The 2018 Sundance Film Festival has finally come to an end and to put a wrap on the fest and finalize our nearly two weeks of coverage, it's time to present our Best of the Fest list. I was able to see a total of 44 films across 10 days, but I couldn't catch everything and missed a few films getting lots of good buzz from critics (e.g. The Souvenir, Them That Follow, Queen of Hearts, Monos). I saw around 12 documentaries this year, so instead of separating docs and features this year, I decided to present one big list of my 8 favorite films - a mix of docs and features. All of these films below are worth seeing, and I highly recommend seeking them out. I am so happy that Sundance continues to program some of the best films all year, as well as more innovative, unique, challenging, fascinating, and enchanting features from all over the world. Below are my favorites, the films that stuck with me and have remained on my mind throughout the festival. Let's dive in.
"At first, the man was believed to be a hiker. Later, his stone age origins were revealed…" Film Movement has debuted a new official US trailer for Iceman, a stone age survival thriller set in the snowy Ötztal Alps (located on Austria / Italy border). This premiered at the Locarno Film Festival in 2017, and we originally posted a trailer for it back then. This could be described as an early Neolithic man version of The Revenant, about one man who angrily seeks revenge but must first survive the brutal Ötztal Alps. Jürgen Vogel stars as Kelab, with the full cast including Susanne Wuest, André Hennicke, Violetta Schurawlow, Sabin Tambrea, Martin Schneider, and an appearance by Franco Nero. The film uses an early version of the Rhaetic language. This actually looks pretty damn good, with some epic footage and plenty of gnarly beards.
"What I want out of art is to be disturbed. I want to be confused… I want the same thing out of a movie as a painting or a book or a conversation with someone smart." This quote, from director Penny Lane given at the "Power of Story" discussion at Sundance this year, is exactly how I feel as well. There's so many safe, middle-of-the-road films that cover stories and topics we've seen covered so many times before. But every once in a while someone comes along and shakes things up, challenging us with something that breaks the mold, goes against the grain, and forces us to confront our own prejudices or demons or fears. With the 2019 Sundance Film Festival finally wrapped up, I wanted to recap my experiences in snowy Park City this year and briefly chat about how I'm always impressed by the films that play this extraordinary festival.
"There's nothing you can't tell me." Vertical Entertainment has debuted the first official trailer for an indie teen drama titled Giant Little Ones, which first premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last year and played at a few other international festivals in the fall. The story is about childhood best friends, Franky and Ballas, who are now handsome high school royalty, living the perfect teenage life - until an unexpected event changes everything. This is described as a "heartfelt and intimate coming-of-age story about friendship, self-discovery and the power of love without labels." Starring Josh Wiggins (who you may recognize from indie films including Walking Out), with Maria Bello, Kyle MacLachlan, Taylor Hickson, Darren Mann, Kiana Madeira, Peter Outerbridge, and Niamh Wilson. Looks like a thrilling sexual awakening film.
"You work for weak assholes who don't have the guys to talk to their partners!" "Yep." Netflix has unveiled an official trailer for a comedy from New Zealand titled The Breaker Upperers, which premiered at the SXSW Film Festival last year. Executive produced by Taika Waititi, the film is co-written and co-directed by the two women who star: Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek. The two play best friends who bonded when they were younger after finding out they were being two-timed by the same man. Together they create The Breaker Upperers, a small-time business helping couples break up for cash. The cast includes James Rolleston, Celia Pacquola, Ana Scotney, Rima Te Wiata, and Carl Bland. This does look hilarious, and it's an original concept these two came up with and have worked passionately on to make it really sing.
"Do you know who sent me?" IFC Films has debuted the first official trailer for The Wedding Guest, the latest film from director Michael Winterbottom (The Road to Guantanamo, A Mighty Heart, The Killer Inside Me, The Look of Love). This adventure thriller follows a mysterious British Muslim man, played by Dev Patel, on his journey across Pakistan and India. He's heading to Pakistan to attend a wedding – armed with duct tape, a shotgun, and a plan to kidnap the bride-to-be. This looks like a dark, suspenseful film with some intriguing twists – maybe – once it gets going. The film's cast includes Radhika Apte, Jim Sarbh, Harish Khannaa, Nish Nathwani, Meherbaan Singh, and Sidhu Manpreet. This all seems a bit odd from the description and setup, but obviously there's more to this than it seems at first glance. Check it out.
"There is music in everything!! I help you to bring forth what is inside…" Freestyle Digital Media has released the first official trailer for an indie drama titled The Maestro, a biopic about the infamous master teacher Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. The film focuses on a young composer named Jerry Herst, played by Leo Marks, who moves to Hollywood after WWII to study with Castelnuovo-Tedesco - striking up a friendship with him. The cast includes Sarah Clarke, Mackenzie Astin, William Russ, Alex Essoe, Kristen Gutoskie, Jonathan Cherry, and Jon Polito. This seems like another one of these fuzzy, old-Hollywood romantic biopics about a long lost era. And it looks alright, maybe a bit dry but still worth a look.
"Poppie, you know what we're doing is dangerous?" In the midst of the winter film festival season, take a look at this stylistic drama arriving later this year. The Match Factory has debuted an international / promo trailer for an indie titled Flatland, the latest feature film directed by Jenna Bass (Love the One You Love, High Fantasy). This "contemporary western" is about the journey of self-discovery for three different but equally trapped women. It paints a vivid and unique portrait of femininity against a hostile frontier land and questions what it means to be a woman today in South Africa and the world at large. Faith Baloyi stars as Beauty Cuba, and a cast including Nicole Fortuin, Izel Bezuidenhout, Brendon Daniels, and De Klerk Oelofse. The film features a number of different languages, including English, following these three different women. This looks like something die-hard cinephiles will love, with some crazy footage thrown in.
"I can't get married if my mum isn't here." Universal Australia has debuted the first official trailer for an indie comedy titled Top End Wedding, an Australian film that is premiering at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival this week. This "heartwarming, feel-good comedy" is set against the spectacular natural beauty of the Northern Territory. The story follows a newly engaged couple, Lauren and Ned. They are in love, and they have just ten days to find Lauren's mother who has gone AWOL somewhere in the remote far north of Australia, in order to reunite her parents and pull off their dream wedding. This stars Miranda Tapsell (from The Sapphires) and Gwilym Lee (from Bohemian Rhapsody) as the couple, with Huw Higginson, Ursula Yovich, Elaine Crombie, Shari Sebbens, Kerry Fox, and Dalara Williams. This looks like an enjoyable mainstream comedy with plenty of quirky Australian jokes and references. Still might be good.
"The Spades deal in the most classic of vices…" Get a first look at the debut of a talented up-and-coming filmmaker. Selah and the Spades is the first feature film made by young filmmaker Tayarisha Poe, and it just premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival this past weekend. The film is set at a wealthy private school, which is run by five student factions operating incognito. The story focuses on Selah, who runs the faction known as the "Spades", and her trials and tribulations when a provocative new student challenges her for the throne one year. Starring Lovie Simone as Selah, with a cast including Celeste O'Connor, Jharrel Jerome, Gina Torres, Jesse Williams, and Ana Mulvoy Ten. I just saw this indie film at the Sundance premiere and it reminds me of Rian Johnson's debut film Brick - an inventive, stylish low budget drama that achieves so much with so little. Hopefully it earns some more buzz and finds a distributor soon.
"I've seen how you look at me." Film Movement has released an official US trailer for the acclaimed indie drama Rafiki, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last year and received quite a bit of attention as the first film from Kenya to ever play in the festival. From writer/director Wanuri Kahiu, the film is about a romance between two young girls in Kenya, still considered a taboo and choice that likely may lead to violence. Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva star as the two leads, named Kena and Ziki, and the full cast includes Neville Misati, Nice Githinji, Charlie Karumi, Muthoni Gathecha, and Vitalis Waweru. This received mixed reviews out of Cannes (here's mine), as it's a bit conventional and cliche, but has some incredibly colorful style and it's an important milestone for Kenyan cinema. Check this out below.
"This could be your last trip." Studiocanal UK has debuted the first official UK trailer for the biopic drama The White Crow, the latest film directed by acclaimed actor Ralph Fiennes. It tells the incredible true story of renowned Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev, who managed to defect from the Soviet Union to the West, despite being closely guarded by the KGB, while traveling through Paris in 1961. Nureyev is played by real-life ballet dancer Oleg Ivenko making his acting debut, along with Ralph Fiennes in a role as his ballet coach Alexander Pushkin. The cast also includes Adèle Exarchopoulos, Louis Hofmann, Sergei Polunin, Olivier Rabourdin, Raphaël Personnaz, Chulpan Khamatova, Zach Avery, and Mar Sodupe. This premiered at the Telluride and London Film Festivals last year, and should be released in the US later this year. Based on the reviews and first look at this footage, this seems like it might be pretty good.