We spent several days in the mountains of Park City, Utah attending this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Want the inside track on which indie films you should put on your movie-watching radar for 2018? Here are ten of our favorites…
Watch it because… it’s the best coming-of-age movie for right now. Its instantly memorable characters and scenarios are in many ways universal, and not many teen films are able to inject as much honesty and authenticity into every corner as well as writer-director Bo Burnham does with Eighth Grade. Its story, about a girl experiencing the wild ups and awkward downs of her final year of middle school, will be recognizable to anyone who ever felt gutted, alone and unsure of everything at 13. It’s a movie for the moment, and man, does it get this moment right.
When you can watch it: A24 will release Eighth Grade in theaters later this year
Watch it because… it features three of the best performances we witnessed at this year’s festival, and may even be the lone film we watched that has a chance to go the distance in terms of awards later this year. Based on the real life story of a born-and-raised Klansman (Garrett Hedlund) who finds the kind of love that convinces him to trash his ugly past and replace it with a healthier future, Burden will leave viewers with conflicting feelings. How do you root for a character who’s fueled by hate for a good part of the movie? Can someone like that actually be redeemed, and should we be telling those stories? Expect this movie to make some waves as 2018 rolls on.
When you can watch it: Release TBD 2018
Watch it because… it’s one of the most gripping, emotional and gut-wrenching movies about abuse that I’ve ever seen. Based on director Jennifer Fox’s own experiences as a child, Laura Dern stars as a woman who begins to recount a sexual relationship she had at 13 with a much older man -- and as the expertly structured narrative unfolds, she slowly begins to come to terms with the fact that a relationship she always thought was a healthy one was actually anything but. As the story continually shifts between Dern’s character as an adult and as a child, the film introduces some sequences that are extremely difficult to watch, so much so that Jason Ritter – who plays the girl’s abuser – began crying on stage following the premiere as he spoke about filming some of The Tale’s more agonizing moments.
When you can watch it: Release TDB 2018
Monsters and Men
Watch it because… it’s a timely conversation starter inspired by true events that’s well made, well acted and creatively executed. Deemed a triptych due to the film telling three distinct stories, Monsters and Men is very much inspired by the Eric Garner incident, in which an unarmed Staten Island man died after police put him in a headlock. The film, after essentially recreating the same situation (minus Garner’s name), then unfolds its narrative from three distinct POVs: a witness who shot cellphone video of the death; a black cop wrestling with his loyalties to his fellow officers in the face of such disdain for the police department; and a student athlete on the cusp of going pro who finds himself becoming an activist.
Staten Island filmmaker Reinaldo Marcus Green injects the film with some of his own experiences, specifically one moment where the cop gets into a heated conversation with his friend over what is or isn’t shown on that cellphone video. While the film doesn’t necessarily present strong resolutions for its stories, it’s representative of the ongoing nature of a very present conversation that hasn’t – and won’t be – wrapped up in a neat little bow anytime soon.
When you can watch it: NEON has acquired the rights and release later this year.
Three Identical Strangers
Watch it because… it features an unbelievable real-life story about a set of triplets separated at birth who find each other by accident 20 years later. Three Identical Strangers was the most captivating documentary we watched at the festival this year, with a story that’s almost too wild to be true – not to mention that the concept of them finding each other is only the very beginning of a story that features a number of crazy twists and turns we don’t want to spoil here.
When you can watch it: NEON has acquired the theatrical distribution rights and will release later this year. Meanwhile, CNN Films has the TV rights, so expect it to screen on CNN, too.
Watch it because… it’s a brilliant, violent and wickedly funny take on the dangers of social media in the age of the mob mentality. The film plays kind of like a mix between The Purge and Heathers, in which four hard-partying female friends band together to protect themselves when their town spirals into madness and destruction after someone begins hacking everyone’s personal data. As intimate secrets are revealed in bulk, the hunt is on for the person responsible – and when the trail leads to this group of girls, they’ll need to stand up and fight (literally, with guns drawn) to both prove their innocence and save their neighborhood.
When you can watch it: NEON has acquired the distribution rights and will release in theaters later this year.
Summer of ‘84
Watch it because… it’s got this whole Strangers Things meets The Burbs vibe going on, delivering a story that very much taps into a look and feel that’s immensely popular right now. Nostalgia is hot, and The Summer of ’84 clearly takes advantage of that, but unlike Stranger Things, it wisely refrains from over-referencing ‘80s pop culture. Its set-up is simple: a group of kids from suburbia band together to try to rid their town of the serial killer who plagues it – and who may, in fact, be one of their closest neighbors. While the film hits a lot of familiar beats, it does take some very unconventional risks towards the end that are impressive and make it worth the watch.
When you can watch it: Release TBD
The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Watch it because… it’s a funny, biting, heartbreaking story about a teenage girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) who’s caught kissing another girl and sent to a gay conversion camp. It’s there that she meets new friends (including one played by Sasha Lane, in a follow-up to her breakout role in American Honey), experiences controversial therapy sessions and fights to hold onto her identity and eventually embrace the person she wants to be instead of the person others think she should be. The Miseducation of Cameron Post, based on the popular book of the same name, is a timely film about very real camps that still exist right now, and one that’s hopefully accessible enough to make some noise, convincing those in power that these camps are dangerous and, in many ways, emotionally abusive.
When you can watch it: Release TBD
Sorry to Bother You
Watch it because… it’s hands down the craziest, most WTF movie we saw at Sundance. Essentially it’s a morality tale about activism and the dangers that come with the wrong opportunity, featuring a terrific ensemble cast that includes Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson and Armie Hammer. What starts out fairly innocently – with a dude landing a telemarketing job that he excels at once he figures out he’s more successful when he uses a “white voice” – quickly devolves into an over-the-top narrative that involves a wild, coke-snorting Armie Hammer and a group of half-man, half-horse mutants. It may not be the most accessible movie, but it’s incredibly inventive and it definitely proves first-time director Boots Riley is a voice that won’t be going away anytime soon.
When you can watch it: Annapurna has acquired the distribution rights and will release it in theaters later this year.
What They Had
Watch it because… it’s a sweet, funny and soulful story about a brother (Michael Shannon) and sister (Hilary Swank) wrestling with the idea of putting their mother (Blythe Danner) in a special home as her health begins to deteriorate due to Alzheimer’s. Should they separate her from her the man that’s been by her side for 60 years? Or will they leave her be and risk losing her if she once again leaves her apartment in the middle of the night because her mind isn’t right? For those with loved ones who are or have suffered from this painful disease, this will be a hard film to watch at times, but one that may feel therapeutic and ultimately rewarding. Plus it’s got a funny Michael Shannon performance, which is rare from an actor we’re used to seeing in these intimidating roles.
When you can watch it: Release TBD