Back in 1978 – just a hair short of 40 years ago, in fact – Robert Redford and a handful of fellow Utah residents decided to start a film festival in Salt Lake City. The focus, they said, would be on American “independent” movies; “what the hell is an independent movie, exactly?” was the reply. There had been a thriving filmmaking underground for decades, as well as various folks who’d made work outside of the studio system. But the idea of the adjective becoming a catch-all term divorced from economics or patronage – something that would also encompass an aesthetic, a sensibility, a community and a dozen different D.I.Y. subgenres, the cinematic equivalent of “college rock” – was not on anybody’s minds. They just wanted to provide a focal point for the free-radical mavericks floating around and a forum for voices that weren’t getting heard in the mainstream. The faith was that if they built it, filmmakers and fanatics would come.
One significant name change, one major locale switch to Park City, dozens of tweaks/additions (brand-name sponsors and other red-carpetbaggers, beefed-up foreign-film sections, “New Frontier” and V.R. sidebars) and several thousand movies later, it’s safe to say that yes, they built it – and yes, four decades later, we’re still coming. When the Sundance Film kicks off its 2018 edition on January 18th, everyone from critics to cinephiles to the celeb-spotting curious descend on the ski-resort town in the hopes of catching the next Reservoir Dogs, or The Blair Witch Project, or Little Miss Sunshine, or Boyhood, or Call Me By Your Name. And by the time the annual event closes up shop on the 28th, there’s a huge chance that we will have seen a smattering of movies that we’ll be talking about for the rest of the year and/or the rest of filmgoing lives.
Here are 25 from this year’s lineup that have us salivating – from docu-profiles on musicians, artists and iconoclasts to left-field biopics on raunchy comedians, black metal Norwegians and paraplegic cartoonists, postapocalyptic character studies to sociopolitical satires. Oh, and one in which Nicolas Cage totally loses his cool and flies into a bloody rage.