January is usually the toughest time of year. Once you get through the holiday season, and send off the previous year with hats and noisemakers, all you have left is the long, dark of winter. But if you’re in Park City, UT, one of the cold-and-snowiest places, you have a beacon of hope. The annual Sundance Film Festival! Founded by Robert Redford in 1985, the celebration of all things cinema takes over Park City (not to mention Salt Lake City and Sundance Mountain Resort) from January 23 to February 2; with it comes over 100 films in and out of competition for the best of independent, world, and documentary movies, plus episodic, New Frontier, and shorts.
Nerdist is heading to the slopes (let’s be honest, the movie houses) again this year. And there are plenty of films we’re dying to see. Too many, in fact. But we’ve narrowed our focus to the eight we’re most excited about, and the ones that most look to scratch our obsessive pop culture itch.
Happy Happy Joy Joy
For kids of the ’90s, Ren & Stimpy was the most outre of Nickelodeon’s first big three Nicktoons. Doug and Rugrats were pretty safe; Ren & Stimpy definitely wasn’t. And it was the product of the brain of underground cartoonist and Ralph Bakshi acolyte, John Kricfalusi. But after the show became a big hit, Kricfalusi’s disturbing personal and professional behavior tainted the cartoon’s warped legacy.
The documentary Happy Happy Joy Joy discusses the show’s impact as well as its legacy in the shadow of its creator. From co-directors Ron Cicero and Kimo Easterwood.
People will do anything for fame. Well, notoriety is probably more apt. Whether due to talent and hard work, or being generally awful on the internet, people gain notice in a variety of ways. This disturbing trend is at the heart of Spree, the new movie from Eugene Kotlyarenko. In it, Stranger Things‘ Joe Keery plays Kurt, a rideshare driver with a deadly sick plan to go viral. He decks out his car with livestream cameras and takes riders on what he calls #TheLesson. Not ominous at all.
Spree will look like a continuous video stream and give viewers an eerily realistic view of something we hope never happens to us.
This sounds like Indonesia’s answer to Hereditary, and that is not a bad thing at all. From writer-director Joko Anwar, Impetigore explores inherited family traits in a supremely unsettling way. Young Maya dives into the history of the parents she barely knew after a brush with death. When she visits the remote village she left as a toddler, she immediately discovers some strange phenomena. Not least of which, there are no children anywhere. And it gets more sinister from there.
Anwar dives into themes of family, generational trauma, and betrayal in a horror story built on atmosphere and suspense. Impetigore sounds right up our alley.
Promising Young Woman
We’re already very excited for this movie after its trailer launch last week. Carey Mulligan plays a woman who dropped out of medical school, seemingly content to live with her parents and work a dead-end job. But at night, she goes on the prowl, looking for men to dole out a specific kind of vendetta. When a former classmate (Bo Burnham) re-enters her life, it seems she might leave vengeance behind. But that’s until she learns startling facts about her best friend’s death.
Writer-director Emerald Fennell’s script for Promising Young Woman was on the 2018 Black List. That has us even more excited to see it at Sundance. This movie looks like a blaze of timeliness in a dark story of retribution, and we’re all the way here for it.
From first time writer-director Romola Garai (whom you’ve seen in movies like Atonement), we have another supremely spooky looking movie. An accident leaves a young London man homeless and so he agrees to help a woman take care of her dying mother in a rotting home. Unfortunately, as he gets closer to the woman and her family, strange supernatural occurrences leads him to believe the old woman in the attic might not be what she seems.
The official Sundance blurb calls it “a phantasmagorical nightmare seething with imagination and purpose,” and there’s nothing else we really need to hear. We love nightmares and purposes. Hell, it’s got a title like Amulet; how could it not be our bag?
Benh Zeitlin made a splash with his 2012 debut feature, Beasts of the Southern Wild. Not only did the movie earn four Oscar nominations, it also won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival that year. So his follow-up is pretty hotly anticipated to say the least.
Wendy is a re-imagining of the classic Peter Pan story, with a new setting. It finds Wendy as the eldest child of a working class family who gets into mischief with her brothers. They meet a mysterious boy named Peter and venture to his island, suspended in time, where childhood remains forever. When something threatens their new, seemingly idyllic life, it’s up to Wendy to save the children. With Zeitlin at the helm, and given what he did with the magical realism of Beasts, this seems like a truly remarkable film.
The Mole Agent
This movie sounds like a trip. It’s part of the World Cinema Documentary Competition, a co-production of Chile, U.S.A., Germany, Netherlands, and Spain. It’s the story of a Chilean spy. Or, more specifically, Sergio, an old Chilean man hired by a private detective to infiltrate a retirement community. A patient’s daughter has paid the detective to check for malfeasance, and only our hero, the 83-year-old espionage trainee, can find the truth.
The Mole Agent is part spy movie, part observational documentary. And it just looks like a hoot that probably has some really upsetting revelations underneath. We can’t wait to see it.
Finally we have this Canadian/British co-production from Brandon Cronenberg. It looks and sounds pretty nuts. It follows Tasya Vos, a corporate agent who uses brain-implant technology to take over people’s bodies and force them to commit assassinations for the good of the company. She’s very good at her job, but it starts to bleed into her “normal” home life, giving her violent urges and memories. She starts to lose control and ends up in the mind of someone she really would rather not.
Cronenberg, son of David, has established his own kind of mind-blowing cinema with features like Antivirus. Possessor looks like it’s right up there with the trippiness. It stars Andrea Riseborough, the star and titular character of Mandy, who has made a name for herself already in awesome, weird indie movies. Looks real crazy and we’re stoked.
The Sundance Film Festival is one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world and this year looks to up the ante once again. Find the full roster of movies right here. Passes are available now. Individual tickets go on sale January 21. See you in Park City!
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