JoBlo.com's 2016 Sundance Preview!

I can't believe it's already that time again! As of January 21st, I'll once again be covering the Sundance Film Festival straight from Park City, Utah on behalf of JoBlo.com. Being my seventh year covering the fest, that whole town is starting to feel like something of a home away from home for this Canadian, and I can't wait to dig in to what promises to be another exciting edition of the festival.

Now, the key difference between my Sundance and TIFF coverage is that at the latter, I typically know what I’m going to get before even seeing my first movie. Sundance is an altogether different beast, with many of the films so under-the-radar that they don’t even have IMDB entries. Like every year, there will no doubt be some real sleepers coming out, along with a few movies that will likely disappear into the ether of indie film distribution, only to turn up on VOD somewhere down the line. Last year ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL, DOPE and BROOKLYN were the hot-ticket premieres. The year before, we got BOYHOOD and WHIPLASH. What’s it going to be this year? Stay tuned!

1. Yoga Hosers

For us fanboys attending Sundance, YOGA HOSERS will no doubt be one of our most written-about movies. For those not in the know, this is a kind of TUSK spin-off; with director Kevin Smith’s daughter Haley Quinn co-starring with Johnny Depp’s daughter, Lily-Rose as two Canadian supermarket cashiers fighting ancient evil (they played the same parts in TUSK). The fact that Smith’s crafted a star-vehicle for his daughter is bound to prejudice some viewers, as is the fact that Johnny Depp – naturally – is on-board in a co-starring part reprising his role as Quebecois cop Guy LaPointe in support of his own daughter. Hopefully this will be fun, and hopefully Depp will do a better job with a Quebec accent than he did in TUSK, where he got his French Canadian stereotypes mixed-up with his French from France stereotypes (no one in Quebec would ever wear a beret). I liked TUSK, so I’m – to a certain degree – looking forward to this one.

2. 31

Director Rob Zombie is back with his long-awaited follow-up to THE LORDS OF SALEM, with the crowd-funded 31. A retro thriller set in 1975, 31 is about five carnival workers kidnapped on Halloween, who are forced to participate in a series of violent games in order to stay alive. I like grisly Rob Zombie movies, so I’m in. The cast, which includes Malcolm McDowell, Sheri Moon Zombie, and horror icons Judy Geeson, Meg Foster and more makes this seem like a whole lotta fun.

3. Sing Street

John Carney movies are just – for lack of a better word – delightful. ONCE was one of my favorite films of the 2000’s and now he’s back at Sundance for the first time since then with his eighties-set Irish musical, SING STREET. Apparently a marriage of the heart of ONCE with the production values of the excellent BEGIN AGAIN (I prefer the TIFF title – CAN A SONG SAVE YOUR LIFE), SING STREET goes into Sundance with a whole lot of attention on it. Expect this to be one of the big breakout titles. I have my tickets to the Eccles World Premiere, and I’m psyched.

4. Love and Friendship

I went through a bit of a Whit Stillman phase about a year ago, so it’s interesting that he’s showing up at Sundance with a movie that reunites his two stars of THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO, Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny. This one is a departure for Stillman, in that he abandons his mostly contemporary high society types to focus on high society two hundred and fifty years ago, with this being an adaptation of the Jane Austen novel, ‘Lady Susan.’ While I’m not much for Austen-style period comedies, Beckinsale alone would be enough to sell me on this, and it’ll be nice seeing her back on the big screen after too long an absence.

5. Miles Ahead

Following a successful fall film festival run, Don Cheadle’s well-reviewed Miles Davis biopic, MILES AHEAD, makes its way to Sundance. Clearly a passion project for Cheadle, who also co-wrote and stars as Davis, MILES AHEAD already has a big distributor in place (Sony Classics) and s superb supporting cast, including Ewan McGregor, and Michael Stuhlbarg. As far as Sundance titles go, this one’s quality seems pretty assured.

6. Swiss Army Man

Paul Dano is stranded on a deserted island with only Daniel Radcliffe’s corpse to keep him company. How does that sound? If you can’t decide whether that premise is hilarious or insufferable, you’re not alone. However, with this playing in the dramatic competition rather than the premiere category, I have faith that this is more than a one-joke movie stretched thin. The directors, Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan (aka – The Daniels) are highly regarded for their music video work, so this could be a sleeper.

7. Other People

Jesse Plemons is in the midst of an incredible run, coming off a well-received supporting turn in BLACK MASS, and a great arc on FX’s Fargo TV series. In OTHER PEOPLE, Plemons gets to play the lead, as a gay comedy writer who moves back home to help his sick mother. With Molly Shannon, June Squibb, Maude Apatow and Bradley Whitford supporting him, and a prime opening night slot ((the same one given to WHIPLASH two years ago) OTHER PEOPLE has massive breakout potential.

8. Captain Fantastic

Viggo Mortensen in a family comedy? Well, maybe not quite as CAPTAIN FANTASTIC comes from the director of the definitely not family friendly 28 HOTEL ROOMS. However, the premise sounds quite mainstream, with Viggo starring as the charismatic head of a family who attempts to reenter society somewhat after tragedy hits. Distributor Bleecker Street already picked this one up, so it must be pretty good.

9. Christine

Antonio Campos’ SIMON KILLER was one of my favorite films of Sundance 2012, so I’m eager to see his new film, which boasts a high-profile cast and a seemingly healthy budget. The true story of seventies anchorwoman Christine Chubbuck, who infamously committed suicide during a live news broadcast, CHRISTINE stars Rebecca Hall as the titular character. Hall is an actress who’s often wasted in colorless parts so it’ll be nice to see her in a juicy leading part. Dexter’s Michael C. Hall co-stars.

10. The Hollars

John Krasinski – who can currently be seen in 13 HOURS – directed and stars in this family comedy where he and his pregnant wife (the always delightful Anna Kendrick) return home to help out his terminally ill mother – played by the great Margo Martindale. Richard Jenkins, Sharlto Copley and Charlie Day co-star. This should be another gem that will likely get a big distribution deal on the merits of the cast alone.

11. Manchester by the Sea

Kenneth Lonergan is a fascinating director whose first two films, YOU CAN COUNT ON ME and MARGARET were unjustly ignored by audiences. In fact, MARGARET wound up sitting on the shelf for years before finally getting released in a somewhat compromised form. Hopefully his new film, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA will fare better. I’m especially curious to see this thanks to the presence of Casey Affleck – one of the best actors out there – in the lead. This should be a great one.

12. Complete Unknown

More Michael Shannon, this time he’s cast opposite Rachel Weisz in what sounds like a romantic, psychological thriller. Shannon plays a married man whose world is rocked by the appearance of a woman who bears a striking resemblance to his ex-lover, but who claims not to know him. This is made all the more intriguing by the fact that it’s the long-awaited third film from MARIA FULL OF GRACE director Joshua Marston.

13. Frank & Lola

Sundance favorite Michael Shannon stars as a tightly-wound (no really?) Las Vegas chef who winds up falling for Imogen Poots. She plays a mysterious young woman that leads Shannon into a noir-tinged world of betrayal and obsession. You had me at Michael Shannon.

14. The Fundamentals of Caring

Fresh off his triumph as ANT-MAN, Paul Rudd returns to his Sundance indie roots (he’s been a favorite there since the nineties) to star in the road trip comedy. Here, he plays a caregiver who takes his young charge (played by SUBMARINE’s Craig Roberts) on a cross-country road trip. This one is getting lots of press screenings at the fest and in my experience, when they go out of their way to make sure the press sees something, it’s usually pretty good – even if it’s premiering on the dreaded second weekend.

15. Outlaws & Angels

I’m so happy that westerns are making a comeback. OUTLAWS & ANGELS sounds like a cool horror-western hybrid in the mold of BONE TOMAHAWK, with Chad Michael Murray as the antihero lead, and Clint Eastwood’s daughter Francesca co-starring. The fact that this was shot on 35MM is a plus and puts this high on my list of must-sees.

16. The Birth of a Nation

Using the title THE BORTH OF A NATION is quite daring, but perhaps appropriate for this sure-to-be-epic slave drama from actor/director Nate Parker. After all, that was also the title of D.W Griffith’s infamous southern saga, widely considered the greatest silent film ever made but also very guilty of glamorizing the Klu Klux Klan, something which has kept the film from being seen much outside of archival showings on TCM and the classroom. The true story of rebel slave Nat Turner, this is sure to be a controversial title and one all-eyes will be on come the sundance premiere. With a cast that includes Armie Hammer, Gabrielle Union and Jackie Earle Haley, as well as a score by Hans Zimmer associate Henry Jackman, THE BIRTH OF A NATION is as high-profile as Sundance titles get and if it’s a good film expect this to get a rich distribution deal.

17. Goat

GOAT is a film that’s been in development hell for years. At one time, director David Gordon Green was going to make it with Emile Hirsch, but with Hirsch way too old to convincingly play a college freshman, GOAT ended up never happening – until now. Gordon Green is still or-board as a producer (along with James Franco and indie powerhouse Christine Vachon) but now newcomer Andrew Neel is at the helm. An uncompromising look at fraternity hazing, GOAT is perhaps more relevant than ever and seems sure to give star Nick Jonas a strong showcase (he’s already doing good work on the DTV series The Kingdom).

18. Ali & Nino

A romantic epic with World War I as the backdrop, ALI & NINO is an especially striking addition to the Sundance lineup as it comes from director Asif Kapadia. While mostly known for his documentaries, SENNA and AMY, Kapadia’s making an ambitious return to narrative features, with this Muslim/Christian romance – quite timely considering it’s a period piece.

19. Mr. Pig

While Danny Glover has mostly been wasted in DTV crap for the last few years, he’s primed to make a major comeback at Sundance this year with MR. PIG. Directed by actor Diego Luna and co-starring Maya Rudolph, Glover plays an elderly farmer who sets off on a road trip with his best pal, a pig he calls Howard. It sounds a bit like a riff on the classic road comedy-drama HARRY & TONTO, so I’m game!

20. 11.22.63

While not a film per see, the first two episodes of Hulu's upcoming Stephen King miniseries, 11.22.63, are premiering at Sundance. With James Franco as the lead and the book it's based on often cited as one of King's best latter-day novels, I'm quite excited to see whether Hulu's new series is going to be as binge-worthy as we all hope.

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