Park City, Utah’s Sundance Film Festival has wrapped for 2019. By now, studios have swooped in to buy up movies that will be appearing in theaters over the coming year. We kept our eyes on the scene to report on which of the year’s buzzy indies fought their way through the cold and the competition to be acquired. Here’s what you have a chance of seeing as the year goes on. (Updated to reflect new acquisitions on February 5.)
Amazon—which shelled out major bucks at this year’s Sundance—snapped up one last major title before the fest came to an end on Sunday. The studio reportedly paid around $5 million for the rights to Alma Har’el’s HONEY BOY, about the relationship between a child actor and his substance-abusing rodeo clown father. The movie is loosely based on the life of former child actor Shia LaBeouf (remember him in HOLES?), here playing a character based on his own father. Playing Shia himself are A QUIET PLACE’s Noah Jupe and Oscar® nominee Lucas Hedges. Normally playing a real person can be difficult; this time, at least they had LaBeouf right there to answer any questions.
Brittany Runs a Marathon
As Sundance begins to wind to a close, Amazon picked up rights to the comedy BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON. Comedian Jillian Bell — whom you may remember from 22 JUMP STREET, ROUGH NIGHT and Comedy Central’s “Workaholics” — stars as a slacker who decides to improve her life by training to run a marathon. The film’s been labeled a crowd pleaser by Sundance audiences, with Variety calling it “a slam-dunk for a major breakout” — i.e., yes, it’ll very likely come to a theatre near you and (maybe) inspire you to get off the couch. Maybe.
Luce, and Little Monsters
In addition to MONOS and THE LODGE (see below), I, TONYA distributor NEON has snapped up Sundance premieres with some serious star power. First up is LUCE, a psychological drama about a couple (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) whose adoption of an Eritrean orphan a decade earlier begins to raise some questions. Oscar®-winner Octavia Spencer (THE HELP, THE SHAPE OF WATER) co-stars.
And speaking of Oscar winners, Lupita Nyong’o (12 YEARS A SLAVE, BLACK PANTHER) stars in fellow NEON acquisition LITTLE MONSTERS (pictured). The premise here is a bit goofier, with Nyong’o playing a kindergarten teacher who must defend her class from a zombie invasion. Just another day in the life of a teacher, amirite? Josh Gad of FROZEN fame co-stars as a children’s TV star named, no joke, Teddy McGiggle.
Blinded by the Light
Gurinder Chadha might be best known by U.S. audiences for her 2002 multicultural comedy, BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM. New Line is confident her latest film, BLINDED BY THE LIGHT, will have a similar crossover appeal with American audiences. The studio is reportedly in negotiations to acquire the Sundance film in a $15-million+ deal. BLINDED BY THE LIGHT, the story of a Pakistani teenager in 1987 England whose life is changed when he discovers Bruce Springsteen’s music, has emerged as one of the most endearing crowd-pleasers at this year’s festival. It’s a relatable premise for anyone who picked up a Springsteen tape in the ’80s.
LATE NIGHT, directed by Nisha Ganatra and written by/co-starring Mindy Kaling of “The Mindy Project,” has emerged as a major hit at this year’s Sundance. Positive reviews for the workplace comedy were matched by an impressive deal, as Amazon shelled out $13 million to bring the film to U.S. movie theatres. Reviewers are particularly keen on LATE NIGHT star Emma Thompson (SENSE AND SENSIBILITY), playing a late night talk show host who hires — and subsequently locks horns with — her show’s first female writer (Kaling).
Days after making a splash with the acquisition of Mindy Kaling comedy LATE NIGHT, Amazon Studios made its second high-profile buy at Sundance 2019 with THE REPORT. The political thriller stars STAR WARS’ Adam Driver, with supporting performances from Annette Bening and “Mad Men’s” Jon Hamm. The movie focuses on the real-life investigation behind claims of torture at the CIA. Adam Driver is riding high after his Best Supporting Actor nomination for his performance in BLACKKKLANSMAN; a potential fall release could put Driver in next year’s Oscar race as well.
A24, a strong presence at this year’s Sundance (see below: THE HOLE IN THE GROUND, THE SOUVENIR), hasn’t stopped buying movies yet. The MOONLIGHT and HEREDITARY distributor is reportedly in final negotiations to acquire talked-about title THE FAREWELL, directed by Lulu Wang and starring up-and-coming actress Awkwafina. The OCEAN’S 8 and CRAZY RICH ASIANS star plays Billi, a Chinese-American woman who discovers that her grandmother back in China is suffering from a fatal disease. Billi’s family, instead of telling their matriarch that she’s about to die, stages a fake wedding so they can all be together one last time.
Monos and The Lodge
Distributor NEON, which brought the Margot Robbie-starring I, TONYA to the big screen, has picked up rights to a pair of Sundance premieres. The first of those is Latin American survival thriller MONOS, in which a group of teenage soldiers hold an American (Julianne Nicholson, of I, TONYA and HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”) hostage. It’s when the group gets driven back into the jungle that things get really dicey — in part because the hostage begins to play for power by psychologically manipulating her young captors.
The second Neon acquisition is the English-language debut of directing pair Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz. The pair freaked out horror fans in a big way with their 2015 film GOODNIGHT, MOMMY, about a pair of creepy identical twins (never trust identical twins in horror movies!) who turn on their mother. If reviews out of Sundance are anything to go by, the two have delivered another bit of family-based WTH-ery with THE LODGE (pictured), about a pair of siblings trapped in a remote mountain lodge with their soon-to-be stepmom (MAD MAX: FURY ROAD’s Riley Keough). Alicia Silverstone and THE HOBBIT trilogy’s Richard Armitage co-star.
The Hole in the Ground
Distributor A24 is known for a particular kind of horror film — slow-burn, smart thrillers like HEREDITARY and A GHOST STORY, aka that movie where Casey Affleck walked around in a sheet for 90 minutes. This year, they’re putting their money on debut director Lee Cronin’s THE HOLE IN THE GROUND, about a woman whose son disappears into a sinkhole and comes back all spooky scary. Or is it really her son who came back at all? Dun dun dunnnnn.
The Souvenir, and The Last Black Man in San Francisco
But A24 isn’t only about horror. The company won Oscar gold with MOONLIGHT and also brought critical favorites LADY BIRD and EIGHTH GRADE to the big screen. On the drama front this year, A24 already has their hands on buzzy title THE SOUVENIR, starring Oscar-winner Tilda Swinton. A24 also helped produce THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO (above), inspired by the true story of a man (Jimmie Fails, playing himself) determined to take back the house built by his grandfather. Danny Glover and Finn Wittrock of “American Horror Story” co-star. Sounds like “American Horror Story: Gentrification.”
Magnolia Pictures picked up the theatrical rights to director Alison Klayman’s THE BRINK, the second documentary about Steve Bannon, the controversial former chief advisor to Donald Trump, to appear at festivals in the past six months. (The first was Errol Morris’ interview doc AMERICAN DHARMA.) For THE BRINK, Klayman was given unfettered access to the co-founder of Breitbart News as he leaves the White House and makes it his mission to advise and mobilize far-right political parties around the globe. Not for nothing is the film called THE BRINK.
Focus Features gives some of that big screen magic to Sundance world premiere THE MUSTANG, starring Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts as a violent criminal whose therapy involves training wild horses. Connie Britton of “Friday Night Lights” and Jason Mitchell of STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON co-star.
Director Jennifer Kent, who scared the pants off audiences with 2014’s THE BABADOOK, brings thrills ’n’ chills to Sundance with her buzzy sophomore feature THE NIGHTINGALE. The film is set in Kent’s native Australia and centers on a woman (Aisling Franciosi) who goes out on a quest for vengeance after her family is targeted in an act of violence. THE NIGHTINGALE already won a key prize at the Venice Film Festival, so it’s no surprise that IFC Films snapped it up right away.
The Tomorrow Man
Two acclaimed acting veterans, Tony and multi-Emmy winners Blythe Danner and John Lithgow, are paired for the first time in THE TOMORROW MAN, which Bleecker Street brings to theatres on May 17. Lithgow (“The Crown”) plays a small-town man obsessed with preparations for a disaster that may never come, while Danner’s character is a compulsive shopper. Sounds like they’re perfect for each other! David Fincher protégé Noble Jones makes his feature directing debut.