With the entire film industry converging on the small town of Park City, Utah, in just a couple of short months, the Sundance Institute has announced the lineup for this year’s Sundance Film Festival. As with years past, the films on offer come courtesy of a wide range of filmmakers: the 120 features that were selected came from thirty-seven different countries, and forty-eight of the films are the work of first-time filmmakers.
While it can be difficult to forecast which films will break out of the festival to wide mainstream appeal—as films as varied as Reservoir Dogs, Garden State, and Whiplash have in the past—quite a few of the US Dramatic Competition’s sixteen entries seem to carry both the mid-wattage star power and the dramatic impulse that has given rise to past Sundance classics.
Goat stars Nick Jonas as a fraternity pledge who is forced to do horrible things in order to join the brotherhood. As these things go, they scar Jonas and severely test the durability of his relationships. While the prospect of Nick Jonas playing a frat bro might seem a little on the nose, the film’s entrance in the main competition suggests that this is no mere gross-out comedy.
Silicon Valley‘s Thomas Middleditch stars in Joshy, about a soon-to-be-wed man who uses his bachelor party as an excuse to rekindle old friendships. Middleditch is joined by Alex Ross Perry, Nick Kroll, Adam Pally, and Jenny Slate.
Fresh off of his role as portly butcher Ed Blumquist in the overwhelming second season of Fargo, Jesse Plemons plays a failed stand-up comic who breaks up with his boyfriend and returns home to Sacramento to take care of his ailing mother in Other People. SNL alum Molly Shannon and The West Wing‘s Bradley Whitford also appear, presumably as Plemons’ parents.
Whitford’s fellow West Wing castmember Allison Janney stars alongside Ellen Page in Tallulah, in which a young, hardscrabble woman kidnaps the toddler of a neglectful and wealthy woman in the hopes of protecting the baby. It seems safe to say that this is not a Raising Arizona update, though if Nicolas Cage‘s name starts to get thrown around, be forewarned.
Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe both appear in Swiss Army Man, which finds one of them wandering through the wilderness when he stumbles upon the other’s dead body and feels compelled to carry it back to civilization.
Southside With You, meanwhile, takes a much more lighthearted tack: the film, set in 1989, tells the story of the first date of Michelle and Barack Obama.
And finally, in what is either a dramatically reimagined version of one of the most racist films of all time or else a comment upon said film, The Birth of a Nation follows the life of a preaching slave named Nat Turner. Nat is rented out to a man who uses his abilities to quell potential uprisings among his own slaves, though his witnessing of the brutality of the slaveholders inspires him to plot a rebellion of his own. The original Birth of a Nation, from 1915, is considered an unfortunate landmark of early cinema; the film, which glamorizes the KKK and has been credited with helping to reinvigorate the then-dying terrorist organization’s power, was the technical marvel of its day and gave rise to a number of cinematic innovations.
This year’s Sundance Film Festival runs from January 21 to 31 in venues across Park City, Utah. The rest of the lineup—including the documentary and foreign film contests—can be seen here.
Originally published December 3, 8:24 a.m.
Updated: December 8, 11:00 a.m.: This morning, Sundance finalized its 2016 lineup by announcing the films being shown within the Spotlight, Kids, Special Events, and Premieres categories.
Within the Premieres section, which the film institute bills as “a showcase of world premieres of some of the most highly anticipated narrative films of the coming year,” high-profile stars are found both in front of and behind the camera. Asif Kapadia‘s (Amy) latest film, the heartbreaking love story Ali & Nino, will have its world debut alongside John Krasinski‘s (The Office) latest directorial project The Hollars—a coming home dramedy also starring Anna Kendrick, Charlie Day, and Richard Jenkins. Frank Langella, Viggo Mortensen, and Steve Zahn also lead Matt Ross’s (Silicon Valley) new film Captain Fantastic.
The Premieres’ Documentary section is shaping up to be one of the most compelling lineups with with films about Michael Jackson, Frank Zappa, Robert Mapplethorpe, Maya Angelou, Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper, Norman Lear, and Richard Linklater. Iconic documentarians D. A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus will debut their new piece about animal rights lawyer Steven Wise in Unlocking the Cage. And Werner Herzog will make an appearance with the world premiere of his Internet documentary LO AND BEHOLD, Reveries of the Connected World.
Even though the films featured in the Spotlight section have already been debuted at other festivals, Sundance’s curation of “cinema we love” is always interesting. This year’s slated films include Jeremy Saulnier’s thriller flick Green Room (starring Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, and Patrick Stewart), Don Cheadle’s Miles Davis biopic Miles Ahead (starring Cheadle and Ewan McGregor), and Yorgos Lanthimos’s sci-fi future film The Lobster (starring Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw).