25 Movies We Can’t Wait to See at Sundance 2019 – Rolling Stone
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25 Movies We Can’t Wait to See at Sundance 2019

From docs on ‘Alien’ and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez to indie dramas, Aussie revenge flicks and more — our picks for the 2019 festival’s must-sees

Emma Thompson in Late Night, Noah Jupe in Honeyboy and Miles Davis.

Emma Thompson in 'Late Night'; Noah Jupe in 'Honeyboy'; and Miles Davis in the doc 'Birth of the Cool.'

Emily Aragones/Sundance, Natasha Braier/Sundance, Guy Le Querrec

All film festivals are crap shoots, even the ones with sterling reputations. But looking over the competition titles and sidebar programs of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which kicks off in Park City, Utah, on January 24th, it’s hard not to be impressed by the eclectic, all-over-the-map lineup that the indie-moviemaking tastemakers have out together for 2019. Dramas on capital punishment and and immigration and gentrification, comedies on Girl Scout rivalries and kindergartners dropped into the zombie apocalypse, horror flicks on serial killers and maternal surrogates — yup, they’re in there. And don’t even get us started on the documentaries, which is looking particularly strong for the ’19 edition: David Crosby, Miles Davis, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Wu-Tang, Dr. Ruth, a deep-dive into one of the scariest sci-fi scenes ever filmed.

Here are the 25 movies we’ve singled out in our screening cheat-sheet once everything kicks off — check back here for daily dispatches, reviews and news reports starting on Thursday and running through February 2nd.

Ask Dr. Ruth

‘Ask Dr. Ruth’

Gather round, kids, as we tell you how, once upon a time, a tiny, heavily accented German woman became a pop-culture icon by talking about penises and vaginas on TV. This doc on Dr. Ruth Westheimer tells the story of how youngster who’d seen her parents killed in the Holocaust ended up being the most famous celebrity sex therapist ever, and how she’s still educating and enlightening folks well into her nineties. Folks who love seeing old people talk dirty, you’re in for a treat.

Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

‘The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind’

Chiwetel Ejiofor makes his directorial debut with this adaptation of a memoir by William Kamkwamba, a Malawian boy determined to save his community from famine and disaster. How, you ask? By building a machine from spare parts and scrap metal that will use wind power to counterbalance the bad harvests — and with a little luck, restore hope to his friends and neighbors. Ejiofor plays the teen’s dad; newcomer Maxwell Simba plays William; we’ll be playing the audience members that are sniffling back tears.

‘Clemency’

A death-row inmate (Underground‘s Aldis Hodge) waits to see whether he’ll be granted a reprieve from the governor as the date of his execution approaches. His sense of hope is beginning to crumble, however, as does the resolve of the prison’s warden (Alfre Woodard) who’s seen this situation play out too many times for her liking. It’s Dead Man Walking from the perspective of the person who gives the nod to kill another human being, as well as an inventory of the psychic toll capital punishment takes on everyone involved, a breakout showcase for Hodge and a potent reminder that we need to stop taking Woodard for granted — and start treating her like the great American actor she is.

Corporate Animals

‘Corporate Animals’

A CEO-from-hell (hi there, Demi Moore!) decides to take several of her staff members on a good ol’ fashioned team-building retreat in New Mexico. One cave-in later, the executive, her employees and their guide (Ed Helms) realize that the only way they can survive is to band together … which naturally doesn’t stop all of them from adapting a ruthless, me-first mentality when things get dire. May the best corporate cutthroat rat bastard win! We sense a metaphor here.

‘David Crosby: Remember My Name’

Who wouldn’t want to spend an afternoon driving around Los Angeles with David Crosby and hearing the 77-year-old tell rock & roll war stories? A.J. Eaton’s portrait of the golden-voiced flower-power problem child lets the “C” of CSNY recount his early days with the Byrds, his MVP status in the Laurel Canyon scene, his tenure in the Seventies’ harmonizing supergroup(s) and his issues with substance abuse and addiction. But it also doesn’t let the walrus-mustached singer off the hook for how he’s alienated many of his friends and wasted years’ worth time and talent. A hagiography this ain’t.

‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’

In which Zac Efron is cast in the role he was born to play: handsome serial killer Ted Bundy. Documentarian Joe Berlinger (the Paradise Lost trilogy) looks at the murderer through the eyes of his girlfriend, single mother Elizabeth Kloepfer (Lily Collins), and how his arrest for multiple counts of homicide forced her to question how someone so seemingly normal could turn out to be … well, take another look at the movie’s title.

‘Hail Satan?’

When someone says “warriors on the front lines of the battle for religious freedom,” the first name that pops in your head probably isn’t The Satanic Temple. And yet, as Penny Lane’s forked tongue-in-cheek doc proves, this fast-growing organization of literal devil-worshippers has been fighting for more than just recognition — they’ve also been doggedly challenging local governments, pro-life protestors and more in truly keeping church and state separated. Barring that, they’d really love it if you could put a nine-foot statue of a horned-goat deity next to that Ten Commandments sculpture in front of city hall. Sign of the beast, people.

‘Honey Boy’

The title refers to Shia LeBeouf’s childhood nickname, when he was first starting out as a kid actor — and his loosely autobiographical script examines the Transformers star’s own fraught relationship with his dad over the years, running the gamut from abusive to merely highly abrasive. It gets better: LeBeouf himself plays the father, with Lucas Hedges and A Quiet Place‘s Noah Jupe each portraying different versions for the real-life author’s fictional counterpart. The avant-documentarian Alma Har’el (Bombay Beach) directs. It’s the hot festival ticket for those dying to see a psycho-cinematic celebrity exorcism.

‘The Infiltrators’

When a man is taken from his home by ICE agents and detained in a holding facility for deportees, a group of DACA activists recruit a young man named Marco (Maynor Alvarado) to get himself “caught” and see what’s going on inside these makeshift prisons. The answer, we’re going to guess, is both extremely timely and undoubtedly disturbing. Filmmaker Alex Rivera (co-directing here with Cristina Ibarra) once came to Sundance with a sci-fi nightmare titled Sleep Dealer; now he returns to the festival with what sounds like a real-life dystopia of sorts.

‘Knock Down the House’

A lot of folks seem to think that Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez simply spring fully formed out of Zeus’s head or something, all fire and fury and willingness to save U.S. citizens from a government that’s defined by corruption (and that’s if we’re being kind regarding our current administration). This doc offers both a backstory on the Bronx/native/youngest elected member of our current Congress but also details her campaign to achieve this goal — along with fellow political firebrands Paula Jean Swearengin, Cory Bush and Amy Vilela — and change the House of Representatives from the inside out. You wanted a you-are-there look at the Resistance? You got it.

‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’

The story of an African-American man trying to reclaim his family’s home in San Francisco’s Fillmore District — and find his place in a city that’s seen a tech boom metastasize what was an already-in-progress wave of gentrification — would be enough of a strong narrative to tackle a serious hot-button issue. The fact that director/co-writer is using his friend/collaborator Jimmie Fails’ real-life experience with this very situation, and having Fails play a semi-fictionalized version of himself, only makes things that much more urgent and personal. Of all the entries in the festival’s U.S. Dramatic Competition’s line-up, this is the one we’re most intrigued about.

‘Late Night’

Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) is the lone late-night lady in a sea of would-be Lettermans. Still, the ratings are low, the network wants fresh blood and this veteran’s moment in the spotlight may be dimming. So she hires a female writer (Mindy Kaling), a first for longstanding backstage guy’s club — and suddenly the show finds itself in the middle of a gender-issue war zone. The fact that Kaling herself penned the script makes us think we’ve got a smart, sharp showbiz satire on our hands. Also we’re so ready for the Thompsonaissance that it’s not even funny.

Michael JacksonMichael Jackson 'Dangerous Tour', Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - Aug 1992

‘Leaving Neverland’

We’d heard the stories for years, about “Jesus Juice” and dodgy-sounding slumber parties and bed-sharing incidents that seemed a little, shall we say, questionable. Now, documentarian Dan Reed unpacks the various allegations surrounding Michael Jackson and possible underage sexual encounters, with two men telling their story about having “relations” with the King of Pop during their boyhood years. Fans of the late superstar have already started pressuring Sundance to remove the movie from their lineup; it’s sole screening at the festival is likely to attract controversy and open some eyes as to what exactly was happening over at Neverland Ranch all those years ago.

Little Monsters

‘Little Monsters’

Why would you chaperone your nephew’s school field trip? Well, if you’re Dave (Alexander England), you sign up because it means spending more time with his drop-dead gorgeous kindergartner teacher (Lupita Nyong’o). But no one told this smitten dude that he’d have competition in the form of a childcare’s TV show host (Josh Gad). Or that they would all have to deal with a shitload of zombies attacking them. We’re a sucker for both love triangles and the undead stalking the living in order to eat their brains for sustenance, so really this sounds like a win-win situation.

The Lodge

‘The Lodge’

We’ve been waiting, with much anticipation, to see what Austrian filmmakers Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala would do for a follow-up to their creepy-as-hell Goodnight Mommy (2014). The answer, apparently, is the ultimate religious-stepmom horror movie, with two kids hating on the woman, Grace (Riley Keough), who’s become their father’s new lady love. Then the trio find themselves stuck together in a snowy cabin sans Dad, and things start to get … weird. We’ve already got chills.

‘Love, Antosha’

He was just a little kid, the son of Russian ice skaters who decided to emigrate to Los Angeles — but even then Antosha “Anton” Yelchin had a knack for performing in front of a camera. This bio-tribute to the late actor follows his path from his early interest in movies and music to making a name for himself as a rising star to his unfortunate death in a freak accident at the age of 27. Everyone from his parents and boyhood friends to most of the cast of Star Trek attest to Yeltchin’s relentless creativity (despite the fact that he’d been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at an early age) and ability to inspire everyone around him.

Marianne

‘Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love’

In the 1960s, on the Greek island of Hydra, a Norwegian ex-pat met a young Canadian poet. Her name was Marianne Christine Ihlen; his name was Leonard Cohen. Documentarian Nick Broomfield — himself an acquaintance of Marianne in Greece way back when — explores the couple’s romantic attachment, the dynamics of their artist-muse relationship (see “So Long, Marianne”) and how they never forgot each other even during the decades they drifted apart. Even if you’re not a dedicated Cohen fan, it’s an incredible story.

Memory

‘Memory — The Origins of Alien’

Director Alexandre O. Philippe attempts to do for the chest-bursting sequence in Alien what he previously did for Psycho‘s shower scene in the 2017 deconstructive breakdown 78/52, i.e. a deep-read of how a master filmmaker turned an unforgettable scene into a pop cultural primal fear. And in addition to delving into the minutiae of John Hurt famously giving birth to a bouncing baby Xenopmorph, it also examines how an earlier abandoned project from writer Dan O’Bannon — named Memory — helped inspire a movie moment that scarred a generation.

‘Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool’

The jazz legend wasn’t kidding when he told someone that he’d “changed music five or six times” — so how the hell do you capture Miles Davis’s artistic life in a mere two hours? Filmmaker Stanley Nelson (The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution) takes a stab at it, hitting all of the beats: meeting Bird and Dizzy Gillespie when Davis was 18, hooking up with Gil Evans, Paris, Columbia Records, Kind of Blue, the Sixties quintet, the fusion years and the dark moods of his Dark Magus period. Consider this your Miles 101 primer.

Nightingale

‘The Nightingale’

They call her “the Nightingale,” a young Irish lass named Clare (Aisling Franciosi) who entertains English soldiers in the wilds of Australia with her beautiful singing. And because she’s also an ex-convict under the care of a sadistic military officer (The Hunger Games‘ Sam Claflin), the woman is forced to submit to his will whenever he wants. An act of violence robs Clare of everything she holds dear; when the lieutenant and his fellow perpetrators flee the scene of the crime, she and an Aboriginal guide (Baykali Ganambarr) go after them in the name of vengeance. It’s a revenge movie from The Babadook‘s Jennifer Kent — enough said.

‘The Report’

They called it “enhanced interrogation techniques” — torture by any other name, and Senate staffer Daniel Jones (Adam Driver) isn’t about to pretend otherwise. When the man who’s been assigned to front an investigation on how America’s intelligence agencies conducted the War on Terror prepares to present his findings, however, both the C.I.A. and the government’s executive branch start running interference. Screenwriter/longtime Soderbergh collaborator Scott Z. Burns makes his directorial debut with what could be an All the President’s Men-level political drama; if you’ve ever wanted to see Annette Bening play Senator Dianne Feinstein, now’s your chance.

Troop Zero

‘Troop Zero’

What’s an alien-obsessed nine-year-old girl (Gifted‘s McKenna Grace) to do when she wants to win a chance to win a NASA-sponsored contest, but the Girl Scouts-like organization involved in the competition won’t have her? Why, start her own adjacent troop, of course! The cast — featuring Viola Davis, Alison Janney, Jim Gaffigan, Mike Epps — is strong; the directorial duo behind this comedy, Bert & Bertie, have been on our radar for a while now. Bring on the merit badges.

‘Untouchable’

It makes a perverse kind of sense that it would be Sundance — a festival whose roots with the subject go back to the late ’80s/early ‘90s — would be the place to premiere this documentary on the rise and fall of the producer Harvey Weinstein. British filmmaker Ursula Macfarlane charts how this former concert promoter became one of the leading facilitators of the golden age of indie filmmaking, and allows numerous accusers to recount how that power was then abused in the worst possible ways. This is not going to be easy to watch; “uncomfortable” is the word we imagine will best describe seeing this in a room filled with people who had a lot of personal dealings with this monster.

Rene Russo and Jake Gyllenhaal appear in Velvet Buzzsaw by Dan Gilroy, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Claudette Barius.All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

‘Velvet Buzzsaw’

Personally, we like when Jake Gyllenhaal gets weird — and this thriller from Nightcrawler writer/director Dan Gilroy looks like it’s a showcase for a very out-there Jake. He’s a mover and shaker in the modern-art world who stumbles across a young woman (Zawe Ashton) with a series of paintings done by a deceased man in her apartment building. These canvases make their way to market, where they become sought after by rich collectors … only there’s something a little creepy about them. The trailer suggests both a satire and some sort of supernatural whatsit. Yes, please.

Of Mics and Men

‘Wu Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men’

Hip-hop journalist/historian Sacha Jenkins (Fresh Dressed) profiles Staten Island’s finest, a.k.a. the 10-person crew who changed Nineties hip-hop — and the game overall — when they dropped Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) back in 1992. The whole four-part miniseries will drop on Showtime in the spring, but Sundance is premiering the first two episodes; they’re also promising “special guests,” which we’re assuming means the Wu themselves or, at the very least, an Ol’ Dirty Bastard hologram. (RIP Dirt McGirt.)

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