Sundance '18 Preview

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Call them the twin peaks of American Film Festivals. The high altitude buzz that comes out of Sundance and Telluride can carry a movie aloft straight through to Oscar Night.
The best movies that come out of Robert Redford's Sundance Film festival, now in its 39th edition, are the ones that, on second viewing, maintain that exhilarating high you had when you first saw them high atop the thin rocky mountain air of the resort town. Remember when in 2002 Tadpole was the toast of the town, bought for a boatload of money and then only made 3 million dollars worldwide? Yeah, it’s just that kind of festival. People get high off the movies, quite possibly due to the thin mountainous air, and then months later forget they ever existed. However, the fest’s rich history with discovering small, indie gems has not been lost these last few years. In fact, if an indie movie does become a breakout hit at the box office, chances are it most certainly had its debut at Redford’s Mecca of American indie filmmaking. If we look back on Sundance history we will also find another trend: Best Picture nominees. Since 2009, when new rules for the number of Best Picture nominees were instated, these have been nominated for Best Picture, with four strong contenders possibly nabbing a nom this year:
2017 Call Me By Your Name?  Get Out?  Mudbound?  The Big Sick?
2016  Manchester By The Sea
2015 Brooklyn
2014 Whiplash & Boyhood
2012 Beasts of the Southern Wild
2010 Winter’s Bone & The Kids Are All Right
2009 Precious & An Education
In the next ten days, American Independent cinema will try to prove its worth once again but, more so,  its vital sense of importance. As Hollywood studios further distance themselves from risk-taking, adult fare, Sundance is becoming more important by the year, an oasis in a sea of muck. As superhero movies, sequels, reboots and YA novel adaptations rule the screen in this day and age of Disney/Fox merging, the success of this year's edition could very well tell us a lot about what's to come, artistically, at the movies in 2018. The more Hollywood goes into crass commercialism, the more likely a film festival like Sundance will matter. It’s as simple as that. The number do look great, For the 2018 edition of the fest, 37 percent of the 122 movies premiering will be directed by women.
This year there are a few films already front-loaded with major buzz:
 “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot”
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara, Jack Black
The true story of popular artist John Callahan, paralyzed after a car accident at age 21 and turning to drawing as a form of therapy is being directed by Gus Van Sant. At his best ("Drugstore Cowboy," "My Own Pivate Idaho," "Elephant," "To Die For") the filmmaker can plumb through the depths of human emotions with risk-taking inventiveness. However, ever since his by-the-books but winning Harvey Milk biopic “Milk,” Van Sant has been struggling to find his voice again with three consecutive disappointments (“Restless,” "The Promised Land," and “The Sea Of Trees. The cast here is led by Joaquin Phoenix, as John Callahan, and he is supported by top-notch talent which includes Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara and Jack Black.
 “Leave No Trace”
Cast: Ben Foster, Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, Jeff Kober, Dale Dickey
It’s been eight years since director Debra Granik gave us her last narrative feature  with the Sundance-winning "Winter's Bone" being the toast of the fest's 2010 edition. Although having directed 2014's excellent documentary “Stray Dogs,” "Leave No Trace" is truly her return in cinema as Ben Foster's  cautious father, living with his teenage daughter living in a Portland, Oregon trailer park has his life turned upside down and making a mistake that could have easily been prevented. Granik, a legitimate talent that has frustratingly been laying low the last decade, lest we mention her excellent directorial debut "Down to the Bone," has the potential to give us a festival-shattering film with "Leave No Trace."
 “Private Life”
Cast: Kathryn Hahn, Paul Giamatti, Molly Shannon, John Carroll Lynch
Director Tamara Jenkins is another female filmmaker that has not been given sufficient opportunities to prove her worth.  After wowing critics with her 2007 family drama “The Savages," she's been incognito for ten years. The reasons for her absence remain a mystery but it took streaming giant Netflix to finance her latest project "Private Life," about a married author desperately puts her marriage on the line to undergo  multiple fertility therapies to get pregnant. The cast is also aces and the fact that Sundance has decided to make it the opening night screening says a lot about the confidence they have in Jenkins' movie.
 “Come Sunday”
Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Danny Glover, Condola Rashad, Jason Segel, Lakeith Stanfield
Director Joshua Marston 2004 debut "Maria Full of Grace" was an incendiary announcement of a brand new, unique talent in the indie circuit. However, Marston's 2016 entry “Complete Unknown,” although ambitious and risk-taking, faile dto ignite with critics and audiences alike. Also known for some great TV work, Marston is back at Sundance with a film based on the true story of Evangelist Carlton Pearson who is demonized by his church for preaching that there is no Hell. This controversial but courageous man deserved his own story being told onscreen and having Chiwetel Ejiofor play him is a sure good sign that Marston might just have a potent and provocative winner here.
 “Wildlife”
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Ed Oxenbould, Bill Camp, Jake Gyllenhaal
Paul Dano is a talented actor that, since 2001, has worked with some of the very best filmmakers in the business (Kelly Reichardt, Paul Thomas Anderson,  Rian Johnson, Steve McQueen, Denis Villeneuve and Bong Joon-Ho). He's more than likely learned a thing or two working with these brilliant artists, and so, his feature directing debut "Wildlife" comes to Sundance frontloaded with buzz and a cast that includes Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan. Co-written with girlfriend Zoe Kazan (The Big Sick), this drama is seen through the eyes of a young boy who sees his parents' marriage gradually deteriorate into an inevitable divorce.
“Lizzie”
Cast: Chloë Sevigny, Kristen Stewart, Jamey Sheridan, Fiona Shaw, Kim Dickens
Remember the infamous 1892 murders of the Borden family? Of course you didn't and if you did you weren't alive to read it in the news. It's a fascinating story that the less you know about the facts the better. We don't really know how director Craig William Macneill (“The Boy”) managed to cast Kristen Stewart and Chloë Sevigny as intimate lovers, but God bless him.
“Damsel”

Cast: Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, David and Nathan Zellner, Robert Forster
A wealthy and influential pioneer traveled across the American Frontier to find his fiancée.
Sundance veterans David and Nathan Zeller  (“Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter”) don't do formula. Their films are weird, brooding, strange but retain, develop,  the humanism that resides in their characters. The fact that they are tackling the western genre in "Damsel," with Robert Pattinson, fresh off his "Good Time" triumph, in the lead role, will make the film a hot ticket for movie lovers. The kicker is that the film is supposed to be very comedic and even had its star Pattinson describing it as “slapstick comedy.” Add in the always great Mia Wasikowska and you have a can't miss festival entry.
"The Catcher Was A Spy" 

Cast: Sienna Miller, Paul Rudd, Guy Pearce, Jeff Daniels, Paul Giammati, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Strong, Connie Nielson  That cast! Director Ben Lewin's last time at Sundance was with "The Sessions," which, by all accounts, was the most praised title that year. It also nabbed a Supporting Actress nomination for Helen Hunt. Lewin is back but this time with a true story that seems almost too crazy to have happened. "The Catcher Was A Spy" is about a Major league baseball player, Moe Berg, that lived a double life as a spy. Oh, and that cast!
“Beirut”
Cast: Jon Hamm, Rosamund Pike, Dean Norris, Larry Pine, Shea Whigham
After ending his 8 season tenure with "Mad Men," most people were predicting Jon Hamm to have a healthy and successful movie career, but its been slow to go so far. Maybe "Beirut" can kick it up a notch as the 46-year-old actor plays  a U.S. diplomat runs away from 1972 Lebanon after tragedy strikes home. The good news is that Tony Gilroy has written the screenplay (The Bourne Trilogy, Michael Clayton, Dolores Clairborne, Duplicity) and Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Transsiberian, Happy Accidents, Session 9) is directing.
“Piercing”
Cast: Christopher Abbott, Mia Wasikowska, Laia Costa, Marin Ireland
I adored Nicolas Pesce's directorial debut "The Eyes of My Mother," it was disturbing, both aesthetically and psychologically.  This latest endeavor from Pesce, a very talented visualist, has a succesful family man going on a "business trip" to indulge in a disturbing secret life that is filled with kinkiness and morally wrong absurdity.
Abbot and Wasikowska are supposed to be incredible in this film which was Adapted from cult novelist Ryū Murakami's novel
Of course, there are plenty more noteworthy titles that span the numerous sections of the festival such as the NEXT section, Premieres, Midnight, Documentary Competition and U.S. Dramatic Competition. The sheer joy of Sundance is the discovery of new talent. In the past 4 decades incredible classics would be discovered and filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, Steven Sodebergh, Christopher Nolan and Darren Aronofsky would be born. This is the only major film festival that makes the viewer go back to the basics. We go into a movie not knowing much about its cast or its director, and instead opt to leap forward and take a chance on no-name talent who might just be the next big thing. That’s basically it: what everyone is looking for is the next big thing. The next ball-busting rule breaker reminiscent of when Tarantino brought Reservoir Dogs in 1992 or Steven Soderbergh brought Sex, Lies and Videotape back in 1989.