The beginning of each new year is so exciting, with award shows and film festivals popping up all over the place, and the Sundance Film Festival is probably our favorite event. This fest consistently offers up some of the year's best films, many of which get Oscar nominations down the road (like the most recent Boyhood and Whiplash), and this year is pretty absurd. There are so many amazing titles being screened that we could put together several features extolling our most anticipated. However, to save ourselves some emotional distress (and to get this up in a timely manner), we chose our favorite narrative features starring the most dazzling a-list celebrities.
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Ben Mendelsohn, Caren Pistorius, and Rory McCann
Directed/Written by: John Maclean
Slow West is already being considered the breakthrough vehicle for relatively unknown director John Maclean, thanks to the film's winning formula. It stars Michael Fassbender (whom Maclean has worked with twice before on critically acclaimed short films), Kodi Smit-McPhee (whose delicate vulnerability will be interesting paired with his outlaw character), and the always amazing (yet always underrated) Ben Mendelsohn. Add on the setting of frontier America at the end of the 19th century and this is one I need to see as soon as possible.
In case you still aren't sold, the official synopsis reads: Jay is a lovelorn 17-year-old Scottish aristocrat who travels to the American West at the close of the nineteenth century to track down his former lover. Confronted with the harsh realities of the frontier, he falls in with a rough and mysterious traveler named Silas (Michael Fassbender), who soon discovers that the focus of Jay’s affection has a price on her head. Together, the two navigate a vast, untamed wilderness while attempting to stay one step ahead of a bloodthirsty posse and colorful bounty hunter. Their search leads to a bloody confrontation where Jay’s romanticism is the first of many casualties.
Z for Zachariah
Starring: Margot Robbie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Chris Pine
Directed by: Craig Zobel
Written by: Nissar Modi
Adapted from the novel of the same name by Robert C. O'Brien, this film takes some liberties with the source material—which may upset some diehard fans—but looks like it may pull it off. Ann Burden (Margot Robbie) believes that she's the only survivor of a nuclear war until two men show up and a strange dark love triangle is formed. Zobel is no stranger of complex morality dilemmas that breach into disturbing territory (Compliance still haunts me), which is making me look forward to seeing what he does here. Sure, Ann is older than she is in the book and two men enter the scene instead of one, but the changes seem for the greater good—at least in terms of a twisted social experiment. Plus, Chiwetel Ejiofor. Case closed.
Starring: Jonah Hill, James Franco, and Felicity Jones
Directed by: Rupert Goold
Written by: Michael Finkel (memoir), and Rupert Goold (screenplay)
I recognize that I may be one of the select few who hasn't been sold on Jonah Hill's talent, but after viewing the trailer for True Story, I'm already eating my apparently premature opinion, because he looks to do a fantastic job. Based on a true story, the movie follows New York Times Magazine reporter Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) after he's been fired for making up a character for a story (which happened in 2002). He soon finds out that a man, Christian Longo (James Franco, who has quite a few films in the festival), has been using his name to avoid arrest after being accused of murdering his family. With such meaty material commenting on the nature of fact and fiction, the flick is going to be a major one among viewers, especially due to Franco and Hill sharing the lead spotlight.
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters
Directed by: John Crowley
Written by: Colm Tóibín (novel) and Nick Hornby (screenplay)
Set in 1950s Brooklyn, the movie tells the story of Irish immigrant Eilis Lacy (Saoirse Ronan) torn between her home, her new life, and the two men that represent each. Based on the novel of the same name, Brooklyn brings together impressive young talent and pairs them with what looks to be a sweeping period film. Plus, Oscar-nominated novelist Nick Hornby penned the screenplay and considering he's the industry's go-to when it comes to adaptations (An Education and Wild), we have no doubt this one will be great.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Starring: Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgård, Christopher Meloni, and Kristen Wiig
Directed by: Marielle Heller
Writer: Phoebe Gloekner (novel) and Marielle Heller (screenplay)
Adapted from Phoebe Gloekner's 2002 graphic novel, the movie is set in 1970s San Francisco and tells the story of teenage Minnie and the affair she embarks on with her mother's (Kristen Wiig, who is all over Sundance this year) boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgård). As Heller's feature debut, she mixes live-action with animation to create a detailed look into Minnie's psyche.
Starring: Sebastián Silva, Kristen Wiig, Tunde Adebimpe, Alia Shawkat, Mark Margolis, and Reg E. Cathey
Directed by: Sebastián Silva
Written by: Sebastián Silva
Speaking of Kristen Wiig, in Nasty Baby she plays Polly, who is recruited by artist Freddy (Sebastián Silva) and his boyfriend, Mo, to help them have a baby. The trio receive some unexpected resistance from a mentally ill neighbor known as The Bishop, getting more and more aggressive as time passes. Silva is a Sundance darling, with his films The Maid, Magic Magic, and Crystal Fairy all getting him accolades and awards. His latest promises a mixture of comedy, drama, and lots of awkwardness.
Starring: Greta Gerwig and Lola Kirke
Directed by: Noah Baumbach
Written by: Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig
Noah Baumbach is a pretty trustworthy filmmaker and continually gives unique characters that stick around years after you've seen the film. His film The Squid and the Whale was one of the most talked about features at Sundance in 2005 and in 2012 with Frances Ha, he reinvented himself with the help of co-writer and star Greta Gerwig. Their latest collaboration, which has already been picked up by Fox Searchlight for distribution, was filmed under the radar and shot in color. Being considered a wonkier, goofier Frances Ha (which is saying a lot, since Ha is pretty silly—in most endearing way, of course), Mistress America follows Tracy (Gerwig), a lonely NYC freshman, as she is taken under the wing of her future stepsister Brooke (Lola Kirke). Not only will the dialogue be charming and witty, there's a good chance you're going to want to book a flight to NYC immediately after viewing.
I Am Michael
Starring: James Franco, Zachary Quinto, and Emma Roberts
Directed by: Justin Kelly
Written by: Justin Kelly and Stacey Miller
As usual, James Franco has several movies at the festival (because he never stops working), and this one is definitely one of our top must-see titles. Based on the true story of Michael Glatze (Franco), LGBT rights activist and co-founder of XY magazine, who suddenly renounced his homosexuality, left his ex-boyfriend (Zachary Quinto), and became a Christian pastor where he met his future wife (Emma Roberts). The story is surely a controversial one, with the film attempting to get into the mind of a person who went from empowering a generation of gay youth to being absolutely sure that "homosexuality is death." On paper, it sounds insightful and heartbreaking, so we'll just have to wait and see if Kelly pulls it off—it definitely doesn't hurt that Gus Van Sant is an executive producer.
Of course, this in no way rounds up every movie we're excited for, but it's a pretty good look some of the standouts. Now check out the full list and figure out which ones you want to see the most and if you're at Sundance right now, you better have a schedule planned out.