The world-famous Sundance Film Festival kicks off on Thursday, January 24, bringing hot movies to the cold Park City, Utah. In years past, Sundance has served as the jumping-off point for popular and award-winning movies like LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. Which of this year’s movies will go on to make it big? Here are some of the high-profile titles that have a shot.
Two alumni from the films of Oscar®-winning director Barry Jenkins — Ashton Sanders of MOONLIGHT and KiKi Layne of IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK — join forces in director Rashid Johnson’s NATIVE SON, making its world premiere at Sundance. If the film’s title sounds familiar, that’s because it’s based on the classic 1940 novel (and school reading list mainstay) by Richard Wright. In this modern-day retelling of Wright’s novel, Sanders plays Bigger Thomas, a poor black youth working for a rich white family in Chicago. A24, which distributed HEREDITARY and EIGHTH GRADE, has already picked up the rights — so expect to see this one in a theatre near you before too long.
EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE
Zac Efron’s come a long way since his HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL days! The one-time teen heartthrob plays serial killer Ted Bundy in director Joe Berlinger’s EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE, having its world premiere at Sundance. Bundy’s reign of terror extended through the mid-to-late ‘70s. The precise number of people he killed is unknown, though we do know the number climbs into double digits. With Efron playing Bundy, we’re likely to have some complicated feelings about the whole affair. Co-starring are Jim Parsons of “The Big Bang Theory,” Lily Collins (playing Bundy’s long-time girlfriend, who didn’t realize the love of her life was a murderer), John Malkovich, and Haley Joel Osment.
Jennifer Kent enjoyed breakthrough success with her directorial debut, THE BABADOOK, which scared its way onto several critics’ best-of-year lists in 2014, after premiering at Sundance. The Australian writer-director follows up that effort with THE NIGHTINGALE, a thriller set in a British penal colony in 1825 Australia. The film follows Clare (Aisling Franciosi), a woman out for revenge after her family endures a harrowing act of violence. She is joined on her quest by Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), an aboriginal tracker with his own legacy of violence. THE NIGHTINGALE made its debut at the 2018 Venice Film Festival, where it won the event’s Special Jury Prize — and enters Sundance 2019 as one of the festival’s most talked about titles.
Justin Chon returns to Park City after his previous film won the Sundance 2017 NEXT Audience Award. (The NEXT program is home to bold and forward-thinking movies, such as last year’s award-winner SEARCHING.) The Asian-American filmmaker, perhaps most recognizable to audiences as Eric Yorkie from the TWILIGHT movies, partially funded MS. PURPLE through a Kickstarter campaign that raised $73,000 from fans. His new film is a drama set in LA’s Koreatown neighborhood, bringing siblings Kasie (Tiffany Chu) and Carey (Teddy Lee) together as they face the final days of their father’s life. This intimate family story has the potential to be one of the breakout critical darlings at Sundance 2019.
KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a charismatic 29-year-old bartender from the Bronx, made headlines on Election Day with her upset victory in her race against nine-term New York Congressman Joe Crowley, and she made headlines again on “60 Minutes” this past Sunday with her frank comments about President Donald Trump. Rachel Lears’ KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE focuses on Ocasio-Cortez’s dynamic campaign, along with those of three other women who faced off against congressional incumbents this past year: a coal miner’s daughter in West Virginia, a registered nurse from troubled St. Louis and a Las Vegas mother grieving the preventable death of her daughter.
Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts (who got his smoldering hunk on in the Carey Mulligan-starring period drama FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD in 2015) stars in Sundance world premiere THE MUSTANG. His character, Roman, is a violent criminal who participates in a rehabilitation program involving the training of wild mustangs. The film gets some U.S. star power in the form of Connie Britton — star of TV shows “Friday Night Lights,” the first season of “American Horror Story” and most recently “9-1-1” — and Jason Mitchell, co-star of the 2015 smash hit STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON.