Every January, filmmakers, film lovers, buyers, sellers, celebrities and stargazers all converge on Park City, Utah, for the Sundance Film Festival with one singular goal: to watch as many movies as possible. This year was no exception. For those who were unable to attend the festival, which wrapped up this weekend, here are a few of the highlights to keep a lookout for once they hit theaters.
“The Birth of a Nation”
Actor Nate Parker wrote, directed, produced and starred in this passion project about Nat Turner, a literate Virginia slave who led a bloody rebellion of slaves against their masters in 1831. The film couldn’t come at a better time following the recent #OscarsSoWhite movement, and it was received so well at its Sundance premiere that Fox Searchlight — which released 2014 Best Picture winner “12 Years a Slave” — dished out a record $17.5 million to distribute it. We can probably expect Parker’s film to be in the Oscar conversation next year.
“Southside with You”
Basing a film around Barack Obama’s first date with Michelle Robinson may seem like an odd decision, but Richard Tanne’s film starring Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpter (“Ride Along”) as the president and first lady first getting to know each other as colleagues at a Chicago law firm works surprisingly well. It’s a great two-hander a la Richard Linklater’s “Before” movies.
“Manchester by the Sea”
“You Can Count on Me” director Kenneth Lonergan is back with his first movie in five years, with Casey Affleck playing a troubled Massachusetts handyman who returns home after his brother’s death and has to care for his rebellious teen nephew. Affleck gives a performance that could put him back in the Oscar race, going by the adoration the film received at Sundance.
In July 1974, Florida newswoman Christine Chubbuck shot herself on live television. In the new film from Antonio Campos (“Simon Killer”), Rebecca Hall plays the troubled woman in the last weeks of her life as the movie tries to examine what drove her to the shocking decision. Coincidentally, the Sundance doc “Kate Plays Christine” explores another attempt to film Chubbuck’s story.
Sundance regularly features stories about adolescents discovering life and love, but this was a particularly good year, most notably with Chad Hartigan’s “Morris from America,” Taika Waititi’s “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” and “Sing Street” from “Once” director John Carney. All three movies feature remarkable performances from young unknown actors with a unique perspective on the genre that received a lot of audience love.
John Krasinski takes a lighter tone with his second film as a director, an ensemble dramedy in which he plays a New York artist who returns home to spend time with his family after his mother (Margo Martindale) becomes terminally ill. Krasinski assembled an amazing cast that includes Anna Kendrick, Richard Jenkins, Charlie Day and Sharlto Copley, and they help him nail the film’s difficult balance of humor and drama.