Sundance 2019: My 10 Most Anticipated Films I'm Excited to Watch
by Alex Billington
January 22, 2019
Back to Sundance we go for another year of discovery. What's on the line-up this year? Out of the 110+ films showing at the 2019 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 2019 (I just want to go see everything). There are new films from filmmakers like Ritesh Batra and Lulu Wang, and incredible documentaries that are also worthy of our attention, plus many other films. You never really know what will good or bad, but here's my first few picks.
This is my 13th year in a row returning to Sundance, starting back in 2007. I'm so excited to be attending Sundance once again, and can't wait to dive into the films more than anything. There's so many I am curious to watch from this year's line-up. For now, here's my Top 10 most anticipated films before the fest begins.
Alex's Most Anticipated \Sundance 2019/ Feature Films:
Directed by Minhal Baig
I've been following filmmaker Minhal Baig (mostly on Twitter @minhalbaig) for a while now, and she is ready to finally break out big and show everyone how talented she really is. Hala is her second feature film following her debut 1 Night, and it's much more personal this time. The story is about a Muslim teenager named Hala - played by Geraldine Viswanathan - who lives in Chicago with her immigrant parents from Pakistan. There she copes with the unraveling of her family as she comes into her own. It's a coming-of-age story but told from an entirely different angle that we rarely see, as Sundance explains that Baig "brings a vital and layered female perspective to the coming-of-age genre." They add that she "crafts a character and story with immense relatability and unexpected consequence." I've been looking forward to seeing this ever since I first heard about it, and I'm excited that it's finally ready to premiere at Sundance. Congrats, Minhal.
Directed by Ritesh Batra
Back in 2013, I fell in love with a little film called The Lunchbox, starring Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur. After making two other English-language films, Our Souls at Night and The Sense of an Ending (both from 2017), filmmaker Ritesh Batra returns to his roots and his hometown in India with Photograph. Set in Mumbai, the film is about a struggling street photographer, pressured to marry by his grandmother, who convinces a shy stranger to pose as his fiancée. The pair develops a connection that transforms them in ways that they could not expect. As a photographer myself, I'm already intrigued. But I've also got a good feeling this might be a magical, lovely new film from Ritesh Batra and I'm looking forward to seeing where he takes us. If it's anywhere close to as sweet and as honest as The Lunchbox was, it will be another instant favorite.
Directed by Abe Forsythe
There's always one or two films in the Midnight section that I have to see, just because they sound so crazy and fun. Little Monsters is exactly one of those that I'm going to stay up late to watch. Described as a "film dedicated to all the kindergarten teachers who motivate children to learn, instill them with confidence, and stop them from being devoured by zombies." The massively talented Lupita Nyong'o stars as that teacher, taking on an extra bloody role that will hopefully allow her to show off more of her badass side. Plus there's always room for more zombies movies, right? Why not, they're always entertaining. "Armed only with the resourcefulness of kindergartners, [they] must work together to keep the monsters at bay and carve a way out with their guts intact." I'm fairly certain this will be a good one, especially with the late night audience.
I Am Mother
Directed by Grant Sputore
One of the few sci-fi films playing at Sundance, which means I have to see it no matter what. But it also looks and sounds compelling. I Am Mother features a robot designed by Weta Workshop in New Zealand, and marks the directorial debut of an award-winning commercials director from Australia named Grant Sputore. And yes, the story seems quite promising. A teenage girl is raised underground by a kindly robot "Mother" - designed to repopulate the earth following the extinction of humankind. But their unique bond is threatened when an inexplicable stranger arrives with alarming news. This reminds me a bit of Moon (which premiered at Sundance 2009) mashed up with other sci-fi concepts. The robot's design is familiar but sleek, and the handful of images they've released so far all look better than expected. Don't let me down, Sputore.
Directed by Dan Gilroy
So, this looks awesome! And totally insane! And weird, and captivating, and funny, and twisted, and sly, and wicked, and frightening. Velvet Buzzsaw is the latest film written & directed by Dan Gilroy, a screenwriter who turned director (or perhaps became a true auteur) making his debut with Nightcrawler in 2014, and following that up with Roman J. Israel, Esq. in 2017. This time he attacks the art world, with a film that seems to be about pieces of art coming to life and killing people. Something like that. The cast also is quite impressive: Jake Gyllenhaal, John Malkovich, Toni Collette, Rene Russo, Daveed Diggs. And this looks like the perfect follow-up to Ruben Östlund's Palme d'Or winning film The Square, with both films mocking and lambasting the absurdity of the modern art world. I'm so there. Watch the official trailer here.
More Feature Films I'm Looking Forward To Seeing: Lulu Wang's The Farewell, Rashid Johnson's Native Son, Paul Downs Colaizzo's Brittany Runs A Marathon, Nisha Ganatra's Late Night, David Wnendt's The Sunlit Night, Makoto Nagahisa's funky We Are Little Zombies, Noble Jones' The Tomorrow Man, Bert&Bertie's Troop Zero, JD Dillard's Sweetheart, Patrick Brice's Corporate Animals, Tayarisha Poe's Selah and the Spades, Daniel Scheinert's The Death of Dick Long, and May el-Toukhy's Queen of Hearts.
Alex's Most Anticipated \Sundance 2019/ Documentaries:
Memory: The Origins of Alien
Directed by Alexandre O. Philippe
A documentary about the making of Ridley Scott's original Alien! Say no more, I'm already there, I wouldn't miss this for anything. This is the latest doc film made by Swiss filmmaker Alexandre O. Philippe, who has been making docs about cinema and filmmaking for a while - including The People vs. George Lucas, and 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene just before. I'm curious how much this will cover and how much it will uncover. It seems to focus more on how they came up with the original ideas and designs for the film, less so the filming or release. "Philippe's real interest lies in the deep resonance of myths and our collective unconscious. The strange symbiotic collaboration between Alien creators [Dan] O'Bannon, Scott, and H.R. Giger suggests a greater synchronicity across history, art, and storytelling, a synchronicity that gives us the Furies, creatures of Renaissance painting, and even chest-bursting aliens." Sounds damn good, right?
Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements
Directed by Irene Taylor Brodsky
Another documentary that sounds exceptionally unique. The short Sundance description grabbed me right away: "A deeply personal portrait of three lives, and the discoveries that lie beyond loss: a deaf boy growing up, his deaf grandfather growing old, and Beethoven the year he was blindsided by deafness and wrote his iconic sonata." It's a multi-generational portrait of people dealing with deafness, capturing the complexity of silence and hearing. And I am more than intrigued to find out how filmmaker Irene Taylor Brodsky (of Hear and Now previously) examines these themes and weaves these three stories together. Sundance talks it up even more in their description of the film: "Brodsky explores the meaning of deafness, loss, and the power of silence as her son discovers his unique voice and her parents confront a new chapter of their lives," adding that it's "buoyed by a perceptive soundscape and luminous animation." I really want to see this doc.
Directed by Hassan Fazili
There's always a remarkable doc discovery, or two, hidden in the Sundance line-up telling an unforgettable story from somewhere else around the world. Read about this film and you'll instantly get a feeling that it's going to be something special. Midnight Traveler is a documentary made by a filmmaker from Afghanistan, Hassan Fazili, who flees his home country and takes us on a perilous journey with his wife and two young daughters as they travel as refugees across Europe searching for a new home. It seems to be a very personal, inside look at the life of a family just trying to surviving on the run from certain death. "Chronicling every step from inside the action", Fazili's camera captures "not only the danger and desperation but also the exuberance and tenderness of this irresistible, loving family." Just look at that shot of them all in the snow above! They seem so loving, wonderful, and authentic. I want to see this just to meet and learn about them.
Directed by Todd Douglas Miller
I'm a space nerd. I'm a big time fan of NASA. I'm surprised we haven't seen a documentary like this before, but I guess In the Shadow of the Moon is close (focusing on all of the Apollo missions). And I loved Damien Chazelle's First Man, which is also about Apollo 11, so I'm totally ready for this next. The documentary is purported to be an exhilarating cinematic experience, something that demands to be seen on the big screen. NASA has been digging out old footage and photographs and other artifacts from the vaults, putting all of the original footage from the Apollo 11 mission online + uncut audio recordings and more. Produced by CNN Films and Statement Pictures, this film "features never-before-seen, large-format film footage of one of humanity's greatest accomplishments." Oh yes. Can't wait to experience this. Watch the teaser trailer here.
Directed by Penny Lane
A documentary about the rise of the Satanic Temple religious movement? I'm certainly curious. And it's the latest doc film made by Penny Lane - a quietly talented, quirky, fun filmmaker behind other fantastically weird documentaries like Our Nixon, The Pain of Others, and Nuts! (about a guy who sold people a goat-testicle impotence cure - it premiered at Sundance 2016). I don't know how deep this is going to go, but I am intrigued to find out. Sundance references this eye-brow-raising part of the Satanic Temple's history in their description: "Through their dogged campaign to place a nine-foot, bronze Satanic monument smack dab next to the statue of the Ten Commandments on the Arkansas State Capitol lawn, the leaders of the temple force us to consider the true meaning of the separation of church and state." Sounds like something I have to see for myself, at the very least because no one else is making films about this fascinating topic anyway.
More Documentaries I'm Looking Forward To Seeing: Kenneth Paul Rosenberg's Bedlam, Steven Bognar & Julia Reichert's American Factory, Ben Berman's Amazing Johnathan Documentary, Ljubomir Stefanov & Tamara Kotevska's Honeyland, Petra Costa's Edge of Democracy, Garret Price's Love Antosha, Hepi Mita's Merata: How Mum Decolonised The Screen, Karim Amer & Jehane Noujaim's The Great Hack, Ursula Macfarlane's Untouchable, and Alex Gibney's latest The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley.
For all of Alex's Sundance 2019 reviews and updates: Follow @firstshowing
For more Sundance 2019 previews around the web, highlighting early picks and potential breakouts, see: The Film Stage's 20 Most-Anticipated Premieres, and Indiewire's 21 Must-See Films At This Year's Festival. You never know what might be a big hit, and it's vital to have a pulse on the buzz – even before the festival starts. There's plenty of exciting and hopefully superb gems hidden in the 2019 line-up, bring on the films.
You can follow our Sundance 2019 coverage and updates in this category. The festival kicks off January 24th and runs until February 3rd, with lots of films to see every day. Let's jump right in and start watching.