Over the past few years, Sundance has arguably shunted most of its noteworthy titles off into its sidebars, whether they be prestigious premieres from world class auteurs deserving to compete rather than adorn a festival’s program (Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women; Dee Rees’ Mudbound) or relegating daring, tantalizing boundary pushers like Sean Baker’s Tangerine, Josh Mond’s James White, or Sebastian Silva’s Nasty Baby into the wild child Next sidebar. The 2018 U.S. Dramatic Competition seems to be playing it less safe this year, however. Certain regulars are returning to the fold while promising new works from formidable players suggest a more rebellious crop of indie filmmakers attempting to dispel the quirky safe zone of what has come to define the American indie landscape. Some honorable mentions from this year’s line-up include Wash Westmoreland’s Colette, the Zellner Bros.’ Damsel, Reed Morano’s I Think We’re Alone Now, and Sebastian Hofmann’s Time Share. In alphabetical order, my top 5 most anticipated titles for Sundance 2018 are as follows:
Lizzie – Dir. Craig William Macneill
Macneill, known for his simmering 2015 breakthrough The Boy, inherited this long-gestating project on Lizzie Borden, which stars Chloe Sevigny as the titular axe murderess. In what sounds like a nod to Chabrol’s La Ceremonie, Kristen Stewart arrives as the Borden’s maid in 1892 Massachusetts, and her intimate relationship with Lizzie ends up spiraling into what would become a tragic, infamous case of murder.
Mandy – Dir. Panos Cosmatos
Director Panos Cosmatos (son of George P.) went the esoteric art-house route with the 2010 debut Beyond the Black Rainbow. Eight years later, he seems to have gone to another extreme with the Nicolas Cage headlined Mandy. Set in 1983, Cage is Red Miller, a man whose love for a woman (Andrea Riseborough) is thwarted when a band of looters and supernatural marauders seems to jumpstart a John Wick-ish swath of vengeance.
Piercing – Dir. Nicolas Pesce
DP Nicolas Pesce was a breakthrough success with his 2016 directorial debut The Eye of My Mother, which premiered out of the Next sidebar. He’s back with Piercing, a The Business of Strangers sounding two-hander about a revolving power-play between a killer and his victim. Christopher Abbott stars as the mysterious man hired to kill a mark—when it ends up being a calculating prostitute played Mia Wasikowska, the rules of the game become blurred.
Sorry to Bother You – Dir. Boots Riley
Boots Riley’s directorial debut is a dark comedy about a black telemarketer who discovers he has magical selling powers because he sounds white. Headlined by the delectable duo of Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson, Riley examines the neglected and oft unexplored notions of conformity exacted upon POC in the white, patriarchal heteronormative structure in a package that sounds like a devious, subversive portrayal of realities most prefer to ignore.
Tyrel – Dir. Sebastian Silva
Sebastian Silva finally breaks into the US Dramatic comp at Sundance after winning the World Dramatic Prize for 2009’s The Maid, returning with the double feature of Magic Magic and Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus in 2013 and the divisive Nasty Baby in 2015. He’s back with Tyrel, for what sounds like a complex tale revolving around Jason Mitchell as Tyler when he takes a drunken weekend excursion with a group of friends who all happen to be white. Cue initial comparisons to Get Out.