First Reactions to Sundance 2018 Moviesby IMDb-Editors | last updated - 3 weeks ago
IMDb is at the Sundance Film Festival, watching a range of new movies and letting you know the buzz coming out of premieres, screenings, and other events. — Michael Rosser
Burden (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
About: Based on a true story, the movie centers on Mike Burden (Garrett Hedlund), a bruising repo man and member of the Ku Klux Klan in small-town South Carolina. But when he falls for a headstrong single mother (Andrea Riseborough), he begins to question the path he has taken in life. After turning his back on the local Klan leader (Tom Wilkinson), he is accepted by idealistic Rev. Kennedy (Forest Whitaker).
Buzz: The performances are strong across the board, but Hedlund must be singled out for his intensely physical and psychological performance, portraying a man within whom racism is undone. This exploration of class, race, and family may be set in 1996 but feels very timely. And the Sundance audience was heard speaking of Hedlund’s performance as one worthy of awards.
I Think We’re Alone Now (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
About: Del (Peter Dinklage) is the last man on Earth, and he couldn’t be happier. After the human race suddenly drops dead, Del is content to clean up his town and live a quiet life. But when a young woman (Elle Fanning) crashes his peaceful existence, things can never be quite the same again.
Buzz: The film is directed by Reed Morano, who won an Emmy for directing “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Like that drama series, the movie focuses on how the world operates in the wake of a catastrophic shift. “Game of Thrones” star Dinklage carries the film with understated strength, and Fanning completes the two-hander with misfit grace. Despite the number of post-apocalyptic stories on screen right now, Sundance audiences are predicting that the star power and high concept will see this spread far beyond Park City.
The Happy Prince (Premieres)
About: Detailing the final three years in the life of poet and playwright Oscar Wilde, Rupert Everett writes, directs, and stars in his debut feature. Wilde is seen travelling Europe under assumed names, following two years in prison. But fading health, declining funds, and betrayals from those closest to him are all too present along the road.
Buzz: Everett's performance — under heavy prosthetics — has already been called a career-best, and he stages a richly detailed slice of Paris, Italy, and London in the final years of the 19th century. The supporting actors, including Colin Firth as old friend Reggie Turner, are consistently strong. The audience for this may be limited, but this prestigious production will almost certainly find admiration.
Wildlife (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
About: In a small town in 1960s Montana, a 14-year-old boy (Ed Oxenbould) watches his parents drift apart as they grapple with their own purposes in life. His father, Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal), abandons the family to fight forest fires, which leads his mother, Jeanette (Carey Mulligan), to reassess her life in a radical way.
Buzz: The movie proves an impressive directorial debut for actor Paul Dano. All three principals deliver strong performances, with Oxenbould shining in particular, and the film is shot with understated intimacy, making occasional scenes of the surrounding mountain vistas even more breathtaking. Sundance audience members were largely heard offering strong praise following the screening.
One more thing: Dano adapted the Richard Ford novel with his partner, actress Zoe Kazan, who was seen in last year's Sundance hit The Big Sick.
Leave No Trace (Premieres)
About: Living off the grid in a Oregon nature reserve are Will (Ben Foster) and his teenage daughter, Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie). After being discovered and removed by the police, social services helps secure them a new home. But Will — suffering PTSD — cannot stay still for long, even if his daughter is becoming desperate to stop their continual wandering into the wilderness.
Buzz: After showcasing the talents of Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone, director Debra Granik has given another superb role to an upcoming actress, with McKenzie delivering an incredibly nuanced performance. This, combined with an almost unrecognizable Foster as the quietly damaged father, led to widespread praise from Sundance audiences. It is little surprise that Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions snapped up the international rights early in the festival.
Jane Fonda in Five Acts (Documentary Premieres)
About: Hollywood royalty. Actress. Activist. Fitness tycoon. Jane Fonda has done it all and more. But, as this definitive documentary about Fonda’s life explores, it all traces back to the relationship with her troubled mother and revered actor father, Henry Fonda.
Buzz: The film was celebrated with rapturous applause at its Sundance world premiere, where Fonda was given a warm welcome, having attended the Respect Rally in Park City that same day. Drawing on 21 hours of interviews with the actress, the doc overflows with amazing archive footage and talking heads with many of the key figures in her life. It also isn’t just a love letter to Fonda, with the actress highlighting key moments in her life that she regrets and never shying away from being fiercely self-critical. HBO will screen the documentary later this year.
Lizzie (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
About: Based on the murders of the Bordens in 1892 Massachusetts, the movie centers on daughter Lizzie (Chloë Sevigny) and live-in maid Bridget (Kristen Stewart). As the relationship between the two young women grows, tension builds in the household, leading to tragedy.
Buzz: The first half of the movie is like a gothic horror as the creeping dread of what is to come hangs over the actions of the family. It has already been called "sensitive and stylish”,"and the ice-cold performances, of Sevigny especially, are of particular note. Some of the audience in Sundance didn’t quite know what they were letting themselves in for, but the response has been positive, and the presence of Stewart alone should translate into a compelling prospect for moviegoers outside of Park City.
An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn (NEXT)
About: After being fired by her husband (Emile Hirsch) from his coffee shop, Lulu Danger (Aubrey Plaza) spots a man from her past in a commercial for "An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn: For One Magical Night Only." When her husband steals a cashbox from Lulu's adopted brother, hitman Colin (Jermaine Clement) is hired to retrieve the money. But Lulu grabs the stolen funds, co-opts Colin to protect her, and sets off on a mission to confront Beverly Luff Linn (Craig Robinson).
Buzz: Director Jim Hosking previously created a cult hit with The Greasy Strangler, which debuted at Sundance in 2016. This, along with the strong cast, led to massive queues and a packed theater for the premiere of "Beverly Luff Linn." The laughs came thick and fast from those acquainted with Hosking's approach of heightened reality, even if those expecting a more conventional comedy took a little more time to understand what sort of ride they were on.
One more thing: Speaking after the screening, Plaza told the audience: "When I read the script, I didn’t understand it at all. That was intriguing to me, because there was something really off about it. I then watched The Greasy Strangler, and laughed so hard. It was scary to be in a movie, in a world that doesn’t exist. But Jim [Hosking] has real vision.”
Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind (Documentary Premieres)
About: The world lost a comic genius when Robin Williams died in 2014. But how many people really knew the man? This documentary helps get audiences closer by tracing his life from childhood to his career as a stand-up comedian and dramatic actor, never shying away from the demons he faced.
Buzz: The audience at the packed Sundance screening was roaring with laughter as the film highlighted some of his finest material as well as extraordinary outtakes from sitcom "Mork & Mindy" and Mrs. Doubtfire, among others. But there were also sniffles from the crowd as the film tracked Williams’ decline. The doc is set to screen on HBO in autumn 2018.
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot (Premieres)
About: John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix) was a reckless alcoholic before being paralyzed in a car accident when he was 21. His journey back from the brink sees him find friends in Alcoholics Anonymous while discovering a talent for drawing controversial cartoons.
Buzz: Phoenix gives an awards-worthy performance and disappears into the role. There are further outstanding performances from his supporting cast, including Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara, and Jack Black. And with director Gus Van Sant at the helm, this biopic is already one to watch for the next awards season.
One more thing: Ever enigmatic, Phoenix did not appear on stage for the post-premiere Q&A, despite being introduced along with the rest of the main cast and 11 members of Callahan’s family. Explaining why he was using his cellphone on stage, Hill replied: "I was texting Joaquin to see where he was. I was saying 'We're all up on stage. Where are you?'"
Juliet, Naked (Premieres)
About: This romantic comedy is set in a British coastal town where Annie (Rose Byrne) splits from her longtime boyfriend (Chris O’Dowd) and forms an unlikely transatlantic bond with a formerly famous musician (Ethan Hawke), who just happens to be the obsession of her ex.
Buzz: The audience at the world premiere were laughing loud and consistently throughout most of the movie, with a round of applause for one crucial moment. With its likeable characters, funny script, strong soundtrack, and charming performances, it's hard not to imagine this winning over audiences.
One more thing: Speaking at the post-premiere Q&A, director Jesse Peretz revealed they had been racing against the clock to get the film finished. Because a crucial part of the movie concerns a classic album (the "Juliet" of the title), Hawke added: “When the film got accepted into Sundance, this whole thing went into overdrive, and we had to make a classic album in three days. But if Mick and Keith can do it, so can we,” referencing the making of the latest album by The Rolling Stones.
Monsters and Men (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
About: After a black street hustler is wrongly gunned down by a white police officer, three men deal with the aftermath in their own way. Young father Manny (Anthony Ramos) filmed the incident and faces pressure from police; a cop (John David Washington) has to wrestle with the fallout; and a bright sports hopeful (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) finds himself at a moral crossroads.
Buzz: An emphatic standing ovation followed the world premiere at Sundance's Eccles Theater, and we spotted a lot of voting slips with top marks for the movie. This urgent drama looks set to spark discussion when it makes it to theaters and streaming platforms in the U.S. and around the world.
Blindspotting (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
About: Set in Oakland, Calif., the film centers on Collin (Daveed Diggs), who is just a few days away from completing his probation after spending a short time in prison. He works at a moving company with fast-talking best friend Miles (Rafael Casal), but Collin's life is shattered when he witnesses the shooting of an unarmed black man by a white police officer.
Buzz: The opening film of Sundance 2018 has already been branded a "thrilling snapshot" of modern-day America, with Diggs praised for an "impassioned, tortured performance." It certainly proved a wicked alternative to the usual buddy comedy.
Loveling (World Cinema Dramatic Competition)
About: "Loveling" is the term mother-of-four Irene (Karine Teles) gives to her children. Set outside Rio de Janeiro, this lighthearted slice of life rides the rollercoaster of Irene’s emotions as her eldest son prepares to the leave the nest to pursue a professional sporting career. Meanwhile, other family members deal with their own struggles.
Buzz: The film opened the World Cinema Dramatic Competition in Sundance and immediately proved a crowd-pleaser. Teles has been applauded for her shining performance as the mother, a character moving forward in her own life while not wanting her children to grow up too soon. It looks destined for a long run at film festivals around the world over the coming year.
One more thing: Leading lady Teles not only co-wrote the script but also is the wife of the director, Gustavo Pizzi.
Private Life (Premieres)
About: Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) and Richard (Paul Giamatti) are a couple in their 40s, spending all their time and money trying to get pregnant through IVF, leading some in their family to brand them “fertility junkies.” But when their twentysomething niece (Kayli Carter) comes to stay, she brings with her a new hope.
Buzz: Tamara Jenkins’ first film since Oscar-nominated The Savages is funny, moving, and heartbreaking in equal measure. The movie's length and tone reflect the frustrating cycle the central couple have to tackle, and Hahn and Giamatti deliver typically strong performances, masterfully balancing comedy and pathos.
One more thing: The biggest laugh at the press and industry screening came from the line: "She's got a BA in journalism and cinema studies. No wonder she’s selling her eggs. She can't get a job!"
306 Hollywood (NEXT)
About: Visual artists and sibling filmmakers Elan and Jonathan Bogarín examine the life of their late grandmother by turning her cluttered Newark home of 71 years into an “archeological dig.” Artistic shots of all her worldly possessions are intercut with candid home movie footage, interviews, dramatic reconstruction (using audio recordings from 1972), and surreal flights of fancy.
Buzz: This strange and stylish documentary comes alive when Annette Ontell, the late subject of the film, is seen on screen, her musings on life proving both funny and moving. What happens around that footage is a meditation on family, memory, and old age that drew mixed reactions from the screening crowd.
One more thing: 306 Hollywood is the first documentary to ever play in Sundance’s NEXT strand, which showcases innovative films that are able to transcend the confines of an independent budget.