The Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, is the annual gathering place for all serious film lovers. Founded by Robert Redford, the festival is meant to promote the art of film more than its commercial successes. Awards are given in categories of U.S. Dramatic Film, U.S. Documentary Film, World Dramatic Film, and World Documentary Film. There is also the Premier and Documentary Premier sections for films premiering at Sundance. A newly created section titled Sundance Kids has been added to the festival to include film’s younger fans.
This year, there is a surprising turn towards comedy. Usually the mood of a Sundance film is, well… moody. But 2015’s selection proves that a film can be both funny and thoughtful. The dates are January 22nd through February 1st. Check out the list below of the top ten Sundance films we’re most excited to see, and look through the full list of films and events included at the festival here.
1. Sleeping With Other People
Years after impulsively losing their virginity to each other in college, Lainey (Alison Brie) and Jake (Jason Sudeikis) meet at a support group in New York (“What’s a nice girl like you doing at a sex addicts meeting?”) A spark resurfaces, but they’ve walked this road before. Abject failures in romance who lead lives of serial infidelity and self-sabotage, they agree to a platonic friendship to mutually support their recovery—and what’s more supportive than teaching your friend proper self-stimulation? Can love bloom while you’re sleeping with other people? Leslye Headland’s follow-up to Bachelorette turns the romantic comedy genre upside down by putting love in the hands of self-avowed sluts.
2. True Story
Seth Rogen and James Franco team up again for True Story, where on-the-rise New York Times Magazine writer Michael Finkel receives troubling news from his editors that he is accused of falsifying part of an investigative piece on child laborers in Africa. Jobless and disgraced, Michael retreats from the city and falls into a depression. One day, he hears startling news that a fugitive accused of murdering his family was captured in Mexico claiming the identity of “Michael Finkel of The New York Times.” Intrigued by the story, he travels to interview the accused, identified as Christian Longo, to help save his name. Directed by Rupert Goold, this film promises to be less ridiculous and also less controversial than The Interview.
Set on opposite sides of the Atlantic, John Crowley’s Brooklyn tells the profoundly moving story of Eilis Lacey, a young Irish immigrant navigating her way through 1950s Brooklyn. Lured by the promise of America, Eilis departs Ireland and the comfort of her mother’s home for the shores of New York City. The initial shackles of homesickness quickly diminish as a fresh romance sweeps Eilis into the intoxicating charm of love. But soon, her new vivacity is disrupted by her past, and Eilis must choose between two countries and the lives that exist within.
Based on Colm Toibin’s acclaimed novel, director Crowley and writer Nick Hornby craft a deeply effective, sweeping romance.
In 1961, social psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted the “obedience experiments” at Yale University. The experiments observed the responses of ordinary people asked to send harmful electrical shocks to a stranger. Despite pleadings from the person they were shocking, 65 percent of subjects obeyed commands from a lab-coated authority figure to deliver potentially fatal currents. With Adolf Eichmann’s trial airing in living rooms across America, Milgram’s Kafkaesque results hit a nerve, and he was accused of being a deceptive, manipulative monster.
Experimenter invites us inside Milgram’s mind, beginning with his obedience research and down a path to uncover inner obsessions and how the times in which he lived shaped his view on human behavior inquiries, including the “six degrees of separation” findings.
5. What Happened, Miss Simone?
Classically trained pianist, dive-bar chanteuse, black power icon and legendary recording artist, Nina Simone lived a life of brutal honesty, musical genius, and tortured melancholy. What Happened, Miss Simone? chronicles Nina Simone’s Journey from child piano prodigy to iconic musician and passionate activist, told in her own words. Never-before-heard recordings and rare archival footage is combined with Nina’s most memorable songs, to create an unforgettable portrait of one of the least understood, yet most beloved artists of our time. The film uses recently unearthed audio tapes, recorded over the course of three decades, of Nina telling her life story to various interviewers and would-be biographers. From over 100 hours of these recordings, What Happened, Miss Simone? weaves together Nina’s narrative, told largely in her own words. Rare concert footage and archival interviews, along with diaries, letters, interviews with Nina’s daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, friends and collaborators, and other exclusive materials make this the most authentic, personal, and unflinching telling of Simone’s extraordinary life.
6. Most Likely to Succeed
Where a college diploma once meant a guaranteed job, now more than half of America’s new college graduates are unable to find employment. The subject matter of this documentary is sure to strike a nerve with the millenials, who have found themselves looking back to their educational institutions with a much more critical eye. Director Greg Whiteley (Mitt, 2014 Sundance Film Festival) locates the source of the problem not in the economy, but in our educational system, which was developed at the dawn of the Industrial Age to train obedient workers and has changed little since, despite radical changes in the marketplace wrought by technology and the outsourcing of labor. With a world of information available a click away, and the modern workplace valuing skills like collaboration and critical thinking, our rote-based system of learning has become outdated and ineffective. Whiteley follows students, teachers, and parents at a the charter school, San Diego’s High Tech High, which replaces standardized tests and compartmentalized subjects with project-based learning and a student-focused curriculum, to see if this different model can reawaken the love of learning.
7. The Games Maker
Bringing a little whimsy to Sundance this year is the newly created Sundance Kids section. The three selections in the category are Operation Arctic, a claymation called Shaun the Sheep, and The Games Maker. In The Games Maker, Ivan Drago’s parents take him to an amusement park for his birthday, where he tries his hand at one of the games. Though he doesn’t win, Ivan is given a comic book as a consolation prize. The comic contains an advertisement for a “games makers” competition sponsored by a mysterious corporation. Creating games captures Ivan’s imagination. Against his father’s wishes, he enters the competition and wins. Shortly afterward, his parents disappear in a ballooning accident. Believing them to still be alive, Ivan embarks on a dark, adventure-filled quest to find them, a journey that leads him to learn about his family’s past and to meet the head of the mysterious corporation that sponsored the competition: the evil “games maker” Morodian.
8. The D Train
Dan Landsman is the overly enthusiastic head of his high school reunion committee and also the group’s laughingstock. To impress his so-called friends, he vows to convince their most famous former classmate—Oliver Lawless, the star of a national Banana Boat TV commercial—to attend the reunion to increase attendance. Dan travels to Los Angeles and spins a web of lies, igniting an intoxicating excitement for the first time in his humdrum life. In exchange for Oliver’s precarious friendship, Dan sacrifices his relationships with his wife, son, and boss, and loses himself in his obsession for approval and recognition.
9. People, Places, Things
From the moment graphic novelist Will Henry accidentally walks in on his wife, Charlie, with another man, his life officially begins to suck. Not only is he exiled from Brooklyn to a tiny studio apartment in Astoria and forced to see his adorable twin daughters only on weekends, but, according to Charlie, the separation is all his fault. As he muddles through single fathering and teaching college, a defeated Will sits up nights at his drafting table, illustrating his frustrations and loneliness—aptly symbolized by an ever-growing brick wall jammed between him and his family. When a student challenges Will to pursue new people, places, and things, his obsessions—both graphic and real—take new form. Lead actor Jemaine Clement carries the movie well with his special brand of nerdy cluelessness, lending a pathos to the events which is utterly charming and soulful.
10. Slow West
Scottish filmaker John Maclean makes his Sundance Film Festival debut with this adventure and coming-of-age story, a quintessentially American genre. The main character, Jay, is a lovelorn 17-year-old Scottish aristocrat who travels to the American West at the close of the nineteenth century to track down his former lover. Confronted with the harsh realities of the frontier, he falls in with a rough and mysterious traveler named Silas (Michael Fassbender), who soon discovers that the focus of Jay’s affection has a price on her head. Together, the two navigate a vast, untamed wilderness while attempting to stay one step ahead of a bloodthirsty posse and colorful bounty hunter. Their search leads to a bloody confrontation where Jay’s romanticism is the first of many casualties.
PREMIERS: The End of The Tour
Building on top of such literature as the groundbreaking novel, Infinite Jest, and David Lipsky’s critically acclaimed memoir, and directed from the screenplay by Pulitzer-Prize winner Donald Margulies, which was based on real events, we can only hope that the film adaptation is as good as what came before it. In 1996, shortly after the publication of his groundbreaking novel Infinite Jest, acclaimed author David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) sets off on a five-day interview with Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg). As the days pass, a tenuous yet significant relationship develops between journalist and subject. Lipsky and Wallace weave and bob around each other, revealing as much in what they don’t say as what the say. They share laughs, expose hidden frailties, yet it’s never clear when or to what extent they are being truthful. The interview is never published. Five days of audio tapes are packed away in Lipsky’s closet, and the two men never meet again. This is the story of that journey.
DOCUMENTARY PREMIERS: Kurt Cobain, Montage of Heck
Experience Kurt Cobain up close and personal in the first fully authorized portrait of the famed rock music icon. Director Brett Morgen expertly blends Cobain’s personal archive of art, music, and never-before-seen home movies with animation and revelatory interviews with his family and closest confidants. Following Kurt from his earliest years in Aberdeen, Washington, through the height of his fame, a visceral and detailed cinematic insight of an artist at odds with his surroundings emerges. While Cobain craved the spotlight even as he rejected the trappings of fame, his epic arc depicts a man who stayed true to his earliest punk rock convictions, always identifying with the “outsider” and ensuring the music came first.