Sundance 2016: The 10 Most Anticipated Films We Can't Wait to See
by Alex Billington
January 18, 2016
Back to Sundance we go for another year of discovery. What's on the line-up this year? Out of the 120+ films showing at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, I've chosen 10 that I'm looking forward to seeing the most. To keep things well balanced, I've chosen 5 feature films and 5 documentaries from the line-up. There are so many films playing at the fest, and so many I'll end up seeing (30+), that this is a quick list to get everyone acquainted with some of the work premiering in 2016 (and why I'm so excited for these). From docs about tickling competitions, to features about Obama's first date. Nothing like seeing movies in the mountains.
This is my 10th year in a row returning to Sundance, starting back in 2007. I'm so excited to be attending Sundance as press again, and can't wait to dive into the films more than anything, as there's so many to see from this year's line-up. For now, here's our final list of our Top 10 most anticipated films pre-Sundance.
Alex's Most Anticipated /Sundance 2016/ Feature Films:
Directed by J.D. Dillard
This is my most anticipated. Sleight (in the low-budget NEXT category) is about a young street magician named Bo, played by Jacob Latimore, who must "rely on his sleight of hand and brilliant mind to save the day" when he falls for a girl who ends up in trouble. This is made by a director named J.D. Dillard who, before this, was working in the kitchen at J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot. I don't think that will be the case after the festival. Sundance describes it as a "refreshing film that delivers a thrilling and irresistible mix of romance, urban drama, and magical super-heroism". It just sounds like everything I love to see in indie discoveries.
The Birth of a Nation
Directed by Nate Parker
It was at Sundance in 2012 when I first realized how talented Nate Parker is. He had a small role in a film called Arbitrage, but it was one of the best performances of the fest. I've been waiting for him to return ever since, and he's back with a film that is definitely going to rattle some cages. The Birth of a Nation is Parker's directorial debut, but he also stars in it, wrote, and produced the film. The cast includes Armie Hammer, Jackie Earle Haley and Aunjanue Ellis. Parker plays Nat Turner, a slave who leads a liberation movement (read: uprising) in 1831 to free African-Americans in Virgina. The photos for this that have been released so far (see above) indicate that it's going to be intense, authentic, and hopefully as unforgettable as it sounds.
Directed by Meera Menon
I'm not sure what to make of this yet, but I have high hopes for it. Equity is about female senior investment banker clashing with her colleagues when a "controversial IPO threatens the fragile balance of power and confidentiality." Anna Gunn stars, and Meera Menon (of Farah Goes Bang previously) directs the film, which Sundance says "tackles head-on the power structure of Wall Street in the post-financial crisis through the female lens of women fighting for survival in the race to the top." I'm sold on that line alone, and I'm especially curious to see how this film attempts to address the misogyny found in so many areas of business.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Directed by Taika Waititi
Taika is back! I have a long history with Kiwi filmmaker Taika Waititi. I fell hard for his first film, Eagle vs Shark, at Sundance in 2007 and have followed his career closely ever since. I loved What We Do in the Shadows (Sundance 2014), and he's back again with another film he directed. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is about a "defiant city kid" named Ricky, played by Julian Dennison, who is sent out to the New Zealand countryside with a new foster family. But when he screws up, he goes on the run into the wilderness with "cantankerous Uncle Hec", played by Sam Neill, and the two become outlaws. I'm always in the mood for another amusing and engaging story from Taika, and there's something about this that piques my interest.
Southside with You
Directed by Richard Tanne
A film about Barack Obama's first date with Michelle Robinson? Say no more, I'm sold! Seriously. Southside with You is filmmaker Richard Tanne's feature writing/directing debut and he has decided to start with quite a challenge. The film, set in 1989, is about the time Barack took Michelle out for a stroll around Chicago. "As ice cream gives way to a stop at the Art Institute, and the community gathering conveniently becomes a chance for Barack to lecture brilliantly on activism, it’s stunningly obvious to Michelle that this cigarette-smoking smooth talker is desperately trying to woo her." Parker Sawyers plays young Obama, and Tika Sumpter plays young Michelle. I'm planning to be at the premiere, wouldn't miss it for anything.
Bonus Round Mention: Wiener-Dog, from Todd Solondz, just because of the adorable Wiener-Dog!!
Alex's Most Anticipated /Sundance 2016/ Documentaries:
This is all you need to know: it's a doc about competitive tickling. The description from Sundance sums it up very nicely: "After stumbling upon a bizarre 'competitive endurance tickling' video online, wherein young men are paid to be tied up and tickled, reporter David Farrier reaches out to request a story from the company. But the reply he receives is shocking—the sender mocks Farrier's sexual orientation and threatens extreme legal action should he dig any deeper. So, like any good journalist confronted by a bully, he does just the opposite: he travels to the hidden tickling facilities in Los Angeles and uncovers a vast empire, known for harassing and harming the lives of those who protest their involvement in these films. The more he investigates, the stranger it gets, discovering secret identities and criminal activity." I have to see this.
Directed by Roger Ross Williams
This is the one to look out for if you love Disney movies. It's a doc about a boy struggling with autism and communication. "Life, Animated tells the remarkable story of how Owen found in Disney animation a pathway to language and a framework for making sense of the world." From what I can tell, the doc profiles Owen and shows how these animated Disney movies allowed him "to understand his feelings and interpret reality." Not only does it feature footage from his favorite Disney movies, but it also has "beautiful, original animation" that helps enhance "Owen’s fruitful dialogue". This seems like it's going to be wonderful.
Directed by Will Allen
Holy Hell! I am so intrigued by this one. When it was first announced in the Sundance line-up, the director was listed as "Anonymous". He didn't want his name announced (weeks later it was revealed the director is Will Allen). As soon as Allen left film school he joined a religious cult in LA, and spent the next 20 years recording as much of it as he could. "Allen recorded everything, offering us a juicy and unparalleled look into the extreme ideals and expectations that make up this community, born out of Los Angeles, the city of cults. From total devotion turned to paranoia, the cracks began to unfold as unexpected truths were revealed about the enlightened leader they built every fiber of their lives around." It's finally time to tell the story.
Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World
Directed by Werner Herzog
Iconic storyteller Werner Herzog is back at it with a documentary about the internet. "A treasure trove of interviews of strange and beguiling individuals—ranging from Internet pioneers to victims of wireless radiation, whose anecdotes and reflections weave together a complex portrait of our brave new world." Instead of examining how it works, Herzog focuses on connections and how humans have changed thanks to this technology. "For all of its detailed analysis, this documentary also wrestles with profound and intangible questions regarding the Internet’s future. Will it dream, as humans do, of its own existence? Can it discover the fundamentals of morality, or perhaps one day understand the meaning of love?" One day…
Directed by Penny Lane
This just sounds nuts! The doc features "cheeky" animation" to tell the story of John Romulus Brinkley, a small-town Kansas doctor who discovers in 1917 that he can cure impotence by transplanting goat testicles into men. That's not all - thanks to this scheme being a success, Brinkley ended up making "a fortune, was almost elected Governor of Kansas, invented junk mail and the infomercial, and built the world’s most powerful radio station." This all sounds so infuriating and fascinating, I can't help but say I'm curious to see this doc and learn the entire story. Even if it's just going to make me angry (he invented junk mail, come on!) at least it will be entertaining and informative, hopefully endearing and perhaps inspiring by the end.
For all of Alex's Sundance 2016 reviews and updates: Follow @firstshowing
For more Sundance 2016 previews around the web, highlighting more early picks and potential breakouts, check out: The Film Stage's 25 Most-Anticipated Films or Rolling Stone's Movies We Can't Wait to See. You never know what might be good, or bad, and it's important to have a pulse on the buzz – even before the fest starts. There's plenty of interesting and potentially outstanding films on the 2016 line-up, so let's get going.
You can follow our Sundance 2016 coverage and updates in this category. The festival kicks off January 21st and runs until the 31st, with films premiering for 10 days straight. Let's dive in and start watching.