The 2021 Sundance Film Festival wrapped up last week. While nearly all the premieres made a splash all their own, here are the nine films that got the most buzz and should be kept on your radar.
Apple spent good money - $25M to be exact - to acquire this inclusive drama that became the big winner at the festival. From director Sian Heder ("Tallulah"), this coming-of-age story follows a young hearing girl (Emilia Jones), a child of deaf adults (C.O.D.A., for short), who helps her parents manage the family fishing business and care for her brother, also deaf. When she gets into the school of her dreams, she has to make a tough choice to follow her passion or stick close to her family and their business. "CODA" won the Grand Jury Prize, the Audience Award and a special Ensemble Cast award, and Heder also won the Best Director award. Look for this soon on Apple TV+.
Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
Questlove steps out from behind his drum set, and makes his directorial debut with this highly praised documentary exploring a forgotten piece of music and cultural history, the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. Attended by over 300,000 people, the concert series featuring acts like Sly & the Family Stone, Nina Simone and Stevie Wonder, ran throughout the summer of '69, as a soul and R&B answer to Woodstock. After discovering the 50 year old footage hidden away in a basement, Questlove began to wonder why he hadn't heard of this landmark event, and just how much his life, personally and professionally, would have been different had this event been more well-known and remembered. "Summer of Soul" won the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award and was picked up by Searchlight Pictures and Hulu.
How it Ends
Pandemic life and its bleak outlook continues to seep into art with this low-key end of the world dramady. Written, directed and produced by Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones, "How it Ends" was similarly low-key shot during the L.A. lockdowns. Lister-Jones stars Liza, a woman who is trying to make it across town to attend the last party on Earth before the world ends. However, it's more than just a tale of a woman encountering crazy characters in a rush across town. There's also a full manifestation of Liza's inner child, who helps her resolve unfinished business along the way. "How it Ends" impressed critics and is still seeking distribution.
Riz Ahmed is continuing to prove he doesn't need big franchises like "Star Wars" and "Venom" to make a name for himself. Coming off his award-worthy performance in Amazon's "Sound of Metal," Ahmed, along with "Game of Thrones" actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, executive produces this animated documentary from filmmaker Jonas Poher Rasmussen. The actors also serve as narrators. The timely doc tells the story of Amin, a soon-to-be-married man who was forced to flee his country as a refugee. "Flee" premiered to praise and ultimately won the Grand Jury Prize in World Cinema Documentary. It was later picked up by Neon for distribution.
John and the Hole
Ambivalent teen sociopath John is looking for a fast-track to adulthood in this creepy coming-of-age thriller from Spanish filmmaker Pascual Sisto. Sundance alum Charlie Shotwell ("Captain Fantastic") stars as the titular John, who discovers a hole in his backyard and later drugs his parents (Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Ehle) and sister (Taissa Farmiga), leaving them to wake up cold and confused in the ditch. The psycho-thriller was an official selection in the 2020 Cannes Film Festival before making its premiere at Sundance this year. It's currently seeking distribution.
This animated drama, featuring the voices of Lake Bell and Michael Cera, follows a team of cryptozoologists who try to capture the legendary, dreaming-eating Baku, and a couple who stumble upon the lost zoo filled with mythical creatures. Debate soon ensues whether to open the zoo to the public or keep the creatures hidden from the world. From director and artist Dash Shaw, "Cryptozoo" got a lot of buzz for its animation style - it features the same 2-D watercolor effects that stood out in his previous 2016 animated comedy, "My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea."
Prisoners of the Ghostland
More crazy action from Nic Cage, which is always a good thing for the world. The prolific actor stars in this supernatural crime thriller from prolific director Sion Sono, playing an infamous criminal sent into a spooky underworld known as Ghostland to rescue the governor's daughter (Sofia Boutella). Back in 2018, while discussing the shoot, Cage referred to "Prisoners of the Ghostland" as "the wildest movie I've ever made." Considering his filmography, especially as of late - and that of Sono's, for that matter - that's quite a bold statement. "Prisoners of the Ghostland" was picked up by RLJE Entertainment for distribution.
Director Nikole Beckwith turns the cinematic depiction of surrogacy on its head with this comedy-drama that follows a single man (Ed Helms) who wants to have kids. He connects with Anna (Patti Harrison) to be the surrogate mother to his child, and the two embark on a personal, yet very plutonic journey. Speaking with Indiewire, Beckwith explained that this is not a story normally told or even heard: "We don’t talk about a male biological clock ever. It exists. Men want to be dads."
Actress Rebecca Hall makes her directorial debut with this historical drama based on a 1929 Nella Larsen novel of the same name. The story follows two mixed-race women who grew up together and are now in adulthood. Set during the Harlem Renaissance, their complicated story is compounded by the prejudices of the time, as the two find themselves on the dividing line of race. Irene (Tessa Thompson) identifies as African American and Clare (Ruth Negga) "passes" as white. Adapted by Hall, the story has a personal connection to her own family history. Shot in black-and-white, "Passing" had been making buzz since before its premiere at Sundance, and has since been praised for its cast and its handling of complex themes. Netflix picked up distribution, so look for it on the streamer soon.