Five Films You Can’t Miss At The Sundance Film Festival
Ms Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman (2020). Photograph by Ms Merie Weismiller Wallace, courtesy of Focus Features
This year’s Sundance Film Festival has the most diverse line-up in its history, a tonic after the recent Oscar and Bafta nominations. Across the 56 films in all competition categories, 40 per cent of directors are people of colour, an all-time high for the festival. It’s a huge achievement for director of programming Ms Kim Yutani, whose commitment to new voices has even extended to financial support for journalists from minority backgrounds. Of the 16 films in the main dramatic competition, seven are led by primarily black characters. Highlights are The 40-Year-Old Version, about a struggling playwright who turns to rap, and Bad Hair, a 1989-set comedy-horror in which an ambitious music TV presenter gets a weave that starts to turn against her.
Another pattern in this year’s line-up, a reflection of these untrustworthy times, is the blurring of fact and fiction, where documentaries borrow techniques from fiction and vice versa. Look out for Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets, immersive theatre meets fly-on-the-wall in a recreated Las Vegas dive bar; Netflix’s Dick Johnson Is Dead, a poignant cinema-vérité exploration of Alzheimer’s; Love Fraud, a stranger-than-fiction documentary about a polygamist conman; and The Nowhere Inn, in which Ms Annie Clark, AKA art-pop visionary St Vincent, and Ms Carrie Brownstein play multiple versions of themselves. It’s rich pickings, but here are five films that particularly caught our eye.
Promising Young Woman
Ms Carey Mulligan and Mr Bo Burnham in Promising Young Woman (2020). Photograph by Ms Merie Weismiller Wallace, courtesy of Focus Features
The debut directorial feature of Ms Emerald Fennell, who wrote and executive produced season two of Killing Eve, is a sly, feverish, feminist revenge thriller led by Ms Carey Mulligan, who lures horny men into ornate traps. Produced by Ms Margot Robbie and starring The OC’s Mr Adam Brody, Eighth Grade director Mr Bo Burnham and Glow’s Ms Alison Brie, this has impeccable pedigree. Ms Mulligan’s performance has been hailed by The Guardian as “electrifying”.
Mr Jude Law and Ms Carrie Coon in The Nest (2020). Photograph by Mr Mátyás Erdély, courtesy of Falco Ink
Mr Sean Durkin has directed two bruising, lyrical, non-linear masterpieces in the past decade: Martha Marcy May Marlene, a disquieting study of a cult survivor that premiered at Sundance in 2011, and Channel 4’s Southcliffe (2013), a haunting TV mini-series about a shooting in Kent. In this long-awaited second feature, Mr Jude Law and Ms Carrie Coon play a married couple whose family is plunged into uncertainty as they relocate from the US to the UK. Critics have compared it to The Shining and praised the film’s icy poise.
The Last Thing He Wanted
Ms Anne Hathaway in The Last Thing He Wanted (2020). Photograph courtesy of Sundance Institute
After her breakthrough Mudbound, for which she received an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, director Ms Dee Rees has adapted a 1996 novel by Ms Joan Didion about a veteran political reporter (Ms Anne Hathaway) who does a murky favour for her dying father (Mr Willem Dafoe), which propels her reluctantly into the limelight. Messrs Toby Jones and Ben Affleck co-star in a classy thriller to which Netflix has already acquired the rights.
Mr Michael Stuhlbarg and Ms Elisabeth Moss in Shirley (2020). Photograph by Mr Thatcher Keats, courtesy of Sundance Institute
Director Ms Josephine Decker follows her experimental delight Madeline’s Madeline with a meta chiller exec-produced by Mr Martin Scorsese. When a young couple move in with horror novelist Ms Shirley Jackson (Ms Elisabeth Moss) and her professor husband (Mr Michael Stuhlbarg, so good as the dad in Call Me By Your Name), they become puppet-mastered muses for her next novel. Expect a cross between Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? and The Haunting Of Hill House, the Netflix series based on Ms Jackson’s novel of the same name.
Mses Riley Keough and Taylour Paige in Zola (2020). Photograph by Ms Anna Kooris, courtesy of A24
A first in film adaptations, Atlanta director Ms Janicza Bravo transposes the viral Twitter thread lauded by A-listers such as Mses Missy Elliott, Solange Knowles and Ava DuVernay. In 2015, stripper Ms A’Ziah King, also known as Zola, told the story in 148 tweets of a surrealist trip to Florida with a new friend that went wrong when Ms King discovered her friend’s “roommate” was her pimp. Scored by Under The Skin’s Ms Mica Levi, this deranged farce stars Ms Riley Keough and Mr Nicholas Braun (Cousin Greg in Succession).