Every year, Hollywood eases into its post-holiday, pre-Oscars session with a pit stop to Park City, Utah for the annual Sundance Film Festival. It's here where we begin to acquire tat valuable "buzz" on arthouse, indie and possible awards-worthy features that will be making their way down the mountain over the course of the year, and into our local movie theaters. The thing about Sundance, however, is that you never really know how strong a beloved film's legs are going to be. The altitude often plays with expectations, and movies like last year's The Birth of a Nation or the previous year's Me, Earl and the Dying Girl don't always connect with mainstream crowds once they finally are screened for the non-Sundance throngs.
This year's Sundance Film Festival kicked off on Thursday, January 19, meaning we have had nearly a week to process the hype on several of the films that have screened since opening night. Here, then, are the five movies we think you need to seek out when they finally play in a theater near you.
The Big Sick
To best understand The Big Sick, you need only know that it is directed by Michael Showalter (The State, Wet Hot American Summer) and produced by Judd Apatow, so it will blend humor and heart in a package that probably lasts too long and will need a decent trim before reaching mainstream theaters. Still, reviews for the personal comedy have been overwhelmingly positive, as screenwriter and star Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley, The X-Files) recounts a brush with a mysterious illness his wife, Emily V. Gordon (Zoe Kazan) faced during their courtship.
From SlashFilm's Review: "A sincere romantic comedy that will give you hearty laughs over and over again and then squeezes tears from your eyes moments later. ... I don't remember the last time a movie was able to have this much hilarity one moment and pure emotion from me, back and forth throughout the entire film."
You might not know Taylor Sheridan's name just yet, but there's a very good chance you watched and enjoyed one of his film. The multi-nominated screenwriter has turned heads recently with scripts for Sicario and Hell or High Water. Wind River is his directorial debut, and from what we are hearing, it's very much in line with those two tense, rewarding films. Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen take a break from the MCU to play investigators teamed up on a difficult murder case that plunges them into the snowy elements on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming.
From Fandango's Review: "Wind River is a tense, captivating thriller that proves Taylor Sheridan is one of the most exciting emerging storytellers in years."
A Ghost Story
Color me "shocked" that Sundance critics are falling for a quiet, subdued Rooney Mara / Casey Affleck romance directed by David Lowery (Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Pete's Dragon), but the reviews are SO over the top positive, this one belongs on your list. The premise sounds twee, as Affleck's character dies in the opening scenes, then his ghost follows his widow (Mara) home so he can watch her grieve. There's even a 5-minute, uninterrupted scene of Mara eating pie as she cries. But again, critical response has been ridiculously positive, so take note.
From The Film Stage's Review: "A Ghost Story is one of the most poignant films to ever grapple with this existential question. It's a singular feat of enthralling storytelling that I would say is going to leave a lasting impression centuries after everyone involved has passed away."
Dee Rees turned heads with the devastating Pariah, and is back with an adaptation of Hillary Jordan's prize-winning book, which is being described as Faulknerian in its scope and character depth. It might have a whiff of Birth of a Nation, as it explores the simmering racial tensions of America during the Jim Cow years. But it has a stellar cast, ranging from Carey Mulligan to Mary J. Blige and Jason Clarke. This one covers a lot of ground, but it sounds like it gives audiences a full meal on which to chew.
From The Hollywood Reporter's Review: "Mudbound requires a taste for leisurely storytelling generally more focused on building careful nuances and layered characters than on big dramatic cymbal clashes. But patient investment pays off in an epic that creeps up on you, its stealth approach laced with intelligence, elegance and an affecting balance of humanity and moral indignation."
Call Me By Your Name
Continuing to hold open the door that was opened by Moonlight, Luca Guadagino's Italian drama is being heralded as a strong representation of gay cinema, with Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet playing two men who engage in a passionate relationship while staying in a picturesque villa. If the story sounds basic, the execution reportedly trumps the simplicity, with the entire cast earning raves. If you happened to catch Guadagino's A Bigger Splash, this should come as no surprise.
From Vanity Fair's Review: "Call Me by Your Name is a true stunner. It's sexy and sad and funny. It's Italy, it's summer, it's food, it's family. It's lust and shame and hope and resignation. It's life, messy and brilliant."
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Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. Having been with the site since 2011, Sean interviewed myriad directors, actors and producers, and created ReelBlend, which he proudly cohosts with Jake Hamilton and Kevin McCarthy. And he's the author of RELEASE THE SNYDER CUT, the Spider-Man history book WITH GREAT POWER, and an upcoming book about Bruce Willis.