It’s been three years since cinephiles have made their otherwise annual pilgrimage to the Eccles Theater, but the Sundance Film Festival is back! Anyone who doesn’t want to brave Park City temperatures from January 19 – 29, though, can fest online. While a few high-profile releases are being shown exclusively to in-person attendees—Brandon Cronenberg’s “Infinity Pool” and Nicole Holofcener’s “You Hurt My Feelings,” for example—this year’s virtual lineup still features lots of star power and even an Oscar contender for Best International Feature. Single film online tickets can be purchased here.
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Following up his acclaimed turn as the first African-American naval pilot Jesse Brown in J.D. Dillard’s “Devotion” with two blockbuster roles (“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” and “Creed III”) and a potential indie breakout that’s premiering at the festival, Jonathan Majors is having a moment. He stars in “Magazine Dreams” as Killian Maddox, an amateur bodybuilder whose ambitions conflict with his interpersonal relationships. The movie’s stylish first image promises a dark, psychological character study that fans may be talking about long after festivalgoers have descended from Park City. “Magazine Dreams” is directed by Elijah Bynum (“Hot Summer Nights”) and co-stars Taylour Paige (“Zola”) and Harriet Sansom Harris (“Licorice Pizza”).
Breakout “CODA” star Emilia Jones is returning to the festival with two titles—“Fairyland,” a father-daughter memoir, and “Cat Person,” an intriguing dark comedy about modern dating co-starring Nicholas Braun (“Succession”). The former is an in-person exclusive, but at-home viewers will be able to stream the latter. Based on a New Yorker short story by Kristen Roupenian and directed by “Booksmart” co-writer Susanna Fogel, “Cat Person” follows Margot (Jones), a college student who grows increasingly uncomfortable in a new relationship. The movie sounds more than vaguely similar to “Fresh,” which was one of the bigger acquisitions from 2022’s Sundance.
“A Thousand and One”
The ‘90s-set film’s description—a mother (Teyana Taylor) and son try to lead normal lives in New York City after she illegally removes him from foster care, but the pair’s tenuous stability is threatened years later—reads like one for an arthouse epic in the vein of 2013’s “The Place Beyond the Pines.” Funnily enough, “A Thousand and One,” like Derek Cianfrance’s film, is also being distributed by Focus Features. The label’s attachment to the project and commitment to a theatrical release date (March 31) prior to its Sundance premiere instill serious confidence about both the film and debut director A.V. Rockwell.
“All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt”
Everyone who’s seen “The Woman King”— and knows how awesome Sheila Atim is — has a good reason to check out Raven Jackson’s “All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt.” The movie traces the life of a woman in Mississippi with what the first-released still suggests is lyrical pacing and ethereal cinematography. The movie is being produced by Barry Jenkins (who’s destined to one day either direct or finance a Toni Morrison adaptation) and distributed by A24, a formula that’s currently benefitting Paul Mescal, as he just broke into our top five Best Actor Oscar predictions for his performance in “Aftersun.” “All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt” sounds like it will give Atim, who’s just as worthy of an acting showcase, an opportunity to lean into the tenderness hinted by her work in “The Woman King.”
Awards enthusiasts will have a chance to see Saim Sadiq’s “Joyland”— Pakistan’s submission for Best International Film at the 95th Oscars — starting January 24th, the day nominations are announced by the AMPAS. It follows several members of a family in Lahore who endure daily social and personal pressures to be something other than themselves. “Joyland” broke a barrier by premiering at the Cannes Film Festival and recently hit another milestone by getting shortlisted for the Academy Award. It’ll be ironic if the movie Pakistan censored after its submission (the ban has since been lifted) becomes the country’s first to get an Oscar nomination. The domestic drama, which has dialogue in both Urdu and Punjab, is 13th in our combined Best International Film Oscar odds.
SEE 2023 Sundance Film Festival preview: 10 potential awards contenders include Mia Goth, Jonathan Majors, Julia Louis-Dreyfus …
Before Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” was moved to this year, Lily Gladstone was frequently mentioned as a potential ‘22/23 Best Supporting Actress contender. However, we’ll first be seeing her as a hustler fighting to keep her family together in Erica Tremblay’s “Fancy Dance.” Jax (Gladstone) has been taking care of her niece (Isabel Deroy-Olson) since her sister’s disappearance. The two go on a road trip after the girl’s father (Shea Wigham) tries to separate them. Tremblay is a documentarian and “Reservation Dogs” writer.
“Scrapper” sounds like a gritty but ultimately delightful comedy that follows in the tradition of “Getting Even With Dad” and “Big Daddy” while adding flourishes of magical realism. Ever since “Beach Rats,” Harris Dickinson has proven to be one of today’s most versatile young actors. His comedic timing in awkward situations, demonstrated by the first act of “Triangle of Sadness,” will serve this whimsically offbeat tale well.
Alice Englert, who’s given impressive performances in 2019’s “Them That Follow” and 2022’s “You Won’t Be Alone” (both Sundance premieres), is acting in and directing “Bad Behaviour,” which sounds like David Cronenberg’s “Stars at Noon” crossed with Hulu’s “Nine Perfect Strangers.” The dark comedy is headlined by Jennifer Connelly, who plays a former child actor, and Ben Whishaw. The “Women Talking” actor, eighth in our combined Best Supporting Actor odds, is performing a 180 from the sensitive August Epp as a smarmy guru.
A refugee (Zar Amir Ebrahimi) looking for a fresh start in Australia with her six-year-old daughter is perturbed when the husband she fled reappears and tries to take the girl back to Iran. The film’s selling point is Ebrahimi, whose work as an undercover journalist in 2022’s “Holy Spider” won her a Cannes acting prize. Were it in English, her plaudits for the Farsi-language crime drama (ninth in our combined International Film odds) from major awards bodies would’ve been unlikely to end there. “Shayda,” part of the the festival’s World Dramatic Competition, is produced by Cate Blanchett and marks the feature debut of Australian-Iranian filmmaker Noora Niasari. Between this, “Fancy Dance,” and “A Thousand and One,” families struggling to remain intact seem to be a theme this year.
Randall Park is at this year’s fest with “Shortcomings,” the “Fresh Off the Boat” star’s feature directorial debut. Based on Adrian Tomine’s graphic novel,“Shortcomings” tracks the ups and downs of young creatives in Berkeley, California. It stars Justin H. Min of “After Yang” fame as a down-on-his-luck filmmaker who spends his days watching Criterion DVDs and running an arthouse theater. Could this be any more perfect for a Sundance crowd? “Shortcomings” sounds like an ambitious, zeitgeist-tapping hangout comedy in the mold of “Annie Hall,” “High Fidelity,” and “(500) Days of Summer”— and perhaps even a realistic contender for the festival’s audience award, received in 2022 by “Cha Cha Real Smooth.”
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