Ten Films From Sundance 2017 We're Hoping Make it to Australian Cinemas
Ghost stories, dance docos and rags-to-riches rap efforts.
January 31, 2017
In Australia, January means warmth, more warmth and heading to the movies to watch Oscar contenders to escape it. In Park City, Utah, it means snow, a celebration of cinema started by none other than Robert Redford, and the first big international film festival of the year. Yes, the Sundance Film Festival has just played its slate of 2017 flicks — or, as we like to look at it, the titles that will hopefully be heating up Aussie big screens in the near future.
Last year, number one on our Sundance wish list was Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Thankfully, that turned out to be pretty majestical. Plenty of our other 2016 picks have shown up at local festivals around the place too, such as Werner Herzog talking about the internet in Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World; singing Polish mermaids in The Lure; and Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern and Michelle Williams at their best in Certain Women. And, speaking of Williams, her Oscar-nominated performance in Manchester by the Sea from last year's choices is about to open in Australian cinemas.
Enough looking backwards, though — 2017's lineup delivers a massive new list of movies to get in front of your eyeballs. First, the good news: from Sundance's latest batch, plenty are already coming our way. To name a few, they include US Dramatic competition winner I Don't Feel At Home in This World Anymore, which will drop on Netflix worldwide in February; Berlin Syndrome, the third feature from Australian Somersault and Lore director Cate Shortland, which is already slated for an April cinema release; and all-female horror anthology XX, which Monster Fest is championing.
Plus, Netflix strikes again with documentary Casting JonBenet from Aussie filmmaker Kitty Green, environmental doco and audience award favourite Chasing Coral, and anorexia drama To the Bone by former Buffy writer turned UnREAL showrunner Marti Noxon. As for the rest? Here's the ten we're crossing our fingers and toes to see in our local cinemas (and a few others as well).
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
Most actors wouldn't want to walk in the footsteps of the inimitable Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes, but that's just what Armie Hammer does in the film that became the talk of the fest, Call Me By Your Name. Set in 1983, the queer coming-of-age drama is the latest effort from Italian I Am Love and A Bigger Splash director Luca Guadagnino, which virtually guarantees how good its summery images will look. Bound to be more powerful than that, though, is the underlying tale of desire, as well as the accompanying performances.
Also watch out for: Mudbound, which delves into the stories of two families in America's south post-World War II with an all-star cast of Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Mary J. Blige, Garrett Hedlund, Jonathan Banks and Jason Mitchell.
THE BIG SICK
If you've watched Silicon Valley or Portlandia (or caught 2016 flicks Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates or Central Intelligence), you'll recognise Kumail Nanjiani — though his list of credits runs much longer than that. In fact, with his wife Emily V. Gordon, he has added feature film screenwriter to his resume with The Big Sick, and turned their own culture-clash dating story into an amusing and insightful film in the process. Michael Showalter of Wet Hot American Summer fame directs, with the pair re-teaming after Nanjiani featured in his last ace movie, My Name is Doris.
Also watch out for: Aubrey Plaza in everything, always — or, specifically, in Ingrid Goes West. Here, her titular character befriends an Instagram lifestyle guru played by Elizabeth Olsen, because that's a thing. Next-generation actors O'Shea Jackson Jr. (who played his dad, Ice Cube, in Straight Outta Compton) and Wyatt Russell (son of Kurt) also star.
There have been plenty of comedies about pregnancy, but when Obvious Child took on the topic back in 2014, it showed the world what a frank, funny, empathetic and earnest look at unexpectedly discovering you're expecting could turn out — and helped show just how great a talent Jenny Slate is in the process. Three years later, the actress reunites with writer/director Gillian Robespierre for a trip to the '90s. Yes, it's set at a time when people chatted on the phones that you couldn't take with you, and it makes for a darkly amusing effort that's certain to bring the same honesty and hilarity to exploring family troubles.
Also watch out for: Jenny Slate again, this time in The Polka King opposite Jack Black. They play husband and wife, with the former scamming his way to a polka music empire. Jason Schwartzman and Australia's own Jacki Weaver are among the cast.
Pay attention to the name Eliza Hittman. She received the US Dramatic comp's best director prize, and if her sophomore feature is anything like her moody, evocative debut It Felt Like Love, she's a certain talent to watch. In Beach Rats, the filmmaker charts the efforts of Brooklyn teen Frankie to brighten up a thoroughly unhappy summer — and explore his own wants and needs — when he simultaneously starts hooking up with guys at a beachside cruising spot and dating a young woman.
Also watch out for: After featuring in 2015 flick People Places Things, The Daily Show's Jessica Williams once again joins forces with writer/director Jim Strouse in The Incredible Jessica James, this time taking the lead as an aspiring playwright who forges a new bond to cope with a breakup.
I DREAM IN ANOTHER LANGUAGE
Talk may be the focus of the Mexican-set I Dream in Another Language — getting the two last native speakers of a dying language to speak after a 50-year feud, to be exact — however this thoughtful love story says just as much with images as it does with words. Think deeply-felt cinematic poetry that leans towards the lyrical, patient style of filmmaker favoured by Apichatpong Weerasethakul (the director behind Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and Cemetery of Splendour).
Also watch out for: Carpinteros (Woodpeckers), an engrossing romance that introduces viewers to a world they've probably never thought of and a form of communication they likely haven't heard of — neighbouring prisons in the Dominican Republic and the form of sign language their inmates use to communicate.
A GHOST STORY
Don't you just love secret films? We're talking about the type that just spring up out of nowhere, made without anyone knowing. A Ghost Story fell into that camp when it first made headlines in November, and the talent involved with the movie makes it all the more exciting. After working together on 2013's Ain't Them Bodies Saints, director Dave Lowery (Pete's Dragon) re-teams with Rooney Mara and likely future best actor Oscar winner Casey Affleck (for Manchester by the Sea) to examine death and grief — and, yes, the spiritual presence you're expecting based on the title.
Also watch out for: With Jon Hamm and Tim Robbins among the cast, Marjorie Prime similarly broods over mortality, focusing on the last days of an 86-year-old — spent with a computerised version of her dearly departed hubby.
They don't just give any old film a Special Jury Award for inspirational filmmaking, the gong Step took out in Sundance's US Documentary field. Treading the same turf that 2016 festival hit The Fits made its own with such style and skill, the doco follows three high-schoolers trying to chase their step dance team dreams. Expect more than just the usual formula as first-time director Amanda Lipitz peers inside the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, the ladies striving for a better future and the crowd-pleasing journey that results.
Also watch out for: Tokyo Idols, which joins the growing ranks of factual efforts trying to understand just what makes Japanese girl bands, pop music, its stars and their fans tick.
Does the road to rhyme-slinging rap success start in New Jersey? And is the rags-to-riches path paved with assistance from a goth-metal muso named Basterd? For the wannabe hip hop artist who calls herself both Killer P and Patti Cake$, it just might be. For Aussie actress Danielle McDonald, the energetic underdog effort that shares Patti's name could also be her stepping stone to broader acclaim — and, for music video director turned first-time feature helmer Geremy Jasper, his as well.
Also watch out for: Roxanne Roxanne, a biopic about a big hip hop beef known as the Roxanne wars — aka a series of songs answering the last, with 14-year-old emcee Roxanne Shanté in the middle. Playing Shanté, newcomer Chanté Adams won a Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Performance.
And the prize for best title goes to…actually, German drama Axolotl Overkill won a jury award for cinematography in the World Dramatic comp, but it'd have a fair shot if the other contest was a real thing. The feature debut of writer/director Helene Hegemann is based on her own semi-autobiographical novel, which she wrote when she was 17. Not only does it take the coming-of-age genre into partying and nightlife territory — which, yes, you've seen before — but the stylistic exploration of teen excess promises to traverse contemplative and surreal terrain as well.
Also watch out for: A fellow contender in the great name stakes, Don't Swallow My Heart, Alligator Girl! brings professional and non-professional actors together to tell a fairytale-like story of teenage love, colonial oppression and gang struggles in three languages.
Every film festival has one: a movie that cinephiles just won't be able to contain their excitement about. 78/52 takes the honours at this year's Sundance, with its moniker referring to the number of setups and edits it took to film the most iconic shower scene in cinema history. Alfred Hitchcock and Psycho fans will be in their element as the doco breaks down this famous sequence, and explores just how it changed filmmaking as we know it. And, the likes of Guillermo del Toro, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama Eli Roth and Peter Bogdanovich are all on hand to help.
Also watch out for: The Nile Hilton Incident, a Cairo-set corrupt cop flick charting an investigation into a murdered singer — and the film that took out the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema Dramatic competition.
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