The annual Sundance Film Festival gusts its way into Park City, Utah, beginning Jan. 18, nudging movie lovers to bundle up and start their mornings watching movies.
The festival dominates the region, especially that first weekend when it’s hard for anyone to land a table at restaurant but easy to spot a celebrity shivering down the street.
Last year was a good year for Sundance, which gave us “The Birth of a Nation,” “Manchester By the Sea,” “Love & Friendship,” “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” and “Sing Street,” amongst others.
I’ll be at the festival in just over a week, taking in as many movies as I possibly can.
Throughout that time, I’ll post quick reviews, pointing you to some gems and directing you away from others.
Here are but six films, I’m psyched about seeing.
“The Force”: Filmmaker Peter Nicks turns his fly-on the-wall documentary style onto the trouble-plagued Oakland Police Department. Nicks excels at taking topical material and making it real by observing and letting people he’s following let their stories unfold organically. His riveting 2012 East Bay-focused documentary “The Waiting Room” followed doctors, nurses and patients as they navigated through the overburdened Highland Hospital ER in Oakland. “Room” took such a clear-eyed view of the health-care crisis, it deservedly got shortlisted for an Oscar. “The Force” might well indeed be with Nicks again.
“Call Me By Your Name”: How will that so-sensual-it-makes-you-pine prose of novelist Andre Aciman translate up on the screen? We’ll find out. Aciman’s erotically charged 2007 novel about longing that was set in Italy delved into the steamy and heady relationship between a 17-year-old boy and a 24-year-old professor. Armie Hammer stars as the strapping scholar. Sony Pictures Classic knows this is one hot item, and has already snatched up the rights even before its debut. Luca Guadagnino who gave us the sexy and frisky “A Bigger Splash” directs. Can’t wait.
“An Inconvenient Truth Sequel”: He’s back. That’s right Al Gore, the climate change crusader, returns for this urgently needed update of his pivotal mind-changer of a documentary, the Oscar-winning “Truth” from 2006. The Bay Area wife-and-husband filmmaking team of Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, who last year gave us the equally urgently needed “Audrie & Daisy,” directs. It’s the opening night film, and one of the many environmentally focused movies in Sundance’s New Climate Program. I’m also looking forward to “Chasing Coral.”
“The Hero”: Sam Elliott remains one of Hollywood’s most durable, authentic and underrated actors. (Remember him in those itty-bitty red shorts in “Lifeguard” from 1976? Thought so.) The gravelly voiced star always makes acting so effortless. In “The Hero,” he plays a role that fits him like a Stetson cowboy hat — a zonked-out Western star getting a lifetime achievement award. But something in his character life forces him to reevaluate priorities. Laura (“Orange Is the New Back”) Prepon, Nick Offerman and Katharine Ross costar.
“The Wind River”: With “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water,” screenwriter Taylor Sheridan rocketed to the upper ranks of screenwriters. He’s a neo-noir Jedi, tailoring what could be ho-hum material and stitching in moral complexity. That’s all good, but does the part-time actor have the chops to helm a movie? We’ll find out when this thriller set on a Native American reservation debuts. Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen costar.
“Wilson”: The ideal casting of Woody Harrelson as the grousing, sad-sack, middle-aged character created by Oakland graphic novelist Daniel Clowes piqued my interest immediately. But it was noticing Laura Dern’s name attached that clinched the deal. Don’t expect any NutraSweet to this narrative about a man discovering he has a daughter. Clowes avoids the gooey, as his “Ghost World” attested to.