Collage by Chloe Leeson
Sundance is undoubtedly one of the most fun festivals on the circuit and always fetches a wide array of quirkly, heartfelt and stand-out films. This year was no exception, so 3 SQ’s chose their top picks for films they are most excited to see come out of this year’s festival.
ASHLEY WOODVINE‘s PICKS:
The D Train (dir. Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul)
Dan (Jack Black) is the organiser of a high school reunion, who seeks out the most popular boy in school, Oliver (James Marsden) to persuade him to attend, as an incentive for the other alumni to do the same. So far, so totally done before – if I hadn’t looked into it, I’d think that this is another self congratulatory bro-comedy that lets the loser finally play with the cool kids. The D Train seems to avoid this, and Dan might not be redeemed from his high school unpopularity like you’d expect. It’ll be interesting to see how The D Train distinguishes itself from the recent onslaught of films that have probably dissected adult male friendships as much as it’s possible to.
The Wolfpack (dir. Crystal Moselle)
Winner of the Grand Jury Documentary prize, this documentary is unbelievably intriguing. Moselle met the Angulo brothers on one of their rare exertions into New York, the city they’d lived in all their lives, walking down First Avenue like they’d just stepped out of Reservoir Dogs. This is because the boys have learnt everything they know about the world outside of their apartment from the 5,000 movies they’ve watched, cooped up and forbidden from leaving the confines of their home. Moselle eventually won the trust of the Angulo family and documented their lives and elaborate film reconstructions. This documentary sounds fascinating in general, considering the extreme isolation of the family – but to a movie lover it’s shaping up to be something altogether more spectacular.
Tangerine (dir. Sean Baker)
Tangerine is a film breaking boundaries and has been called one of the best films to come out of this years festival. Firstly, it is shot on a iPhone 5S, shaking off the perception that great films need large scale expensive equipment. Secondly, it centres around Sin-Dee (Kiki Kitana Rodriguez) a transgender woman of colour working in the sex industry on the streets of LA. It’s hard to imagine a film more progressive, both in terms of content and production. It’s almost ridiculous that casting trans actresses in trans roles seems like such a step forward, but it was only a year ago that Jared Leto won an Oscar for portraying a trans woman. It takes small scale films like Tangerine to portray a criminally under-represented group of women in the way they deserve.
GEORGIA BERRY’S PICKS:
The Diary of a Teenage Girl (dir. Marielle Heller)
Possibly the film I’m anticipating the most, The Diary of a Teenage Girl follows Minnie Goetze in her own coming-of-age story, set in 1970’s San Francisco. The plot revolves around Minnie’s life, primarily her difficult relationship with her mother (Kristen Wiig) and the even more difficult relationship with her mother’s boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgård). Writer and director Marielle Heller acknowledges the rarity of female coming-of-age films and the depiction of girls growing up in America, which drove her to bring Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel to life. I have faith in The Diary of a Teenage Girl, not only for it’s interesting plot and setting in a city usually overlooked by the film industry, but for it’s actors. Wiig has already proved her depth and ability to work with dark material in last year’s The Skeleton Twins, and over the past few years she’s chosen a huge range of successful films. Playing Minnie is Bel Powley, a British newcomer, whose first major role will hopefully set her on a path of future, equally interesting, roles. The most exciting part of The Diary of a Teenage Girl, though, is it’s female director, firstly because the world needs more female film directors, and secondly because her depiction of a teenage girl will most likely be an accurate one.
Mistress America (dir. Noah Baumbach)
Writer and director Noah Baumbach returns with Frances Ha star Greta Gerwig in Mistress America. Gerwig plays Brooke, the older sister of Tracy, a freshman in New York, who comes to stay seeking a break from her lonely and aimless college life. Dealing with the similar topics that most of Baumbach’s films do – the “I have no clue what to do with my life” mentality – Baumbach’s most recent film takes them in a more comedic direction. Whether that means Baumbach can take Mistress America to a higher place than his successful films The Squid and the Whale and Frances Ha, or whether it will fall short, is a question open for it’s viewers.
Stockholm, Pennsylvania (dir. Nikole Beckwith)
In Stockholm, Pennsylvania, Saoirse Ronan stars as Leia, who was just released from her kidnapper, Ben, and returned to her parents after 17 years apart. Another movie from a female screenwriter and filmmaker, (Nikole Beckwith) Beckwith deals with the subject of kidnapping and takes a relatively different approach. Most kidnapping stories end with the person’s return, but Beckwith claims that the story doesn’t end there, it actually begins. Confronted with a home she is supposed to feel comfortable in, parents she is supposed to recognise, and the pressure to return to normal life, Leia becomes increasingly distant and focused on a longing for Ben. Saoirse Ronan will undoubtedly provide a compelling performance, often starring as the protagonist in equally dark films such as Hanna and How I Live Now, but so the far the film has received relatively mixed reviews. The fate of Stockholm, Pennsylvania will have to be determined once it hits cinemas this year.
Unexpected (dir. Kris Swanberg)
Being not entirely happy with Cobie Smulders’ previous roles (which include How I Met Your Mother and it’s trainwreck of a finale) I was reluctant to include Unexpected, which at first glance appears to be a tale of Smulders’ character, Samantha, and her pregnancy. But Unexpected simultaneously depicts the teenage pregnancy of one of Samantha’s students, Jasmine played by the newcomer everyone is excited about – Gail Bean. Yet another female writer and director, Kris Swanberg talks about his goal of moving away from racial prejudice and depicting a three dimensional female character, despite her colour. Swanberg also hopes to tackle the difficulties pregnant women and working mothers face and dismantle the stereotypes around them in her film.
Me, Earl and the Dying Girl (dir. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon)
I originally heard about Me, Earl and the Dying Girl quite a while ago after trolling through the adorable Thomas Mann’s filmography. Based on the novel by Jesse Andrews, this is Alfonso’s second feature length. Thomas Mann plays Greg, an outcast who only has one friend, Earl (RJ Cyler). Earl and Greg spend their time making movies together, recreating old classics for their personal enjoyment. Then Greg meets Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a girl with Leukaemia. As standard ‘teen with cancer’ films go, the pair becomes incredibly close, ultimately changing each other’s lives. Before you yawn and say ‘not another The Fault in Our Stars’, turns out critics have been pleasantly surprised by the incredibly funny nature of the characters and their development. Apparently laden with witty remarks and a down to earth nature, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl seems set to encapsulate teenage life and friendships in their purest and most wonderful form.
The Stanford Prison Experiment (dir. Kyle Patrick Alvarez)
My favourite person on the planet is Ezra Miller; one of my second favourite people on the planet is Jack Kilmer. Naturally I am going to be absolutely over the moon to find out they are in a film together. Then add in Johnny Simmons (Perks of being a wallflower), Ki Hong Lee (The Maze Runner), Thomas Mann (Project X) and Keir Gilchrist (It’s Kind of a Funny Story) to name a few and you’ve got The Stanford Prison Experiment. The Stanford Prison Experiment was a real series of trials examining the psychological changes that happened when one became a prisoner or prison guard in 1971. Not surprising that the trials had some insane effects, guard’s exerted power over prisoners, humiliating them and subjecting them to personal humiliation. The topic is dark and psychological and it’s sure to be an interesting exploration into the human psyche and make us question the safety of our prison systems, even nearly 50 years on. And I mean also, come on, Ezra Miller wearing a prison tunic going off on one? I’m there.
Dope (dir. Rick Famuyiwa)
Dope to me seems like the film you would get if you crossed Spike Lee with the most clichéd American high school movie on the planet; but in a really, really good way. Following 3 high school geeks obsessed with 90s hip hop the film combines typical high school cliques with the current 90s revival and also presents an honest and funny story of young people of colour, stories that aren’t usually told in your typical American teen movie. As the name suggests, the film does revolve largely around the group trying to shift a backpack full of drugs that they acquire by chance, but doesn’t rely on racial stereotypes of a dark criminal underground, instead the funny fumbling’s of a nerdy groups of teens just trying to make it to college. Boasting a great cast of up-and-comers such as Tony Revolori (Zero from The Grand Budapest Hotel), the gorgeous Zoe Kravitz and even A$AP Rocky, Dope is set to breathe some new life into a genre that’s been slowly losing it’s spark.