Sundance: The Best Fest of the Rest


There is no festival like the Sundance Film Festival! I’ve been to several film festivals across the world and they all pale in comparison to the energy, quality and enjoyment experienced in the mountains of Park City, Utah.

The 2019 edition of Robert Redford’s darling of a film festival will be the ninth time I trek into the Ski town outside of Salt Lake City. The insane experiences I have had during the 10-day festival rank among the greatest moments of my life. This includes doing shots of Patron with Lil Jon and fighting over a girl with the Allstate Guy/President Palmer (We both got her number, but I felt like the real winner.)

But the fact that a young man like me from a suburb of Kansas City can have these experiences is why Sundance is the greatest. My favorite thing about Sundance is everyone is there for the same reason: They love movies.

Park City's Main Street

I have traveled to film festivals in Toronto, Los Angeles, and New York City and it’s an incredibly different atmosphere and feeling. At Sundance it feels like a giant conference of filmmakers, film lovers and stars. When you walk around and talk to everyone you get a sense that everyone is living out a sort of dream. For the actors and filmmakers, they are all thrilled to have their film at Sundance: the birthplace of some of the world’s greatest filmmakers like Darren Aronofsky, Quinten Tarantino, Kevin Smith, and many many others.

Filmmakers submit their films to Sundance to have the honor of screening there. So basically the entire festival is a big ol’ party to celebrate film and everyone there. At a festival like TIFF in Toronto, filmmakers submit their films to get a giant distributor or Academy Awards buzz, so there’s a sort of elitist hierarchy. This doesn’t exist at Sundance. Everyone attending’s dream is already achieved and what better way to celebrate than drinking 45 free Stella Artois’ over 7 days.

Egyptian Theater

It’s also a place of incredible inspiration. Over the past nine festivals, I have seen some incredibly, unforgettable films such as Boyhood, Whiplash, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Swiss Army Man. Every year as the fest concludes I feel like going home and writing the next Reservoir Dogs. Unfortunately, every time I sit at my computer I get distracted by a random top 10 list of How to Make Leftover Pizza Not So Greasy and all of my Sundance momentum gets halted.

But, lucky for me it is 2019 and a new slate of films and directors are primed and ready to steal my heart and mind for 10 days in Park City, Utah. When the film festival lineup came out about a month ago, I initially was a little underwhelmed and taken by surprise. In the past few years, Sundance has slightly evolved into a who’s who assortment of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Last year’s lineup saw huge names like Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Rudd, Colin Firth, Robert Pattinson, Jon Hamm, Nicolas Cage, Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, and more. While looking at this lineup, I found Gyllenhaal and Jon Hamm again but that’s about where the massive names stop. My gut told me to be a bit disappointed, but then I took a second and realized that this is an incredibly exciting thing. Sundance is attempting to go back to its roots.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo in Netflix's Velvet Buzzsaw set to premiere at Sundance

The biggest focus of this year’s Sundance is inclusion. Over half of the directors in the headlining U.S. Dramatic Competition are women. In total, 43% of the directors of all qualifying films are women, the largest in Sundance history. People of color comprise 39% of the directors and 23 percent identify as LGBQTIA. What this means is fresh faces, fresh voices, and fresh stories.

Will 2019 bring another toast with a famous rapper? Maybe. Will I compete with a Hollywood star over a girl? Definitely not, I’m engaged now (sorry, ladies) But will it offer unlimited amounts of powerful and moving films? 100 percent yes!

Here are the top 3 films I am most looking forward to seeing at this year’s Sundance.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

This definitely will not be confused as High School Musical 4. Zac Efron will star as Ted Bundy in a dramatic retelling of his serial killing spree but told through the perspective of his girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer, played by Lily Collins.

The casting of Efron, I love. Efron has very sneakily done an amazing job of distancing himself from a Disney kid, into a respectable actor with ridiculously good looking abs. But this is definitely outside his comfort zone. The director, Joe Berlinger, just has a history of directing documentaries which could bring an air of realism to this film that might make it hard to watch and even more effective. This definitely has all the makings of a bust out hit.

Pete Davidson in Big Time Adolescence

Big Time Adolescence

There is something I call the Grand Slam of Sundance. It is when a film doesn’t just include one of the four pillars of Sundance films, but actually all four. What are those pillars you ask?

  • Suicide
  • Cancer
  • Substance Abuse
  • Animal Abuse

I would say there are about five films a year that have all four of these. So when there is a film that comes around that has the potential to not have any of these pillars I immediately get excited.

This year, my guess is Big Time Adolescence. The film stars Pete Davidson — yes, that Pete Davidson — in a coming of age film about a teenage kid who falls under the guidance of a high school dropout (I am trying so hard not to make an Ariana Grande reference here).

I love coming of age stories and I secretly think Davidson has the potential to be outstanding in this film. His natural charisma and charm earned him SNL, and landed him a fiancé like Grande, so that has to translate to film, right? Damn it… I tried.

Honey Boy

Honey Boy

Ok, I have no idea if this film is going to be any good, but it is going to be fascinating. Let me list the reasons why this has the potential to be insane… or amazing.

  1. It stars Shia Lebouf 
  2. It is written by Shia Lebouf 
  3. When you visit director Alma Har’el’s website it’s a picture of her face that begins to melt off 
  4. It stars Lucas Hedges, who only stars in great movies 
  5. It’s about a rodeo clown


Honorable Mentions

Viola Davis and Allison Janney in Troop Zero

Troop Zero-

Allison Janney and Viola Davis in a comedy about a girl. Davis in a humorous role is something I will always watch.

Sunlit Night-

A romantic film about a love connection between an American and a Russian immigrant set in Norway… sounds cliché and boring, but it stars Jenny Slate and Zach Galifianakis. Well, now I have to see it!

The Report-

Jon Hamm, Adam Driver, True Story, Crime Investigation. Oh yeah!

After the Wedding-

A remake of a Foreign Language Academy Award nominee… starring Michelle Williams, Julianne Moore, and Billy Crudup. This might be Oscar Awards bait come next year!

Check back starting Thursday, January 22 for daily recaps and reviews of the films of the fest!