The world has seen many changes in the past year. With Covid-19 forever altering the world and daily life many events, professions, and traditions have been put on hold or reimagined. Fortunately, The Sundance Institute opted for creativity instead of cancelling the 2021 version of their one and only Independent Film Festival.
From January 28 to February 3 Sundance will be held in a once in a lifetime fashion that opens the prolific festival to the entire world from their very own living rooms. This year the 2021 Sundance Film Festival will be held digitally as well as in several cities across the United States.
Sundance has built an online platform that will screen 72 features, 50 shorts, 4 indie series, and several other New Frontier projects. Movie lovers all over the world will be able to attend, watch films, and even participate in live Q&As with the filmmakers and cast.
If you are a loyal reader of HeyUGuys then you know Ty Cooper and Nathan McVay each year travel to Park City to take in the mountain air, a few Stella Artois, and as many movies as they can fit into a week. Well this year they will be traveling to their couches and loungers to report on the best that indie film will have to offer.
The two have taken the past week to study the lineup up and down so they can give you the details on the best Sundance 2021 has to offer. Here is their very unconventional way of previewing the fest.
Custom Fitted for Ty-
Prisoners of the Ghostland / U.S.A. (Director: Sion Sono) — A notorious criminal is sent to rescue an abducted woman who has disappeared into a dark supernatural universe. They must break the evil curse that binds them and escape the mysterious revenants that rule the Ghostland, an East-meets-West vortex of beauty and violence. Cast: Nicolas Cage, Sofia Boutella, Nick Cassavetes, Bill Moseley, Tak Sakaguchi, Yuzuka Nakaya.
Genre films from Southeast Asia do so well at Sundance that it is a wonder that you don’t see more of them. Three Extremes made horror movie history by bringing three world class horror directors together (Takisha Miike, Park Chan-Work and Fruit Chan), Stoker helped set the stage for Parasite’s Oscar run, and The Raid films not only revolutionized action directing and choreography, but gave way to one of the coolest cameo appearances in the whole Star Wars Universe. This year, it’s Sion Sono’s turn to light the festival on fire as he returns to Sundance with his film Prisoners of the Ghostland. All you need to know about it is that it stars Nicolas Cage, and features heavy doses of guns, ghosts and samurais. If that doesn’t make you want to see this, then I don’t know what will.
Sion Sono is one of the greatest auteurs in Japanese cinematic history, and there is no doubt that Prisoners of Ghostland is going to be one of the most anticipated and buzz worthy films of this year’s festival. Let us not forget that Niholas Cage himself has quite the track record when it comes to appearing in Sundance Films. His 2018 film Mandy is still one of the most talked about films of the 2018 slate, and his work as the narrator for Love, Antosha touched the hearts and souls of all who saw it. So when I tell you that Cage is going for the three peat, you better believe you can take it to the bank.
Custom Fitted for Nathan-
On the Count of Three / U.S.A. (Director: Jerrod Carmichael) — Two guns. Two best friends. And a pact to end their lives when the day is done. Cast: Jerrod Carmichael, Christopher Abbott, Tiffany Haddish, J.B. Smoove, Lavell Crawford, Henry Winkler
I would have made a lot of money betting that Ty’s favorite pick was going to be directed by an Asian auteur and starring Nic Cage even before the lineup came out. For my pick, it is definitely something very predictable for me, but a little less outside the box like Ty’s.
On the Count of Three is perfectly tailored for the breakout Sundance movie. Directed by a stand up comedian who you recognize when you see him but definitely not a household name (like Eighth Grade) featuring a cast of an incredible indie actor (Abbot,) hilarious standups (Carmichael himself, Haddish and Smoove) and oh yeah, it has the freaking Fonz in it.
And then let’s talk about the plot synopsis. 3 short sentences. But oh so intriguing. This feels like the Sundance movie every year that breaks you out of the rut of dramatic heaviness that weighs down 90 percent of a Sundance lineup. This movie is going to rock! I am sure of it!
Nathan’s Most Likely to be Oscar Bait:
Passing / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Rebecca Hall) — Two African-American women who can “pass” as white choose to live on opposite sides of the color line in 1929 New York in an exploration of racial and gender identity, performance, obsession and repression. Based on the novella by Nella Larsen. Cast: Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, André Holland, Alexander Skarsgård, Bill Camp
Sign me up for this one! Rebecca Hall is one of the most underrated actors on the planet. The Town is one of the best movies of the 2010s, and her performance in Christine was my favorite of the entire 2016 Sundance film festival. But it seems she has never truly got the accolades she deserves as a performer so I am absolutely thrilled to see she is standing behind the camera to tell a story that surely will resonate in today’s society.
This film might have the strongest cast of any in the festival as well, with it’s two shining stars as leads in Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga, but the supporting cast is filled with three outstanding actors in Holland, Camp and Skarsgard. But it is the storyline that is sure to grab the hearts and minds of the festival and hopefully Oscar voters in the future.
Ty’s Most Likely to be Oscar Bait:
Street Gang: How We Got To Sesame Street / U.S.A. (Director: Marilyn Agrelo) — How did a group of rebels create the world’s most famous street? In 1969 New York, this “gang” of mission-driven artists, writers and educators catalyzed a moment of civil awakening, transforming it into Sesame Street, one of the most influential and impactful television programs in history. Documentary
2021 is going to be a big year for Tessa Thompson. Between Passing and Thor: Love and Thunder, there soon aren’t going to be a lot of people left on this planet who don’t know her name. Passing is a film that should 100% be on every film lover’s radar, but for those of you who are looking for a sure-fire Oscar prediction for next year, please turn your attention below.
Every year the list of Oscar nominees for documentary filmmaking are announced and every year the list seems to have been lifted straight from the programming guide of Sundance Festival. It stands to reason then that next year’s potential Oscar candidate has been slipped in somewhere within this year’s lineup. Though I might not have been blessed with powers of prescience, I still believe there is a good chance that one of those films might be this year’s Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street.
When humanity finds itself in times of immense peril and turmoil many people search for safety in the sweet solace of childhood nostalgia. Films about politics, government overreach, or social media algorithms are all fine and dandy, but they are going to have a hard time competing with a film that taps into the childhood of virtually everybody born after 1966. In a time where many people are struggling to figure out how to just get through the day, it might be nice to go back to a time where your only problem was figuring out how to get to Sesame Street.
The Film Ty Will Never Convince Nathan to See:
The Sparks Brothers / United Kingdom (Director: Edgar Wright, Producers: Nira Park, Edgar Wright, George Hencken, Laura Richardson) — How can one rock band be successful, underrated, hugely influential, and criminally overlooked all at the same time? Take a musical odyssey through five weird and wonderful decades with brothers Ron & Russell Mael, celebrating the inspiring legacy of Sparks: your favorite band’s favorite band. Documentary
My good friend and colleague Nathan has always been on the up and up when it comes to great music. However, in all the countless terabytes of his personal music collection (all legally obtained assure you), I would almost certainly bet that there is not a single Sparks album to be found. Looking through the first decade of Coachella lineups, you’d be hard pressed to find a band that wasn’t in someway influenced by the Mael Brothers. However, even more impressive than their ever-growing back catalog of music, is the story to their road to success. From being tapped to fill in for Kiss in Rollercoaster (1977), being passed up on an live-action manga adaptation of Mai, The Psychic Girl by Tim Burton and later Francis Ford Coppola, to their forth-coming musical starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard, there is just so much rich and amazing content to be covered here. If that wasn’t enough, the documentary itself is helmed by none other than genre film master, Edgar Wright. What’s not to love?
The film Nathan will never convince Ty to see:
R#J / U.S.A. (Director: Carey Williams) — A re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet, taking place through their cell phones, in a mash-up of Shakespearean dialogue with current social media communication. Cast: Camaron Engels, Francesca Noel, David Zayas, Diego Tinoco, Siddiq Saunderson, Russell Hornsby. World Premiere
Well Ty, you are very right I don’t think I have ever heard of Sparks and now everyone who knows this will never respect my music knowledge ever again. Thanks Ty!
This was the easiest one to pick because this movie seems perfectly tailored to my interests and what I am looking for at Sundance and something that you would never be caught seeing in a million years.
As you may know, and no one reading this does I was quite the avid Shakespeare fan and participant in college and a few years after, acting in many of The Bard’s works ranging from Hamlet, MacBeth, and many others including Romeo and Juliet. I have always been drawn to his works and absolutely love modern retellings. The Leo/Kate Winslet/Baz Luhrman version is a cinematic masterpiece and I will fight you if you disagree.
But telling this classic tale through modern day social media postings and cell phones sounds absolutely fascinating and I am all for it. Hopefully it brings to mind the insanity that was last year’s Sundance hit Zola, which just so happened to be the movie I wasn’t able to convince you to see last year!
Nathan’s Sleeper Hit:
Jockey / U.S.A. (Director: Clint Bentley) — An aging jockey is determined to win one last championship, but his dream is complicated when a young rookie shows up claiming to be his son. Cast: Clifton Collins Jr., Molly Parker, Moises Arias.
I love sports! And I love movies! So guess what one of my favorite things in the world is? Sports Movies! I can not remember the last time there was a sports movie at Sundance, that wasn’t a documentary so my excitement and expectations are through the roof.
While researching Clint Bentley, the director, I discovered a film called Transpecos which is regarded as one of the best under the radar films of 2016. That film also starred Clifton Collins Jr, and they both reunite for Bentley’s follow up feature.
The world of horseracing has always been fascinating to me, no, not because I can gamble on it, but because of the incredible drama, and monumental effort that goes into the success in the sport, why movies like Seabiscuit and Secretariat were so great, because you literally couldn’t even make those stories up. HBO dipped it’s feet into the insane world of horse racing and the life of a jockey in their short lived series Luck which was great, but was shut down due to multiple horse deaths which deemed the show incredibly unsafe to produce. As far as I know, no animals were harmed in this production, so that means I can enjoy it guilt free!
Ty’s Sleeper Hit:
Eight for Silver / U.S.A., France (Director and Screenwriter: Sean Ellis) — In the late 1800s, a man arrives in a remote country village to investigate an attack by a wild animal but discovers a much deeper, sinister force that has both the manor and the townspeople in its grip. Cast: Boyd Holbrook, Kelly Reilly, Alistair Petrie, Roxane Duran, Aine Rose Daly.
It seems like both of our selections for the “Sleeper Hit” category seem to involve wild animals of some sort. Having teachers force-feed me marathons of Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken as a child absolutely ruined any and all horse films for me. If films like Seabiscuit or War Horse couldn’t bring me back, I don’t know what can. Instead, why don’t we talk about a real wild animal that doesn’t need to wear a make-shift diaper while trotting around city streets. Let’s talk about werewolves.
The last two decades of werewolf films have given us some truly abysmal takes on one of the coolest movie monsters in cinematic history, the werewolf. With the exception of 2001’s Brotherhood of the Wolf, we haven’t had a truly badass movie wolf since Carl Thibault’s iconic performance in The Monster Squad (1987). The entire Twilight Saga and decades of failed revival films by Universal have helped lower the standards for our furry friends, and now perhaps Eight For Silver is ready to take up the mantle.
Interestingly enough, Eight For Silver is slated to premiere as a Feature instead of in the Midnight Category. What this tells me, is that that programmers saw something special in this film and wanted to shine a spotlight upon it. Award Winning Sundance Director Sean Ellis (Metro Manila) already proved his directing chops with his last festival entry’s and star Boyd Holbrook’s performance as Donald Pierce in Logan should be more than enough to give investors and audiences faith in this film. The film’s excellent cast is also rounded off by Kelly Relly (True Detective), and Alistair Petrie (Rogue One). Keep your eye on this one, and for sure keep an eye on Sean Ellis.
Ty’s Trigger Warning:
Pleasure / Sweden, Netherlands, France (Director and Screenwriter: Ninja Thyberg) — A 20-year-old girl moves from her small town in Sweden to LA for a shot at a career in the adult film industry. Cast: Sofia Kappel, Revika Anne Reustle, Evelyn Claire, Chris Cock, Dana DeArmond, Kendra Spade.
When it comes to programming controversial films, there are three time-tested ingredients that can have proven to get audiences’ blood boiling. You can program a film that attacks organized religion (Red State), a film that explicitly explores sexual boundaries and taboos (The Secretary/King/Diary of a Teenage Girl) or just program anything associated with Lars Van Trier. Since Mr. Smith and Mr. Trier seem to be absent from this year’s lineup, it seems only natural that the film poised to ruffle some feathers this year is one that contains heavy doses of sex, and Pleasure fits the bill. Pleasure is a dramatic narrative about a young Swedish woman who comes to America in pursuit of a career in the adult film industry. As you can guess, things don’t go quite as she might have imagined. If you need any more proof of how intense of a viewing this film is going to be, look no further than the disclaimer at the end of the film synopsis: Contains graphic sexual content and sexual violence. Not suitable for audiences under 18.
A close second place is the three part documentary Seeds of Deceit, which details the story of Jan Karbaat, a fertility doctor that secretly impregnated over 65 of his patients with his own semen. Welcome to Sundance!
Nathan’s Trigger Warning:
In The Same Breath / U.S.A. (Director: Nanfu Wang) — How did the Chinese government turn pandemic coverups in Wuhan into a triumph for the Communist party? An essential narrative of firsthand accounts of the coronavirus, and a revelatory examination of how propaganda and patriotism shaped the outbreak’s course – both in China and in the U.S. Documentary.
So let’s face it 2020 sucked! So many things were altered and lost forever. One of the greatest things about Cinema is that it offers an escape. An escape from reality and all of the problems and monotony of day to day life. So you know what I definitely am not craving to experience during Sundance? A dramatic retelling of everything that happened in China with the Coronavirus and the effects on all of our lives.
I understand the need for it and I am impressed with the quick turnaround but this dumb festival is keeping me from Main Street and the mountains and Stella Artois and some of my best friends in the world so I will not give it the satisfaction of my movie watching time!
Nathan and Ty will be reviewing films daily starting January 28 through February 3. Check back for more content and fun from the two indie film lovers