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25 Movies We Can’t Wait to See at Sundance 2018

From a doc on Joan Jett to corporate satires, gritty indies and a psycho Nic Cage – our picks for this year’s must-see Sundance titles

25 Movies We Can't Wait to See at Sundance 2018

25 movies we can't wait to see at Sundance 2018 – from docs on Joan Jett and M.I.A. to gritty indies, gross-out comedies and Nic Cage losing his cool.

Mark Weiss/Getty, Sundance, Harry Langdon/Getty

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. 

Best Movies at Sundance 2018

‘Studio 54’

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Two friends from college decide to go into business together. Their endeavor becomes way, way more successful than either could have possibly imagined. And then power, prestige, greed, drugs, money and some less-than-legal activities turn their American dream into a waking nightmare. In the case of Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, their little business that could was Studio 54, the single most famous discotheque ever and a place where the famous, the infamous and the very, very lucky could pretend they were in a Broadway production of Caligula. Matt Tyrnauer’s doc looks at the whole sordid rise and fall, with Schrager finally breaking his silence about his late partner, the club’s glory days, the celebrities, the raids and the various hedonistic shenanigans that happened on the dancefloor and behind closed doors.

Best Movies at Sundance 2018

‘Tyrel’

It was a year ago that Sundance premiered Mudbound and had us leaving with the notion that Jason Mitchell could be one of his generation’s major actors – and this simmering, character-based social thriller sounds like it’s about to give him a plum paranoid-as-fuck role. His title character has accepted an offer to go away with a buddy for a weekend up in the Catskills, where a bunch of dudes are going to relax and drink beer. Once he gets there, a few things become immediately apparent: 1) he is the only African-American there; 2) a lot of booze often means loose inhibitions; and 3) you know how there are folks that don’t seem obviously racist sometimes can reveal their true colors once they’re in groups (see: the last presidential election)? Fillmaker Sebastian Silva (Crystal Fairy) is working with a hell of a set-up here. Not to mention that he has the best director’s bio in the fest’s catalog this year.

Best Movies at Sundance 2018

Pierre Verdy

‘Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist’

You don’t get punk – the music, the ethos, the culture and its ripple effects – without Vivienne Westwood. The fashion designer was at the ground zero of the movement when England’s dreaming turned into a bona fide disruptive phenomenon; she virtually created the spirit-of-’77 look (torn garments, spiky hair, permanent sneer) that’s associated with U.K.’s first wave and later brought her subversive ideas to the haute couture runways. Filmmaker Lorna Tucker dives into Westwood’s legacy and eventual embrace from the snooty fashion world, but never mind the usual trapped-in-amber tributes; the doc also looks into how the 76-year-old provocateur is still calling the shots on her collections, protesting environmental neglect and giving the patriarchy a two-fingered salute. Every word in that subtitle is earned.

Best Movies at Sundance 2018

Jim Judkis

‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’

Anyone who grew up between the late Sixties and the early Aughts is likely to feel a pang of nostalgia watching this documentary on one Fred Rogers – an ordained minister who decided that mass media could teach the children well, and set about making show, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, that helped generations of youngsters navigate a confusing adult world. Filmmaker Morgan Neville (20 Feet From Stardom, Best of Enemies) traces the PBS superstar’s life from a bullied kid to an oft-imitated, cardigan-rocking pied piper that used puppets, songs and kindness to do everything from explain national tragedies to guide underage viewers into emotional maturity. Has there ever been a better time to revisit the career of a public figure with such profound respect for the notion of loving thy neighbor?

Best Movies at Sundance 2018

Alex Bailey

‘Yardie’

Idris Elba makes his directorial debut with this adaptation of Victor Headley’s cult-pulp novel about a Jamaica-born gangster (Aml Ameen) who’s in London on a mission for his boss. While he’s there, the young man discovers that the guy who killed his brother way back when is now living in the city, and quicker than you can say “bloodbath,” shit gets extremely real. We’re really curious to see how the man who turned a Baltimore drug dealer into a cutthroat capitalist does behind the camera with this 1980s period piece about violence, family and justice.

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