What’s Going On At Sundance? Six Films People Are Talking About

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sundance-film-festival-Cole Clay // Film Critic

The Sundance Film Festival is a madhouse. It’s a place where the Hollywood elite come for 10 days to showcase their latest projects. Last year, the opening night film, WHIPLASH (our review), jolted audiences into oblivion. We all know what that film has gone on to accomplish: five Academy Award nominations. This doesn’t happen every year, but let’s be honest, anybody who isn’t there is feverishly scaling the internet to get the latest Sundance dish.

It sucks not being in Park City, but think about all the films you have to look forward to over the course of 2015, which is already proving to be a rich tapestry for independent filmmaking. Talk about your silver lining.

Of the films that have shown so far at the festival, the below films are the ones that have got me chomping at the bit to see what all the hype is about. Some feature unknowns, others features tragic literary legends, and some just feature Keanu Reeves doing “whoa” things. I speak for all of us when I say, “Sundance, je t’aime.”

dope2DOPE
Director: Rick Famuyiwa
Stars: Zoë Kravitz, Forest Whitaker, Tony Revolori and Keith Stanfield

IMDB Log-line: A coming of age comedy/drama for the post hip hop generation. Malcolm is a geek, carefully surviving life in The Bottoms, a tough neighborhood in Inglewood, CA filled gangsters and drugs dealers, while juggling his senior year of college applications, interviews and the SAT. His dream is to attend Harvard. A chance invitation to a big underground party leads Malcolm and his friends into a, only in Los Angeles, gritty adventure filed with offbeat characters and bad choices.
Watch the trailer here.

Why They’re Buzzing: Brian Tallerico from RogerEbert.com had this to say about DOPE. “It is about geek culture, black culture, school culture, tech culture, white culture, drug culture, rap culture and your culture. It is a bracingly smart piece of work that’s also wildly entertaining and insightful.” He went on to say, “DOPE moves like a runaway train from character to character and set piece to set piece, recalling the energy of GO or even PULP FICTION in its structure.” Read the full review here.

Why We’re Buzzing: I’ve unknowingly been a fan of Rick Famuyiwa since I was a kid watching the underrated 1999 coming-of-age comedy THE WOOD, and with the added quirkiness of Wes Anderson alumni Tony Revolori, this should be shooting fish in a barrel.

Mistress-AmericaMISTRESS AMERICA
Director: Noah Baumbach
Stars: Greta Gerwig, Juliet Brett, Charlie Gillette and Michael Chernus

IMDB Log-Line: A lonely college freshman’s life is turned upside down by her impetuous, adventurous soon-to-be stepsister.

Why They’re Buzzing: Eric Kohn of Indiewire had this to say about the film. “As with FRANCES HA, the movie adopts the tone of a screwball comedy to explore the frustrations and aspirations of young women — one of whom played, once again, by an endearingly wacky Gerwig — but it has a more conventional structure and cynical attitude that synthesizes the two authors’ distinct voices.” Read the full review here.

Why We’re Buzzing: I would stand by the argument that Noah Baumbach creates some of the most lucid voices in filmmaking today. His last film FRANCES HA was nothing short of a revelation (for me at least). I can’t, can’t wait to see what this hip mo’ fo’ has up his sleeve this year. Note: Baumbach has another film being released this year starring Ben Stiller titled WHILE WE’RE YOUNG.

me-and-earl-and-the-dying-girlME & EARL & THE DYING GIRL
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Starring: Nick Offerman, Jon Bernthal, Connie Britton, Thomas Mann, Bobb’e J. Thompson and Molly Shannon

IMDB Log-Line: A teenage filmmaker befriends a classmate with cancer.

Why They’re Buzzing: Germain Lussier from Slashfilm had this to say about the film: “ME & EARL & THE DYING GIRL is one of those movies we come to the Sundance Film Festival to see. The tonal balance of comedy and drama is perfect. It tries different things in its form, it loves that it’s a film and is aware of its time and place in history. It’s a very special, emotional and exciting movie that we’re sure to be talking about for years to come.” Read the full review here.

Why We’re Buzzing: I know very little about Gomez-Rejon, other than the work he did on AMERICAN HORROR STORY, but I’m always a sucker for a warmhearted character piece. Not to mention, it’s garnered the prestige that comes along with premiering at Sundance.

15286-1-1100THE D TRAIN
Director: Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul
Stars: Jack Black, James Marsden, Kathryn Hahn and Jeffrey Tambor

IMDB Log-Line: The head of a high school reunion committee travels to Los Angeles to track down the most popular guy from his graduating class and convince him to go to the reunion.

Why They’re Buzzing: Mike D’ Angelo of The Dissolve had this to say about the film: “THE D TRAIN ultimately respects what the people it’s invented are going through, and acknowledges that some aspects aren’t particularly funny. It’s a mess, but that’s largely because what it’s attempting is inherently messy, at least for the time being.” Read the full review here.

Why We’re Buzzing: Although this blurb isn’t exactly glowing, the film obviously possesses some prime comedic talent. And I’m always curious to see what Marsden does with his few and far between comedic endeavors. Plus, IFC purchased the distribution rights to the film, and I love IFC. Simple as that.

end-of-the-tour-jesse-eisenberg-jason-segelTHE END OF THE TOUR
Director: James Ponsoldt
Stars: Jason Segel, Jesse Eisenberg and Anna Chlumsky

IMDB Log Line: A magazine reporter recounts his travels and conversations with author David Foster Wallace during a promotional book tour.

Why They’re Buzzing: Alison Willmore of Buzzfeed had this to say about the film: “THE END OF THE TOUR isn’t a biopic, and when the movie’s not peering so hard at Wallace, it settles into being a terrific back-and-forth between a subject and journalist who are both writers and therefore on the same and opposite sides of the table. The film, which was adeptly directed by THE SPECTACULAR NOW’s James Ponsoldt.” Read the full review here.

Why We’re Buzzing: I admittedly don’t know much about David Foster Wallace other than his reputation, but Ponsoldt’s fourth film reportedly escapes typical “bio-pic” trappings due to Segal’s transcendent performance.

KnockKnockKNOCK KNOCK
Director: Eli Roth
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Lorenza Izzo and Ana de Armas

IMDB Log-Line: A pair of femme fatales wreak havoc on the life of a happily married man.

Why They’re Buzzing: Germain Lussier from Slashfilm had this to say about the film. “KNOCK KNOCK is another strong example of Eli Roth doing what he does best: Building tension, asking questions, and making the audience uncomfortable. A few bumps aside, KNOCK KNOCK is an enjoyable, original ride.” Read the full review here.

Why We’re Buzzing: Mainly because I haven’t seen an original film from Eli Roth in going-on eight years now (HOSTEL: PART II) and his last effort THE GREEN INFERNO is stuck in distribution purgatory. Plus, Reeves is on a white hot at the moment, as long as he doesn’t put on the shades and a duster we’ll be alright.

3fce1e09-64bd-4b8c-b0d7-4ba5183e47ed-620x372JAMES WHITE
Director: Josh Mond
Stars: Christopher Abbott, David Call and Adriana DeGirolami

IMDB Log-Line: A young New Yorker struggles to take control of his reckless, self-destructive behavior in the face of momentous family challenges.

Why They’re Buzzing: Eric Kohn of Indiewire had this to say about the film: “Using a restless style that energizes each scene, Mond makes it impossible not to get swept up in the increasingly devastating story. His tale unfolds with the momentum of a real-time thriller as Abbott’s character darts around his mother’s apartment, cramped hospital rooms and crowded nightclubs in search of an ever-elusive catharsis for his situation.” Read the full review here.

Why We’re Buzzing: Since the talented Abbot left the HBO series GIRLS last year, he’s been making moves to position himself as one of the cool indie kids at this year’s festival.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.