What, you haven't just spent two weeks watching movies in the snow with celebrities? Sadly, us neither. But just because we can't all head to a film festival in Utah and hang out with Robert Redford, doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the main attractions — or at least hope that we can in the near future.
Since the one-time on-screen Sundance Kid first started his celebration of movies in 1978, the festival has given many of your favourite filmmakers and films their big breaks. Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies and Videotape, Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, and Darren Aronofsky’s Pi all debuted there, as did Clerks, The Blair Witch Project, Donnie Darko, Napoleon Dynamite, Moon, What We Do in the Shadows and Animal Kingdom. Like Paul Thomas Anderson or Wes Anderson? They worked their way through Sundance’s short film section.
Last year, three big hits of the festival went on to bigger things, including the AACTA Award for Best Film and likely Oscars later this month. We’re talking about The Babadook, Boyhood and Whiplash, all of which premiered at Sundance 2014. The Babadook has wowed critics around the world, and just days ago shared Australia’s top film prize, also winning best director for Jennifer Kent in her own right. At the upcoming Academy Awards, Boyhood director Richard Linklater and supporting actress Patricia Arquette top the odds for their respective fields, as does the film in the best picture category. Whiplash’s JK Simmons is expected to take out the best supporting actor award for playing the jazz drumming teacher that frightened us all.
Without a crystal ball, we don't if this year’s crop of Sundance features will have the same success, but we do know this: there are plenty of movies from the festival’s 2015 slate that we want to see. Some are guaranteed, thanks to local distribution. More than a couple will pop up at the local boutique cinema. Others might earn a DVD, VOD or streaming release. A rare few — like White God — have already screened at our NZ International Film Festival. Regardless, we’ve selected ten we hope New Zealand audiences get the chance to watch, and named some more we’ll also be looking out for.
If any film was guaranteed to make our list, it is this one — and with good reason. Who didn’t love the combination of writer/director Noah Baumbach and writer/actress Greta Gerwig in the delightful Frances Ha, their version of a quarter-life crisis comedy filtered through a black-and-white homage to French New Wave? And who doesn’t want to see them do it all again, this time jumping back to the troubles of college years with Lola Kirke, sister of Girls’ Jemima Kirke? The answer to both those questions is no one. If you’re not convinced, the synopsis promises cat-stealing. What more could you want?
Also watch out for: Greta Gerwig also features in Eden, Mia Hansen-Løve’s journey through the French house music scene of the early 1990s and beyond.
THE END OF THE TOUR
One of the most talked about films of the festival sees Jason Segel leave How I Met Your Mother long behind to turn into acclaimed author David Foster Wallace. In 1996 after the publication of his groundbreaking novel Infinite Jest, Wallace agreed to be interviewed for five days by Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky, who is played here by Jesse Eisenberg. Following on from Sundance hits Smashed and The Spectacular Now, director James Ponsoldt delves into the story that was never published in the magazine, but did fuel Lipsky’s memoir after Wallace’s suicide. The movie itself is earning considerable acclaim, as are the two central performances.
Also watch out for: Taking out the dramatic category double of Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award that Whiplash achieved last year, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a teen cancer comedy hopefully worlds away from The Fault in Our Stars.
Dope tells you that it is great in its title — and if the buzz coming out of the festival is accurate, such bragging should be believed. That’s not just because of the retro ‘90s vibe that sees a high school geek sport a high-top fade and wear Cross-Colours, nor because of the DIY punk meets YouTube aesthetic. What excites is that this underdog coming-of-age film is being called the ultimate teen movie for '90s kids, as well as earning comparisons to greats gone by. Most of the young actors won’t be familiar, not that it matters, but you will spot The Grand Budapest Hotel’s lobby boy Tony Revolori among the cast.
Also watch out for:Seoul Searching, a 1980s-set Korean teen comedy that pays homage to the films of John Hughes, and The Diary of a Teenage Girl, set in the counterculture haze of the 1970s.
It’s okay, Keanu fans: you’re finally cool again. It's about time! John Wick readjusted the way everyone now thinks of the man beloved as Ted, Neo and Johnny Utah, and Knock Knock keeps him in the same dark, violent territory. The film shares a few storyline similarities with Reeves’ most recent hit, as a happy life unravels once again after strangers come calling; however, here director Eli Roth is in the driver’s seat. It might not be quite like the filmmaker’s unsettling Hostel or his recent cannibalism homage The Green Inferno, but expect to feel disturbed during this psychological horror effort.
Also watch out for: Two ten-year-olds take a police vehicle for a joyride in Cop Car, but have Kevin Bacon to contend with.
No, this isn’t about the gang of annoying guys in The Hangover movies — and thank goodness for that. In The Wolfpack, six brothers grow up in the confines of a New York City apartment, watching movies and re-enacting them with elaborate props and costumes. Film is their teacher, friend and window to the outside world, in a scenario that would probably be hilarious if it wasn’t real. Yes, Crystal Moselle’s effort is a documentary, winning the field’s Grand Jury Prize, in fact. Given extraordinary access into the family's lives and their home movies, she tells the tale of children literally raised by the movies.
Also watch out for: Canada’s Guy Maddin pays homage to the lost movies of the silent era in The Forbidden Room, with the off-kilter assistance of Mathieu Amalric, Charlotte Rampling and Udo Kier.
Michael Fassbender plays a mysterious stranger. Australia’s Kodi Smit-McPhee is a 17-year-old Scottish aristocrat. They meet on the untamed American frontier towards the end of the 19th century as the latter tries to find his lost love, and the former helps him traverse his troubles. Shot in New Zealand by first-time filmmaker John Maclean, Slow West delves into a genre too little seen these days, the western, and impressed Sundance attendees in the process. Not that you need any more cause for excitement, but did we also mention that it won the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema – Dramatic category?
Also watch out for: Another film hailing from New Zealand, Turbo Kid sounds a bit like BMX Bandits meets Tank Girl meets every ‘80s synth-scored sci-fi flick, and that can only be a very good thing.
KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK
Some can remember where they were when they heard the news of Kurt Cobain's death. Others discovered Nirvana’s grungy tunes afterward. Either way, the story of the singer has entranced several generations for multiple decades, and shows no signs of fading. Brett Morgen, the filmmaker behind the also excellent The Kid Stays in the Picture, delves into the man rather than the music after spending eight years — yes, you read that correctly — sifting through private journals, recordings and home movies. This isn’t the usual rock star biography, but something much more intimate and revelatory.
Also watch out for: Another personal effort that challenges expectations, fictional transgender sex-trade film Tangerine was shot almost entirely on an iPhone.
DIGGING FOR FIRE
Mumblecore maestro Joe Swanberg has been knocking it out of the park of late, as anyone who saw Drinking Buddies and Happy Christmas knows. Could he be three for three in his adventure into more mainstream fare? With Digging for Fire, starring and co-written by New Girl’s Jake Johnson, it certainly sounds like it. The film tells of a husband and wife on separate adventures over an unusual weekend. Rosemarie DeWitt, Anna Kendrick, Brie Larson, Jennie Slate, Melanie Lynskey, Sam Rockwell, Chris Messina, Ron Livingston, Mike Birbiglia and Orlando Bloom also pop up, in a cast any movie wishes it had.
Also watch out for: Reviews have been mixed for Results, but fans of Andrew Bujalski’s Computer Chess will be keen to see his next film, starring Cobie Smulders and Guy Pearce.
The Witch is yet another award winner, this time recognised in the dramatic category for its direction by debut filmmaker Robert Eggers. In horror movies, New England is perhaps best known for its association with the 1692 trials in Salem, Massachusetts; however, colonial farm life generations prior is the focus, as recreated in painstaking detail in the name of historical realism. Given the setting and the title, superstition plays a large part in proceedings, but the usual account of the occult this ain't. Anxieties, myths, inherent malevolent traits and sources of hidden menace come to the fore, helped by a creeping camera and ominous score.
Also watch out for: Similarly steeped in its sense of place, Last Days in the Desert lets Ewan McGregor play both Jesus and the devil.
SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE
A sex addicts' meeting morphs into one of the age-old movie dilemmas: can platonic friendship exist between men and women? In Sleeping with Other People, Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis are college lovers who reconnect to put the question to the test, but while it may sound a bit like When Harry Met Sally, this isn't your standard rom-com. Writer/director Leslye Headland’s Bachelorette was divisive a few years back, but whether you loved it or not, the premise and roster of talent here is certain to pique your interest. Adam Scott, Amanda Peet, Natasha Lyonne and The League’s Jason Mantzoukas also feature.
Also watch out for: In The Overnight, Adam Scott fools around with Taylor Schilling and Jason Schwartzman in another adult-oriented sex comedy.