With the 2019 Academy Awards wrapped, there’s no better place to check out possible 2020 contenders than the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. The festival features films by award-winning directors and newcomer indie filmmakers over a 10-day movie marathon (along with plenty of star-studded parties and after-parties). This year’s festival was one of the most diverse and inclusive Sundance gatherings to date. According to Variety, women made up 44 percent of the directors and more diverse casts starred both on and off screen. With dozens of buzz-worthy films, here are a few standouts for audiences to get excited about.
In this workplace comedy, Emma Thompson plays Katherine Newbury, a late night talk-show host who fears she may lose her long-running series. After realizing her ratings aren’t up to par, Newbury adds Molly Patel (co-star and screenwriter Mindy Kaling) to a team of all-male writers who quickly learn she is much more than a diversity hire. After its premiere, the female empowerment narrative got picked up by Amazon for $13 million, making it the largest acquisition for a domestic movie from the annual festival—an especially huge feat for a film created by two women of color.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile
Zac Efron stars as Ted Bundy in a biopic about the 1970s serial killer, which showcases the disturbing tale of Bundy’s relationship with his girlfriend Liz (Lily Collins). Unlike the current Netflix docuseries from the same director, Joe Berlinger, the film focuses on the crimes from the point of view of his girlfriend, who spent years denying any accusations against him until she ultimately turned him into the police. Netflix paid $9 million for the distribution rights to the film.
From the female writing-directing duo Bert & Bertie comes a film about a misfit girl with a dream of becoming an astronaut. When NASA opens a competition seeking a voice recording to use to communicate with extraterrestrials, nine-year-old Christmas Flint (McKenna Grace) forms a team led by Viola Davis and Jim Gaffigan to answer the call. The Amazon Studios film will be available to stream later this year.
Shia LaBeouf writes and acts in an autobiographical drama that shows his struggles growing up with an abusive father, who LaBeouf plays in the film. When 12-year-old Otis (Noah Jupe) rises to fame as a child star in Hollywood, his father, an ex-rodeo clown, returns to run his son’s life, cashing payments for himself and capitalizing on Otis’ success. Amazon closed a deal to acquire worldwide rights to LaBeouf’s passion project for $5 million, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
In this four-hour, two-part bombshell documentary, Michael Jackson’s sexual abuse of children is powerfully revealed. Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who were befriended by Jackson at young ages, describe the abuse they endured behind closed doors, mainly at Jackson’s Neverland ranch. Despite protests and backlash from Jackson fans, Sundance kept the film in the festival lineup, and audiences gave it a standing ovation. HBO, which co-produced the documentary, is set to debut the film this month, even as the Michael Jackson estate has sued the network.