14 Sundance Movies That Could Be The Year's Breakout Hits

A Lizzie Borden biopic, a Laura Dern vehicle and a handful of films about race in America are among our most anticipated.
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

As awards season throttles forward, affixing critics’ attention to the best of the best of last year’s movies, the Sundance Film Festival is looking ahead.

Yes, the breakout movies of 2018 are already upon us.

HuffPost is on the ground in snowy Park City, Utah, for a week’s worth of film screenings ― from indie gems like Chloë Sevigny’s Lizzie Borden biopic and Peter Dinklage and Elle Fanning’s apocalyptic survival drama to lead-actress vehicles for Laura Dern and Maggie Gyllenhaal to adaptations of the popular novels Monster and Juliet, Naked.

In an honor of a new year, and a new slate of cinematic must-sees, here’s a sampling of the films you’ll probably hear about in the months to follow. Sorry if you’re still prepping yourself for the Oscars, but this year’s breakout hits are calling your name.

Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Take my soul, “Lizzie.” I’m trying my damnedest not to get my hopes up for this movie, but it’s pretty much everything I live for. The forever under-appreciated Chloë Sevigny plays alleged ax murderer Lizzie Borden in a biopic that finds her making sweet lesbian love to Kristen Stewart, one of our finest working actresses. Stewart plays Borden’s maid, and they’re joined by “Gone Girl” standout Kim Dickens and eternal MVP Denis O’Hare. Going off of director Craig William Macneill’s debut feature, “The Boy,” I’m expecting a delicious psychodrama with shades of “Black Swan,” “Persona,” “The Bad Seed” and … oh, I don’t know, just pray it’s excellent, won’t you? — Matthew Jacobs
Courtesy of Sundance Institute
"Hamilton" standout Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal wrote and star in this story about two friends growing up, and growing apart, in gentrified Oakland, California. When Collin (Diggs) seemingly finds a new lease on life after finishing probation for a prior arrest, Miles (Casal) is still mixed up in in his old ways, leading the duo's bond to spiral out of control. — Leigh Blickley
"The Tale"
Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Get ready for another big year for Laura Dern. Arriving in time to double as commentary about the power dynamics unfolding in Hollywood and beyond, “The Tale” concerns a successful journalist re-exploring the sexual triangle she had with two adult coaches at age 13. Some 40 years later, the affair she once considered loving and harmless assumes a harsher context. If I had to guess, this will be one of the most chattered-about movies at Sundance, both as a tour de force for Dern (and Ellen Burstyn, who plays her mother) and because of the #MeToo movement that’s prompted many to reconsider what constitutes consensual romance. “The Tale” marks the first fiction feature from Jennifer Fox, who directed the documentaries “Beirut: The Last Home Movie” and “My Reincarnation.” — MJ
Courtesy of Sundance Institute
In "Monster," Kelvin Harrison Jr. plays Steve Harmon, a 17-year-old honors student and aspiring filmmaker who is wrongly accused of acting as a lookout in a lethal robbery. Steve and his lawyer must find a way to prove his innocence, although being a young black man inside a system stacked against you is never fair or easy. Jeffrey Wright, Jennifer Hudson and Jennifer Ehle co-star in this tense courtroom drama by “Taylor vs. Treadmill" Apple campaign director Anthony Mandler. -- LB
Courtesy of Sundance Institute
The premise of “Tyrel” recalls “Get Out” — a black man (Jason Mitchell) feels tensions mounting during a weekend away with only white friends — but we’re not expecting the same crowd-pleasing genre fare that Jordan Peele delivered last year. Chilean director Sebastián Silva is an eccentric at heart, and his movies (“The Maid,” “Crystal Fairy,” “Nasty Baby”) tend to take dark detours that start weird and become weirder. What does this mean for “Tyrel”? TBD, but we’re stoked about the possibilities, especially since the cast includes Christopher Abbott, Caleb Landry Jones, Michael Cera and Ann Dowd. — MJ
"I Think We're Alone Now"
Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Elle Fanning and Peter Dinklage appear in this post-apocalyptic, sci-fi dramedy by "Handmaid's Tale" director Reed Morano and screenwriter Mike Makowsky. "I Think We're Alone Now" follows small-town dweller Del (Dinklage) and his mundane life after the entire human race is wiped out. That is, until he stumbles upon fellow living person Grace (Fanning), who turns his quiet lifestyle upside down. — LB
"Sorry to Bother You"
Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Take a minute to let this movie’s credentials soak in. Your fantasy boyfriend Lakeith Stanfield plays a self-effacing telemarketer who suddenly climbs the corporate ranks. His artist girlfriend (Tessa Thompson!) is skeptical, but his cocaine-happy boss (Armie Hammer!) takes a liking to him, and that’s when things get wild. “Sorry to Bother You” is socially conscious rapper Boots Riley’s directorial debut. Riley composed the music with Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards fame, so expect a coked-out Armie Hammer in whimsical soundtrack form. Those are some credentials. — MJ
"The Kindergarten Teacher"
Courtesy of Sundance Institute
It’s about time for Maggie Gyllenhaal to win an Oscar, don’t you think? Her first movie in four years, “The Kindergarten Teacher,” a reimagining of a lauded 2014 Israeli film, could be Gyllenhaal’s awards bid this time next year. She plays a spiritless Staten Island schoolteacher who springs to life upon discovering a 5-year-old poetry prodigy. But her obsession with helping this kid realize his talents borders on the extreme, which will hopefully elevate this movie beyond the typical self-discovery stories for which Sundance is notorious. It's writer-director Sara Colangelo’s second feature to premiere at the festival, following the gritty drama “Little Accidents." — MJ
Courtesy of Sundance Institute
After taking a few months off following the birth of her daughter, Keira Knightley returns in a historical drama centering on the legendary French novelist Colette, known for Gigi and the Claudine novels. Co-written and co-directed by Wash Westmoreland and his late husband, Richard Glatzer ("Still Alice," "Quinceañera"), "Colette" is a timely piece analyzing the career of a provocative writer who wants to reclaim her literary voice after her husband Willy (Dominic West) takes credit for her work in turn-of-the-century Paris. — LB
Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Following his performance in "Mudbound," Garrett Hedlund stars in Andrew Heckler's cinematic examination of Neo-Confederate hatred in 1996 South Carolina. Reserved Mike Burden (Hedlund) is rising through the ranks of the Ku Klux Klan under toxic leader Tom Griffin (Tom Wilkinson) when he falls for a single mother Judy (Andrea Riseborough) who stirs his social and emotional outlook on life. He soon befriends the hopeful Reverend Kennedy (Forest Whitaker) and is given a shot at redemption. — LB
"Private Life"
Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Tamara Jenkins hasn’t made a movie since 2007, which is a big part of why we’re amped about “Private Life.” The “Slums of Beverly Hills” and “The Savages” director has a knack for dramedies about contentious human connections, and this outing seems just as promising as her previous films. Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti play a couple whose struggle to get pregnant is pushing them further apart — until a possible solution to their fertility hurdle emerges. Jenkins finds the soft spots in tough conditions, and with a supporting cast that includes Molly Shannon, John Carroll Lynch and “Godless” breakout Kayli Carter, we’re ready for a perfect storm of a marriage dramedy. — MJ
"Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot"
Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Real-life lovers Joaquin Pheonix and Rooney Mara will share the screen twice this year: in “Mary Magdelene” and in Gus Van Sant’s “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot.” The latter is based on the life of Portland cartoonist John Callahan, who spends his days in a wheelchair after waking up from a dramatic car accident. But Callahan turns his turmoil into an absurdist joy, illustrating macabre portraits depicting physical deformities. Van Sant last directed Phoenix in 1995’s “To Die For,” and their new collaboration provides a welcome reunion for the Oscar-nominated filmmaker and the enigmatic actor. — MJ
"A Kid Like Jake"
Courtesy of Sundance Institute
From "Transparent" and "This Is Us" director Silas Howard comes "A Kid Like Jake," starring Claire Danes and Jim Parsons as parents who come to terms with their 4-year-old Jake's identity while applying to picky private kindergartens in New York City. Although Jake’s love of dresses and fairy tales never stood out to them before, his interests lead Jake to act out in school, leaving his parents fighting to support him and one another. — LB
"Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind"
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This revealing documentary features never-before-seen archival footage of a comedic legend. Directed by Marina Zenovich, "Come Inside My Mind" is set to give viewers a glimpse into the late Robin Williams' one-of-a-kind energy and the creativity that made him the genius entertainer audiences adored. — LB

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