All that Oscar talk for La La Land? Sooooo three days ago. It’s already time to start analyzing the contenders for January 2018. And, as always, the road to glory begins in the snowy mountains of Park City, Utah, at the Sundance Film Festival. (Last year’s lineup alone included Manchester by the Sea, Captain Fantastic, O.J. Simpson: Made in America and a pre–PR disaster The Birth of a Nation.) The latest edition featured several creative cinematic gems poised for greatness — not to mention about 4 feet of snow that made travel from theater to theater a difficult, stressful undertaking. But anyway! Us Weekly film critic Mara Reinstein breaks it all down.
On a remote part of a Native American reservation in Wyoming, a teen girl is found dead, bloodied and barefoot in the snow. What happened to her? An FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) and local game hunter (Jeremy Renner) search for the unsettling answers. A stark thriller from the writer of Sicario and Hell or High Water, it burns with unbearable tension amid a bone-chilling backdrop.
Think 8 Mile. Set in blue-collar New Jersey. With a totally fierce woman (Danielle Macdonald) busting out the inspired original rhymes. The result is a fist-in-the-air winner that bursts off the screen with kinetic energy. Macdonald, a native Australian, does not blow this star-making opportunity that comes once in a lifetime. (Yo.)
Looking for fresh clues as to how 6-year-old beauty queen JonBenét Ramsey died in her Colorado home? Look elsewhere. For this crazy-high-concept docudrama (soon to premiere on Netflix), a swath of locals — including a dozen comely women dressed in red turtleneck sweaters to portray matriarch Patsy — share their personal stories and theories while screen-testing for a faux movie about the case. If nothing else, this a surreal take on a familiar true-crime story.
Call Me By Your Name
This was the role Armie Hammer was born to play. His gregarious charmer Oliver travels to sun-kissed Italy in 1983 to spend the summer with a professor. A budding friendship with the man’s teen son (Timothee Chalamet) turns into more. (The Psychedelic Furs’ new-wave classic “Love My Way” will never seem the same after Hammer dances to it wearing short-shorts.) This deeply poignant coming-of-age tale, based on the novel, might just be the definitive love story of 2017.
In the most rousing documentary (if not film) of the festival, a group of inner-city Baltimore girls at a charter high school dedicate themselves to winning a regional step-dancing competition in 2015. Despite the hardships at home and in their crime-ridden neighborhoods, these students — who come in all shapes and sizes — are determined to achieve in the classroom and on the stage. Bring it on!
A Ghost Story
One Sundance ago, Casey Affleck delivered a haunting performance in Manchester by the Sea. Now the Oscar nominee haunts again … as a ghost. Get this: After dying in a car crash, he quietly hangs around his house, white sheet and all, to watch over his grieving wife (Rooney Mara) as well as later occupants. Entire developed scenes pass without a single line of dialogue. How delightfully strange.
To the Bone
Ellen (Lily Collins), an acerbic artist and an anorexic, knows the calorie count of every piece of food on her plate. As a last resort, her unconventional new doctor (Keanu Reeves) sends her to a group home for rehab and to find a will to survive. Gifted writer-director Marti Noxon (Grey’s Anatomy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, UnReal), who based the film on her own struggles, uses sharp humor to cut through the genre clichés.
The Big Sick
Call it The Big Crowd-Pleaser. Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) plays himself in a warm and sincerely funny comedy about his own unorthodox marriage. Watch and laugh as he falls for a white Christian woman (Zoe Kazan) despite his Muslim parents’ strict objections. Their tattered relationship doesn’t crystallize until she falls ill and slips into a coma. Nanjiani wrote the script with his real-life wife, Emily V. Gordon; Judd Apatow is a coproducer. (P.S. The film sold for a robust $12 million to Amazon Studios.)
Beatriz at Dinner
A luminous Salma Hayek is a holistic masseuse and Mexican immigrant who serendipitously ends up at a client’s ritzy dinner party — where she clashes mightily with a brash real estate tycoon (John Lithgow). This bold drama, just 83 minutes, would have been thought-provoking under any circumstances. In the present political environment, it’s applause-worthy.
The Yellow Birds
Jennifer Aniston = legit dramatic actress. She delivers heart and soul playing a Texas mom desperate to find out what happened to her missing son (Tye Sheridan) while he served in the Iraq War. Though the nonlinear film is uneven, her climactic sit-down with his comrade (Alden Ehrenreich, i.e., the future young Han Solo) brings it all home.
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