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25 Movies We Can’t Wait to See at Sundance 2016

From a gritty drama about mass shootings to a new doc on Michael Jackson, the fest’s can’t-miss titles

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There's a reason that, every January, film producers, film distributors, film critics, film lovers and miscellaneous film folks who'd never be caught dead on a snowboard descend upon Park City, Utah, looking for the next big thing courtesy of the Sundance Film Festival. That term might apply to the young director who shows up with a DCP hard drive and leaves the fest with a deal (or, if you're a dude, a chance to helm whatever franchise the powers that be plan on rebooting over the next few years). It could mean the new bleeding-edge multimedia technology that's on display in the New Frontier section. It may be the semi-unknown actor who goes there a "nobody" and, several buzzed-about screenings later, leaves a star — the Jennifer Lawrence or Bel Powley syndrome. Or it might simply mean your own personal NBT: that little movie that, two hours later, has changed your life.

Hope spring eternal, and there's no such thing as a sure bet when it comes to film festivals — but we're confident, and genuinely excited, about catching these 25 films playing at Sundance 2016. There are rock docs and mock docs, gritty dramas, coming-of-age parables ranging from potentially hilarious to possibly hellish, midnight movies, portraits of artists ranging from Robert Mapplethorpe to JT Leroy, O.G. directorial statements and DIY debuts on this list, any of which could be a boom or a bust. (Talk to us in a few weeks after our 10 Best Things We Saw list goes up and see what makes it on there.) But all of these titles have us stoked for hitting the snowy ground in Utah and seeing what happens once the lights go down.

Sing Street; Sundance 2016

‘Sing Street’

A quick recap of how far John Carney has come since making Once: In 2007, the Irish filmmaker showed up to Sundance with a scrappy, lovelorn musical that was shot on a budget of $11 (give or take) and whatever its stars could earn from busking on the streets. In 2016, he’ll be showing up at Sundance with a musical he co-created with Bono. Set in the downbeat Dublin of the Eighties, this rock & roll coming-of-age tale follows a 14-year-old kid who's forced to transfer from a posh school to a public one. His only hope of social survival? Starting a glam band. It's going to be great to hear Bono go back to his Boy-hood. DE

31; Sundance 2016

Gene Page

’31’

When Rob Zombie is off his filmmaking game, you feel like the rock star is just killing time in between his day-job gigs. But when he's on — see The Devil's Rejects — you feel like there's no one who's making better modern horror reassembled from the genre's grungy, gross-out spare parts. Our bloody fingers are crossed that his latest, a tale of stone carnies and homicidal maniacs, falls in the second category.  And, naturally, that 31 refers to the number of giddy, gasp-inducing shocks you'll get watching this retro-gnarly grindhouse gem. DF

We Are X; Sundance 2016

X Japan

‘We Are X’

The group was formed by two childhood friends named Toshi and Yoshiki, who took their version of crunchy glam-pop to international success and sold-out tours. Tragedy befell them time and again, but it didn't stop them from dreaming big and coming back from the brink of disaster. They are X Japan, they look like Sunset Strip hair-metalheads on steroids, and they are here to rock your world. Stephen Kijak's doc on this epic band of the rising sun (the catalog describes their music as "Iron Maiden with a David Bowie spirit animal," which sounds about right) charts the rise and many, many falls of this legendary quintet as they aim to sell out Madison Square Garden in 2014.  DF

Weiner-Dog; Sundance 2016

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‘Wiener-Dog’

The only American director who thinks that Charlie Kaufman is just too damn upbeat, filmmaker Todd Solondz has been the reigning king of indie miserablism since winning Sundance with Welcome to the Dollhouse in 1995. With that in mind, it would be the understatement of the decade to say that Solondz's latest — an ensemble comedy about a magical dachshund who brings joy and comfort to the various strangers he meets — sounds like a change of pace. Boasting an ensemble cast that includes the likes of Julie Delpy, Danny DeVito, and Greta Gerwig, this is a warped Indiewood version of Benji that we'll have to see to believe. DE

Wild; Sundance 2016

Reinhold Vorschneider

‘Wild’

No, not that Reese Witherspoon Hike, Pray, Love movie from a few years back — this is the German girl-meets-wolf, girl-resorts-to-feral-state-to-hunt-wolf-and-discovers-the-beast-within movie you've been waiting for. Director Nicolette Krebitz and actress Lilith Stangenberg chart one woman's descent into madness (or is an ascent into liberation? Discuss) as she becomes consumed with trapping this creature and then … taming it? Making it a companion? Becoming it? Therein lies the tension … DF