The Sundance 2020 film roundup

Eva Mackevic

From mind-stretching indies to wild cult flicks, via moving family portraits, these are the films that stole our hearts at this year's prestigious mountain-town film festival 

The favourites: 

Minari

What is it? A poignant, imaginative take on the American Dream, featuring a Korean family trying to make it in rural Arkansas. 

Why should I watch it: Because every frame is a masterpiece; because of the love and tenderness the story is told with (never have I witnessed so much sniffling at a press screening before), and, of course, because of the disarmingly adorable boy, David, who guides us through the story.

If that doesn't convince you though, Minari's also the winner of both the festival’s US dramatic prize and the audience award.

Best character: While the aforementioned David will make you want to rip your beating heart out so he can have it (the boy suffers from a dangerous heart condition, you see), it’s his gambling, swearing, professional wrestling-watching Grandma, Soonja, that delivers some of the greatest comedy moments. 

Release date TBC 

 

And Then We Danced

What is it? The story of a smouldering, illicit romance set in Tbilisi, Georgia. 

Why should I watch it? For its dreamlike cinematography, intoxicatingly intense Georgian folk dance and sublime debut performances. 

Best character? It's impossible to choose between the two young lovers: many will undoubtedly relate to Merab's disarming vulnerability, while others will be drawn to Irakli's playful, seductive energy. 

Out in cinemas across the UK on March 13

 

Run Sweetheart Run

What is it? A punchy Kill Bill and Get Out crossover and real gift from the gods for all us genre film lovers out there.

Why should I watch? An oomphy soundtrack (with a particularly brilliant usage of a trip-hoppy version of “You Don’t Own Me" at just the right moment), lots of good old-fashioned violence, a hint of the supernatural and an unparalleled usage of menstrual blood.  

Best character? Though we love Ella Balinska as the badass victim-turned-vigilante, hanging out with her Gary-Oldman-in-Leon-inspired perpetrator is just too much fun.

Out in cinemas across the UK on April 24

 

Miss Americana

What is it? A (supposedly) intimate look at the country-pop megastar’s rise to fame as well as her never-ending struggles with feelings, self-worth and burritos.  

Why should I watch it? Whether you’re a “Swiftie” or not, the doc turns out to be moreishly entertaining and sort of anthropologically curious to watch—a bit like the Kardashians.  You might also develop some appreciation for Tay Tay's songwriting craft which is admittedly quite impressive, and realise that she actually has a good sense of humour. 

Best moments: Swift’s studio sessions with her music producer are a pleasure to observe as the two get manically giddy coming up with new tunes, share personal experiences and lift each other up.

Out now on Netflix 

 

Disclosure

What is it? A provocative, empathetic historical expose on the portrayal of trans lives in film and media.

Why should I watch it? The problematic tropes of trans in film are so ingrained in our thinking that they can often have a destructive effect on how we view trans people and how they view themselves. This film will bring you one step closer towards a deeper understanding of what it really means. 

Best interviewee? Everyone’s really open and willing to share their experience with Hollywood's demonisation of transgender people, yet actor Laverne Cox’s insights are particularly hard-hitting as not only a trans woman's but a black trans woman's. You'll be fascinated to learn how much the trans and ethnicity tropes have in common.

Release date TBC 

Read more: Three stories of transgender trailblazers 

 

The Father

What is it? A confounding, deeply-affecting drama about dementia, starring Anthony Hopkins.

Why should I watch it? For its unique take on this very difficult topic, putting us in the shoes of the affected person rather than their close ones for once, and hence, effectively painting how terrifying and debilitating this condition can be when experienced first-hand.

Best character? As expected, Hopkins absolutely kills it, but Olivia Colman who plays his daughter Anne, really excels in a role that’s completely different to everything she’s done so far.

Release date TBC 

 

The Glorias

What is it? A star-studded Gloria Steinem biopic focusing on her role in the feminist movement, and based on her own autobiography.

Why should I watch it? It can be easy to forget what a powerful force of nature Steinem was when it came to women's rights—this film serves as an inspiring reminder.

Best character? Alicia Vikander shines as Steinem between the ages of 20 and 40, skillfully capturing the development of her burgeoning attitudes and willingness to start speaking out against the patriarchal repression.

Release date TBC 

 

Impetigore

What is it? Imagine Dynasty but as a horror film set in Indonesia, with lots of blood, death and ghosts. Yeah.

Why should I watch it? It’s got it all: creepy mythology, balls-to-the-wall violence, haunted houses, evil inscriptions, puppeteers and so much more that we have the decency not to divulge. 

Best character? Our steely heroine Rohaju brings the house down with her performance in the grandest "scream queen" tradition. 

Release date TBC 

 

The average: 

Downhill

What is it? A remake of Ruben Ostlund’s wicked Force Majeure, gussied up here with a big Hollywood budget and an A-list cast. 

What's cool about it? Despite the much more heavy-handed approach than its Swedish source material would probably care for, the film does manage to effectively tag at our heartstrings with many a scenario hitting close to home. 

Where does it stumble? It’s painfully cheesy and predictable even if you haven’t seen the original. And while it's expected of Dreyfus and Ferrell to ham up their respective character archetypes (her—a neurotic kill-joy; him—a pathetic nebbish), this insistent black and whiteness quickly becomes tedious. 

Out in cinemas across the UK on February 28

 

The Mountains Are a Dream that Call to Me

What is it? A spacious, meditative and quiet mind-stretcher of a film about a chance encounter in Nepal’s Himalayan mountains. 

What's cool about it? Breathtaking scenery that'll make you look up plane tickets to Nepal and remarkable palate-cleansing properties: it's the type of film that'll drown out the noise in your head, make you stop and wonder. 

Where does it stumble? As transfixing as the film is, you need to be in a very particular mood to watch it. Go in with the wrong mindset, and you risk death by boredom. 

Release date TBC 

 

Amulet

What is it? A twisted little body horror about a young immigrant in London who moves into a new flat where, as you might have guessed, strange things are happening.

What’s cool about it? Cronenberg fans rejoice: there’s body deformation, bat skeletons in toilet bowls and elusive mothers locked up in attics—what more can you want? Plus, Imelda Staunton makes an appearance as a very naughty nun.

Where does it stumble? Amulet is ultimately a tease. It hints at ancient mythology, witchcraft and Satanism yet it never quite delivers its point, which leaves you wondering whether director Romola Garai knew where the film was going. Considering it’s her debut feature though, we’re very excited to see what she has in store for us next.

Release date TBC 

 

The Mole Agent

What is it? Probably the weirdest but sweetest spy movie you’ll ever see. An elderly man is hired as an undercover agent to go into a nursing home and keep an eye on one of its quirky residents.

What’s cool about it? Well, just like this community of charming seniors, the film's kind of mad. It’s weird, often unreasonable, random and frivolous but it's impossible to get annoyed at because above all, it's just incredibly sweet. Just sit back, relax and let the weirdness wash over you.

Where does it stumble? As novel and amusing as the concept seems for the first 15 minutes, the gags start getting old (get it?) really quickly.

Release date TBC 

 

The Evening Hour

What is it? A low-key, meticulously acted drama about the Opioid crisis.

What’s cool about it? The loving and humane look at its (often very troubled) characters, and an unwavering determination to find the furnace of goodness within each and every one of them. 

Where does it stumble? No matter how big of a fan of slow cinema you are, sometimes, this film gets just a little bit too slow and caught up in unpicking its own story. There are a lot of underdeveloped characters that don’t really serve a purpose, as well as story arches that take so long to unfold that we forget what the story was, to begin with. 

Release date TBC 

 

Lost Girls

What is it? A heart-rending true story behind a mother’s fight for justice for her murdered daughter.

What’s cool about it? The aforementioned mother, Mari Gilbert, played by Amy Ryan delivers a fine-tuned, anguished performance, as does the rising star Thomasin McKenzie who plays her younger daughter, Sherre.

Where does it stumble? It might sound harsh given the subject matter, but Lost Girls would work better as a Netflix featurette rather than a full-fledged crime drama, failing to bring anything new or fresh to the genre.

Release date TBC 

 

Worth skipping: 

The Last Thing He Wanted

What is it? Dee Ree’s extremely convoluted adaptation of Joan Didion’s novel about a reporter getting tangled up in some risky arms-dealing business.

Why is it bad? Its ridiculously twisted plot is hard to follow, while the Sin City-style voice-overs make you want to crawl under your chair. Anne Hathaway gives it her all as the tough-as-nails journo Elena, but even her sunglasses-and-chain-smoking swagger can’t save this messy palaver.

Any redeeming qualities? Willem Dafoe.

Release date TBC 

 

Nine Days

What is it? A self-important fantasy-drama about the meaning of life and mortality, that wants to be a Wim Wenders film when it grows up.

Why is it bad? Remember talking to half-inebriated philosophy students at university parties? It’s that. For 124 minutes.

Any redeeming qualities? Some admittedly clever use of music instruments and themes to carry the story.

Release date TBC 

 

Read more: The best films from 2019

Read more: 8 Best films about lighthouses 

 

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