sundance Institute showed a great sense of humor about a joke that went insanely out-of-control in minutes. Such is the power of Twitter!
Best (real) movie: As much as I loved MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, for me the whole fest was made worthwhile by John Carney’s affectionate eighties pop masterpiece SING STREET. I mean, just look at this trailer and tell me this doesn’t look absolutely amazing.
5. OTHER PEOPLE
4. HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE
3. (tie) THE BIRTH OF A NATION/ UNDER THE SHADOW
2. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
1. SIGN STREET