16 of Sundance's Most Anticipated Films (And 5 That May Surprise You)

The film fest showcases the best of indie cinema—and this year's lineup is no exception.

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Courtesy

For independent film lovers, the Sundance Film Festival is the most important event of the year. Typically held in late January in Park City, Utah, the festival offers a glimpse of the year's hits to come. In anticipation of the festival, which starts tomorrow (January 24) and runs through February 3, we've rounded up the 16 most-anticipated films from this year's festival lineup–plus five under-the-radar offerings that just might steal the show.

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Brian Douglas
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

For those who first discovered Zac Efron by way of High School Musical, the thought of the former Disney Channel star playing one of the United States' most notorious serial killers might seem like a stretch. However, early buzz about Efron's chilling depiction of infamous murderer, Ted Bundy—not to mention Lily Collins' performance as Bundy's longtime girlfriend, Elizabeth Kloepfer—suggests that this film may be best watched during daylight hours.

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A24
Native Son

It's no easy feat to adapt a seminal work of literature to film, particularly one as complex and confrontational as Native Son— Richard Wright's protest novel about the life and crimes of an impoverished 20-year-old black man named Bigger Thomas. So for artist Rashid Johnson to pick the novel as the subject of his debut feature film—starring Moonlight breakout Ashton Sanders as a modern-day Bigger—is a bold statement all on its own. If Sundance's decision to premiere the film on Day One of the festival is any indication, it's a gamble that has paid major artistic dividends. Read the book

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Stay Gold Features
Honey Boy

Since first garnering international attention in 2011 for her wildly experimental documentary, Bombay Beach, prolific Israeli-American music video director Alma Har'el has largely focused on directing commercials and fighting gender bias in the advertising industry via her initiative, Free The Bid. At Sundance this year, Har'el makes her narrative feature debut with Honey Boy, a film written by Shia LaBeouf and inspired by LaBeouf's own experiences growing up as a child actor.

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Now Apocalypse Season 1 2018
Katrina Marcinowski
Now Apocalypse

Okay, we're cheating a bit with this TV offering. Co-written by veteran indie filmmaker Gregg Araki and sex columnist Karley Sciortino, Araki's upcoming Starz series Now Apocalypse focuses on a group of four friends navigating the strange, surreal landscape of Los Angeles in pursuit of art, sex, and self-knowledge.

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Emily Aragones
Late Night

Directed by Transparent's Nisha Ganatra, and from a script by Mindy Kaling, Late Night stars Emma Thompson as a legendary late-night host who hires a writer (played by Kaling) to ward off accusations of sexism. Sure, the film looks like a hoot, but we're really hoping this Sundance premiere leads to Thompson landing a real-life talk show of her own.

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Nostromo Pictures
Paradise Hills

Paradise Hills tells the story of Uma (Emma Roberts), a 16-year-old girl who wakes up at a "center for emotional healing" called Paradise Hills, presided over by a figure named The Duchess (Milla Jovovich). With a cast rounded out by Awkwafina, Danielle MacDonald, and Eiza González, this visually ambitious feature directorial debut from Alice Waddington—an acclaimed 28-year-old costume designer and fashion photographer from Spain—is sure to attract buzz.

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Elizabeth Fisher
After the Wedding

American remakes of foreign films are often controversial, but Bart Freundlich's adaptation of Susanne Bier's acclaimed Danish film After the Wedding is shaping up to be an exception. This gender-swapped twist on the original features Michelle Williams as a woman who's dedicated her life to an orphanage in Calcutta, and Julianne Moore as her mysterious benefactor. It promises to be a rich, emotional story about motherhood and fate.

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Big Beach
The Farewell

Directed by classical pianist-turned-acclaimed-filmmaker Lulu Wang, The Farewell is poised to be the film that turns 2018's breakout star, Awkwafina, into a household name. Wang's debut feature stars Awkwafina as Billi, a headstrong writer who travels to China to attend an impromptu fake wedding/family reunion after the family matriarch is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

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Amasia Entertainment
Them That Follow

Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage's directorial debut, Them That Follow, is set in an isolated Appalachian community of Pentecostal snake handlers and featuring The Favourite Oscar nominee Olivia Colman. The film centers on the daughter of the community's pastor as she prepares for her upcoming arranged marriage—while scrambling to hide a large and dangerous secret.

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American High
Big Time Adolescence

First-time writer-director Jason Orley's Big Time Adolescence promises to offer a boisterous, unflinching look at what it's like to be a teenager today. The film stars Pete Davidson as Zeke, a college dropout who takes it upon himself to befriend and mentor his ex-girlfriend's little brother Mo. But don't be fooled: It's Mo (Griffin Gluck), not Zeke, whose journey lies at the heart of this film.

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Ian Routledge
I Am Mother

A post-apocalyptic story about a robot named Mother who has been designed to repopulate the earth, I Am Mother is likely to be eerie, atmospheric, and cerebral all at once—no mean feat for a film from a first-time director (Grant Sputore). But with a character-driven take on the well-worn "man vs. machine" trope, this sci-fi thriller seems set to defy all types of expectations.

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The Lodge

Co-directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, who earned their horror bonafides with 2014's deliciously spooky Goodnight Mommy, are back with their first English-language feature. The Lodge is a claustrophobic horror film about a young stepmother-to-be (Riley Keough) who exists at odds with her future stepchildren, only to find herself unexpectedly snowed in with them at the titular getaway spot.

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Andrew McConnell
Gaza

In recent years, Israeli state policies with regards to occupied Palestinian territory have come increasingly under fire thanks to the work of pro-Palestinian rights advocacy groups such as the Jewish-led organization IfNotNow. But few Americans have had the opportunity to witness the realities of life under Israeli occupation. Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell's documentary Gaza aims to change this. An elegantly-shot portrait of Palestinian life in the heart of Gaza, the film promises to explore the daily lives of the territory's 1.8 million inhabitants.

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Jigsaw Productions
The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley

Try as they might, no narrative filmmaker has come close to crafting a Silicon Valley story half as compelling as the real-life tale of Elizabeth Holmes, the would-be-wunderkind behind the erstwhile blood-testing startup Theranos. With the unprecedented ability to use just a pinprick's worth of blood to test for thousands of diseases, Theranos stood poised to revolutionize the field of biomedical engineering—until a 2015 article in the Wall Street Journal revealed that their proprietary technology was nothing more than a fraud. Alex Gibney's documentary The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley promises to tell the riveting tale of Holmes' rise and fall.

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Timothy Greenfield Sanders
Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am

After 40 years, 10 novels, 7 works of non-fiction, and countless awards, Toni Morrison has earned her spot in the pantheon of contemporary American writers. In Timothy Greenfield-Sanders' much-anticipated documentary portrait of the literary titan, Morrison traces her novels back to their sources of inspiration and reflects on what it means to be a writer whose work is so deeply intertwined with national trauma.

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Barbara Alper
Untouchable

Looking back on the October 2017 Harvey Weinstein exposés that jump-started the #MeToo movement, it's tempting to think the story most worth telling involves recounting the ways in which the world has—and hasn't—changed since his spectacular fall from grace. But Ursula Macfarlane's documentary Untouchable concerns itself more with laying bare the apparati that allowed him to get away with his monstrous abuses of power.

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Vanishing Angle
One to Watch: Greener Grass

Greener Grass may not have a cast full of heavy-hitters like some of the other projects on this list, but Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe's deliciously dark look at suburbia just might be one of the breakout films at the festival. All is well in Jill and Lisa's idyllic family-oriented community—until Jill gifts Lisa her newborn baby as an altruistic gesture. And then things get weird.

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© 2019 “WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIES” FILM PARTNERS
One to Watch: WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIES

If there's one foreign-language film to keep an eye on at Sundance this year, this is it. Makoto Nagahisa's WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIES follows four 13-year-olds who meet at a crematorium after all lose their parents. Finding themselves alone in the world and unable to mourn their losses, the four youngsters—likening themselves to zombies—decide to form a kick-ass band in hopes of recovering their ability to feel.

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WME/Endeavor
One to Watch: Premature

Rashaad Ernesto Green's first feature, Gun Hill Road, made a splash when it premiered at Sundance in 2011. His sophomore offering, Premature, is a quieter story—which may make it even worthier to keep an eye on. Ayanna is just looking to have fun during her last summer in Harlem before heading to college, but when she meets and falls for Isaiah, she finds herself at a crossroads between living under her mother's roof and striking out on her own.

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Kill Claudio Productions
One to Watch: Sister Aimee

In 1926, America's most famous evangelist was a woman—at least, until she disappeared in a fake-kidnapping plot cleverly orchestrated to help her run away with her married lover to Mexico. You'd be forgiven for assuming that directors Samantha Buck and Marie Schlingmann invented the plot of their film Sister Aimee, but the real-life inspiration for this raucous musical/western/screwball comedy—the true story of Sister Aimee Semple McPherson and her 1926 disappearance—goes to show that sometimes real life is, in fact, stranger than fiction.

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Jim Frohna
One to Watch: It's Not About Jimmy Keene

It may not be a feature film, but the television pilot It's Not About Jimmy Keene marks the debut of a bold and self-assured new voice in episodic storytelling. The first professional production of Caleb Jaffe, Jimmy Keene tells the story of a mixed-race teenager who finds himself torn between the opposing worldviews of his two older sisters following the police shooting of an unarmed black teen in Los Angeles—a powerful and important new story for everyone living in the Black Lives Matter era.

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