Don’t fret Real Housewives of Salt Lake City. There is more starpower on the way for Sundance 2017. Just wait for the premiere selection next week. You’ll be more than happy you bought those expensive passes and drove up the mountain to see some of your favorite celebrities. In the meantime, the competition slate has been revealed and it’s got some very interesting films on the horizon for anyone heading to Park City in January. We’re going to take a pass on the documentary titles for now, but here are 13 films you should be paying attention to and why.
“A Ghost Story”
Sort of strange that David Lowrey’s latest is in NEXT. He’s certainly a known commodity. “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” premiered at Sundance in competition in 2013 and his first studio effort, Walt Disney’s “Pete’s Dragon,” hit theaters this summer. “Ghost Story” reunites Lowrey with his “Saints’” stars Casey Affleck (who will be likely celebrating a Best Actor nomination in Park City) and Rooney Mara (who may be celebrating a Best Picture nomination for “Lion”) and has been called a “mystery film” but that’s sort of silly. Affleck talked about it at Telluride with this writer and pretty much anyone who would ask him about it since. The synopsis simply says: “The story of a ghost and the house he haunts.”
Big question: Is this a more art house friendly acquisition than “Saints”?
This U.S. Dramatic Competition selection is going to be one of the hottest tickets at the fest. Director Dave McCary and co-screenwriter and star Kyle Mooney are best known for their day jobs on “Saturday Night Live,” but have a history as members of the sketch group “Good Neighbor.” This is McCary’s feature debut and follows the fan of a children’s TV show (Mooney) that decides to “finish” the story himself after its cancellation (let your imagination run free on that idea). The rest of the cast is made up of Claire Danes, Mark Hamill, Greg Kinnear, Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins. That’s the sort of potential breakout formula that will have every acquisition executive in Park City at the world premiere.
Big Question: Is it a dramedy? Is it a goofy comedy or somewhere in-beween?
One of two contemporary “Los Angeles” based films this year (the other is also on this list), “L.A. Times” is the brainchild of writer, director and star Michelle Morgan who has a story by credit on the next “Lego Movie.” “Times” seems far from that described as “sophisticated thirtysomethings try to determine whether ideal happiness exists in coupledom or if the perfectly suited couple is actually just an urban myth.” With Jorma Taccone is also a key member of the cast and a NEXT berth we’re gonna assume that’s a unique comedic take you probably won’t expect.
Big Question: Without big names how commercial is it?
*The image accompanying this post is from “L.A. Times.”
Zoe Lister-Jones is best known for her roles on TV shows such as “Whitney” and “Life in Pieces,” but she’s also the screenwriter of the underrated 2012 dramedy “Lola Versus.” “Band Aid,” which scored a slot in the U.S. Dramatic competition, is her directorial debut and, like Morgan, she also wrote and plays a leading role. The storyline – a couple tries to save their marriage by starting a band turning their arguments into song – could either be pretty weak or a potential breakout.
Big Question: Could this turn Lister-Jones into a legit leading actress?
Matt Ruskin’s second narrative feature has potential Grand Jury prize winner written all over it. First reported on “This American Life,” it tells the true story of Colin Warner (Lakeith Stanfield of FX’s “Atlanta,” “Short Term 12”) who was wrongly convicted of murder and how his best friend, Carl King (Nnamdi Asomugha, also a producer), spent his life trying to prove he was innocent. This is also a potential acquisition player.
Big Question: Is Ruskin a talented enough narrative director for this material?
Janicza Bravo returns to Sundance with her first feature, a comedy about a man (“Fleabag’s” Brett Gelman) whose life falls apart after his blind girlfriend leaves him. This NEXT title also features Judy Greer, Michael Cera and Nia Long. It’s definitely going to be on the “need to see” list for many acquisition execs at the festival.
Big Question: Is this a potential art house hit or Bravo’s calling card for something bigger?
South African filmmaker John Trengove’s World Cinema Dramatic competition entry is a rare look at the lives of gay men in Africa. The synopsis pretty much makes it a must-see for any cinephile. “Xolani, a lonely factory worker, travels to the rural mountains with the men of his community to initiate a group of teenage boys into manhood. When a defiant initiate from the city discovers his best-kept secret, a forbidden love, Xolani’s entire existence begins to unravel.”
Big Question: Now matter how good it is can it actually secure a strong distribution partner in the U.S.?
“I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore”
Macon Blair, better known for his on screen performances in “Blue Ruin” and “The Green Room,” makes his feature directing debut with the opening night “dramatic” film. Considering two out of the last three dramatic openers were “Whiplash” and “Other People” (we’re gonna forget “The Bronze” even happened) the chances are its pretty good. Throw in the fact it stars Sundance legend Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood and the festival might get a nice kick off after all.
Big Question: Are Lynskey and Wood big enough names to land a top tier distribution deal?
“To The Bone”
On paper it doesn’t sound good. A 20-year-old enters a recovery facility to battle her anorexia and with the help of an “unconventional doctor” (I mean…) has to ask her self – no joke – “Is life worth living?” Before you dismiss it out of hand, know that this U.S. Dramatic competition entry was written and directed by “UnREAL” and “Girlfriend’s Guide To Divorce” creator Marti Nixon (whose credits also include “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”). So, it could be good. It could be terrible. At least Lily Collins and Keanu Reeves are along for the ride.
Big Question: Every U.S. Dramatic Competition slate has a few clunkers. Is this one of them or a major surprise?
This one has got to be the crowd pleaser of the festival right? This Thai picture centers on an Architect who runs into his long-lost elephant in the streets of Bangkok. He then begins a journey to bring the elephant back to his childhood farm “where they grew up together.” Clearly, there has to be a surprise in there somewhere, but it sounds adorable and you can cut a trailer for it without even seeing it.
Big Question: Could it become a victim of pre-Sundance hype?
Cory Finley’s first film will be remembered as one of Anton Yelchin’s last. The Sundance veteran who starred in Grand Jury prize winner “Like Crazy” passed away this past summer due to a freak accident after he’d finished Finley’s film. The picture itself actually focuses more on two teenage girls played by Olivia Cooke (“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”) and Anya Taylor-Joy (recent Gotham Award winner for “The Witch”), but it’s Yelchin’s absence that will make this a NEXT must-see.
Big Question: With this talent why is it in NEXT and not in U.S. Dramatic Competition?
“Ingrid Goes West”
Let’s look at the logline for this dark comedy: “A young woman (Aubrey Plaza, also a producer) becomes obsessed with an Instagram lifestyle blogger (Elizabeth Olsen) and moves to Los Angeles to try and befriend her in real life.” Let’s see, it’s also O’Shea Jackson Jr. first film after “Straight Outta Compton,” features the underrated Wyatt Russell (“Everybody Wants Some!!”) and the constantly surprising Billy Magnussen (“Into the Woods,” “The People vs. O.J. Simpson”). Something tells us if you’re going to Park City you might want to put this at the top of your must-see list. We could be wrong, but, y’know, we’re probably not.
Big Question: Is this Olsen’s non “Avengers” comeback? She hasn’t been more than passable in anything since “Martha, Marcy May Marlene.”
“The Yellow Birds”
Are we looking at this year’s Oscar player from Park City? Alexandre Moors (“Blue Caprice”) directs a drama written by David Lowrey (his second film at the festival) about a young man who returns from the Gulf War and has to deal with the tragic death of his friend who also enlisted in the Army with him. The prestige-friendly cast includes Tye Sheridan, Jack Huston, Alden Ehrenreich, Jason Patric, Toni Collette and Jennifer Aniston (one of the later plays the grieving mother of the fallen friend). Expect all the major prestige players to be in the audience for this one.
Big Question: Is this already one of Aniston’s top 3 films of her career sight unseen? (Wait, don’t answer that…)
The 2017 Sundance Film Festival January 19-29. Look for complete coverage from The Playlist from Park City.