What will break out of Sundance into mainstream success? Here are 10 guesses.
Judging by the stars on screen and the filmmakers behind the camera, here are some likely hits.
Every year, the Sundance Film Festival showcases the best in independent filmmaking — and every year people come to Park City to see which films are poised to become known to a wider audience.
Here’s the problem: although many people come to the festival trying to guess which films will make the leap to mainstream success, often nobody knows until the films are shown.
So, with the 2023 Sundance Film Festival set to begin on Thursday, seasoned festival-goers can make some educated guesses. They use as criteria the relative fame of the people in the cast, the filmmakers’ track record, or the topicality or overall interest in the topic. But until the light from the projector hits the screen, it’s still a guesswork game.
Here are 10 of my half-educated guesses about which films are likely to get people talking — and that all-important buzz — at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
“cat lover” and “Fairy tale” (Premieres) • British actress Emilia Jones was the breakthrough discovery of the 2021 festival when she played the only hearing member of a deaf family in “CODA,” which won four awards at Sundance and went on to pick up three Oscars. Jones is back in two movies this year. In Cat Person, written and directed by Susanna Fogel (The Spy Who Dumped Me), Jones plays a young screen worker who begins a relationship with an older man (Nicholas Braun). In writer-director Andrew Durham’s Fairytale, she plays the adult version of a little girl raised by her gay father in San Francisco in the ’70s and ’80s. (Oh, by the way, “CODA” – since its 2021 festival run was online only – will be screened in person at the festival on Thursday, January 26 at 9:15 p.m. at the Eccles Theater in Park City.)
“Magazine Dreams” (US Dramatic) • You’ll be seeing a lot of Jonathan Majors over the next few months as he’s the antagonist in the next Marvel movie “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” and stars in the boxing drama “Creed III.” Catch him before that in a starring role in writer-director Elijah Bynum’s drama, in which he plays an amateur bodybuilder who pushes himself to the limit.
“Defects” (US Dramatic) • As an actor, Randall Park has proven himself as a funny guy, as a father in ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat and as FBI agent Jimmy Woo in the Marvel Universe’s WandaVision’s Ant-Man and the Wasp. We’ll see how those comedic skills work in his directorial debut, a comedy-drama about three friends (Justin H. Min, Ally Maki, and Sherry Cola) on a road trip.
“Eileen” (Premieres) • Director William Oldroyd surprised moviegoers in 2017 with ‘Lady Macbeth,’ a steamy costume drama that gave us Florence Pugh as a downtrodden wife in a country estate. Oldroyd returns with a gritty adaptation of Ottessa Moshfegh’s novel about a 1964 relationship between two clerks at a Massachusetts prison: a young secretary (Thomasin Mckenzie, of ‘Last Night in Soho’) and a counselor (Anne Hathaway).
“Bad behavior” (World Cinema Dramatic) • Actress Alice Englert, who did really well in festival entry 2019 ‘Them That Follow’, makes her directorial debut with this New Zealand-produced drama which she also wrote. Englert plays the stuntwoman daughter of a former child star (Jennifer Connelly) who goes to a retreat led by a spiritual leader (Ben Whishaw). Incidentally, Englert is the daughter of director Jane Campion (“The Power of the Dog”), but derogatory “Nepo-Baby” talk won’t be heard here.
“infinity pool” (Midnight) • Speaking of children of famous directors, Brandon Cronenberg (son of David) has already proved a worthy heir with his chilling spy thriller ‘The Possessor’ (SFF ’20). His latest film follows a couple (Alexander Skarsgård and Cleopatra Coleman) vacationing at an all-inclusive resort – and discover that there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface. (If you can’t make it to the festival screenings, don’t worry; it’s scheduled to hit regular theaters starting January 27.)
“Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields” (Premieres) • There are so many personality documentaries at this year’s festival that look promising including Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, Judy Blume Forever, Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project, Little Richard: I Am Everything, Nam June Park: Moon Is the Oldest TV, Stephen Curry: Underrated, and the documentaries Willie Nelson and Family. If I have to choose one, I’ll go with this look at actress, model, and activist Brooke Shields, in part because of Shields’ compelling story of being sexually objectified as a girl, and in part because of director Lana Wilson did such a great job in “Taylor Swift: Miss Americana” (SFF ’20) in digging under the surface of a socialite we think we know.
“20 Days in Mariupol” (World Cinema Documentary) and “Plan C” (Premieres) • Two documentaries go deep into two different battlefronts. In 20 Days in Mariupol, director Mstyslav Cherov follows Ukrainian journalists at work as they are trapped in the besieged city of Mariupol at the start of the Russian invasion. In “Plan C,” director Tracy Droz Tragos (“Rich Hill,” SFF ’14) introduces viewers to the grassroots group trying to secure access to abortion pills in Texas after the fall of Roe v. to maintain calf.