Chris’ 2018 Sundance Film Festival Recap

The Sundance Film Festival comes right on the heels of all of the end-of-year rush and Oscar qualifiers. And while most of us are still trying to catch up to all of the films that came out in 2017, Sundance drops a heap of exciting new films to look forward to in 2018.

Here are some films that I caught at this year’s festival that are on our radar. Since many of the films at the festival are premieres, many of them do not yet have release details. While we aren’t certain that we will be able to bring all of these to our screens, here are our favorite discoveries that showcase another year of engaging, thoughtful, entertaining, independent cinema.

Juliet, Naked — An enjoyable adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel about a love triangle featuring a British couple and a reclusive American rockstar. Ethan Hawke, Rose Byrne, and Chris O’Dowd are perfectly cast in this quirky comic crowd-pleaser.

Colette — Keira Knightley stars in this sensuous, Belle Époque period piece about the gender-barrier breaking rise to fame of the legendary French novelist. Despite the century removed, this story of a woman breaking out from under her celebrity husband’s control to claim her own voice and sexual independence is incredibly resonant today.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor — The biography of iconic children’s show host Fred Rodgers that will leave you in tears. Morgan Neville’s (20 Feet From Stardom) showcases the incomparable Rodgers through rare behind-the-scenes footage, interviews, and clips from the iconic show. The faith that Rodgers had in children, directly addressing feelings and contemporary issues highlights how sorely we need a calm voice of reason like his today. (The first week of the show featured reactions to King Friday building a border wall! First. Week.)

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot — Joaquin Phoenix stars as quadriplegic, recovering-alcoholic John Callahan in Gus Van Sant’s return to form. Phoenix once again shows his chameleon skills to inhabit the disabled Callahan and his struggle to exorcise his demons and overcome his injury by channeling his talent for creating irreverent cartoons. Featuring a remarkable supporting performance by Jonah Hill.

Burden — Based on a true story of a KKK member in South Carolina who changes his views after developing a friendship with a black minister, BURDEN is an emotional powerhouse. Garrett Hedlund delivers a career defining performance with a stellar supporting cast including Forest Whitaker, Tom Wilkinson, and Andrea Riseborough. A moving, timely reflection on contemporary racism.

RBG — This slick produced documentary is a homage to the Justice’s long career and personal life. Notable for its focus on her legal achievements dismantling gender discrimination as well as its loving and honest look at her marriage, which was similarly trailblazing.

Eighth Grade — Bo Burnham’s hilariously awkward directorial debut hinges on the remarkable performance by Elsie Fisher as a shy, socially conscious eighth grader. A heartfelt portrait of childhood in the social media age that explores the struggles of adolescence without being cliche. With a spectacular supporting performance by Josh Hamilton as a well-meaning single dad.

Blindspotting — Daveed Diggs (of Hamilton fame) and Rafael Casal co-wrote and star in this socially conscious buddy comedy of identity, gentrification, and police brutality in Oakland. Directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada, the film is fast-paced, funny, tuneful, and a deeply emotional exploration of changing inner city life.

306 Hollywood — A charming, experimental documentary about a brother and sister who artfully unpack their grandmother’s life through the items left behind in her house after her death. Whimsical, magical, and extremely touching.

To read more about the festival, I highly recommend the wrap posts by Philadelphia-based Slate critic Sam Adams and Buzz Feed’s Alison Wilmore that explore the change in the film market, the move toward small-screen buyers, and the role that women and minority voices had in the festival.

And these were not the only movies that I saw. With my wife, Emily, who was with me, we saw 28 films. My other notes and write-ups can be found on my Letterboxd page.

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