2018 Sundance Film Festival: Dylan Kai Dempsey’s Top 5 Most Anticipated Films
Before we plunge into my top five, here are some items that are also high up on my most see list. From this year’s line-up I’d include Reed Morano’s I Think We’re Alone Now, Jim Hosking’s An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn, Zellner Bros.’s Damsel. Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy. Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace. Jennifer Fox’s The Tale and finally, Sandi Tan’s Shirkers.
Eighth Grade – Dir. Bo Burnham
Way back in 2006, Robert Pickering “Bo” Burnham won our hearts with viral home videos during YouTube’s first legs. Since then, the 27-year- old hyphenate has flaunted his talent for comedy, music, poetry, acting and, most impressive of all, writing. He has already had comedy specials on both Comedy Central and Netflix; he has co-created and starred in his own MTV series; he has played the role of a comic in the box-office hit, The Big Sick. And this past year, he wrote and directed his own first feature. Eighth Grade – already acquired by Indie powerhouse A24 – will premiere in the Dramatic Competition at Sundance. How does Burnham do it? Beneath his dorky white-boy veneer is an intellect of unparalleled wit. A self-parody whiz, he often leans into his look, using it to subvert expectations. In the midst of today’s era of limit-breaking, attention-seeking spazdom, his earliest work outshines modern-day YouTube stars with old-fashioned ‘earnesty.’ In the heart of Eighth Grade, he pairs an age ripe for storytelling – both dramatic and comic – with layers of social media, angst and irony. Billed as a coming-of- age comedy, this film centers on 13-year- old Kayla (Elsie Fisher, the voice of Agnes in the ‘Despicable Me’ movies), during her final week of middle school. Josh Hamilton also stars. In addition to everything else, the story may be, in part, autobiographical. Part of the U.S. Dramatic Comp.
Juliet, Naked – Dir. Jesse Peretz
Helmed by Jesse Peretz of Our Idiot Brother and Girls acclaim, Juliet, Naked was produced by a Sundance dream team: Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa, who previously won the Grand Jury Prize for Little Miss Sunshine, in partnership with Judd Apatow who—among many achievements—delivered last year’s smash-hit comedy The Big Sick. The fact that these vets joined forces as producers of Juliet, Naked means that a damn good script is likely. Plus a great cast: the film stars Rose Byrne, Chris O’Dowd and Ethan Hawke. And if that’s not enough to get you interested, here’s the premise: the film explores technology’s influence on relationships. Anna (Byrne) leaves an online review lambasting aging rockstar Tucker Crowe (Hawke), in order to spite her husband Duncan (O’Dowd) who still idolizes the rocker. When Crowe returns fire, we’re led into a Bermuda love triangle of interpersonal chaos and hilarity. A premiere section item.
Search – Dir. Aneesh Chaganty
25-year old filmmaker Aneesh Chaganty showcased his knack for inventive storytelling when his two-minute, no-dialogue short Seeds collected over one million YouTube views in 24 hours. Snatched up by Google’s Creative Lab, Chaganty then spent two years writing and directing commercials for the heavyweight company … and then quit that cushy job in order to make his first feature. And now, he gives us Search: a thriller with a computer screen as its canvas. Stylistically reminiscent of the 2013 TIFF short Noah, this promising debut tells the story of David Kim (John Cho) – first in a five-minute flashback that covers ten years of his life, then stuck in a chair, desperately searching for his missing daughter in a cornucopia of fast-moving clicks. What might have been easily brushed off in past years as a conceptual gimmick is now a realistic through-line: spending an entire feature-length movie glued to a computer screen is closer to our daily reality than most of us like to admit. Props to Chaganty for taking a familiar medium into new territory; now let’s hope that this first-time feature director achieves transcendence. The NEXT section pocketed this item.
Sorry to Bother You – Boots Riley
The most radical premise of Sundance 2018’s entire festival lineup is Boots Riley’s Sorry To Bother You. The film takes place in an alternate reality where corporate drones and fantasy doom reign supreme. In the midst of it all is Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a telemarketer who discovers his ability to become the ultimate salesmen … by making his voice sound ‘white.’ Sound risky? Writer/Director Riley has the chops. As a longtime political activist-rapper, he has already made his bones in music, founding the renowned Bay Area group The Coup and collaborating with a long list of greats including E-40, Talib Kweli, Audioslave, Rage against the Machine, and The Roots. And now, as a first-time filmmaker, he may well be onto his second career, giving us a film we didn’t know we needed. To top it all off, the film’s cast is a constellation. Stanfield’s name has become synonymous with courageous new projects (Atlanta, Get Out, Crown Heights). Also in the mix are Armie Hammer as Green’s douchey boss (not one to rest on his Call Me By Your Name laurels) and Tessa Thompson as Green’s suspicious, artsy girlfriend (Thor: Ragnarok, Westworld, Selma). Sidebar: Stanfield, who plays Snoop in the Straight Outta Compton movies, can also spit. Here’s to hoping for a collab performance from Riley and Stanfield, even if it’s only at the after-party. A must see in the U.S. Dramatic Comp.
Tyrel – Sebastian Silva
This year is Chilean Writer/Director Sebastian Silva’s fifth (yes, fifth!) Sundance premiere. His prior films have already snagged him both a Grand Jury Prize (The Maid) and a Directing Award (Crystal Fairy). His last appearance was at Sundance 2015 with Nasty Baby, a painfully perverse film that received mixed reviews, but went on to win a Teddy for Best Queer Film at Berlin 65. The truth is, Silva is known for darkly provocative narratives; his latest entry, Tyrel, seems to be no exception. In the vein of Get Out and other socially-conscious horror flicks, this one deals with racial truth-as- terror: when the titular Tyrel (Mudbound’s Jason Mitchell) finds out that he’s the only black guy in a remote cabin full of beer-guzzling bros, things spiral out of control. It’s a challenging premise—and even more intriguing is Silva’s filmmaker bio on the Sundance website. In place of the typical resume (most directors write a blurb about where they come from, professionally and/or personally), Silva offers his dating profile: height, weight, sexual preferences… “See you on the dance floor,” he signs off. Is this indie film vet-confidence? Off-the- reservation quirkiness? Either way, it holds portent. Whether Tyrel—or the director’s romantic pursuits—will become the real star of the festival has yet to be determined. Sebastian Silva’s latest foray is a Sundance 2018 wildcard.