2021 Sundance Film Festival Most Anticipated

For new readers, or for people who were unaware, I have been given the wonderful opportunity from Sundance Film Festival to cover their wonderful festival for this site. Sundance has always been a major point of reference for me in my critical career. I have always wanted to cover a film festival, and for my first one ever to be Sundance is truly incredible. I cannot thank the people at Sundance enough for giving me this opportunity. The festival this year will be mostly virtual, with some satellite locations, and so while it won’t be the same as heading up to Park City, Utah and mingling with fellow critics and film lovers, I am still having a blast “meeting” and conversing with fellow critics.

As a way to get a headstart on my coverage, I have looked through the extensive program that Sundance has provided, and narrowed down my most anticipated films to watch and review from the festival. I cannot wait to see these wonderful films and to bring everyone this coverage. It truly is a dream come true.

Honorable Mentions (Alphabetical Order):

  • Cryptozoo
  • In the Earth
  • I Was a Simple Man
  • Jockey
  • Mayday
  • On the Count of Three
  • We’re All Going to the World’s Fair
  • Wild Indian

10. Land

  • Director: Robin Wright
  • Writer(s): Jesse Chatham, Erin Dignam
  • Cast: Robin Wright, Demián Bichir, Kim Dickens
  • Synopsis: When Edee’s life is tragically altered, she loses the ability to connect with the world and people she once knew. She retreats to a forest in the Rocky Mountains with a few supplies and leaves her old life behind indefinitely. The beauty of her new surroundings is undeniable yet quickly humbling as she struggles to adjust and prepare for the winter ahead. When Edee is caught on the brink of death, a local hunter and his family miraculously save her, but she alone must find a way to live again.

The only reason this film really made it here was because of the trailer. Robin Wright is delivering her feature directorial debut, and she looks to be giving a highly physical performance. The movie seems kind of straightforward from a story standpoint, but Wright looks amazing and I am sure there is bound to be some beautiful cinematography included. This film made my top 10 because, with a release date of February 12, Wright could look to make a move in the 2021 Oscar race.

9. Passing

  • Director: Rebecca Hall
  • Writer(s): Rebecca Hall
  • Cast: Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, André Holland, Alexander Skarsgård, Bill Camp
  • Synopsis: Irene Redfield (Tessa Thompson), a refined, upper-class 1920s woman, finds breezy refuge from a hot summer day in the grand tearoom of New York City’s Drayton Hotel. Across the room, she spots a blond woman staring her down. Irene wants to steal away, but before she can, Clare Kendry (Ruth Negga) rushes over to stop her. It turns out the two were in high school together, and while both are African American women who can “pass” as white, they have chosen to live on opposite sides of the color line. Now, their renewed acquaintance threatens them both.

This is Rebecca Hall’s writing/directing feature debut, and it is a really powerful one. This could wind up being one of the biggest films of the entire festival, or, could be THE biggest miss. Being honest, I don’t know much about the Novel it is based on, but it is being billed as a Psychological Thriller, which already piqued my interest, and will be shot in Black and White (I assume to resemble the time period), which I am an absolute sucker for. So, count me all in for Rebecca Hall’s debut.

8. John and the Hole

  • Director: Pascual Sisto
  • Writer(s): Nicolás Giacobone
  • Cast: Charlie Shotwell, Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Ehle, Taissa Farmiga
  • Synopsis: While exploring the neighboring woods, 13-year-old John (Charlie Shotwell) discovers an unfinished bunker—a deep hole in the ground. Seemingly without provocation, he drugs his affluent parents (Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Ehle) and older sister (Taissa Farmiga) and drags their unconscious bodies into the bunker, where he holds them captive. As they anxiously wait for John to free them from the hole, the boy returns home, where he can finally do what he wants.

There seems to be a theme with a lot of these Sundance films, and that is the complete off the walls stories and looks into certain subjects. That is no different here as this film might end up being one of the weirdest and most psychologically tense films of the bunch. Billed as a psychological thriller and a coming of age story, this movie looks to tap into many different genres and produce many different emotions. The cast is incredible and the movie looks like it will be insane all around

7. Coda

  • Director: Siân Heder
  • Writer(s): Siân Heder
  • Cast: Emilia Jones, Eugenio Derbez, Troy Kotsur, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Daniel Durant, Marlee Matlin
  • Synopsis: Ruby (Emilia Jones) is the only hearing member of a deaf family. At 17, she works mornings before school to help her parents (Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur) and brother (Daniel Durant) keep their Gloucester fishing business afloat. But in joining her high school’s choir club, Ruby finds herself drawn to both her duet partner (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) and her latent passion for singing. Her enthusiastic, tough-love choirmaster (Eugenio Derbez) hears something special and encourages Ruby to consider music school and a future beyond fishing, leaving her torn between obligation to family and pursuit of her dream.

What is intriguing here is the different take on the difficulties with being deaf. Instead of a hearing family adapting to a deaf child like we have seen countless times before, a deaf family is having to adapt to their hearing child’s longing for the outside world. This is one of the very first films premiering at Sundance, and one that I can’t wait to witness.

6. Prisoners of the Ghostland

  • Director: Sion Sono
  • Writer(s): Aaron Hendry, Reza Sixo Safai
  • Cast: Nicolas Cage, Sofia Boutella, Nick Cassavetes, Bill Moseley, Tak Sakaguchi, Yuzuka Nakaya
  • Synopsis: In the treacherous frontier city of Samurai Town, a ruthless bank robber (Nicolas Cage) is sprung from jail by wealthy warlord The Governor (Bill Moseley), whose adopted granddaughter Bernice (Sofia Boutella) has gone missing. The Governor offers the prisoner his freedom in exchange for retrieving the runaway. Strapped into a leather suit that will self-destruct within five days, the bandit sets off on a journey to find the young woman—and his own path to redemption.

This film already sounds insane, blending together a mix of genres with samurai, western, post-apocalyptic, you name it, but adding Nic Cage to the cast makes it all the more intriguing. This absolute batshit of a movie could wind up being one of the most exciting coming from Sundance 2021.

5. Prime Time

  • Director: Jakub Piątek
  • Writer(s): Jakub Piątek, Łukasz Czapski
  • Cast: Bartosz Bielenia, Magdalena Popławska, Andrzej Kłak, Małgorzata Hajewska-Krzysztofik, Dobromir Dymecki, Monika Frajczyk
  • Synopsis: New Year’s Eve 1999. Twenty-year-old Sebastian, armed with a gun, hijacks a TV studio and takes two hostages—a famous TV presenter and a security guard. His plan? No one seems to know, including Sebastian himself. His demand to deliver his message, whatever that may be, via live broadcast is repeatedly thwarted by an uncertain police force and an egotistical network chairman. As the night wears on, Sebastian and the hostages bond in unexpected ways, while those in power fumble to restore order.

The film seems highly intense already, but the write-up talks of one location, frantic editing, and handheld camera movements make me all the more intrigued. I am a big fan of claustrophobic/tense films, and this movie is gearing up to be something that is right down my alley.

4. Mass

  • Director: Fran Kranz
  • Writer(s): Fran Kranz
  • Cast: Jason Isaacs, Ann Dowd, Martha Plimpton, Reed Birney
  • Synopsis: Imagine the most dreaded, tense, and emotionally draining interaction you could find yourself in and multiply it by 10. That is exactly what two sets of parents—Richard (Reed Birney), Linda (Ann Dowd), Jay (Jason Isaacs), and Gail (Martha Plimpton)—are facing. Years after a tragedy caused by Richard and Linda’s son tore all their lives apart, Jay and Gail are finally ready to talk in an attempt to move forward.

So this film isn’t outright saying what the tragedy is… but I think we can all assume what it is. With that being, I think this could be a risky film, but also could wind up being one of the most emotional and relevant looks into the aftermath of tragedy. This one might be the biggest wildcard, for me, of the Sundance lineup as first-time writer/director Fran Kranz is tackling a pretty hefty subject, but Jason Isaacs being in it is a big pull, and from the picture, it looks like it will be an emotional ride.

3. The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet

  • Director: Ana Katz
  • Writer(s): Ana Katz, Gonzalo Delgado
  • Cast: Daniel Katz, Julieta Zylberberg, Valeria Lois, Mirella Pascual, Carlos Portaluppi
  • Synopsis: Sebastian politely faces his neighbors, who complain about his dog’s cries, and similarly reacts to his employers, who forbid pets in the workplace. A series of peculiar and challenging moments like this follow as Sebastian changes jobs and reconnects with his mother. At one point, along with the new responsibility of being a father, Sebastian must contend with an unknown pandemic—one that requires the bizarre preventive measures of walking crouched down and wearing expensive bubble headgear. At times disaffected, at other times cautiously optimistic, “everyman” Sebastian shows surprising resilience through it all.

Again, I am a complete sucker when it comes to filming in Black and White. Not only that, this film looks, and sounds, to be a very timely story with a sincere and heartfelt message. I am a little interested in how they will swing the “pandemic” aspect, and how much they will dive into that, but I am completely intrigued.

2. Together Together

  • Director: Nikole Beckwith
  • Writer(s): Nikole Beckwith
  • Cast: Ed Helms, Patti Harrison, Tig Notaro, Julio Torres, Anna Konkle.
  • Synopsis: When young loner Anna is hired as the surrogate for Matt, a single man in his 40s, the two strangers come to realize this unexpected relationship will quickly challenge their perceptions of connection, boundaries, and the particulars of love.

Okay, so I absolutely love when a comedic actor goes out of his comfort zone and takes on a dramatic role. I know the film is listed as a comedy in a lot of places, but with the film competing in the US Dramatic Competition at Sundance, I have reason to believe this will have drama included in the comedy. This film has the feeling of an extremely touching and personal film and I cannot wait to see what kind of performance Ed Helms has in store for us.

1. Marvelous and the Black Hole

  • Director: Kate Tsang
  • Writer(s): Kate Tsang
  • Cast: Miya Cech, Rhea Perlman, Leonardo Nam, Kannon Omachi, Paulina Lule, Keith Powell
  • Synopsis: Thirteen-year-old Sammy is struggling to cope with the death of her mother. After she is caught vandalizing one of her school’s restrooms, her father, fed up with her wild behavior, enrolls her in a summer course—if she fails, she’ll be sent to a boot camp for delinquent youth. After storming out of her first class, Sammy meets Margot, a surly magician. Margot forces Sammy to be her assistant for a performance, and although Sammy seems uninterested, she seeks Margot out after the show and asks to become Margot’s pupil. Margot agrees, and as their unlikely friendship grows, we learn that she and Sammy understand each other more than they expected.

There is a perfect blend of weird and outrageous pain and grief that gets me so excited about this. I love coming of age movies and this one looks to be a perfect blend of comedy with some seriously dark honest moments. Something about this film already feels magical, and if this one works, it definitely could be a huge hit for me.

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