I do the same kind of easy-default Sundance Film Festival spitballing every December. I checkmark the titles, directors and actors I know or trust on some level and work outward from there. Per longstanding tradition, I’ll be able to see around 20 to 25 films during my nine days in Park City, depending on stamina and whatnot. (The festival runs from 1.21 to 1.31.) I’m naturally looking for tips from anyone who knows anything about potentially cool obscuros. So here goes with the boldfacing primes vs. shoulder-shruggers — so far I’ve got 20 prime titles, and that’s not including any Dramatic Competition titles:
Ali & Nino / United Kingdom (Director: Asif Kapadia, Screenwriter: Christopher Hampton) — Muslim prince Ali and Georgian aristocrat Nino have grown up in the Russian province of Azerbaijan. Their tragic love story sees the outbreak of the First World War and the world’s struggle for Baku’s oil. Ultimately they must choose to fight for their country’s independence or for each other. Cast: Adam Bakri, Maria Valverde, Mandy Patinkin, Connie Nielsen, Riccardo Scamarcio, Homayoun Ershadi. World Premiere.
Certain Women / U.S.A. (Director: Kelly Reichardt, Screenwriter: Kelly Reichardt based on stories by Maile Meloy) — The lives of three woman intersect in small-town America, where each is imperfectly blazing a trail. Cast: Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, James Le Gros, Jared Harris, Lily Gladstone. World Premiere.
Complete Unknown / U.S.A. (Director: Joshua Marston, Screenwriters: Joshua Marston, Julian Sheppard) — When Tom and his wife host a dinner party to celebrate his birthday, one of their friends brings a date named Alice. Tom is convinced he knows her, but she’s going by a different name and a different biography—and she’s not acknowledging that she knows him. Cast: Rachel Weisz, Michael Shannon, Kathy Bates, Danny Glover. World Premiere.
Frank & Lola / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Matthew Ross) — A psychosexual noir love story—set in Las Vegas and Paris—about love, obsession, sex, betrayal, revenge and, ultimately, the search for redemption. Cast: Michael Shannon, Imogen Poots, Michael Nyqvist, Justin Long, Emmanuelle Devos, Rosanna Arquette. World Premiere.
Indignation / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: James Schamus) — It’s 1951, and among the new arrivals at Winesburg College in Ohio are the son of a kosher butcher from New Jersey and the beautiful, brilliant daughter of a prominent alum. For a brief moment, their lives converge in this emotionally soaring film based on the novel by Philip Roth. Cast: Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, Tracy Letts, Linda Emond, Danny Burstein, Ben Rosenfield. World Premiere.
Love & Friendship / Ireland, France, Netherlands (Director and screenwriter: Whit Stillman) — From Jane Austen’s novella, the beautiful and cunning Lady Susan Vernon visits the estate of her in-laws to wait out colorful rumors of her dalliances and to find husbands for herself and her daughter. Two young men, handsome Reginald DeCourcy and wealthy Sir James Martin, severely complicate her plans.Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny, Xavier Samuel, Emma Greenwell, Tom Bennett, Stephen Fry. World Premiere
Manchester by the Sea / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Kenneth Lonergan) — After his older brother passes away, Lee Chandler is forced to return home to care for his 16-year-old nephew. There he is compelled to deal with a tragic past that separated him from his family and the community where he was born and raised.Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler. World Premiere.
Wiener-Dog / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Todd Solondz) — This film tells several stories featuring people who find their life inspired or changed by one particular dachshund, who seems to be spreading comfort and joy. Cast: Greta Gerwig, Kieran Culkin, Danny DeVito, Ellen Burstyn, Julie Delpy, Zosia Mamet. World Premiere
SECOND-TIER PREMIERES (MAYBE, WHO KNOWS, NOT SO MUCH, WAIT & SEE):
Agnus Dei / France, Poland (Director: Anne Fontaine, Screenwriters: Sabrina N. Karine, Alice Vial, Pascal Bonitzer) — 1945 Poland: Mathilde, a young French doctor, is on a mission to help World War II survivors. When a nun seeks her assistance in helping several pregnant nuns in hiding, who are unable to reconcile their faith with their pregnancies, Mathilde becomes their only hope. Cast: Lou de Laâge, Agata Kulesza, Agata Buzek, Vincent Macaigne, Joanna Kulig, Katarzyna Dabrowska. World Premiere
Captain Fantastic / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Matt Ross) — Deep in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, a father devoted to raising his six kids with a rigorous physical and intellectual education is forced to leave his paradise and re-enter society, beginning a journey that challenges his idea of what it means to be a parent. Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Frank Langella, George MacKay, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, Ann Dowd. World Premiere
The Fundamentals of Caring / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Rob Burnett) — Having suffered a tragedy, Ben becomes a caregiver to earn money. His first client, Trevor, is a hilarious 18-year-old with muscular dystrophy. One paralyzed emotionally, one paralyzed physically, Ben and Trevor hit the road, finding hope, friendship, and Dot in this funny and touching inspirational tale. Cast: Paul Rudd, Craig Roberts, Selena Gomez, Jennifer Ehle, Megan Ferguson, Frederick Weller. World Premiere. CLOSING NIGHT FILM
The Hollars / U.S.A. (Director: John Krasinski, Screenwriter: Jim Strouse) — Aspiring New York City artist John Hollar returns to his Middle America hometown on the eve of his mother’s brain surgery. Joined by his girlfriend, eight months pregnant with their first child, John is forced to navigate the crazy world he left behind. Cast: John Krasinski, Anna Kendrick, Margo Martindale, Richard Jenkins, Sharlto Copley, Charlie Day. World Premiere
Hunt for the Wilderpeople / New Zealand (Director and screenwriter: Taika Waititi) — Ricky is a defiant young city kid who finds himself on the run with his cantankerous foster uncle in the wild New Zealand bush. A national manhunt ensues, and the two are forced to put aside their differences and work together to survive in this heartwarming adventure comedy. Cast: Julian Dennison, Sam Neill, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, Oscar Kightley. World Premiere
Little Men / U.S.A. (Director: Ira Sachs, Screenwriter: Mauricio Zacharias) — When 13-year-old Jake’s grandfather dies, his family moves back into their old Brooklyn home. There, Jake befriends Tony, whose single Chilean mother runs the shop downstairs. As their friendship deepens, however, their families are driven apart by a battle over rent, and the boys respond with a vow of silence. Cast: Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Ehle, Paulina Garcia, Theo Taplitz, Michael Barbieri. World Premiere.
Mr. Pig / Mexico (Director: Diego Luna, Screenwriters: Augusto Mendoza, Diego Luna) — On a mission to sell his last remaining prize hog and reunite with old friends, an aging farmer abandons his foreclosed farm and journeys to Mexico. After smuggling in the hog, his estranged daughter shows up, forcing them to face their past and embark on an adventurous road trip together. Cast: Danny Glover, Maya Rudolph, José María Yazpik, Joel Murray, Angélica Aragón, Gabriela Araujo. World Premiere
Sing Street / Ireland (Director and screenwriter: John Carney) — A boy growing up in Dublin during the ’80s escapes his strained family life and tough new school by starting a band to win the heart of a beautiful and mysterious girl. Cast: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Jack Reynor, Aidan Gillen, Mark McKenna. World Premiere
Sophie and the Rising Sun / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Maggie Greenwald) — In a small Southern town in the autumn of 1941, Sophie’s lonely life is transformed when an Asian man arrives under mysterious circumstances. Their love affair becomes the lightning rod for long-buried conflicts that erupt in bigotry and violence with the outbreak of World War ll. Cast: Julianne Nicholson, Margo Martindale, Lorraine Toussaint, Takashi Yamaguchi, Diane Ladd, Joel Murray. World Premiere. SALT LAKE CITY GALA FILM
PRIME DOCUMENTARY PREMIERES:
LO AND BEHOLD, Reveries of the Connected World / U.S.A. (Director: Werner Herzog) — Does the internet dream of itself? Explore the horizons of the connected world. World Premiere
Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures / U.S.A. (Directors: Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato) — This examination of Robert Mapplethorpe’s outrageous life is led by the artist himself, speaking with brutal honesty in a series of rediscovered interviews about his passions. Intimate revelations from friends, family, and lovers shed new light on this scandalous artist who ignited a culture war that still rages on. World Premiere.
Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall / U.S.A. (Director: Spike Lee) — Catapulted by the success of his first major solo project, Off the Wall, Michael Jackson went from child star to King of Pop. This film explores the seminal album, with rare archival footage and interviews from those who were there and those whose lives its success and legacy impacted. World Premiere.
Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You / U.S.A. (Directors: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady) — How did a poor Jewish kid from Connecticut bring us Archie Bunker and become one of the most successful television producers ever? Norman Lear brought provocative subjects like war, poverty, and prejudice into 120 million homes every week. He proved that social change was possible through an unlikely prism: laughter. World Premiere. DAY ONE FILM
Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper / U.S.A. (Director: Liz Garbus) — Gloria Vanderbilt and her son Anderson Cooper each tell the story of their past and present, their loves and losses, and reveal how some family stories have the tendency to repeat themselves in the most unexpected ways. World Premiere.
Under the Gun / U.S.A. (Director: Stephanie Soechtig) — The Sandy Hook massacre was considered a watershed moment in the national debate on gun control, but the body count at the hands of gun violence has only increased. Through the lens of the victims’ families, as well as pro-gun advocates, we examine why our politicians have failed to act. World Premiere
Unlocking the Cage / U.S.A. (Directors: Chris Hegedus, Donn Alan Pennebaker) — Follow animal rights lawyer Steven Wise in his unprecedented challenge to break down the legal wall that separates animals from humans. By filing the first lawsuit of its kind, Wise seeks to transform a chimpanzee from a “thing” with no rights to a “person” with basic legal protection. World Premiere
SECOND-TIER DOC PREMIERES (MAYBE, GUARDED ATTITUDE, WAIT & SEE):
Eat That Question —- Frank Zappa in His Own Words / France, Germany (Director: Thorsten Schütte) — This entertaining encounter with the premier of sonic avant-garde is acidic, fun-poking, and full of rich and rare archival footage. This documentary bashes favorite Zappa targets and dashes a few myths about the man himself. World Premiere
Film Hawk / U.S.A. (Directors: JJ Garvine, Tai Parquet) — Trace Bob Hawk’s early years as the young gay child of a Methodist minister to his current career as a consultant on some of the most influential independent films of our time. World Premiere
Maya Angelou And Still I Rise / U.S.A. (Directors: Bob Hercules, Rita Coburn Whack) — The remarkable story of Maya Angelou — iconic writer, poet, actress and activist whose life has intersected some of the most profound moments in recent American history. World Premiere
Resilience / U.S.A. (Director: James Redford) — This film chronicles the birth of a new movement among pediatricians, therapists, educators, and communities using cutting-edge brain science to disrupt cycles of violence, addiction, and disease. These professionals help break the cycles of adversity by daring to talk about the effects of divorce, abuse, and neglect. World Premiere
Richard Linklater — dream is destiny / U.S.A. (Directors: Louis Black, Karen Bernstein) — This is an unconventional look at a fiercely independent style of filmmaking that arose in the 1990s from Austin, Texas, outside the studio system. The film blends rare archival footage with journals, exclusive interviews with Linklater on and off set, and clips from Slacker, Dazed and Confused, Boyhood, and more.World Premiere
Land of Mine / Denmark (Director and screenwriter: Martin Zandvliet) — At the end of World War II, a group of young German POWs captured by the Danish army are forced to defuse and clear landmines from the Danish coastline with no training. Inspired by real events, the film exposes the untold story of one tragic moment in Denmark’s history. Cast: Roland Møller, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Louis Hofmann, Joel Basman, Emil Belton, Oskar Belton. U.S. Premiere.
Maggie’s Plan / U.S.A. (Director: Rebecca Miller, Screenwriters: Rebecca Miller, based on a story by Karen Rinaldi) — A young woman’s determination to have a child catapults her into a nervy love triangle with a heart-throb academic and his eccentric critical-theorist wife. Cast: Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Travis Fimmel.
Viva / Ireland (Director: Paddy Breathnach, Screenwriter: Mark O’Halloran) — In contemporary Cuba, a father and son struggle to escape from each other’s expectations, duty, and the burden of past sins. Cast: Héctor Medina, Jorge Perugorría, Luis Alberto García.
SPOTLIGHT MAYBES, WHO KNOWS?, SUSPICION:
Cemetery of Splendor / Thailand (Director and screenwriter: Apichatpong Weerasethakull) — A lonesome middle-aged housewife tends to a soldier with sleeping sickness and falls into a hallucination that triggers strange dreams, phantoms, and romance. Cast: Jenjira Pongpas, Banlop Lomnoi, Jarinpattra Rueangram.
Embrace of the Serpent / Colombia (Director: Ciro Guerra, Screenwriters: Ciro Guerra, Jacques Toulemonde Vidal) — This blistering, poetic story is inspired by the original journals of scientists Theodor Koch-Grünberg and Richard Evans Schultes, who meet lone survivor Karamakate, an Amazonian shaman. Over 40 years, they develop a friendship while traveling through the Colombian Amazon in search of the sacred, psychedelic yakruna plant. Cast: Jan Bijvoet, Brionne Davis, Antonio Bolivar, Nilbio Torres, Miguel Dionisio Ramos.
Green Room / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Jeremy Saulnier) — This wickedly fun horror-thriller tells a story about the owner of a neo-Nazi club who squares off against an unsuspecting but resilient young punk band after they witness a horrific act of violence. Cast: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Patrick Stewart.
The Lobster / Ireland, United Kingdom, Greece, France (Director: Yorgos Lanthimos, Screenwriters: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou) — In a dystopian near future, single people are obliged to find a mate in 45 days or else be transformed into an animal of their choice and be released into the woods. Cast: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Ben Whishaw, Léa Seydoux, John C. Reilly, Olivia Colman.
Miles Ahead / U.S.A. (Director: Don Cheadle, Screenwriters: Don Cheadle, Steven Baigelman) — Inspired by events in Miles Davis’s life, this is a wildly entertaining, impressionistic, no-holds-barred portrait of one of twentieth-century music’s creative geniuses. Cast: Don Cheadle, Ewan McGregor, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Lakeith Lee Stanfield, Michael Stuhlbarg.
Rams / Iceland (Director and screenwriter: Grímur Hákonarson) — In a remote Icelandic farming valley, two brothers who haven’t spoken in 40 years have to come together to save what’s dearest to them—their sheep. Cast: Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Theodór Júlíusson.o amuse themselves during their winter break from school, the kids in a small village have a massive snowball fight. But what starts out as pure youthful fun and enthusiasm deteriorates into a more serious conflict as the children learn the role that love and friendship play in their lives. Cast: Sandra Oh, Ross Lynch, Angela Gallupo, Lucinda Davis, Don Shepherd, Sonja Ball. North American Premiere
PRIME SPECIAL EVENTS:
11.22.63 / U.S.A. (Director: Kevin Macdonald, Screenwriter: Bridget Carpenter, Executive Producers: J.J. Abrams, Stephen King, Kevin Macdonald, Bridget Carpenter, Bryan Burk) — On November 22, 1963, three shots rang out in Dallas, President Kennedy was killed, and the world changed. What if you could change it back? Take a journey to find out in this genre-busting, epic new nine-hour event series. The Festival will debut the two-hour premiere of the series, followed by an extended Q&A. Cast: James Franco, Sarah Gadon, Daniel Webber, George MacKay, Josh Duhamel, Chris Cooper. World Premiere.
The Girlfriend Experience / U.S.A. (Directors and screenwriters: Lodge Kerrigan, Amy Seimetz, Executive Producers: Steven Soderbergh, Philip Fleishman, Lodge Kerrigan, Amy Seimetz, Gary Marcus, Jeff Cuban) — Law student Christine Reade is introduced to the world of transactional relationships in this original anthology series. Providing “The Girlfriend Experience” (an emotional and sexual relationship offered at a high price) gives Christine a rush of control and intimacy, but she soon finds herself juggling two very different lives. The Festival will premiere four episodes of the series, followed by an extended Q&A. Cast: Riley Keough, Paul Sparks, Mary Lynn Rajskub, James Gilbert, Kate Lyn Sheil. World Premiere.
O.J.: Made in America / U.S.A. (Director: Ezra Edelman) — This is the story of O.J. Simpson, one of the most polarizing people of the twentieth century, and the city in which he lived for much of his life, Los Angeles. The film explores Simpson’s rise and fall, centered around two of America’s greatest fixations—race and celebrity. The Festival will premiere the full 7.5-hour documentary, followed by an extended Q&A.World Premiere.
Behind the Scenes of Anomalisa / U.S.A. (Directors: Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson, Screenwriter: Charlie Kaufman) — Michael Stone—husband, father and respected author—is crippled by the mundanity of his life. On a business trip, he checks into the Fregoli Hotel. He’s amazed to discover a possible escape from his desperation in an unassuming woman, who may or may not be the love of his life. The Festival will present a screening of the film followed by a Q&A with the creators. Separately, they will speak on a Festival panel explaining their creative process and how they brought their extraordinary film to life. Cast: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan, David Thewlis.
Chelsea Does / U.S.A. (Director: Eddie Schmidt) — This four-part documentary series features Chelsea Handler as she explores topics of personal and universal fascination: marriage, racism, Silicon Valley, and drugs. The Festival will premiere one installment of the series with clips from the other three installments, followed by an extended Q&A with Chelsea Handler, Director Eddie Schmidt, and Executive Producer Morgan Neville. World Premiere
The New Yorker Presents / U.S.A. (Executive Producers: Alex Gibney, Kahane Cooperman, Showrunner: Kahane Cooperman) — A groundbreaking new series that brings America’s most award-winning magazine, The New Yorker, to the screen with documentaries, short narrative films, comedy, poetry, animation, and cartoons from the hands of acclaimed filmmakers and artists. The Festival will premiere the first two episodes of the series, followed by an extended Q&A. World Premiere
The Skinny / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Jessie Kahnweiler) — Follow feminist and wannabe YouTube star Jessie as she struggles to live, love, and get over her bulimia. The Festival will premiere six 10-minute episodes, followed by an extended Q&A with Kahnweiler. Cast: Jessie Kahnweiler, Illeana Douglas, Spencer Hill, Ryan Pinkston, Megan Ferguson, Sadie Calvano. World Premiere
United Shades of America / U.S.A. (Executive Producers: Jimmy Fox, W. Kamau Bell, Star Price) — Political comedian W. Kamau Bell explores the racial subcultures of America. In this original series premiere, he uses humor to challenge Klansmen looking to rebrand their message. The screening will include an extended Q&A.World Premiere
US DRAMATIC COMPETITION — no clues at all, seeking guidance:
As You Are (Director: Miles Joris-Peyrafitte | Cast: Owen Campbell, Charlie Heaton)
The Birth of a Nation(Director: Nate Parker | Cast: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer)
Christine (Director: Antonio Campos | Cast: Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall)
Equity (Director: Meera Menon | Cast: Anna Gunn, James Purefoy)
The Free World (Director: Jason Lew | Cast: Boyd Holbrook, Elisabeth Moss, Octavia Spencer)
Goat (Director: Andrew Neel | Cast: Nick Jonas, Ben Schnetzer)
The Intervention (Director: Clea DuVall | Cast: Melanie Lynskey, Cobie Smulders)
Joshy (Director: Jeff Baena | Cast: Thomas Middleditch, Adam Pally)
Lovesong (Director: So Yong Kim | Cast: Jena Malone, Riley Keough)
Morris from America (Director: Chad Hartigan | Cast: Markees Christmas, Craig Robinson)
Other People (Director: Chris Kelly | Cast: Jesse Plemons, Molly Shannon)
Southside With You (Director: Richard Tanne | Cast: Tika Sumpter, Parker Sawyers)
Spa Night (Director: Andrew Ahn | Cast: Joe Seo, Haerry Kim)
Swiss Army Man (Directors: Daniel Scheinert, Daniel Kwan | Cast: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe)
Tallulah (Director: Sian Heder | Cast: Ellen Page, Allison Janney, Uzo Aduba)
White Girl (Director: Elizabeth Wood | Cast: Morgan Saylor, Brian ‘Sene’ Marc)
US DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION — I know nothing, nothing, nothing.
Audrie & Daisy (Directors: Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk)
Author: The JT LeRoy Story (Director: Jeff Feuerzeig)
The Bad Kids (Directors: Keith Fulton, Lou Pepe)
Gleason (Director: Clay Tweel)
Holy Hell (Director: undisclosed)
How to Let Go of the World (and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change) (Director: Josh Fox)
Jim (Director: Brian Oakes)
Kate Plays Christine (Director: Robert Greene)
Kiki (Director: Sara Jordenö)
Life, Animated (Director: Roger Ross Williams)
Newtown (Director: Kim A. Snyder)
NUTS! (Director: Penny Lane)
Suited (Director: Jason Benjamin)
Trapped (Director: Dawn Porter)
Uncle Howard (Director: Aaron Brookner)
Weiner (Directors: Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg)
WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION:
Belgica Director: Felix van Groeningen | Cast: Stef Aerts, Tom Vermeir
Between Sea and Land (Directors: Manolo Cruz, Carlos del Castillo | Cast: Manolo Cruz, Vicky Hernandéz)
Brahman Naman (Director: Q, Screenwriter: S. Ramachandran | Cast: Shashank Arora, Tanmay Dhanania)
A Good Wife (Director: Mirjana Karanovic | Cast: Mirjana Karanovic, Boris Isakovic)
Halal Love (and Sex) (Director: Assad Fouladkar | Cast: Darine Hamze, Rodrigue Sleiman)
The Lure (Director: Agnieszka Smoczynska | Cast: Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska)
Male Joy, Female Love (Director: Yao Huang | Cast: Nan Yu, Daizhen Ying)
Mammal (Director: Rebecca Daly | Cast: Rachel Griffiths, Barry Keoghan)
Mi Amiga del Parque (Director: Ana Katz | Cast: Julieta Zylberberg, Ana Katz)
Much Ado About Nothing (Director: Alejandro Fernández | Cast: Agustín Silva, Alejandro Goic)
Sand Storm (Director: Elite Zexer | Cast: Lamis Ammar, Ruba Blal-Asfour)
Wild (Director: Nicolette Krebitz | Cast: Lilith Stangenberg, Georg Friedrich)