The Movies We Can’t Wait to Watch at Sundance 2020

We’re just a few weeks into 2020, and it’s already time for the first big film festival of the year — it’s Sundance 2020, baby! A few of us are heading back up into the mountains of Utah for another round of snowy streets, high altitudes, and film fest magic, and while the best films often end up being ones we didn’t see coming we still have some that we’re excited about in advance.

Keep reading for a look at the most anticipated movies of the fest!


Dick Johnson Is Dead

We know little to nothing about how Dick Johnson will play out, but what we do know is intriguing enough to prioritize finding out. Kirsten Johnson’s third film (and follow up to 2016’s much-lauded Cameraperson) is described by the Sundance Institute as Johnson’s “delirious and desperate attempt to keep her aging father alive. In this effort, she turns to the magic of cinema to kill him, resurrect him, and celebrate his last years on Earth.” In other words…huh? The concept makes the mind wander with curiosities. It brings to mind the bizarre docu-fiction premise of Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing, in which Indonesians confronted harsh realities through fictionalized means. Johnson had a stellar career as a cinematographer before breaking through as a documentarian, but Dick Johnson marks new territory for her both literally and conceptually. Chiefly, this is her first screenwriting credit, and, as a result, the first one of her films that delves into fantasy and fiction, opposed to sticking strictly to explicit reality. (Luke Hicks)


Falling

Viggo Mortensen makes his directorial debut shooting from his own script. Lance Henriksen plays Willis, a deteriorating patriarch isolated on his rural farm. His children, John (Mortensen) and Monica (Laura Linney), decide it’s time to bring him to the West Coast so that they can tend to his needs as he moves further along in life. Mortensen attempts the dutiful son routine, but Henriksen’s conservative values threaten to ignite turmoil as he cannot condone his son’s romantic relationship with Eric (Terry Chen). Mortensen has always been an actor with a lot on his mind, and Falling will surely give him the opportunity to unleash his point of view upon the screen. While the film will most certainly infuriate the many Willis’ in the crowd, you must appreciate an artist putting it all out there. Mortensen has worked with the best; I’m excited to see what he’s picked up over the years. (Brad Gullickson)


The Father

Florian Zeller makes his narrative feature debut adapting his prize-winning play. The title character has already nabbed numerous performance accolades for Frank Langella, Kenneth Cranham, and the late great Robert Hirsch. Now, the recently Oscar-nominated Anthony Hopkins shifts into the role that will see him butting heads with Olivia Colman

playing his daughter. The Father already has a fervor around it with Sony Pictures Classics snatching distribution rights ahead of its Monday premiere at Sundance. End-of-life stories are always compelling, as every one of us prepares to stare down the barrel of a gun, but the plot doesn’t even really matter here, right? Hopkins v Colman. You want ringside for that fight. You want the blood and sweat splattering your cheeks. (Brad Gullickson)

The Glorias

Julie Taymor behind the camera. Done. No need to explain further. It’s been six years since A Midsummer Night’s Dream, ten since The Tempest, and thirteen years since she’s tackled anything apart from Shakespeare. That’s too damn long of an absence. Now, you tell me Taymor is directing Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, and Ryan Kiera Armstrong, all portraying Gloria Steinheim throughout the various stages of her life as described in her biography My Life on the Road? Triple done. No question about this film. (Brad Gullickson)


Impetigore

Fantastic horror films come from all around the world, and while there are plenty of shared themes and narratives there are also tales unique to various countries and cultures. Indonesian horror offers a world of magic, demons, and ghostly legends that are previously unknown entities beyond their borders, and the latest from writer/director Joko Anwar might just introduce westerners to even more things that go bump in the night. Anwar’s last feature, Satan’s Slaves (2017), was a remake and a massive hit in his home country, and it delivers a blend of supernatural ideas, jump scares, and upsetting visuals — here’s hoping his new film ups the game even further (an delivers on that very cool-sounding title). (Rob Hunter)


Kajillionaire

Actor-writer-director Miranda July hasn’t made a film since 2011’s The Future, which came a very long six-year wait after her first film, Me and You and Everyone We Know (inducted into the Criterion Collection this month). July’s dry, avant-garde style is astoundingly original. It draws few accurate comparisons in the film world, which is quite impressive in the widespread diversity of expression in the current climate. Kajillionaire follows a woman and her parents, criminals who have decided to invite a friend for their next heist regardless of how it will affect their daughter. Evan Rachel Wood, Debra Winger, Gina Rodriguez, and Richard Jenkins are headlining the cast. It seems like a motley crew, but such is the nature of Sundance, where we figure out whether the unlikeliest of acting combinations will either strike gold or crash in a glorious display of dumpster fire. (Luke Hicks)


The Last Thing He Wanted

Dee Rees and Netflix return to Sundance with a Joan Didion adaptation stuffed with delectable talent. Anne Hathaway plays a DC reporter who uncovers a dark personal connection to the story she’s attempting to break when she reluctantly agrees to complete an errand for her dying father (Willem Dafoe

). The film has all the trappings of a political thriller, but with Rees at the helm, The Last Thing He Wanted will certainly be more bite than growl. Mudbound remains one of the most heartbreaking and emotionally infuriating films of recent memory, and I’m chomping at the bit to see what she can do with Didion’s righteous material. (Brad Gullickson)

The Nest

It’s been a while since Borderline Films co-founder Sean Durkin released a film. His first and only, Martha Marcy May Marlene was an indie triumph in 2011, but the following years of the Borderline collective was geared toward realizing other members’ projects, like James White, Christine, and Simon Killer. Plus, Durkin and co-founders, Antonio Campos and Josh Mond, have given much of their time and effort toward investing their production skills in other potential filmmaking greats that don’t have the backing, like Nicolas Pesce, whose debut Piercing was one of 2019’s most overlooked wonders. But Durkin’s return is long overdue, and the focal casting of Jude Law and Carrie Coon is worth getting overly excited about. Add in that the film hinges on family drama in an English country manor, and the prospect of another explosive Carrie Coon performance appears as a specter on the horizon, much to our anticipation. (Luke Hicks)


The Night House

The Ritual director David Bruckner is back with another spooky-ass sounding horror tale. The Night House seemingly shares a little aesthetic DNA with last year’s excellent Sundance midnighter, The Lodge. I desperately want to experience that vibe again. Rebecca Hall plays a woman who retreats to a lakeside home after her husband suddenly dies. Built by the deceased, Hall begins to uncover various secrets that suggest a troubling, dark nature to her beloved. Bruckner knows how to make great use of his sets, offering surreal, almost impenetrable production design. What can he do with a haunted lake house? Let’s find out. (Brad Gullickson)


Possessor

Dark, sci-fi thrillers are a sub-genre unto themselves, and it’s one that the great David Cronenberg once called home with the likes of Scanners (1981), Videodrome (1983), and others. It’s fitting then, that his son Brandon Cronenberg would pick up that mantle as a genre filmmaker starting with 2012’s Antiviral and now — finally — being followed up with Possessor. This time the story features an organization that commits assassinations using other people’s bodies. Christopher Abbott, Andrea Riseborough, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and others are along for the ride, and we most definitely are too. (Rob Hunter)


Promising Young Woman

One needs only watch the first trailer for writer/director Emerald Fennell

‘s debut feature to know that it promises to be something special. Carey Mulligan stars as a young woman who decides to direct her anger towards men… towards men who anger her. The trailer teases a stylish, satisfyingly violent tale of bad people getting what they deserve, and that’s already more than enough reason to get excited. Add in Mulligan and our interest is magnified even further. And by the time you realize that in addition to acting, Fennell also served as a writer on Killing Eve? Yeah, this is a must-see, so we’ll be seeing it at the fest and then maybe seeing it again when it opens in April. (Rob Hunter)

Save Yourselves!

A young couple head out to a cabin in the woods — stay with me here — and everything is fine, at least until they head back into the city and realize that their effort to disconnect has left them oblivious to an alien invasion. That’s a hell of a comedic setup, and while both co-writers/directors (Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson) are new to the game, they already have our attention. John Reynolds (Stranger Things) and Sunita Mani (GLOW) bring the couple to life, most likely with comedic flair, and we’re hoping the heroes we want to follow through this apocalypse. (Rob Hunter)


Scare Me

Writer/director Josh Ruben is a longtime veteran of the now-defunct CollegeHumor.com having crafted numerous videos for the beloved site. His feature debut presents a fun setup as two friends alone in a dark cabin kill time spinning scary yarns for each other. The stories apparently find a life of their own, and soon the two are caught up in something unexpected. This could be as simple as strong dialogue and spoken narratives, or maybe we’ll see the tales come to life too — it’s unclear at this point which way it’ll go — but either way it’s an intriguing premise recreating a scenario that many of us have shared. The telling tales part, not the potential evil brought to life angle… (Rob Hunter)


Shirley

There are three reasons Shirley makes this list — and personally tops out on mine — and they are, in order of importance, as follows: Josephine Decker, Elisabeth Moss, and Michael Stuhlbarg. If you aren’t familiar with Decker, stop what you’re doing and watch Madeline’s Madeline on Prime. Or, find a way to watch Thou Wast Mild & Lovely. Don’t even finish this article. They each clock in under 90 minutes so you can watch them both with a little break in between before you could’ve knocked out The Irishman. Few working directors are as enigmatic, innovative, and engaging as Decker, and every film has shown more promise than the last, which is saying a lot. Shirley

, her fourth feature, is her first with all-star actors under her direction, which brings us to the second and third reasons. Moss is on a tear of late, choosing roles that seriously challenge her and films/series that end up amazing us. Not to mention, she tends to have a preternatural sense of which indie filmmakers will be able to utilize her talent to the nth degree (in this case, she plays a horror writer who finds inspiration for her next novel in a young couple). Stuhlbarg exists on a similar plane. It’s as if everything he touches turns to gold. So, the idea of Moss and Stuhlbarg going back and forth, grounded in the atypical sensibilities of Decker, is absolutely mesmerizing. The only concern is that this is Decker’s first directorial project she hasn’t also written the screenplay for. But, we’re assuming she chose her story wisely. (Luke Hicks)

Zola

Going into Sundance, A24 — the production studio behind 2019’s High Life, Midsommar, The Farewell, Uncut Gems, and more — has only two films to their name: Minari and Zola. The studio’s been on fire lately, so their stamp of quality means higher expectations. Second-time writer-director Janicza Bravo is at the helm, which shows promise but, after her slightly above average debut a few years back, doesn’t guarantee it. There’s no doubt that it’s more promising than what it would’ve been under James Franco, who, despite a consistently sub-par eye, was originally attached to direct the true story of a titular stripper who went on a wild journey down to Florida. Yes, this is that Zola, the same one whose 148 tweets went viral back in 2015. And yes, this story is adapted from tweets. Newcomer Taylour Paige will play Zola, while Sundance darling Riley Keough will fill the role of Stefani, the impetus for the road trip, and Colman Domingo will play a violent pimp called X. (Luke Hicks)

Rob Hunter: "Rob is great. He likes movies. He writes about them. And he's a good person."