CineLife’s Top Twenty Movies at Sundance pt. 1

With countless entries hoping for a spot at the Sundance Film Festival, nearly any film playing in the event which starts Thursday in Park City, UT deserves attention. There are titles that tend to percolate to the top, only to be overshadowed later by others. The annual Sundance Film Festival is rife with the constant ebb and flow of films capturing buzz and potentially big recipients of an acquisition deal. Most find a life outside the festival circuit, but only some will come out of the fest with the big cash and splashy headlines.

Last year’s Manchester By the Sea and The Birth of a Nation were headliners, though the ultimate fortunes once outside of Sundance worked out for one and not so much for the other. Here, CineLife will give you picks 20 films over the next few days that are making early buzz from this year’s feature-length lineup at Sundance. It is somewhat subjective and almost assuredly there will be others not listed here that will make their splash in the coming week-and-a-half.

Here are the first 5 movies that we are most exited for going into Sundance:


Beatriz at Dinner
Director: Miguel Arteta
Writer: Mike White
Cast: Salma Hayek, John Lithgow

Director Miguel Arteta is a veteran of the big and small screens, who knows Sundance well. Three of his previous features, Star Maps, Chuck & Buck and The Good Girl, debuted and were picked up for distribution at the festival. He received a Film Independent Spirit Award at Chuck & Buck and later made films such as Youth in Revolt, Cedar Rapids and Alexander the Terrible. He’s returning this year with his latest film, starring Salma Hayek and John Lithgow.

The feature centers on Beatriz, an immigrant from a poor town in Mexico, who has drawn on her innate kindness to build a career as a health practitioner. Doug Strutt is a cutthroat, self-satisfied billionaire. When these two opposites meet at a dinner party, their worlds collide and neither will ever be the same.


The Big Sick (Premieres)
Director: Michael Showalter
Writers: Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani
Cast: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Anupam Kher

This one has the early speculation of being a ‘big sale’ title, but stay tuned. Regardless, the early buzz will mean that its premiere at the cavernous Eccles Theatre in Park City come Friday will be a zoo of crowds. The Big Sick is produced by Judd Apatow and directed by Michael Showalter, who has acted in a number of previous Sundance movies. He also directed the SXSW Audience Award-winning film, Hello, My Name is Doris starring Sally Field, which was a big hit in the box office last year. The Big Sick is written and stars Kumail Nanjiani of HBO’s Silicon Valley as well as Emily V. Gordon, based on a true story of the duo who are a real-life couple.

In the feature, Pakistan-born comedian Kumail and grad student Emily fall in love, but they struggle as their cultures clash. When Emily contracts a mysterious illness, Kumail must navigate the crisis with her parents and the emotional tug-of-war between his family and his heart.


Manifesto (Premieres)
Writer/director: Julian Rosefeldt
Cast: Cate Blanchett

Manifesto was initially imagined as an art installation, with showings in Berlin at the Museum für Gegenwart last year and more recently at the Park Avenue Armory in New York. Manifesto features two-time Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett in 13 different roles performing various ‘manifestos,’ of which a 90-minute version is debuting at Sundance.

The film asks the question, ‘Can history’s art manifestos apply to contemporary society?’ Manifesto is an homage to the 20th century’s most impassioned artistic statements and innovators, from Futurists and Dadaists to Pop Art, Fluxus, Lars von Trier and Jim Jarmusch, this series of reenactments explores these declaring’ performative components and political significance.


Call Me By Your Name (Premieres)
Writer/director: Luca Guadagnino
Writer: James Ivory
Cast: Victoire Du Bois, Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel

This one is off the market. Sony Pictures Classics snapped up worldwide rights to Italian director Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name ahead of its Sundance bow, fetching the low to mid-seven figures, according to IndieWire. The feature stars Timothée Chalamet (Homeland) and Armie Hammer, who appears in last year’s massive Sundance acquisition, The Birth of a Nation. Guadagnino’s previous work includes A Bigger Splash (2015) and I Am Love (2009) which starred Tilda Swinton. It is also co-written by three-time Oscar-nominee James Ivory (The Remains of the Day, Howards End, A Room With a View).

The film follows the sensitive and cultivated Elion, the only child of the American-Italian-French Perlman family, who is facing another lazy summer at his parents’ villa in the beautiful and languid Italian countryside. But then Oliver, an academic, arrives to help with Elio’s fathers research…


Writer/director: Dee Rees
Writer: Virgil Williams
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Mary J. Blige, Rob Morgan, Jason Michell, Garrett Hedlund

Dee Rees’ 2011 feature Pariah made a splash at Sundance and went on to win the John Cassavetes Award at the Film Independent Spirit Awards as well as the IFP Gotham Award for best breakthrough director. Dee Rees also wrote and directed the HBO film Bessie, which won four Emmy Awards as well as a Directors Guild of America nod.

Mudbound is set in the post-World War II South, where two families are pitted against a barbaric social hierarchy and an unrelenting landscape as they simultaneously fight the battle at home and the battle abroad. Sundance calls the film an “epic pioneer story” centering on friendship, heritage and the unending struggle for and against the land.