The 2016 Sundance Film Festival ended on Sunday, finishing an 11-day preview of what will be some of the top films of the year. While The Trifecta did not attend the festival, we were certainly keeping up with every development. After following the festival via social media and news outlets, I’ve compiled a list of the 7 films I couldn’t stop reading about.
[Disclaimer: This selection is not a compilation of The Trifecta’s top films. It is just the surface of the scores of films shown at the Sundance. We’d love to attend the Festival and give formal reviews at some point but at this stage, we’re still stuck time zones away from Park City.]
Birth Of A Nation
You must be living under a rock if you haven’t heard of this film since its Sundance debut. The biggest smash of Sundance was the retelling of Nat Turner’s Rebellion, which won The U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award, the top two honors at the festival. The film, which was directed, produced, and written by star Nate Parker (Beyond the Lights, About Alex) is already being lauded as a contender for the 2017 Oscars in most of the major categories. Additionally, it broke records when it was sold to Fox Searchlight for $17.5 million. As a fan of both Parker and Aja Naomi King, I can’t wait to see this film when it is distributed for wide release.
Starring: Nate Parker, Aja Naomi King, Armie Hammer, Jackie Earle Haley, Penelope Ann Miller, Gabrielle Union; Director: Nate Parker; Writer: Nate Parker; Producers: Nate Parker, Kevin Turen, Jason Michael Berman, Aaron L. Gilbert, Preston L. Holmes; Distribution: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Manchester by The Sea
Ben Affleck, who? Despite his prolific career (even an Oscar nom!), Casey Affleck just hasn’t been able to step out of his brother’s shadow, until now. Affleck stars in the other favorite Sundance breakout film about a man returning to his hometown after being named guardian of his recently deceased brother’s son. The film has been lauded by critics and Sundance attendees. Rolling Stone named it “2016 Sundance’s best movie.” With a cast consisting of Affleck, three-time Academy Award nominee Michelle Williams, and the best football coach in existance, Kyle Chandler. This time next year, I expect to see a host of Oscar nominations.
Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges, Tate Donovan; Director: Kenneth Lonergan;Writer: Kenneth Lonergan; Producers: Lauren Beck, Matt Damon, Chris Moore, Kimberly Steward, Kevin J. Walsh; Distribution: Amazon
Nick Jonas is in a movie that isn’t Camp Rock 3! The Disney days are long gone as Jonas costars in this terrifying depiction of the hazing culture at college fraternities. It’s a bold move for Jonas, who has been rebranding himself as a solo act since his split from family band The Jonas Brothers, two years ago. Jonas plays a fraternity brother who encourages his (real) brother to pledge. Ben Schnetzer (Pride, The Riot Club) plays the pledging brother, reeling from a traumatic incident. The publicity surrounding the film prides itself as being better than campy frat bro films, instead, focusing on the conversation surrounding the hazing culture. The film seems to pull it off, with USA Today labelling it a Sundance hit. I’m cautiously optimistic about this one. I think that it’s time colleges started taking hazing seriously and I hope this film will “start that conversation.”
Starring: Ben Schnetzer, Nick Jonas; Director: Andrew Neel; Writer: Andrew Neel, David Gordon Green, Mike Roberts; Producers: James Franco, Robert Halmi Jr., John Wells, Jim Reeve; Distribution: Paramount
Swiss Army Man
The “love it or hate it” film of the festival went to a comedy/drama about a man (Paul Dano) stranded on a desert island with nothing but a somehow re-animated dead body (Daniel Radcliffe) to keep him company. According to Twitter, a major recurring theme of the film was centered around Radcliffe’s characters inability to control his bodily emissions. Vanity Fair wondered if it was the “strangest movie in Sundance history,” a sentiment seemed to be shared by attendees. Despite this While many were unsure where the film fell on the comedy/drama spectrum, director Daniel Scheinert assured viewers that the film is, in fact, “a fart drama.”
Starring: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead; Directors: Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert; Writers: Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert;Producers: Miranda Bailey, Lawrence Inglee, Lauren Mann, Amanda Marshall, Eyal Rimmon, Jonathan Wang; Distribution: A24
Saturday Night Live and Broad City writer Chris Kelly’s directorial debut gathered positive reception when it opened during the earlier part of the festival. Jesse Plemons (Friday Night Lights, Fargo, Breaking Bad) stars as a fictional version of Kelly returning home to spend his dying mother’s (Molly Shannon) final year with his family. Shannon seems to be the breakout star of the film, giving a performance likely to shock fans who recognize her for her work on Saturday Night Live. As someone who’s always down for a quirky indie dramedy, I’ll be patiently awaiting the release of this one (on Netflix or Amazon so I can ugly cry in peace).
Starring: Jesse Plemons, Molly Shannon, Bradley Whitford, Maude Apatow; Director: Chris Kelly; Writer: Chris Kelly; Producers: Adam Scott, Naomi Scott, Sam Bisbee;
What good could come from a young Jewish man avoiding the Korean War draft by enrolling at a Christian college? The Perks of Being a Wallflower’s Logan Lerman stars in the thought-provoking drama. Despite his decent exposure, Vanity Fair dubbed the film Lerman’s “movie-star role.” While the film gathered a lot of press during the early parts of the festival, it’s star power seems to have faded into the background somewhat. Because of this, I’m interested to see what’ll happen as this film plays out beyond Sundance.
Starring: Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, Pico Alexander, Danny Burstein, Linda Emond, Tracy Letts, Ben Rosenfield; Director: James Schamus; Writer: James Schamus; Producers: Anthony Bregman, James Schamus, Rodrigo Teixeria: Distribution: Summit Entertainment
Southside With You
Ever wonder what a date with the Obamas would look like? This film takes viewers back to when Barack was just a community organizer and Michelle’s last name was Robinson as they go on their very first date. The film, which Variety compared to Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, masquerades as a “first-date film” but is unafraid of shying into the realities of race relations in America, even for the future President and First Lady. Stars Tika Sumpter and Parker Sawyers are being lauded as breakout stars of Sundance, and I’m looking forward to seeing them go places.
Starring: Tika Sumpter, Parker Sawyers; Director: Richard Tanne; Writer: Richard Tanne; Producers: Glendon Palmer, Tika Sumpter, Richard Tanne, Robert Teitel;
Had enough of Anthony Weiner yet? The documentary of the disgraced former New York congressman has been one of the buzziest films, certainly the most talked about documentary at the festival, gathering the Grand Jury Documentary prize. The film follows Weiner during his 2013 New York City Mayoral race, trying to make a comeback following an embarrassingly public sexting scandal, to no avail. It’ll be interesting to see the public reaction to this documentary as the film teases incredible insight to the life of a politician after a public fall-from-grace.
Directors: Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg; Producers: Julie Goldman, Christopher Clements, Carolyn Hepburn, Lily Fan; Distribution: Sundance Selects/IFC Films
Did you attend Sundance and have an opinion on a movie we listed above or simply didn’t hear about? Give us your thoughts in the comments below!