The Sundance Institute announced the initial slate for the 2018 Sundance Film Festival today and it was chock full of familiar faces to Park City (Kristen Stewart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Nick Offerman, Tessa Tompson, Jason Mitchell) and some highly acclaimed filmmakers (Debra Granik, Gus Van Sant, Joshua Marston). The festival announced a majority of its world premieres, but we’ve heard there will be a second round of premieres coming in December, but for now the U.S. Dramatic, U.S. Documentary, World Cinema, Midnight (although it’s a shadow of what it used to be), Next and Premieres sections have been revealed.
Keeping this in mind we’ve selected 15 of the most anticipated titles to date based on our, cough, many years of attending arguably the most influential film festival in the world next to Cannes. Granted, some of these selections are because we have some insider buzz (horrible term, but accurate) on them and others just demand attention based on the talent involved alone. Moreover, you’ll notice we’ve only included narrative films on this list, but there are a number of documentaries we will try to catch including “Seeing Allred” (a Gloria Allred profile that is more than timely), “Our New President” (a view of the Trump victory through Russian propaganda which will either be preaching to the choir or something incredibly disturbing) and “Studio 54″ (the landmark club has never gotten its proper due), among others.
Here’s what we’re excited about so far.
Director: Joshua Marston, Screenwriter: Marcus Hinchey, Producers: Ira Glass, Alissa Shipp, Julie Goldstein, James Stern, Lucas Smith, Cindy Kirven
Official synopsis: Internationally-renowned pastor Carlton Pearson — experiencing a crisis of faith — risks his church, family and future when he questions church doctrine and finds himself branded a modern-day heretic. Based on actual events.
Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Danny Glover, Condola Rashad, Jason Segel, Lakeith Stanfield, Martin Sheen
Why it’s one to watch: Marston’s recent efforts haven’t hit the heights of “Maria Full of Grace,” but even 2016’s “Complete Unknown” was compelling in its own way. A leading role for Ejiofor deems almost any film to must-see status and Netflix’s involvement is either an endorsement or disappointing depending on your point of view.
Director and screenwriter: Bo Burnham, Producers: Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Christopher Storer, Lila Yacoub
Official synopisis: Thirteen-year-old Kayla endures the tidal wave of contemporary suburban adolescence as she makes her way through the last week of middle school — the end of her thus far disastrous eighth-grade year — before she begins high school.
Cast: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton
Why it’s one to watch: The last film from uber-producer Scott Rudin to debut at Sundance? Oh, that’s right. In his prolific career there’s never been one. And “Eighth Grade” is smack dab in the U.S. Dramatic Competition category. Telling.
Director and screenwriter: Sam Levinson, Producers: David Goyer, Anita Gou, Kevin Turen, Aaron L. Gilbert, Matthew J. Malek
Official synopsis: This is a one-thousand-percent true story about how the quiet, all-American town of Salem, Massachusetts, absolutely lost its mind.
Cast: Odessa Young, Suki Waterhouse, Hari Nef, Abra, Bill Skarsgard, Bella Thorne
Why it’s one to watch: Word on this Midnight selection is that it’s batshit crazy in a “Spring Breakers” way.
Director: Jesse Peretz, Screenwriters: Tamara Jenkins, Jim Taylor, Phil Alden Robinson, Evgenia Peretz, Producers: Judd Apatow, Barry Mendel, Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa
Official synopsis: Annie is the long-suffering girlfriend of Duncan, an obsessive fan of obscure rocker Tucker Crowe. When the acoustic demo of Tucker’s celebrated record from 25 years ago surfaces, its release leads to an encounter with the elusive rocker himself. Based on the novel by Nick Hornby.
Cast: Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke, Chris O’Dowd
Why it’s one to watch: Listen, Jesse Peretz has been average at best as a director, but the rest of the talent surrounding this film is hard to ignore. Apatow shepherded “The Big Sick” at Sundance last year, Tamara Jenkins and Jim Taylor are great screenwriters, it’s got strong Nick Hornby source material, Rose Byrne is one of the most underrated actresses working today and Ethan Hawke usually has good taste in projects. If it debuts before Monday it’s probably pretty damn good.
“The Kindergarten Teacher”
Director and screenwriter: Sara Colangelo, Producers: Celine Rattray, Trudie Styler, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Osnat Handelsman-Keren, Talia Kleinhendler
Official Synopsis: Lisa Spinelli is a Staten Island teacher who is unusually devoted to her students. When she discovers one of her five-year-olds is a prodigy, she becomes fascinated with the boy, ultimately risking her family and freedom to nurture his talent. Based on the acclaimed Israeli film.
Cast: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Parker Sevak, Rosa Salazar, Anna Barynishikov, Michael Chernus, Gael Garcia Bernal
Why it’s one to watch: Gyllenhaal is supposed to be fantastic. Does the Best Actress race for 2019 start here?
“I Think We’re Alone Now”
Director: Reed Morano, Screenwriter: Mike Makowsky, Producers: Fred Berger, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Fernando Loureiro, Roberto Vasconcellos, Peter Dinklage, Mike Makowsky
Official synopsis: The apocalypse proves a blessing in disguise for one lucky recluse – until a second survivor arrives with the threat of companionship.
Cast: Peter Dinklage, Elle Fanning
Why it’s one to watch: Morano’s first feature, “Meadowland,” was disappointing, but in the years since she became the creative force that turned “The Handmaid’s Tale” into one of the most acclaimed series this decade. This will likely be one of the hottest acquisition titles of the festival.
Director: Craig William Macneill, Screenwriter: Bryce Kass, Producers: Naomi Despres, Liz Destro
Official synopsis: Based on the 1892 murder of Lizzie Borden’s family in Fall River, MA, this tense psychological thriller lays bare the legend of Lizzie Borden to reveal the much more complex, poignant and truly terrifying woman within — and her intimate bond with the family’s young Irish housemaid, Bridget Sullivan.
Cast: Chloë Sevigny, Kristen Stewart, Jamey Sheridan, Fiona Shaw, Kim Dickens, Denis O’Hare
Why it’s one to watch: Sevigny and Stewart as lovers in a period thriller based on of the most notorious murders in American history? That’s more than enough for a long walk in the snow.
Director and screenwriter: Jennifer Fox, Producers: Oren Moverman, Lawrence Inglee, Laura Rister, Mynette Louie, Sol Bondy, Simone Pero
Official synopsis: An investigation into one woman’s memory as she’s forced to re-examine her first sexual relationship and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive; based on the filmmaker’s own story.
Cast: Laura Dern, Isabel Nelisse, Jason Ritter, Elizabeth Debicki, Ellen Burstyn, Common
Why it’s one to watch: Buzz is strong and a movie lead by recent Emmy winner and unlikely ‘Last Jedi‘ star Laura Dern? Hello. You don’t need to tell us anymore. We’re there.