While Adam Schiff and his House Intel Committee were busy writing up a 300-page impeachment report for the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, programmers at the Sundance 2020 Film festival were busy mocking up another similarly dense and lengthy document that is the official Sundance 2020 Feature Film Lineup. This year’s slate of films features a total of 118 feature films hailing from 27 different countries and is perhaps one of the most explosive lineups in recent festival history.
With much of California being consumed by wildfires, and with an inferno of another sort blazing in the U.S. Senate, perhaps it is only fitting that much of Hollywood has decided to ring in the new year by flocking to Park City for the upcoming Sundance Film Festival. In recent years, the festival has tended to veer away from the star-studded gala that Sundance once embodied, and been remodeled to be more of a hipster Imaginarium for the Duplass Brothers to workshop new ideas, with virtually every film featuring appearances by either Michael Cera or Aubrey Plaza. However, with this being the final year of John Coopers three-decade run as festival director, it seems he has rolled out the red carpet in a big way putting together the ultimate farewell celebration.
This year’s Premiere category is filled to the brim with past Oscar nominees and winners including legends such as Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Coleman, Glenn Close, Anne Hathaway, Ben Affleck, Willem Dafoe, Julianne Moore, Benedict Cumberbatch and more. This means that anybody with even the slightest bit of agoraphobic symptoms is going to need to keep a good distance from the Eccles theatre as it will be masquerading as the Grauman’s Chinese theater for at least the first week of the fest. Oh, and did we mention that the whole thing kicks off with the premiere of Taylor Swift’s new documentary Taylor Swift: Miss Americana?
Before you start mouthing off with one of those “Tame Impala isn’t big enough to headline Coachella” style rants, there are still plenty of obligatory Sundance staples for you to soak up and relax in while the rest of Park City descends into madness. Sure, you can sit around and ponder quandaries such as “Who did Jeff Baena sell his soul to in order to guaranteed a spot at every Sundance?” or “Whatever happened to the Morning Star Cafe?” Meanwhile, Nathan McVay and Ty Cooper—Sundance kids turned angsty 30-somethings—have been working hard to help you cut through the unfettered foliage of film and help deliver you to that sweet cinematic oasis in the snow in which you long to bask in. So without further ado, here are our must-see picks for this year’s festival!
Custom-Tailored Just For Us:
Nathan’s Pick: Dinner in America
Sundance movies that have music as the backdrop has stolen my heart for over a decade now. 2007’s Once was my go-to pick for a movie night with girls I dated for over a decade until I realized how depressing it actually was. And there have been several movies trying to duplicate its success since. This year has several candidates from The 40-Year-Old Version, a movie about a playwright who decides to become a rapper, looks solid, and there are even movies starring Meek Mill, but my candidate is Dinner in America which is produced by Ben Stiller and has a relatively young and unknown cast. The film follows a punk rocker and a young woman obsessed with his band as they go on an epic journey through the Midwest. So many things here show so much potential to swell my heart. Music and love and the midwest! That’s the story of my life!
Ty’s Pick: Shirley
Author Shirley Jackson is without a doubt one of the most influential writers to ever grace the horror genre, and the intimate and enclosed settings of her novels have made many people dread the idea of sleeping alone at night. This film is based on a 2015 book by Susan Scarf Merrell depicts a fictional narrative of a young couple that move in with Jackson and her husband sometime presumably after the completion of her 1964 novel We Have Always Lived in This Castle. Things go awry as the couple discovers that the inspiration for Jackson’s next novel, might just be themselves.
Ty’s Pick- Worth
This year’s premiere category is loaded with an array of films that might be tusseling for the Oscar shortlist next year. I’m not going to lie, my initial reflex was to just blurt out the film The Father and be done with it. It’s hard to count a movie starring two Oscar winners (Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Coleman) and is written by none other than Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liasons, Atonement). But while a film like The Father may be the safer bet, I am instead chosing to put my stock in the new Max Borenstein film Worth, a story about Kenneth Feinberg’s work with the 9/11 victim’s compensation fund which reunites Birdman’s Amy Ryan and Michael Keaton. As the man who has been called in to work cases related to almost every national tragedy of the last two decades, Feinberg’s story will without a doubt be a compelling one. Personally I am a huge fan of Borenstein’s work with both the new incarnation of Godzilla, as well as his show The Terror. Might I also add that he is one of the few chosen ones that have blessed with the chance to helm a Game of Thrones spin-off.
Nathan’s Pick- The Glorias
Well, that’s not really fair that Ty got to talk about two, but I dug deep in the lineup to find my own! The Glorias has a 50/50 shot, it will either be a completely incoherent mess OR, it’s going to be a massive critical success and win some Oscar gold! Julie Taymor directs this massive ensemble that may be similar in the vein of the Bob Dylan biopic I’m Not There. Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, Bette Midler, Janelle Monae and more star in this “nontraditional chronicle” of Gloria Steinem.
As I said, it could be great, it could not be!
Every year a movie comes out of nowhere. When the program guide comes out, the biggest attention always goes to the film’s with the biggest names. Of course, everyone will be excited about Will Ferrell showing up in the mountains, and Benh Zeitlin returning to Sundance with Wendy after his massive breakout hit Beasts of the Southern Wild. But the best moments of Sundance are reserved for walking into a theater with little expectation and being completely floored by a brilliant surprise,.
Nathan’s Pick: Nine Days
This film’s premise alone is intriguing to me.
“In a house distant from the reality we know, a reclusive man interviews prospective candidates—personifications of human souls—for the privilege that he once had: to be born.”
What!? I know! Trippy and out there, but very very intriguing. The cast is also super young and solid. Winston Duke and Zazie Beetz head the cast with supporting roles from Tony Hale, Bill Skarsgard, and Benedict Wong.
This will definitely be a movie unlike any others at Sundance and I think it has the potential to be something truly special.
Ty’s Pick: Nowhere Inn.
After St. Vincent’s (Anne Clark) hat trick of guest appearances on the hit show Portlandia, it should seem only natural for us to now be seeing a team-up between Clark, co-creator Carrie Brownstein, and director Bill Benz. The resulting film, Nowhere Inn, reads like a mix between last year’s Amazing Jonathan Documentary and the 2000 Lars Van Trier x Björk collbaoration, Dancer in the Dark. Assuming that my guy instincts are correct, this could be a huge film to watch for. On a side note, recent entries in the Midnight category tend to end up with their own line of t-shirts by Online Ceramics/Haunted Wagon, and I can’t help but wonder if this might be a potential prospect.
Ty’s Pick– Untitled Kirby Dick/Amy Ziering Project
It wouldn’t be a proper Sundance without at least one documentary film coming in to shake things up a bit. Though it is doubtful that anything will ever come close to the frenzy that resulted from the premiere of Leaving Neverland, there are a few films on this year’s roster that just might come close. While the film’s about Deepwater Horizon, Pepe the Frog and virtually anything that nearly mentions the Trump administration might have some people frothing at the mouth (yes I’m talking to you Rep. Chris Stewart), the film that is already garnering its fair share of pre-festival buzz is a thus far untitled Kirby Dick/Amy Ziering Project about a hip-hop executive’s struggle with going public about her rape by the hands of some of the most powerful men in the industry. The film, which is also executive produced by Oprah Winfrey is undoubtedly going to be one of the most talked-about screenings at this year’s fest.
Nathan’s Pick– What Ty Said
The One Film I Won’t Be Able to Convince Nathan to See:
Ty- One thing my good pal Nathan has in common with comedian Doug Benson, is that he sure does love his movies. Unfortunately, my good pal does not seem to share Mr. Benson’s undying love for pop royalty, T-Swizzle (Taylor Swift.) Over the years Nathan and I have enjoyed many amazing Sundance documentaries on artists such as LCD Soundsystem, Girl Talk, Nina Simone and Fela Kuti, and while we may still be sharing our affinity for music during the Nowhere Inn screening, we will most certainly not be together to welcome Miss Americana to Park City. Though it can never compare to the torture of sitting through last year’s live concert celebrating the premiere of the Springsteen inspired Blinded By the Light, nothing short of an appearance by Lizzo will be enough to talk Nathan into attending this screening with me.
The One Film I Won’t Be Able to Convince Ty to See:
Nathan- Check out this Plot synopsis:
2015: @zolarmoon tweets “wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out???????? It’s kind of long but full of suspense.” Two girls bond over their “hoeism” and become fast friends. What’s supposed to be a trip from Detroit to Florida turns into a weekend from hell.
When I read this. My first thought was hell yeah I will be there. This brings to my memories of Spring Breakers and Assassination Nation, movies that I loved! Do you know who doesn’t want to see another movie like that? Ty! He would much rather be exposed to more documentaries about Legendary Asian rock bands! I will definitely be at the premiere of this movie, whatever it may be, but I will definitely be going solo.