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25 Must-See Movies at Sundance 2015

From hot docs to hilarious cringe-comedies, the festival films to keep an eye out for

Sundance

When January rolls around, moviegoers can expect three things: They'll have to wade through the junk that studios release during this notorious dump month (I, Frankenstein, anybody?); they'll have a chance to catch up on the buzzed-about Oscar titles; and the Sundance Film Festival will turn Park City into ground zero for the year's need-to-see indie comedies, dramas, documentaries and nouveau cult classics. In 2014, festgoers were treated to first looks at BoyhoodThe Babadook and Whiplash; starting on Thursday, January 22nd, we'll get the opportunity to get a glimpse at many of the movies we'll undoubtedly by crowing about in the next 12 months.

After poring through the lineup and staring intently at the tea leaves in the bottom of magic predicta-mug, we've come up with 25 movies that we think will be the creme de la crème of Sundance 2015. From docs on Kurt Cobain and Marlon Brando to an adaptation of the classic sci-fi novel Z for Zachariah, these are the ones we're looking forward to the most.

Fresh Dressed

A scene from 'Fresh Dressed.'

‘Fresh Dressed’

And lo, the world of old-school hip-hop developed a distinctive look, picking brand names — Adidas, Kangol, Puma — to dress the breakdancers, taggers and rappers that practiced its arts. Thus was born a style known as "fressssh," and the Lord (and many corporate entities that wanted to cash in the hip new look) declared it good. We've been waiting for the great history-of-b-boy-fashion movie to come along, and this may be it. We will be wearing our dookie chain at the premiere.

Going Clear

Sam Painter

‘Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief’

Based on Lawrence Wright's exposé about Scientology, cine-muckraker Alex Gibney's film promises a stem-to-stern look at the controversial religion — from creator L. Ron Hubbard's early establishment of the belief system to its adoption by A-list Hollywood players. Allegedly, eight former members of the church provide first-hand testimonies of the organization's in and outs, as well as going into the numerous accusations of harassment and abuse. We're assuming there will not be a booth selling Dianetics in the Redstone Cinema's lobby.

I am Michael

Cara Howe

‘I Am Michael’

Gay-rights activist Michael Glatze had long been a posterboy for queer political action; then, in 2007, he suddenly embraced Christianity, disavowed his homosexuality and stunned everyone who knew him. Director Justin Kelly's feature debut attempts to find out why Glatze pulled a 180-degree ideological turn; the fact that James Franco is playing this divisive figure doesn't suggest star vehicle so much as a continuation of his fascination with gay/straight semiotics (see Interior: Leather Bar). Expect some interesting post-screening Q&As.

I Smile Back

Eric Lin

‘I Smile Back’

Attention all you Will Gardner fans still in mourning: This is one of Josh Charles' first big roles since ditching his role on The Good Wife. But the real draw here is Sarah Silverman as a seemingly happy housewife with a destructive habit that threatens to undo her family. Suburban malaise is Sundance catnip, and Silverman surprised us with her darker side in 2011's Take This Waltz, so we’ll be very curious to watch her lead a drama for the first time.

Kurt Cobain

Anton Corbijn

‘Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck’

Fully authorized by the Nirvana frontman's estate, this inside look at Kurt Cobain's life and art seems like a fan's dream come true: archival footage, home movies, interviews with families and friends and a few never-heard-before tracks. Mostly, the portrait promises to offer a peek into what made the singer-guitarist such a complicated man and such a vital artist. We're so excited to see this that we're already humming the melody to "Sliver" in anticipation.

Listen to Me Marlon

Courtesy Sundance Film Festival

‘Listen to Me Marlon’

He played Mafia dons, dockworkers, sensitive brutes and Superman's dad; now, filmmaker Stephen Riley gives audiences the man himself, Marlon Brando, in his own words. With narration provided by tapes of the actor speaking about fame, his craft, and his eventual hatred of both — as well as, you know, his movies — this doc compiles lots of private footage of the Method man at work and at home. You want Brando Confidential? Fine, you've got it.

Mississippi Grind

Courtesy Sundance Film Festival

‘Mississippi Grind’

We've been waiting for filmmakers Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden (Half Nelson, Sugar) to get back to crafting the sort of movies that made us believe in indie movies again (the less said about 2010's It's Kind of a Funny Story, the better). And we have a good feeling about their tale of two gamblers hitting the road and heading to New Orleans, hoping to hit it big in a high-stakes poker game. Not even the presence of the Green Lantern himself, Ryan Reynolds, can scare us off. We're all in on this one.

Mistress America

Sam Levy

‘Mistress America’

Another Noah Baumbach movie already, you say? His previous film hasn't even hit theaters yet! (That'd be While We're Young, which comes out this spring and features Ben Stiller's funniest performance in years. But we digress.) Baumbach's latest once again features the beguiling, daffy Great Gerwig as a New Yorker who leads her freshman stepsister (Mozart in the Jungle's Lola Kirke) through all sort of Gotham-based misadventures. Count on wittiness, drollery and the sort of sharp dialogue that you've come to expect from the writer-director.

The Nightmare

A scene from 'The Nightmare.'

‘The Nightmare’

After his brilliant, batshit Room 237 deconstructed crazy conspiracies about Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (and in the process, crafted a valentine to cine-obsessiveness), we'd pretty much see anything Rodney Ascher does. His follow-up sounds equally as odd and compelling: It delves into the phenomenon of "sleep paralysis," in which people find themselves unable to move a muscle in that netherworld between sleep and consciousness. We just got goosebumps.

Sleeping with Other People

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Linda Kllrus

‘Sleeping With Other People’

Jake (Jason Sudeikis) and Lainey (the infinitely charming Alison Brie) bump into each other at a support group for sex addicts — years after losing their virginity to one another — and embark on a platonic friendship in which they swap masturbation tricks and struggle to form healthier attachments. Director Leslye Headland (Bachelorette) has never met a boundary she doesn't want to push, and her "ironic homage" to When Harry Met Sally (her words!) suggests lots of dirty, damaged fun.

Slow West

Courtesy

‘Slow West’

An open letter to all young Scottish men traveling to the American West circa the late 1800s, hoping to track down your lady love: make sure she does not have a posse of bounty hunters chasing after her. Also, if you must still go and rescue the object of your affection, be sure you have a frontiersman who's handy with a gun, knows the landscape well and looks like Michael Fassbender with you. That should open some doors.

The Stanford Prison Experiment

Jas Shelton

‘The Stanford Prison Experiment’

Billy Crudup plays psychologist Philip Zimbardo who, in 1971, conducted a famous experiment that explored the role of cell-block power. He enrolled undergraduates to act as either guards or prisoners; the study soon took on a very real sense of life-imitating-art, for the subjects as well as the team assigned to observe them. Olivia Thirlby and The Knick’s Michael Angarano costar.

Tig

‘Tig’

Even before the extraordinary set she did regarding her cancer diagnosis, Tig Notaro was one of the smartest, funniest, most inventive stand-up comics around. (Google the bit she did on Conan O'Brien's show that involves her scooting a stool around. Go ahead, we'll wait.) But after that Largo gig found its way on to the Internet, she suddenly found herself catapulted into the spotlight — proving that tragedy plus time does indeed equal comedy, provided you have the chops to turn bad luck into an insightful, eye-opening half hour of confessional joke-telling. Kristina Goolsby and Ashley York's doc looks at what happened after Notoro opened up onstage, from dealing with the disease to the sudden onrush of attention.

Welcome to Leith

Gregory Bruce

‘Welcome to Leith’

The rural town of Leith, North Dakota always seemed like a nice place to settle down — that's what Craig Cobb, a notorious racist, thought when he was looking to establish a separatist, white-supremacist-friendly headquarters for your hatemongering. The community, naturally, were less then thrilled by its new resident and his ideas for changing their city into Hatetown U.S.A., and fought to keep Cobb from taking over Leith acre by acre. Thankfully, Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker captured the whole thing on film. Yes, things get ugly.

What Happened, Miss Simone?

‘What Happened, Miss Simone’

That'd be Nina Simone, the fierce soul singer and civil-rights activist who's been ripe for a docu-portrait for a long while. Thankfully, Liz Garbus (The Farm: Angola, U.S.A.) stepped up, delivering what we've heard to be a warts-and-all look at how Simone battled racism, sexism and her own demons — and still delivered the sort of heartfelt, eye-watering, gut-punching music that made her legend. What happened, you ask? You're about to find out.

Z for Zachariah

Craig Zobel

‘Z for Zachariah’

Director Craig Zobel scandalized Sundance audiences in 2012 with the controversial Compliance, and now he's back with a post-apocalyptic film that's guaranteed to generate more chatter. The relationship between a young woman (The Wolf of Wall Street's Margot Robbie) and a dying scientist (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is compromised when they come across another survivor (Chris Pine) — and the two men vie for her affection. All we can say is: Uh-oh.

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