By Jake Coyle
PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — When the 36th annual edition of the Sundance Film Festival wrapped Sunday after 11 days of snow and cinema, it had ushered in an avalanche of new voices.
The festival, a wintery bastion of independent film held in the ski town of Park City, has worked harder than most similar events to showcase and develop fresh talent from a wide spectrum of backgrounds. And this year, especially, the results were often enthralling.
As if mining a new gold rush, streaming services have tunneled into Sundance, scooping up dozens of festival titles. For the indie and documentary film industries, it’s a welcome incursion that’s led to record sales prices. For audiences, it’s potentially good news, too. A lot of the best of Sundance is already on the way to moviegoers, in theaters or at home. Some, including the introspective Taylor Swift documentary “Miss Americana,” are already streaming.
There were many more highlights from Sundance than these, but here are eight films you won’t want to miss.
“Minari”: Lee Isaac Chung’s film, the winner of the both the festival’s dramatic competition and the audience award, was the standout of Sundance. An autobiographical tale, based on Chung’s upbringing, about a family of Korean immigrants (Steven Yeun and Yeri Han play the parents) who move to rural Arkansas. With them are two young children (Noel Kate Cho, Alan S. Kim) and a grandmother (Yuh Jung Youn). The film, a production of Brad Pitt’s Plan B to be released by A24, is a stunningly intimate family portrait, rich in personal detail and universal in tenderness.
“Boys State”: Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine’s film, winner of festival’s documentary competition, is a comic, frightful and finally moving depiction of American politics in microcosm. The film, which reportedly set a record acquisition price for a doc at Sundance in its $12 million sale to A24 and Apple, is about a Texas leadership conference put on by the American Legion where some 1,000 17-year-old boys from around the country divide into rival parties and create a mock government. Many familiar elements of our political system emerge, but — thanks to a handful of memorable characters — so does some hope, too.
“Never Rarely Sometimes Always”: Eliza Hittman’s third feature is a so artfully and delicately calibrated that it gathers a devastating force. A 17-year-old Pennsylvania young woman (Sidney Flanigan) is pregnant. Without local support, she and her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) travel to New York for an abortion. It’s a quiet, restrained neo-realistic drama that captures not only the charged terrain of teenage abortion but the wider fraught landscape of transactional male-female interactions. Focus Features will release it March 13.
“The Truffle Hunters”: If a film festival is like uncovering rare delicacies, Gregory Kershaw and Michael Dweck’s documentary about the old Italian men who, with their faithful canine, gather truffles was the ultimate Sundance movie. Produced by Luca Guadagnino (“Call Me By Your Name”), the film chronicles the pursuit of the white Alba truffle in the forests of Northern Italy. But in Kershaw and Dweck’s deeply charming documentary, it’s the bond between truffle hunter and canine that feels priceless. Sony Pictures Classics picked up the film.
“Palm Springs”: Max Barbokow’s “Groundhog Day”-esque twist on the romantic comedy, starring Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti, just barely set a Sundance record with its $17,500,000.69 purchase by Neon and Hulu. The Sundance entry with the most obvious broad appeal, “Palm Springs” was also the festival’s most unabashedly fun romp. The movie, a time-loop comedy set around a California desert wedding, is a Lonely Island production, but it’s Milioti who steals it.
“The Dissident”: A documentary and a real-life thriller, Bryan Fogel’s investigation into the Saudi assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi is an immaculately assembled and massively damning non-fiction work. Fogel, whose previous film was the Oscar-winning doping documentary “Icarus,” fashions a shadowy international tale of intrigue into a searing indictment of not just Khashoggi’s murder but of the entire Saudi regime and all who do business with it. As its director urged at the movie’s premiere, it deserves to be seen widely.
“The 40-Year-Old Version”: Get to know Radha Blank. She’s the writer, director and star of this festival breakout, which has been acquired by Netflix. Blank, a Harlem playwright, plays a version of herself in this funny, sharply observed, emphatically New York film about being a black middle-aged artist stuck between selling out and pursuing her passion as a rapper.
“Shirley”: Josephine Decker’s psychological drama, starring Elisabeth Moss as Shirley Jackson, is far more caustic and compelling than anything that would typically be categorized as a “biopic.” Decker (“Madeline’s Madeline”) tells the tale mainly from the perspective of a young woman named Rose (Odessa Young) who has come with her aspiring-professor husband (Logan Lerman) to stay with the author of “The Lottery” and her husband (Michael Stuhlbarg). They aren’t the most cheerful of hosts. Rose’s increasing intimacy with the brilliant but acerbic and unhinged Jackson grows steadily more dangerous until it — mixing threads of gender roles and the creation of art — turns into something more like a warning, or a prophecy. Moss’ fury-filled performance is a standout. But the film, executive produced by Martin Scorsese, is foremost further proof of Decker’s commanding talent.