While Sundance 2018 has already been deemed a non-event in the realm of acquisitions, it’s a trend perhaps better explained by an industry in transition. As the #MeToo movement continues to metamorphosize Hollywood, foreign language niche labels struggle, and streaming services continue to buck the trend by generating their own versions of event cinema, Sundance and all its Indie American quirk-centered flavoring has been subjected to its own slow identity shift. A major shake-up in the types of titles allowed into the competition this year are a testament of such changes in mood. Although I only had the pleasure of attending the first half of Sundance 2018 (and thus missed a handful of buzzy titles, such as Hereditary, Damsel, and Summer of 84), there was plenty to love in a sea of darker themed titles attempting to directly address the troubled cultural climate of America, 2018.
#10. Time Share – Sebastian Hofmann
Sebastian Hofmann and Julio Chavezmontes received the Best Screenwriting Prize out of the World Dramatic competition for their second collaboration, Time Share (read review). A bleak comedy about two family men stuck together in a gimmicky time share environment which operates like a capitalistic cult, it’s another subversive exercise from the director who came to Sundance in 2012 with his debut Halley.
#9. Colette – Dir. Wash Westmoreland
Wash Westmoreland, who makes his first solo narrative effort sans the passing of partner Richard Glazter, resurrects the vestiges of French literary sensation and sexual provocateur Colette. Though filmed in English, Keira Knightley brings the noted author to vibrant life in this suggestive biopic.
#8. The Tale – Jennifer Fox
Although it will be sure to give many pause, documentarian Jennifer Fox creates a confounding, cathartic and overall uncomfortable reenactment of her own sexual abuse in The Tale, which features winning turns from Laura Dern and Ellen Burstyn. While some of the techniques may get a bit tiresome, The Tale is a terrific conversation piece, even if it sometimes stumbles (such as an anxiously tended performance by Jason Ritter as a rosy tinted pedophile).
#7. TYREL – Sebastian Silva
An excellent exemplification of hidden microaggressions which come out full force when a group of close-knit white friends welcome a black guest into their drunken weekend birthday celebration, Sebastian Silva creates another slice of foreboding dread with his latest TYREL. While not as alienating as Nasty Baby (although there’s certainly nothing wrong with that), it’s bound to keep you on edge until the credits roll.
#6. Leave No Trace – Debra Granik
It’s been an eight-year absence, but Debra Granik returns with Leave No Trace, a well-attenuated melodrama about a PTSD suffering dad and his tween daughter who find themselves eluding authorities after living off the grid. While we’ve seen plenty of deliberations of people choosing to live on the fray, Granik creates something a bit sincerer than something like Captain Fantastic with this well-performed piece.
#5. Beast – Michael Pearce
Sort of like the Irish version of The Honeymoon Killers, this title from Michael Pearce premiered out of TIFF last fall, but lands in Sundance’s Spotlight program. Jessie Buckley is featured in a breakout performance reminiscent of Florence Pugh in 2016’s Lady Macbeth as a wild child whose passions breed discontent with the community around her.
#4. Sorry to Bother You – Boots Riley
Although it’s not successful on every front, musician Boots Riley shoots for the moon with his ambitious debut Sorry to Bother You, which plays like a parallel universe set in modern Oakland, with something like George Orwell’s Animal Farm laying the groundwork for this acerbic tale of a black telemarketer who discovers his white voice and ascends to the ranks of superstardom within his corporate entity only to discover the folly in actively being part of the problem rather than the solution.
#3. We the Animals – Jeremiah Zagar
Raul Castillo and Sheila Vand head this directorial debut from Jeremiah Zagar about a troubled marriage affecting the emotional development of their three children, including the youngest, who is just beginning to experience his sexual awakening. Nuanced and painstaking, Zagar’s film was one of the best surprises in this year’s crop of debuting filmmakers.
#2. Lizzie – Craig William Macneill
Finally, an art-house rendition of Lizzie Borden arrives thanks to the considerable efforts of Chloe Sevigny and Bryan Kass. Sevigny shines as the rebellious, headstrong Lizzie, a woman ahead of her time in turn of the century Massachusetts who infamously was tried and found innocent for the vicious murder of her father and stepmother. Also, not a film for all tastes (even Sevigny has voiced her dismay in the end product), it’s a poignant battle of wills and thwarted passions which ends in an ambitiously staged reenactment.
#1. Mandy – Panos Cosmatos
Words cannot rightly describe the experience of Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy, although most seem to settle on the new catch all term, ‘batshit crazy.’ Nicolas Cage plays a logger whose idyllic existence with Andrea Riseborough, the title character, is disrupted by a violent gang of otherworldly bikers who abduct her at the behest of a cult leader who spied the willowy woman on the side of the road and demanded she be his. What happens next is best described as cinema which can only be experienced, but rest assured, there’s enough psychedelic weirdness, topped with a dollop of some good ole’ Cage Rage to leave everyone satisfied.