Best of Sundance 2019, a List by Ashley Menzel
Despite the frigid temperatures, getting the flu, and being worn out, Sundance was an absolute blast. There were many exciting films to be seen from horror to documentary and beyond. Sundance Film Festival is a must for all film lovers at some point. I’m writing to count down my top ten films that I saw during Sundance 2019.
Paradise Hills directed by Alice Waddington, follow Uma (Emma Roberts) as she navigates a mysterious boarding school where she is being retrained or reprogrammed to better fit into her surroundings and the lifestyle her mother wants for her. A sci-fi film starring a mostly all-female cast, Paradise Hills is a breath of fresh air needed in sci-fi films. Most sci-fi films are dominated by a male-driven story and cast, but Paradise Hills turns that on its head and gives us something that is totally engrossing and beautifully crafted.
The Report by no means is an easy watch, but it is a story that many Americans have allowed to pass them by when it shouldn’t. Following 9/11, the CIA used horrific interrogation tactics on prisoners and Daniel Jones (Adam Driver) was the chief investigator for the Senate intelligence committee’s inquiry into those interrogations. The result of years and years of work is a report that struggled to see the light of day. This film follows the story of this report from beginning to end. It is an incredibly important story that must be seen.
Another powerhouse female-led, directed, and written film, Late Night attacks the male-dominated Late Night world and in doing so, opens itself up to spectacular commentary and comedy on the subject. Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson are stunning together, creating the perfect chemistry on-screen. The writing is sharp and quick-witted, not pulling any punches, and the result is a glorious comedy that will delight audiences.
Based on the incredible novel by Richard Wright, Native Son has been modernized and brought to present day by first time director Rashid Johnson. Despite the age of the source material, it is undeniable that the issues present in the 1940 novel are still prevalent today. Led by Ashton Sanders, Native Son will surprise audiences and spark conversation.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile
Probably one of the most talked about films at Sundance, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile tells the story of Ted Bundy (Zac Efron) from the view of his long-time girlfriend, Liz Kendall (Lily Collins). Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is a mesmerizing tale of a charismatic man and the enchanting nature of his charm despite the monster that lived inside of him. Efron gives a performance that could change the rest of his career and leaves the audience stunned.
Shia LaBeouf blows everyone away with his screenplay for the semi-autobiographical film, Honey Boy. Stars Noah Jupe (Otis), Lucas Hedges (Older Otis), and Shia LaBeouf (Otis’ father, James) create a film that is absorbing. The chemistry between Jupe and LaBeouf is incredible and creates a very complex and nuanced dysfunctional relationship between father and son. Through Hedges performance as the older Otis, we get to see the effects from that relationship and the toll that it has taken on a young man. While considered a slow burn, Honey Boy is phenomenal and stunning, and another killer female-directed film.
Brittany Runs a Marathon
As I said, female-led films are killing it this year, and Brittany Runs a Marathon is no different. Jillian Bell brings to life a character that is so incredibly well-written. She creates a fully developed and realistic woman to whom almost anyone can relate. At each turn in the film, we are faced with the struggles Brittany faces, but also the strength and humor with which she faces them. Brittany Runs a Marathon is sure to be a big hit with audiences and a crowd favorite of the festival.
Easily the most complex film I saw at Sundance, Luce will keep audiences guessing from beginning to end. What is spectacular about Luce, is the fact that it manages to keep the audience thinking about not only the film, and their perception of what is happening. It also keeps the audience thinking about their perceptions and how it is impacting the way they see the characters and the film. In a lot of ways, it is a film unlike any other I’ve seen and would be hardpressed to find again. Led by an impressive performance by Kelvin Harrison Jr., Luce is a must-see film out of Sundance this year.
Kindergartens and zombies are the most horrifying combination I could think of, but somehow director and writer, Abe Forsythe has made it the most entertaining and hilarious film of Sundance. Lupita Nyong’o plays Miss Catherine, a kindergarten teacher who takes her kids on a field trip with an unexpected chaperone, Dave (Alexander England), washed up musician and uncle to her student, Felix (Diesel La Torraca). Once at the field trip at a local farm, they encounter children’s show host, Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad). During their stay, a zombie outbreak takes over the farm, and they must work together to protect the children.
The Farewell starring Awkwafina, Shuzhen Zhou and Tzi Ma is a heartwarming and beautiful film that manages to show the beauty and joy of family, in a period of sadness. Lulu Wang’s direction and writing is nothing short of magical, creating a world where we fall in love with the characters over and over again. The relationship between Nai Nai (Zhou) and Awkwafina is so heartwarming and pure, that touches audiences. Lulu Wang’s script is overflowing with authenticity, honesty, and humor. It portrays a family in a very trying time but never loses itself in being overly sentimental or trite. It remains relevant and realistic and reaches out to the audience on a level that is universal: love for family.
*Denotes a female-directed film