Late last week I had to visit the doctor for an eye infection. (I know, what an amazing opening sentence for a preview piece about a film festival. Save your accolades, I’m already well aware.) Normally, I have a tendency to just see how these things play out before I go to the doctor, but I mentioned that I’d be traveling soon and this was something I didn’t want to have to deal with while not at home. She asked where I was going and I told her that I was going to Utah for the Sundance Film Festival. Immediately her eyes lit up with images of beautiful mountainside lodges, famous people in hot tubs, and posh movie premieres. I replied, “Oh, I think I might have a picture from last year,” which wound up being a picture of a strip mall where a lot of the press screenings take place, right next to a Sports Authority. Her response was, “I don’t think I want to see anymore. This is kind of ruining it.”
Park City, Utah is not what I expected the first time I went to Sundance in 2012. It’s a lot more spread out than I assumed – it’s more like a suburb than a quaint, quiet ski resort town. (And, yes, the press screenings happen in a strip mall next to a Sports Authority. But it’s our Sundance strip mall. It’s our Sundance Sports Authority.) I’ll admit, sometimes I take it for granted that I get to attend an event like Sundance. But, with everything going on (I can’t believe there’s not some easy one-word acronym for how lousy everything is right now by now, so the best I can come up with on a regular basis is, “with everything going on”), I’ve been trying to pay more attention to the things that make me happy.
I mean, we have to, right? If we all wallow in misery for the next four years (or, let’s be realistic, however many years or months it is until Trump gets impeached and convicted), none of us are going to make it through. And it makes me happy that I get to attend this festival for the sixth year in a row. I realize how fortunate I am will do my best to a) savor every moment and b) somehow relay that to you over the next week and a half (even if it’s a visit to Sports Authority).
Anyway, here are five movies I’m most looking forward to seeing this year:
The Big Sick
Michael Showalter directs this Judd Apatow-produced story based on Kumail Nanjiani’s actual experiences coming from a traditional Pakistani family, while being in a very modern relationship with an American woman (played in the film by Zoe Kazan). There’s plenty of buzz surrounding this movie. Bzzzzzzzz. See! Even here, we couldn’t escape the buzz. And that’s always the weird thing about Sundance: Who knows! We know nothing. As opposed to most other festivals, no one has seen these movies before. So, all we have to go on right now is “the buzz.” (Though, the last few years, there’s always one big movie to come out of Sundance that has absolutely no buzz. And I promise it will not be on this list. I am terrible at predicting “movie success” based on blurbs off of a film festival’s website.) Though, having said all that, I’m legitimately looking forward to this movie because everyone involved is so good. (Bzzzzzz.)
Nobody Speak: Hulk Hogan, Gawker and Trials of a Free Press
Yes, I will admit this can’t help but pique my interest because I live in New York, I am in the media, and I know people involved in this whole mess. But, more importantly, this documentary further explores how the concept of a “free press” is being eroded away and if we let this continue, it’s going to be a very, very dangerous thing for all of us (you know, with “everything going on.”)
Here’s another movie with a ton of buzz: Dee Rees’ Mudbound. Based on Hillary Jordan’s 2009 book, the story focuses on two families living in the South in the immediate aftermath of World War II. This is the part where I could rewrite the official synopsis and cut and paste that it stars “Carey Mulligan, Jason Mitchell, Rob Morgan, Mary J. Blige, Jason Clarke, Garrett Hedlund and Jonathan Banks” – but instead I will just point out that this is the kind of film that’s set in the past, but is set up to address a lot of the issues that we still deal with today. (Something tells me this will be a big movie at this year’s fest.)
A Ghost Story
David Lowrey, Casey Affleck, and Rooney Mara all reunite after 2013’s Sundance hit, Ain’t These Bodies Saints. What have these three been doing in the meantime? Well, Mara was nominated for an Academy Award last year for Carol. Affleck is about to win an Academy Award for his performance in last year’s Sundance breakout, Manchester By the Sea. And Lowrey directed one of the most underrated films of 2016, Pete’s Dragon. (It’s weird to label a movie that grossed $143 million “underrated,” but it really is. Pete’s Dragon is such a nice movie. I do wish more people saw it.) A24, the studio behind Moonlight, has already purchased the film, so we know it has to be something special. It’s being described as “supernatural,” which I guess makes sense because of the title and all. But, also, it “isn’t scary.” And that’s about all we know right now. I guess we will find out soon enough.
Everything about this seems interesting. Bryan Fogel’s documentary kind of starts out as a look into the world of Olympic doping – including (at least what I understand) taking the performance enhancing drugs himself. Which, yes, is kind of a stunt but I find this interesting – in that I’ve always kind of wondered what these would do to just a “normal” person. During his investigation, Fogel befriends a Russian doctor who is billed as an “anti-doping” activist, but the further Fogel digs, the less and less this seems like the truth. A year ago Sundance premiered the masterpiece, O.J.: Made in America. Hopefully this year the festival can premiere something equally as excellent. (And, yes, my hopes are very high for this one.)
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