(Sundance Institute) Anne Hathaway, left, and Thomasin McKenzie play coworkers in a Massachusetts prison, circa 1964, in director William Oldroyd's "Eileen," an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
Every year, the Sundance Film Festival showcases the best of independent moviemaking — and, every year, people come to Park City to see what movies are ready to break out to wider audiences.
Here’s the wrinkle: Though many people come to the festival trying to guess which movies will make the leap to mainstream success, often nobody knows until the movies are shown.
So, as the 2023 Sundance Film Festival gets set to launch on Thursday, veteran festival attendees can make some educated guesses. They will use as criteria the relative fame of the people in the cast, the track record of the filmmakers, or the timeliness or overarching interest in the subject matter. But until the light of the projector hits the screen, it’s still guesswork.
Here are 10 of my semi-educated guesses for which movies are likely to get people talking — and generate that all-important “buzz” — at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
(Sundance Institute) Emilia Jones, left, and Nicholas Braun star in director Susanna Fogel's "Cat Person," an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
“Cat Person” and “Fairytale” (Premieres) • British actor Emilia Jones was the breakout discovery at the 2021 festival, playing the only hearing member of a deaf family in “CODA,” which won four awards at Sundance and went on to take three Academy Awards. Jones is back in two films this year. In “Cat Person,” written and directed by Susanna Fogel (“The Spy Who Dumped Me”), Jones plays a young movie-theater employee who starts a relationship with an older man (Nicholas Braun). In writer-director Andrew Durham’s “Fairytale,” she plays the grown-up version of a little girl being raised by her gay dad in San Francisco in the ‘70s and ‘80s. (Oh, by the way, “CODA” — since its 2021 festival run was online only — will be screened in person at the festival, Thursday, Jan. 26, 9:15 p.m., at the Eccles Theatre in Park City.)
(Glen Wilson | Sundance Institute) Jonathan Majors plays an amateur bodybuilder in writer-director Elijah Bynum's "Magazine Dreams," an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
“Magazine Dreams” (U.S. Dramatic) • You’re going to be seeing a lot of Jonathan Majors in the next couple months, as he’s the antagonist in the next Marvel movie, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” and he’s in the boxing drama “Creed III.” Before that, catch him in a starring role in writer-director Elijah Bynum’s drama, playing an amateur bodybuilder who pushes himself to the edge.
(Sundance Institute) Justin H. Min, left, and Sherry Cola co-star in director Randall Park's "Shortcomings," an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
“Shortcomings” (U.S. Dramatic) • As an actor, Randall Park has shown himself to be a funny guy, as the dad on ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat” and as FBI agent Jimmy Woo in the Marvel universe’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp” and “WandaVision.” We’ll see how those comedic chops work in his directing debut, a comedy-drama about three friends (Justin H. Min, Ally Maki and Sherry Cola) on a road trip.
“Eileen” (Premieres) • Director William Oldroyd surprised moviegoers in 2017 with “Lady Macbeth,” a steamy costume drama that gave us Florence Pugh as a repressed wife in a rural manor. Oldroyd returns, with a dark adaptation of Ottessa Moshfegh’s novel about a relationship between two employees at a Massachusetts prison in 1964: A young secretary (Thomasin Mckenzie, from “Last Night in Soho”) and a counselor (Anne Hathaway).
(Sundance Institute) Jennifer Connelly plays a former child star in writer-director-star Alice Englert's drama "Bad Behaviour," an official selection of the World Dramatic competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
“Bad Behaviour” (World Cinema Dramatic) • Actor Alice Englert, who was really good in the 2019 festival entry “Them That Follow,” makes her directing debut with this New Zealand-made drama, which she also wrote. Englert plays the stuntwoman daughter of a former child star (Jennifer Connelly) who goes to a retreat led by a spiritual leader (Ben Whishaw). Englert, by the way, is the daughter of director Jane Campion (“The Power of the Dog”), but there will be no dismissive “nepo baby” talk here.
(Neon) An image from director Cronenberg's "Infinity Pool," an official selection of the Midnight section at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
“Infinity Pool” (Midnight) • Speaking of children of famous directors, Brandon Cronenberg (son of David) has already proven himself a worthy heir with his creepy spy thriller “Possessor” (SFF ‘20). His latest film follows a couple (Alexander Skarsgård and Cleopatra Coleman) going on vacation at an all-inclusive resort — and finding much more going on under the surface. (If you can’t get into the festival screenings, don’t worry; it’s slated to hit regular theaters starting Jan. 27.)
(Getty Images | Sundance Institute) Brooke Shields, seen here in her younger modeling days, is the subject of director Lana Wilson's documentary "Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields," an official selection of the Premiers Program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
“Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields” (Premieres) • There are so many personality-driven documentaries at this year’s festival that look promising, including “Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie,” “Judy Blume Forever,” “Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project,” “Little Richard: I Am Everything,” “Nam June Park: Moon Is the Oldest TV,” “Stephen Curry: Underrated” and the docuseries “Willie Nelson and Family.” If I have to choose one, I’ll go with this look at actor, model and activist Brooke Shields, in part because of Shields’ compelling story of surviving being sexually objectified as a girl, and in part because director Lana Wilson did such a great job in “Taylor Swift: Miss Americana” (SFF ’20) at digging under the surface of a public figure we think we know.
(Evgeniy Maloletka | Sundance Institute) First responders help an injured woman in director Mstyslav Chernov's documentary from Ukraine, "20 Days in Mariupol," an official selection of the World Documentary Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
“20 Days in Mariupol” (World Cinema Documentary) and “Plan C” (Premieres) • Two documentaries go deep into two different battle fronts. In “20 Days in Mariupol,” director Mstyslav Cherov follows Ukrainian journalists as they work while trapped in the besieged city of Mariupol at the start of the Russian invasion. In “Plan C,” director Tracy Droz Tragos (“Rich Hill,” SFF ‘14) introduces viewers to the grassroots group trying to maintain access to abortion pills in Texas after the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
(Derek Howard | Sundance Institute) Francine Coeytaux, a public health specialist, places a sticker to let women know about legally available abortion pills, in director Tracy Droz Tragos' documentary "Plan C," an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
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