15 Sundance Movies You'll Want To See This Year

It won't be hard: Several will bow on Netflix or Amazon.

Now that the Sundance Film Festival is in our rearview mirror, the 2016 movie calendar has a bit more focus. A few titles on the festival's lineup -- namely "Manchester by the Sea" and grand jury prize winner "The Birth of a Nation" -- could resurface in next year's Oscar race, while others will premiere within days. (Spike Lee's Michael Jackson documentary airs Friday on Showtime, and "Jim: The James Foley Story" hits HBO on Saturday.)

One thing is certain: This year's Sundance confirmed that film distribution is no longer a single-platform concept. Netflix and Amazon were the big spenders, nabbing streaming rights for a combined 12 high-profile releases. Yet Nate Parker reportedly turned down Netflix's $20 million "Birth of a Nation" offer in favor of Fox Searchlight's traditional theatrical strategy (to the record-setting tune of $17.5 million), perhaps considering the Oscar shutout and distribution contention that Netflix's first feature, "Beasts of No Nation," recently saw. Other A-list projects -- Ellen Page and Allison Janney's "Tallulah," Werner Herzog's new documentary and the Greta Gerwig dramedy "Wiener-Dog," among others -- had no problem committing to streaming services.

Will these unorthodox tactics pay off, or have filmmakers gunned too hard for the VOD era's ostensible dominance? We'll find out in the months to come. For now, here are 15 movies you'll hear a lot about this year, whether in a theater or from the comfort of your chill-worthy couch.

  • "Little Men"
    <i>Directed by Ira Sachs &bull; Written by Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias<br></i><i>Starring Greg Kinnear,&nbsp;Theo Taplit
    Directed by Ira Sachs • Written by Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias
    Starring Greg Kinnear, Theo Taplitz, Michael Barbieri, Jennifer Ehle, Paulina García and Talia Balsam 

    Five of Ira Sachs' six feature films have premiered at Sundance, including grand jury prize winner "Forty Shades of Blue" and the beloved "Love is Strange." An adept surveyor of the quiet facets of relationships, Sachs has turned his attention to two 13-year-old boys who find kinship while their parents reconcile a Brooklyn rent dispute. "Little Men" is a sweet digest on young friendship and the pliable paths life takes us down.
  • "The Birth of a Nation"
    <i>Written and directed by Nate Parker<br></i><i>Starring Nat Parker, Armie Hamer, Aja Naomi King, Penelope Ann Miller, Aunja
    Written and directed by Nate Parker
    Starring Nat Parker, Armie Hamer, Aja Naomi King, Penelope Ann Miller, Aunjanue Ellis, Jackie Earle Haley and Gabrielle Union

    After "The Birth of a Nation" earned three standing ovations at its premiere, Fox Searchlight paid $17.5 million -- the heftiest deal in Sundance history -- to secure distribution rights. It's not cynical to assume the ongoing conversations surrounding diversity in Hollywood bolstered the movie's reception. But that's not to take away from the stirring passion of Nate Parker's debut feature, which brings Nat Turner's 1831 slave rebellion to the big screen for the first time.
  • "Manchester by the Sea"
    <i>Written and directed by&nbsp;Kenneth Lonergan<br>Starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges, G
    Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan
    Starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges, Gretchen Mol and Tate Donovan

    "Manchester by the Sea" is the best movie this year's Sundance gave us, and Amazon took note via a $10 million price tag. Kenneth Lonergan's directorial follow-up to "You Can Count On Me" and "Margaret" is a display of grief and endurance, charting a reserved Boston handyman (Casey Affleck) caring for his nephew (Lucas Hedges, destined to be a star) after his brother (Kyle Chandler) dies. Lonergan has an eye for the quiet complexities of inner turmoil, but he also knows how to pepper his movies with the right splash of humor. You'll walk away from this movie feeling like you just witnessed a beautiful meditation. But what you really won't forget is Michelle Williams' bravura performance as Affleck's charged wife.
  • "Weiner"
    <i>Directed by&nbsp;Josh Kriegman and&nbsp;Elyse Steinberg</i><br><br>When the inevitable&nbsp;documentary detailing how the
    Directed by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg

    When the inevitable documentary detailing how the hell Donald Trump became an ascendant presidential candidate premieres at Sundance circa 2018, we'll hopefully say how much it reminds us of "Weiner." Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg first began chronicling Anthony Weiner's 2013 mayoral campaign in hopes of capturing a comeback story. Instead, they ran into another sexting scandal and a fiery defeat. The results are fascinating.
  • "Kiki"
    <i>Directed by&nbsp;Sara Jordeno</i><br><br>Twenty-five years ago, "Paris is Burning" scorched Sundance, winning one of the
    Directed by Sara Jordeno

    Twenty-five years ago, "Paris is Burning" scorched Sundance, winning one of the festival's grand jury prizes. "Kiki" revisits the queer voguing scene now that gay rights are no longer a subversive notion. For all its spunk, Sara Jordeno's documentary reminds us that no equality law ensures ostracized youth don't wind up destitute. The ones in "Kiki," at least, have battled their woes by way of the dance communities they call home. The movie is an ode to their resilience.
  • "Christine" and "Kate Plays Christine"
    <i>"Christine"&nbsp;directed by Antonio Campos &bull; Written by&nbsp;Craig Shilowich</i><br><i>Starring Rebecca Hall, Michae
    "Christine" directed by Antonio Campos • Written by Craig Shilowich
    Starring Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts, J. Smith-Cameron, Timothy Simons and Maria Dizzia

    "Kate Plays Christine" directed by Robert Greene

    For a meta double feature, try Antonio Campos' drama, "Christine," and Robert Greene's docudrama, "Kate Plays Christine." Both revolve around Christine Chubbuck, the Florida news reporter who shot herself on live TV in 1974 and has remained a media mystery ever since. Rebecca Hall is remarkably complex as Chubbock in "Christine," while "Kate Plays Christine" chronicles Kate Lyn Sheil ("House of Cards," "Listen Up Philip") researching Chubbuck for an upcoming role.
  • "Southside With You"
    <i>Written and directed by&nbsp;Richard Tanne<br>Starring&nbsp;Parker Sawyers,&nbsp;Tika Sumpter and Vanessa Bell Calloway</i
    Written and directed by Richard Tanne
    Starring Parker Sawyers, Tika Sumpter and Vanessa Bell Calloway

    Knowing Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson's first date ended prosperously doesn't distract from the sweetness of "Southside With You." Nor does the fact that Richard Tanne made a movie about a sitting president with distinct, often parodied mannerisms, yet still made the future Obamas' "Before Sunrise"-esque meeting feel like a story worth telling. This snapshot of the world's most famous couple, and the things they may have discussed when they went to see "Do the Right Thing" in 1989, is rendered all the more beguiling thanks to Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpter's performances.
  • "Captain Fantastic"
    <i>Written and directed by Matt Ross</i><br><i>Starring Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Samantha Isler, Kathryn Hahn, Frank L
    Written and directed by Matt Ross
    Starring Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Samantha Isler, Kathryn Hahn, Frank Langella, Ann Dowd and Steve Zahn

    That "Captain Fantastic" photo looks like quintessential offbeat Sundance fare. But Matt Ross' film is far more grounded than Viggo Mortensen's vermilion suit implies. Mortensen plays a bohemian father raising his six whip-smart kids in the woodlands of the Pacific Northwest, until circumstances require the clan to reassimilate with society. The sweet humor and world-weary awe of "Captain Fantastic" earned a standing ovation at its premiere.
  • "Sing Street"
    <i>Written and directed by John Carney<br>Starring&nbsp;Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Jack Reynor, Aidan Gillen and Maria
    Written and directed by John Carney
    Starring Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Jack Reynor, Aidan Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy

    "Once" and "Begin Again" director John Carney made another toe-tapping gem in "Sing Street," his latest musical about people forming a band. This time, a 15-year-old boy revs up his musical aspirations to impress a girl. Set in 1985, "Sing Street" is the Duran Duran devotion you always wanted to have stuck in your head.
  • "Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You"
    <i>Directed by&nbsp;Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady</i><br><br>There's an old saying that to become a legend one must become th
    Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady

    There's an old saying that to become a legend one must become the subject of a rote documentary. Or there should be, at least. Thankfully, Norman Lear earned his legend card long ago, and Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady's movie is far from rote. Instead, it's a stirring portrait of the childhood and career of TV's most influential sitcom master. "Just Another Version of You" will open theatrically in June, before premiering on PBS and Netflix this fall.
  • "Under the Shadow"
    <i>Written and directed by&nbsp;Babak Anvari</i><br><i>Starring&nbsp;Narges Rashidi,&nbsp;Avin Manshadi,&nbsp;Bobby Naderi, R
    Written and directed by Babak Anvari
    Starring Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi, Ray Haratian and Arash Marandi

    Festivalgoers instantly declared "Under the Shadow" this year's "The Babadook." The debut feature from writer/director Babak Anvari, this 1980s-set Iranian horror flick curdles around a mother and daughter coping with a war-torn country and a home invaded by supernatural evil. "Shadow" is one of several Sundance movies that Netflix snatched up, including the Ellen Page/Allison Janney two-hander "Tallulah" and the Paul Rudd vehicle "The Fundamentals of Caring." XYZ Films and Vertical Entertainment will also release the movie theatrically and across other digital platforms.
  • "Love & Friendship"
    <i>Written and directed by Whit Stillman<br>Starring Kate Beckinsale, Xavier Samuel,&nbsp;Chlo&euml; Sevigny, Stephen Fry, Em
    Written and directed by Whit Stillman
    Starring Kate Beckinsale, Xavier Samuel, Chloë Sevigny, Stephen Fry, Emma Greenwell and Morfydd Clark

    "Love & Friendship" scored a coveted Saturday night Sundance premiere -- a strange choice for a festival not known for lush period pieces. In Whit Stillman's hands, the adaptation of Jane Austen's lesser-known Lady Susan feels entirely modern. Reuniting his "Last Days of Disco" co-stars, Kate Beckinsale and Chloë Sevigny, Stillman has made a biting brunch confection about a widow seeking suitable marriages for herself and her daughter. "Love & Friendship" will air on Amazon later this year, with a theatrical release also planned via Roadside Attractions.
  • "Morris from America"
    <i>Written and directed by&nbsp;Chad Hartigan<br>Starring Markees Christmas, Craig Robinson, Carla Juri and&nbsp;Lina Keller<
    Written and directed by Chad Hartigan
    Starring Markees Christmas, Craig Robinson, Carla Juri and Lina Keller

    "Morris from America" made off with two Sundance prizes and a distribution deal courtesy of A24, the indie powerhouse du jour. One of those accolades went to Craig Robinson, who gives a career-best performance as a widowed soccer coach raising his aspiring-rapper son (Markees Christmas, a delight) in Germany. The other went to Chad Hartigan, who wrote a charming coming-of-age script about discovering your own tempo when everything seems alien.
  • "Swiss Army Man"
    <i>Written and directed by&nbsp;Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert<br>Starring Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe and Mary Elizabeth Wins
    Written and directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
    Starring Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe and Mary Elizabeth Winstead

    If you've heard buzz about any Sundance movie other than "Birth of a Nation," it was probably "Swiss Army Man." You know, that's the one with Daniel Radcliffe as a farting corpse who helps a cuckoo Paul Dano find his way home. It's "Cast Away" for the smartphone era, perhaps as though Michel Gondry had rebooted "Weekend at Bernie's" with a little Hitchcock for added flavor. Some thought it was wild and inventive, others thought it was wild and insufferable. Find out for yourself when A24 releases "Swiss Army Man" this summer. The filmmakers, who go by The Daniels, won Sundance's directing prize, and there's no denying that Dano and Radcliffe commit to these bizarre roles -- and appear to have had a blast while doing it.

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