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25 Movies We Can’t Wait to See at Sundance 2017

From Grateful Dead and Gawker docs to Cate Blanchett’s 13-role history lesson, the must-see titles at this year’s prestigious Park City film fest

While most folks are looking back at the past year's highlights and what's likely to nab Oscar nods, the Sundance Film Festival is looking ahead – not just to what may end up on folks' best-of lists or awards' voters ballots 12 months from now (remember, this is where Boyhood premiered in 2014, and where Manchester by the Sea had its very first screening last year), but toward the future. For almost four decades, before it even adopted the name of a famous screen outlaw, Robert Redford's Utah-based fest has been searching for the big "what's next."

Sometimes it's done this by offering a forum for filmmakers working outside of the studio system, or those representing cultures that have traditionally been ignored by the mainstream. Other times, in conjunction with the Sundance Institute's labs, it's helped nurture several generations' worth of directors, screenwriters and actors that have shaped the movies – and how we think about the movies – in indelible ways. Yes, it's a much more commercial endeavor than it was 30 years ago, or 20, or even five. But you can still find documentaries that will start and/or set the pace for many social-issue discussions, discover cutting-edge works that push the medium to mind-blowing new places, and see tomorrow's major players as they find their voices now. It remains the place where you go every year to get a glimpse at where things are headed.

And looking over the 2017 Sundance lineup, we've found a number of films that have piqued our curiosity and frankly, have us chomping at the bit. Before the festival kicks off on January 19th, we're shining a light on 25 films that we're dying to check out once the Park City event gets underway – everything from docs on the Grateful Dead and Gawker's demise, biopics about hip-hop's "Roxanne Wars" and Ponzi-scheming Polka kings, quirky comedies, heartbreaking dramas and one truly unclassifiable work in which Cate Blanchett plays 13 different characters reciting famous art manifestos. We'll be reporting back on the festival in depth after the opening night premiere kicks off 10 days of nonstop viewing, but for now, these are the must-see movies to keep an eye out for.

‘Time: The Kalief Browder Story’

Executive-produced by Jay Z, this six-part docuseries follows the tragic story of Kalief Browder, the young Bronx resident who was arrested on false robbery charges and spent years as a Rikers Island convict, waiting for his day in court. By the time his innocence was finally proven and he was released from prison, Browder had become the face of an activist movement for reform – and eventually, a victim of a system that broke him. May we remind you that Sundance was where a similarly expansive, marathon-length multi-part series – O.J.: Made in America – premiered last year, and if any subject suggests the single-case-microcosm–to–social-issue-macrocosm treatment, it's this.

‘Wilson’

Indie-comics godhead Daniel Clowes adapts his 2010 graphic novel for the big screen, and gets Woody Harrelson to play the titular foul-mouthed son of a bitch tracking down the teen daughter he never knew he had. Whether this ends up being closer to the movie version of Art School Confidential than, say, Ghost World remains to be seen, but considering that director Craig Johnson is calling the shots on this satirical character study – his last work, The Skeleton Twins, is a great blend of humor and pathos – our expectations are high. (Check out a redband trailer here.) Laura Dern costars.

‘Wind River’

One of the most exciting American screenwriters of the past few years (see Sicario, Hell or High Water), Taylor Sheridan makes his directorial debut with this tense story of a dead body on a reservation; the law officer (Jeremy Renner) who finds it; the Fed (Elizabeth Olsen) who's investigating the case; and their journey into a world of darkness deep in the wintery Wyoming plains. If this sounds like a rugged, neo-Western hybrid of his last two films, then a) yes and b) yes once again. Jon Bernthal, always a welcome presence with his pugilist mug, costars.

‘XX’

A horror anthology from an all-star, all-female lineup, this quartet of femcentric scary stories boasts major genre talent (Southbound's Roxanne Benjamin, The Invitation's Karyn Kusama, filmmaker and Rolling Stone contributor Jovanka Vuckovic), some ominous titles for the segments ("Don't Fall," "Her Only Living Son") and the directorial debut of one Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent. Honestly, you had us at "horror anthology."

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