Snap Judgment: The Most Intriguing Films at Sundance 2015

With the festival lineup finally trickling out, we find ten reasons to make the trek to Park City

Trying to predict what movies will be good at the Sundance Film Festival is always a dicey venture. As the first major film festival of the year, it features numerous films that haven’t played elsewhere. Yesterday, Sundance announced the 2015 festival lineup in the U.S. dramatic and documentary categories as well as the NEXT section. Based solely on these movies’ brief plot synopses and cast and crew lineups, here are some of the more promising picks. Plus, there’s always the Jonathan Gold documentary.

3 ½ Minutes (U.S. Documentary Competition)
“On November 23, 2012, unarmed 17-year-old Jordan Russell Davis was shot at a Jacksonville gas station by Michael David Dunn. 3½ Minutes explores the aftermath of Jordan’s tragic death, the latent and often unseen effects of racism, and the contradictions of the American criminal justice system.” 

The Sundance lineup was announced just hours after a Grand Jury chose not to indict a New York police officer for the death of Eric Garner. It comes on the heels of the decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown and a year in which police brutality and the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement is receiving more public attention than at any other time in recent history. This film is tragically and totally of the moment.

Censored Voices (World Documentary Competition)
“One week after the 1967 Six Day War, renowned author Amos Oz and editor Avraham Shapira recorded intimate conversations with soldiers returning from the battlefield. The Israeli army censored the recordings, allowing only a fragment of the conversations to be published. Censored Voices reveals these recordings for the first time.” 

Though it’s based on decades-old material this is another timely documentary. How do the perceptions of common soldiers about Israel’s conflicts in 1967 compare to the attitudes of soldiers today? We can finally find out.

Pervert Park (World Documentary Competition)
“Pervert Park follows the everyday lives of sex offenders in a Florida trailer park as they struggle to reintegrate into society, and try to understand who they are and how to break the cycle of sex crimes being committed.” 

This might not be the movie for everyone, but documentaries can take us to places we might never want to visit in the real world. Pervert Park sounds like a unique experience, to say the least.

Results (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
“Two mismatched personal trainers’ lives are upended by the actions of a new, wealthy client.” 

This is notable because of the people behind it. The cast includes Guy Pearce and Cobie Smulders, and it’s written and directed by mumblecore auteur Andrew Bujalski (Funny Ha Ha, Computer Chess). This marks Bujalski’s first time working with mainstream talent, so it’ll be interesting to see what he does.

The Stanford Prison Experiment (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
“This film is based on the actual events that took place in 1971 when Stanford professor Dr. Philip Zimbardo created what became one of the most shocking and famous social experiments of all time.” 

Multiple films have been made about the Stanford prison experiment but none have left much of an impression. With a cast that includes Billy Crudup, Ezra Miller, and Olivia Thirlby, this one seeks to change that. Directed by newcomer Kyle Patrick Alvarez this narrative feature draws from such strong source material we’re crossing our fingers that the final product lives up to expectations.

Stockholm, Pennsylvania (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
“A young woman is returned home to her biological parents after living with her abductor for 17 years.” 

The logline alone is enough to catches interest, but the fact that Saoirse Ronan plays the girl while Jason Isaacs and Cynthia Nixon play her parents means that it has our undivided attention.

Strangerland (World Dramatic Competition)
“When Catherine and Matthew Parker’s two teenage kids disappear into the remote Australian desert, the couple’s relationship is pushed to the brink as they confront the mystery of their children’s fate.” 

Nicole Kidman, Joseph Fiennes, and Hugo Weaving headline this drama. The cast in conjunction with the storyline make it sound more than worthy of checking out.

Tangerine (NEXT)
“A working girl tears through Tinseltown on Christmas Eve searching for the pimp who broke her heart.” 

L.A. filmmaker Sean Baker earned accolades for his 2012 debut feature Starlet, so his follow-up carries critical anticipation. The fact that it’s a local production is enough to make us take notice, but we’re also curious to see what he does with that premise.

Umrika (World Dramatic Competition)
“When a young village boy discovers that his brother, long believed to be in America, has actually gone missing, he begins to invent letters on his behalf to save their mother from heartbreak, all the while searching for him.” 

The Indian film features Grand Budapest Hotel breakout star Tony Revolori (who also appears in another film on the Sundance 2015 docket, Dope). Beyond that it has a hook unlike any other film in the program.

Western (U.S. Documentary Competition)
“For generations, all that distinguished Eagle Pass, Texas from Piedras Negras, Mexico was the Rio Grande. But when darkness descends upon these harmonious border towns, a cowboy and lawman face a new reality that threatens their way of life. Western portrays timeless American figures in the grip of unforgiving change.” 

It sounds more like a Hollywood drama than a documentary, but the work of directors and brothers Bill and Turner Ross have always blurred the line between the two genres. Their previous films, 45365 and Tchoupitoulas, are among the best docs in their respective years, so this is unquestionably a film to catch.