As sellers and buyers roll into the chilly climes of Park City and Sundance starting tonight, a batch of promising films await. Along with hopes of all-nighter auctions and the opportunity to find the next CODA. After a number of conversations with vets on both sides, the simple truth is, we won’t know if there’s a towering deal ahead, until some of the top titles his the screen over the next week.
This is the first in-person version of Sundance in a good long time. While the festival’s terrific online portal made it pretty painless to feel connected to sales titles in the last couple years, there is nothing like trudging through the snow to a Sundance theater and discovering a gem and the next Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan. That is Sundance’s enduring superpower, and the reason why everyone has returned despite questionable confidence in the theatrical release market for adult-themed fare. Will the streamers gobble up the marquee titles? Will an emerging distributor like MUBI or Utopia crack through and make a statement buy? The one consistent thing that most are saying is, there might not be a stampede for the first couple days’ worth of films. It might take until Monday or even later for deals to coalesce. But distributors have slots to fill, and emerging filmmakers to tell the war stories involved in getting on the Sundance Slate.
Here are the titles we’ve heard mentioned likely to go home with distribution:
Director: Elijah Bynum. Cast: Jonathan Majors, Haley Bennett, Taylour Paige. One of the great Sundance pleasures is seeing an actor on a strong commercial trajectory shining in an indie vehicle. This film is a tour de force for Majors, who plays an aspiring amateur bodybuilder desperate to be seen and to connect, but whose plunge into the solitary existence and narcissism and insecurity of the sport leads him to become an anti-hero on the order of Travis Bickle. Majors is about to really pop commercially, squaring off against Michael B. Jordan in Creed 3, and playing the Marvel supervillain Kang in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantum Mania. CAA selling. U.S. Dramatic Competition / Premiere: Jan 20, 6:30PM @ Eccles
WILLIE NELSON & FAMILY
Directors: Thom Zimny and Oren Moverman. The bad ass cowboy outlaw has been an iconic singer for decades. But his own life is something of a mystery because he hasn’t opened the door until now. This is a multi-part documentary series by Zimny (Bruce Springsteen’s creative partner in several projects) and Moverman (Love & Mercy) create an intimate look at Nelson’s life. He plugs in perfectly to the middle-of-the-country audience that turned Yellowstone into TV’s biggest hit, which ought to make this catnip for broadcasters and streamers looking to plug into that vast demo. It is being sold by Mark Ankner. Episodic/Premiere: Tuesday, Jan 24, 8AM @ Prospector
TALK TO ME
Directors: Danny & Michael Philippou (RackaRacka). Cast: Sophie Wilde, Miranda Otto. Keep an eye on this one, both as a fast seller, but also an aggressive attempt by the major agencies to sign the filmmakers. In Talk to Me, a group of friends discover how to conjure spirits using an ancient embalmed hand, they become hooked on the new thrill. Until one of them goes too far and opens the door to the spirit world. Midnight / Premiere: Jan 21, 11:55PM @ Egyptian. Sales: Bankside
FLORA AND SON
Director: John Carney. Cast: Eve Hewson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Oren Kinlan, Jack Renor. Single mom Flora is at war with her teenage son, petty thief Max. Encouraged by the police to find Max a hobby, she rescues a beat-up guitar from a dumpster and finds that one person’s trash can be a family’s salvation. With his other films including Once and Begin Again, Carney has shown a unique knack to meld the inner workings of creation of music into compelling films. You always feel he’s on the verge of making a great one that hits at the box office. The star of the film is the daughter of U2 frontman Bono. Maybe this will be it. Premieres / Premiere: Jan 22, 2:30PM @ The Ray. Sales: WME
Director: Susanna Fogel. Cast: Emilia Jones, Nicholas Braun, Geraldine Viswanathan, Isabella Rossellini. When college student Margot meets 30 something Robert at the movie theater where she works, a very modern mating dance ensues, defined by projection, ambivalence, mistrust of the opposite sex, and a glaring disconnect between the virtual and in-person dynamics. After things culminate in an awkward sexual encounter, a lack of communication leads to uncomfortable – and eventually dangerous – consequences. Premieres / Premiere: Jan 21, 9:25PM @ Eccles Sales: UTA, StudioCanal.
THE PERSIAN VERSION
Director: Maryam Keshavaraz. Cast: Layla Mohammadi, Niousha Noor, Kamand Shafleisabet, Bella Warda, Chiara Stella. Coming from two countries at odds with each other, Iranian-American Leila (Layla Mohammadi) strives to find balance and embrace her opposing cultures, while boldly challenging the labels society is so quick to project upon her. When her family reunites in New York City for her father’s heart transplant, Leila navigates her relationships from arm’s length in an effort to keep her “real” life separate from her family life. However, when her secret is unceremoniously revealed, so are the distinct parallels between her life and that of her mother, Shireen (Niousha Noor). U.S. Dramatic Competition / Premiere: Jan 21, 6:05PM @ Library. Sales: UTA
DRIFT – Director: Anthony Chen. Cast: Cynthia Erivo, Alia Shawkwat, Ibrahima Ba, Honor Swinton Byrne. Young refugee Jacqueline lands alone and penniless on a Greek island, where she tries first to survive and then to cope with her harrowing past. While gathering her strength, she begins a friendship with a rootless tour-guide and together they find the resilience to forge ahead. Premieres / Premiere: Jane 21, 12:30PM @ Eccles. Sales: UTA
EILEEN – Director: William Oldroyd. Cast: Thomasin McKenzie, Anne Hathaway, Shea Whigham, Marin Ireland, Owen Teague. Set during a bitter 1964 Massachusetts winter, young secretary Eileen becomes enchanted by the glamorous new counselor at the prison where she works. Their budding friendship takes a twisted turn when Rebecca reveals a dark secret —throwing Eileen onto a sinister path. Based on the Ottessa Moshfegh novel. Premieres / Premiere: Jan 21, 6:25PM @ Eccles. Sales: WME
FAIR PLAY – Director: Chloe Domont. Cast: Rian Johnson, Eddie Marsan, Alden Ehrenreich, Phoebe Dynevor, Rich Sommer. An unexpected promotion at a cutthroat hedge fund pushes a young couple’s relationship to the brink, threatening to unravel far more than their recent engagement. U.S. Dramatic Competition / Premiere: Jan 20, 3:00PM @ Library.
FAIRYLAND – Director: Andrew Durham. Cast: Emilia Jones, Scoot McNairy, Geena Davis, Cody Fern, Adam Lambert, Maria Bakalova, Nessa Dougherty. Following the sudden and tragic death of her mother, young Alysia is uprooted by her father Steve in hopes of restarting his life. They move to 1970s San Francisco where Steve develops his poetic and personal writing and begins to openly date men. Steve’s bohemian lifestyle clashes with the expectations of parenthood from both the outside world and Alysia herself, who occasionally wishes for less of the independence her father gives her. As Alysia grows into a young woman on the cusp of adulthood, their bonds and duty to each other are tested in painful and sudden ways. Premieres / Premiere: Jan 20, 8:55AM @ Eccles. Sales: UTA, Gersh
THE POD GENERATION – Director: Sophie Barthes. Cast: Emilia Clarke, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rosalie Criag. In a not-so-distant future, amid a society madly in love with technology, tech giant Pegazus offers couples the opportunity to share their pregnancies via detachable artificial wombs or pods. And so begins Rachel and Alvy’s wild ride to parenthood in this brave new world, one where they might find they are not fully in control. Premieres / Premiere: Jan 19, 9:00PM @ Eccles. Sales: CAA
SHORTCOMINGS – Director: Randall Park. Cast: Justin H. Min, Sherry Cola, Ally Maki, Debby Ryan, Tavi Gevinson, Sonoya Mizuno, Jacob Batalon, Timothy Simons. Ben is a struggling filmmaker living in Berkeley with his girlfriend, Miko. She works for a local Asian American film festival. When he’s not managing an arthouse movie theater as his day job, Ben spends his time obsessing over unavailable blond women, watching Criterion Collection DVDs, and eating in diners with his best friend Alice, a queer grad student with a serial dating habit. When Miko moves to New York for an internship, Ben is left to his own devices and begins to explore what he thinks he might want. U.S. Dramatic Competition / Premiere: Jan 22, 3:30PM @ Eccles. Sales: UTA, WME
THEATER CAMP – Director: Molly Gordon, Nick Lieberman. Cast: Noah Galvin, Molly Gordon, Ben Platt, Jimmy Tatro, Patti Harrison, Nathan Lee Graham, Ayo Edebiri, Owen Thiele, Caroline Aaron, Amy Sedaris. When the beloved founder of a rundown theater camp in upstate New York falls into a coma, the eccentric staff must band together with the founder’s crypto bro son to keep the camp afloat. U.S. Dramatic Competition / Premiere: Jan 21, 3:25PM @ Eccles. Sales: WME
BAD BEHAVIOUR – Director: Alice Englert. Cast: Jennifer Connelly, Ben Winshaw, Alice Englert, Ana Scotney, Dasha Nekrasoa, Marlon Williams. Former child actor Lucy seeks enlightenment at a retreat led by spiritual leader Elon while she navigates her close yet turbulent relationship with her stunt-performer daughter, Dylan. World Cinema Dramatic Competition / Premiere: Jan 21, 2:30PM @ The Ray. Sales: CAA, Verve Ventures
DIVINITY – Director: Eddie Alcazar. Cast: Stephen Dorff, Moises Aria, Jason Genao, Karrueche Tran, Bella Thorne, Scott Bakula. Two mysterious brothers abduct a mogul during his quest for immortality. Meanwhile, a seductive woman helps them launch a journey of self-discovery. Next / Premiere: Jan 21, 8:45PM @ Egyptian. Sales: CAA
JAMOJAYA – Director: Justin Chon. Cast: Brian Imanuel, Yayu A.W. Unru, Kate Lyn Sheil. A father-son relationship is put to the test when an up-and-coming musician at the crossroads of his career decides to let go of his manager, who is also his father. This decision forces them to confront the past and figure out what they want of each other. Premieres / Premiere: Jan 22, 9:30PM @ Eccles. Sales: UTA
SOMETIMES I THINK ABOUT DYING – Director: Cast: Daisy Ridley, Dave Merheje, Parvesh Cheena. Fran likes to think about dying. It brings sensation to her quiet life. When she makes the new guy at work laugh, it leads to more: a date, a slice of pie, a conversation, a spark. The only thing standing in their way is Fran herself. U.S. Dramatic Competition / Premiere: Jan 19, 5:00PM @ Library. Sales: CAA
TO LIVE AND DIE AND LIVE – Director: Qasim Basir. Cast: Amin Joseph, Cory Hardrict, Skye P. Marshall. Muhammad returns home to Detroit to bury his stepfather and is thrust into settling his accounts, but Muhammad’s struggles with depression and addiction may finish him before he finishes the task. Next / Premiere: Jan 20, 11:25AM @ The Ray. Sales: CAA
PRETTY BABY: BROOKE SHIELDS– Director: Lana Wilson. Iconic model and actress Brooke Shields as she becomes a woman who discovers her power after being a sexualized young girl. She shows the dangers and triumphs of gaining agency in a hostile world. Premieres / Premiere: Jan 20, 2:55PM @ Eccles
JUSTICE – Director: Doug Liman,. Exploring the epic battle to confirm Brett Kavanaugh. World Premiere. Documentary Section, Friday, 8:30 PM @ Park Avenue Theater.
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