You Need To Know About All The 2016 Sundance Film Festival Movies
So many exciting movies at this year’s Park City–set independent film festival, which kicks off Thursday. Here they are, grouped by recurring themes.
High-risk, high-reward historical features
1. The Birth of a Nation (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
Starring: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Aja Naomi King, Jackie Earle Haley, Gabrielle Union, and Mark Boone Junior
Directed by: Nate Parker
2. Southside With You (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
Starring: Tika Sumpter, Parker Sawyers, and Vanessa Bell Calloway
Directed by: Richard Tanne
3. Captain Fantastic (Premieres)
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Frank Langella, George MacKay, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, and Ann Dowd
Directed by: Matt Ross
4. Swiss Army Man (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
Starring: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Directed by: Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan
5. Tallulah (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
Starring: Ellen Page, Allison Janney, Tammy Blanchard, Evan Jonigkeit, and Uzo Aduba
Directed by: Sian Heder
6. Equity (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
Starring: Anna Gunn, James Purefoy, Sarah Megan Thomas, and Alysia Reiner
Directed by: Meera Menon
7. The Fundamentals of Caring (Premieres)
Starring: Paul Rudd, Craig Roberts, Selena Gomez, Jennifer Ehle, Megan Ferguson, and Frederick Weller
Directed by: Rob Burnett
8. The Free World (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
Starring: Boyd Holbrook, Elisabeth Moss, Octavia Spencer, Sung Kang, and Waleed Zuaiter
Directed by: Jason Lew
9. The Hollars (Premieres)
Starring: Charlie Day, Sharlto Copley, Richard Jenkins, Margo Martindale, Anna Kendrick, and John Krasinski
Directed by: John Krasinski
10. Antibirth (Midnight)
Starring: Natasha Lyonne, Chloë Sevigny, Mark Webber, Meg Tilly, and Maxwell McCabe-Lokos
Directed by: Danny Perez
11. Mr. Pig (Premieres)
Starring: Danny Glover, Maya Rudolph, José María Yazpik, Joel Murray, Angélica Aragón, and Gabriela Araujo
Directed by: Diego Luna
12. Mammal (World Cinema Dramatic Competition)
Starring: Rachel Griffiths, Barry Keoghan, and Michael McElhatton
Directed by: Rebecca Daly
13. The Intervention (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
Starring: Melanie Lynskey, Cobie Smulders, Alia Shawkat, Clea DuVall, Natasha Lyonne, and Ben Schwartz
Directed by: Clea DuVall
14. Goat (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
Starring: Nick Jonas, Ben Schnetzer, Virginia Gardner, Danny Flaherty, and Austin Lyon
Directed by: Andrew Neel
15. Joshy (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
Starring: Thomas Middleditch, Adam Pally, Alex Ross Perry, Nick Kroll, Brett Gelman, and Jenny Slate
Directed by: Jeff Baena
16. How to Tell You’re a Douchebag (Next)
Starring: Charles Brice, DeWanda Wise, William Jackson Harper, Alexander Mulzac, Jenna Williams, and Tonye Patano
Directed by: Tahir Jetter
Same-sex love stories told in fractured narratives
17. As You Are (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
Starring: Owen Campbell, Charlie Heaton, Amandla Stenberg, John Scurti, Scott Cohen, and Mary Stuart Masterson
Directed by: Miles Joris-Peyrafitte
18. The First Girl I Loved (Next)
Starring: Dylan Gelula, Brianna Hildebrand, Mateo Arias, Jennifer Prediger, Tim Heidecker, and Pamela Adlon
Directed by: Kerem Sanga
19. Other People (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
Starring: Jesse Plemons, Molly Shannon, Bradley Whitford, Maude Apatow, Zach Woods, and June Squibb
Directed by: Chris Kelly
20. Lovesong (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
Starring: Jena Malone, Riley Keough, Brooklyn Decker, Amy Seimetz, Ryan Eggold, and Rosanna Arquette
Directed by: So Yong Kim
21. Spa Night (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
Starring: Joe Seo, Haerry Kim, Youn Ho Cho, Tae Song, Ho Young Chung, and Linda Han
Directed by: Andrew Ahn
22. Suited (U.S. Documentary Competition)
Featuring: Rae Tutera, Daniel Friedman, Derek Matteson, Everett Arthur, and Mel Plaut
Directed by: Jason Benjamin
23. Film Hawk (Documentary Premieres)
Featuring: Bob Hawk, Kevin Smith, Edward Burns, Rob Epstein, Barbara Hammer, and Kimberly Reed
Directed by: JJ Garvine and Tai Parquet
24. Christine (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, Maria Dizzia, Tracy Letts, and J. Smith-Cameron
Directed by: Antonio Campos
25. Kate Plays Christine (U.S. Documentary Competition)
Starring: Kate Lyn Sheil, Stephanie Coatney, Marty Stonerock, Michael Ray Davis, Holland Hayes, and Zachary Gossett
Directed by: Robert Greene
Films that play with the definition of the word “documentary”
26. Jacqueline (Argentine) (Next)
Starring: Camille Rutherford, Wyatt Cenac, James Benson, Martin Anderson, Sarah Willis, and Enrique Dura
Directed by: Bernardo Britto
Jacqueline (Argentine) is a fake
27. The Land of the Enlightened (World Cinema Documentary Competition)
Directed by: Pieter-Jan De Pue
In war-ravaged Afghanistan, children sell old Soviet-era explosives to other children. Belgian director Pieter-Jan De Pue has traveled to Afghanistan not only as a filmmaker, but as a photographer for international relief organizations as well; he shot The Land of the Enlightened over seven years on 16mm film, with the result of blending fiction and nonfiction.
28. Operation Avalanche (Next)
Starring: Matt Johnson, Owen Williams, Josh Boles, and Ray James
Directed by: Matt Johnson
29. Dark Night (Next)
Starring: Robert Jumper, Anna Rose, Rosie Rodriguez, Karina Macias, Aaron Purvis, and Eddie Cacciola
Directed by: Tim Sutton
30. Newtown (U.S. Documentary Competition)
Directed by: Kim A. Snyder
This documentary follows the families who lost loved ones in the brutal mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, as well as the community around them, as they all deal with their individual and collective grief. I don’t know what else to say other than a reminder to pack extra tissues, because this will be a sobfest.
31. Under the Gun (Documentary Premieres)
Directed by: Stephanie Soechtig
Director Stephanie Soechtig and journalist Katie Couric — who came to Sundance in 2014 with their doc Fed Up, on the childhood obesity epidemic — reunite for this film, which promises to explore the gun safety debate. The Sundance website calls the film “scrupulously comprehensive and decidedly fair to both sides.” —A.B.V.
Beloved Sundance directors return to the festival
32. Manchester by the Sea (Premieres)
Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, and Kyle Chandler
Directed by: Kenneth Lonergan
There are so many reasons to celebrate a new Kenneth Lonergan movie even before you’ve seen it — most pointedly, that it exists. After the legal mess that Lonergan went through on his second film, Margaret (which you can read about in full in this excellent New York Times story) the director seems to have put Manchester By the Sea together with much less agita, or at least no lawsuits. In Manchester By the Sea, Casey Affleck plays Lee, a Boston handyman who is suddenly named guardian to his late brother’s 16-year-old son.
33. Certain Women (Premieres)
Starring: Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, James Le Gros, Jared Harris, and Lily Gladstone
Directed by: Kelly Reichardt
34. Love & Friendship (Premieres)
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny, Xavier Samuel, Emma Greenwell, Tom Bennett, and Stephen Fry
Directed by: Whit Stillman
35. Wiener-Dog (Premieres)
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Kieran Culkin, Danny DeVito, Ellen Burstyn, Julie Delpy, and Zosia Mamet
Directed by: Todd Solondz
36. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Premieres)
Starring: Julian Dennison, Sam Neill, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, and Oscar Kightley
Directed by: Taika Waititi
37. Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World (Documentary Premieres)
Directed by: Werner Herzog
Prolific director Werner Herzog has taken on a lot in Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World: the internet and all of its effects. The documentary will cover the invention of the internet, and the meaning of connectivity — but also cyberbullying, addiction, and, according to its description, “victims of wireless radiation.” Eek about that last bit!
38. Little Men (Premieres)
Starring: Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Ehle, Paulina Garcia, Theo Taplitz, and Michael Barbieri
Directed by: Ira Sachs
Two years after the well-received Love Is Strange, and 11 years after Forty Shades of Blue won Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize, Ira Sachs returns to the festival with a story about class conflict in gentrifying Brooklyn. Two middle school kids, one from old Brooklyn, the other from new, yuppie Brooklyn, become friends — until a rent dispute between their parents threatens their friendship.
39. Sing Street (Premieres)
Starring: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Jack Reynor, Aidan Gillen, and Mark McKenna
Directed by: John Carney
John Carney of Once and Begin Again fame returns to the musical genre with Sing Street, which is set in 1980s Dublin. Ferdia Walsh-Peelo plays Conor, a 14-year-old new kid in a tough public school who decides to try to fit in by starting a band. Carney, the Sundance description tells us, spent a year collaborating on making the music for the autobiographical Sing Street.
40. Complete Unknown (Premieres)
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Michael Shannon, Kathy Bates, Danny Glover, and Michael Chernus
Directed by: Joshua Marston
Director and co-screenwriter Joshua Marston is from Los Angeles, but his previous two features, Maria Full of Grace (which won Sundance’s 2004 Audience Award, and eventually drew an Oscar nomination for its lead, Catalina Sandino Moreno) and 2011’s The Forgiveness of Blood were filmed in Colombia and Albania, respectively. With Complete Unknown, Marston sets the action at a dinner party in New York City.
41. Author: The JT Leroy Story (U.S. Documentary Competition)
Starring: Laura Albert
Directed by: Jeff Feuerzeig
Whether or not you followed — or were even aware of — the strange story of JT Leroy in the early 2000s, this documentary should be fascinating. Leroy’s first novel, Sarah, was published in 2000, and the author was evidently surrounded by famous literary benefactors, most notably the transgressive writer Dennis Cooper.
42. Weiner (U.S. Documentary Competition)
Directed by: Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg
Even if Anthony Weiner’s attempt at a political comeback after his sexting disgrace is best forgotten, surely Weiner, which had full access to him, will be entertaining and interesting. To refresh: Weiner stepped down from Congress after he had DM’d explicit photos to a woman on Twitter, and then denied he had done it, and then two years later decided to run for mayor of New York City.
The secret lives of American youth
43. Kiki (U.S. Documentary Competition)
Featuring: Twiggy Pucci Garçon, Chi Chi Mizrahi, Divo Pink Lady, Gia Marie Love, Kenneth “Symba McQueen” Soler-Rios, Christopher Waldorf, and Izana “Zariya” Vidal
Directed by: Sara Jordenö
44. Life, Animated (U.S. Documentary Competition)
Featuring: Owen Suskind, Ron Suskind, Cornelia Suskind, and Walter Suskind
Directed by: Roger Ross Williams
As a young child, Owen Suskind, son of the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Ron Suskind, was locked inside his autism, barely interacting with anyone.
45. The Bad Kids (U.S. Documentary Competition)
Directed by: Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe
While doing work for the Gates Foundation, directors Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe (Lost in La Mancha) discovered this high school in the California desert specializing in helping at-risk youths make it to graduation. In an observational style, they track the lives of three of the students and the school’s indefatigable principal, Vonda Viland.
46. Sleight (Next)
Starring: Jacob Latimore, Dulé Hill, Seychelle Gabriel, Storm Reid, and Sasheer Zamata, Cameron Esposito
Directed by: JD Dillard
Young actors get gritty
47. Yoga Hosers (Midnight)
Starring: Lily-Rose Depp, Harley Quinn Smith, Johnny Depp, Justin Long, Austin Butler, and Tyler Posey
Directed by: Kevin Smith
There exist in the world people who love the Kevin Smith movie Clerks. There are also people who like other Kevin Smith movies.
48. Outlaws and Angels (Midnight)
Starring: Francesca Eastwood, Chad Michael Murray, Luke Wilson, Teri Polo, Madisen Beaty, and Ben Browder
Directed by: JT Mollner
When a group of bank robbers seek refuge in a house with two young women, all hell breaks loose. This is Francesca Eastwood’s first starring role in a movie, and she plays opposite Chad Michael Murray as one of the criminals.
49. White Girl (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
Starring: Morgan Saylor, Brian ‘Sene’ Marc, Justin Bartha, Chris Noth, India Menuez, and Adrian Martinez
Directed by: Elizabeth Wood
Morgan Saylor, who played poor Dana Brody on Homeland, plays Leah, a young, white college student who likes drugs and bad behavior.
Timely docs on hot button topics
50. Trapped (U.S. Documentary Competition)
Directed by: Dawn Porter
A healthy share of Sundance’s lineup each year is dedicated to feature documentaries that push into the hard, human realities of highly contentious issues in a way that often requires a steely resolve and deep, cleansing breaths to get through.
51. Jim (U.S. Documentary Competition)
Directed by: Brian Oakes
The beheading of American photojournalist James Foley was, for many, the first time ISIS came into sharp focus as a major new terrorist threat. Director Brian Oakes — a longtime friend of Foley and his family — tells the story of why Foley went to Syria, what it was like for him as a hostage, and how his family dealt with his kidnapping. (Deep breathing continues.)
52. Audrie & Daisy (U.S. Documentary Competition)
Directed by: Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk
From abortion and ISIS, we segue to the epidemics of sexual assault and online bullying, through the stories of two teenage girls who separately suffered through both, then underwent social media scorn, and then attempted suicide. One died. (Grabs paper bag and begins hyperventilating.) —A.B.V.
Strangers in a strange lands
53. Morris From America (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
Starring: Markees Christmas, Craig Robinson, Carla Juri, Lina Keller, Jakub Gierszał, and Levin Henning
Directed by: Chad Hartigan
Morris (Markees Christmas), a 13-year-old black kid from America, moves with his father, Curtis (Craig Robinson), to Heidelberg, Germany, where Morris falls in love with a local girl, while he and Curtis sort out their relationship.
54. Indignation (Premieres)
Starring: Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, Tracy Letts, Linda Emond, Danny Burstein, and Ben Rosenfield
Directed by: James Schamus
Longtime screenwriter and producer James Schamus (The Ice Storm, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain) makes his directorial debut with this adaptation of Philip Roth’s acclaimed 2008 novel, about Marcus (Logan Lerman), a Jewish atheist, who moves from New Jersey to a small Christian college in Ohio to get away from his father — and escape the Korean War draft.
Creepy movies that are creepy
55. Under the Shadow (Midnight)
Starring: Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi, Ray Haratian, and Arash Marandi
Directed by: Babak Anvari
In his video on the Sundance site, writer-director Babak Anvari says that Under the Shadow was inspired by his childhood as a scaredy-cat, which his mother attributes to her anxiety over his father fighting in the Iran-Iraq War in the ’80s.
56. 31 (Midnight)
Starring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Malcolm McDowell, Richard Brake, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Jeff Daniel Phillips, and Meg Foster
Directed by: Rob Zombie
57. The Greasy Strangler (Midnight)
Starring: Michael St. Michaels, Sky Elobar, Elizabeth De Razzo, Gil Gex, Jesse Keen, and Joe David Walters
Directed by: Jim Hosking
58. The Blackout Experiments (Midnight)
Starring: Josh Randall, Kristjan Thor, Russell Eaton, Bob Glouberman, Allison Fogerty, and Abel Horwitz
Directed by: Rich Fox
An extreme version of David Fincher’s The Game, mixed with the idea of Escape Rooms as nightmares: The Blackout Experiments is a documentary about people who willingly subject themselves to these all-sensory blackout simulations, and find themselves fucked up as a result.
59. The Eyes of My Mother (Next)
Starring: Kika Magalhães, Will Brill, Paul Nazak, Flora Diaz, Clara Wong, and Diana Agostini
Directed by: Nicolas Pesce
A former surgeon teaches her daughter, Francisca, about human bodies and anatomy — but then something bad and violent happens and Francisca has only her father left alive. (We are frightened that this title is literal.)
Documentary portraits of celebrated artists
60. Becoming Mike Nichols (Documentary Premieres)
Directed by: Douglas McGrath
This year’s crop of Sundance documentaries is overwhelmingly packed with biographical films, each promising to provide brand-new insight and never-before-seen footage of their acclaimed subjects. For serious consumers of pop culture — which is the perfect description of the typical Sundance festivalgoer — it is an embarrassment of riches, starting with this portrait of the late, great filmmaker Mike Nichols and how he started his extraordinary career in show business. It also plays on HBO starting Feb. 22.
61. Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures (Documentary Premieres)
Directed by: Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato
Filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato have built a career exploring just about every corner of the American queer culture, from their 1998 documentary Party Monster about club kid and convicted murderer Michael Alig, to 2011’s Becoming Chaz about Chaz Bono’s gender transition, to their work executive producing RuPaul’s Drag Race.
62. Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny (Documentary Premieres)
Directed by: Louis Black and Karen Bernstein
Indie film godfather Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Before Sunset, Boyhood) has the kind of calm speaking style and soft Texas accent that is pleasantly soothing to listen to, so asking him to talk through his one-of-a-kind career sounds like a terrifically enjoyable experience for any serious film buff.
63. Michael Jackson’s Journey From Motown to Off the Wall (Documentary Premieres)
Directed by: Spike Lee
Spike Lee’s already made one feature doc about Michael Jackson — 2012’s Bad 25, about his 1987 album. This time, the filmmaker goes back even further, focusing on the beginning of his career — pre-Thriller, pre–plastic surgery, and pre–sexual abuse allegations, thereby avoiding any of the messiest aspects of Jackson’s life.
64. Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words (Documentary Premieres)
Directed by: Thorsten Schütte
According to the Sundance website, this doc is an “energetic celebration” of the iconoclastic musician, drawing from archival interviews and performances Zappa gave over three decades.
65. Maya Angelou: And I Still Rise (Documentary Premieres)
Directed by: Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack
Using “rare and intimate” archival interviews and images — sensing a theme! — this doc hopes to celebrate Maya Angelou’s singular life story in part by using the words of the late, world-renowned poet.
66. Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You (Documentary Premieres)
Directed by: Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady
The 93-year-old creator of All in the Family, Maude, and The Jeffersons looks back on his life and career.
67. Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper (Documentary Premieres)
Directed by: Liz Garbus
Gloria Vanderbilt — heiress, artist, designer, and socialite — sits down for an interview with her son Anderson Cooper. It is filmed and augmented by documentarian Liz Garbus, who is Oscar-nominated for What Happened Miss Simone?, which premiered at Sundance last year. —A.B.V.
68. Holy Hell (U.S. Documentary Competition)
Directed by: Will Allen
After graduating from college, filmmaker Will Allen joined a cult in the heart of West Hollywood, and spent the next 20 years documenting his life there as a kind of annual offering to the cult’s central leader. After escaping, he turned footage and interviews with ex-members into this documentary. For anyone who lives in Los Angeles, the idea that there was a cult of this magnitude that apparently existed for so long inside WeHo is kind of alarming!
69. The Lovers and the Despot (World Documentary Competition)
Directed by: Robert Cannan and Ross Adam
In the 1970s, future North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il kidnapped Shin Sang-ok and Choi Eun-hee — the most famous director and actress in South Korean cinema of the era, respectively — and forced them to make movies to satisfy his cinematic fantasies. Their insane story was also featured in 2015 on This American Life.
70. Nuts! (U.S. Documentary Competition)
Directed by: Penny Lane
John Romulus Brinkley is one of those only-in-America, turn-of-the-20th-century charlatans who claimed he had discovered the cure for impotence: surgically transplanting goat testicles into his male patients. Naturally, he became famous, and his story only got crazier from there. Filmmaker Penny Lane — apparently her real name! — worked with seven different animators to capture the madness of Brinkley’s life, and we’ve heard the result is great fun.
71. Tickled (World Documentary Competition)
Directed by: David Farrier and Dylan Reeve
In 2014, New Zealand TV journalist David Farrier discovered an underground world of “competitive endurance tickling.” If the concept of paying people to be tickled for a full hour doesn’t sound fucked up enough, well, has Farrier — who helped fund his doc via Kickstarter — got a story for you. —A.B.V.