14 Movies That Could Stir Up Buzz At The 2016 Sundance Film Festival

Will a new "Boyhood" emerge from this year's lineup?

01/20/2016 10:34 am ET | Updated Jan 21, 2016
Sundance

Movie buffs and skiing aficionados alike will descend upon Park City, Utah, on Thursday for the start of the Sundance Film Festival. In search of the gems that carry critical torches all the way though next year's Oscar race, á la "Brooklyn" and "Boyhood," festival-goers will spend 11 days in the company of independent movies, A-list stars and snow-drenched mountains.

It's not a bad way to usher in the 2016 movie calendar, and while you're still catching up on the newly crowned Oscar nominees, The Huffington Post will provide coverage of many of the premieres that we'll be discussing this time next year. This is, after all, the festival that gave us "Reservoir Dogs," "The Usual Suspects," "Little Miss Sunshine" and "(500) Days of Summer."

In the meantime, we've compiled a list of 14 narrative films that are high on our radar. Later this week, we'll spotlight the many documentaries that will spark buzz at the festival, along with live coverage from Park City. For now, we're looking forward to movies about cute dogs, slave rebellions and Daniel Radcliffe portraying a corpse.

  • "Other People"
    Sundance
  • Written and directed by Chris Kelly • Starring Jesse Plemons, Molly Shannon, Maude Apatow, Bradley Whitford, Zach Woods, June Squibb and Retta

    Sundance's opening-night selections are hit and miss: In 2014, "Whiplash" drummed its way to a Best Picture nomination, while last year's raunchy comedy "The Bronze" has yet to hit theaters. This year's kickoff, "Other People," stars Jesse Plemons as an analogue of "SNL" and "Broad City" writer Chris Kelly, who is making his directorial debut with the autobiographical story of a struggling comedy writer who must contend with a breakup, his judgmental father and caring for his terminally ill mother. -- MJ
  • "Tallulah"
    Sundance
  • Written and directed by Sian Heder • Starring Ellen Page, Allison Janney, Uzo Aduba, Zachary Quinto and Tammy Blanchard

    Netflix snatched up pricey distribution rights for "Tallulah" a week before Sundance began, and we can see why. "Orange Is the New Black" writer Sian Heder's feature-film debut reunites "Juno" co-stars Ellen Page and Allison Janney. Page plays a drifter who assumes care for a negligent Beverly Hills housewife's toddler, with Janney playing a woman who claims to be the child's grandmother. Netflix hasn't announced a release date yet, but put "Tallulah" on your chill radar anyway. -- MJ
  • "Manchester by the Sea"
    Sundance
  • Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan • Starring Casey Affleck, Kyle Chandler and Michelle Williams

    With a compelling story filled out by an all-star cast, "Manchester by the Sea" is set to be a Sundance standout. The film follows Boston handyman Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), who returns to his hometown north of the city following his brother's death. While facing a life without his only sibling is seemingly hard enough, Lee is named the guardian of his brother's 16-year-old son, leading to a period of grief and transformation. -- LB
  • "Certain Women"
    Sundance
  • Written and directed by Kelly Reichardt • Starring Michelle Williams, Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Jared Harris and Lily Gladstone

    More than two decades after her debut film, "River of Grass," was nominated for Sundance's Grand Jury Prize, Kelly Reichardt returns to the festival with her third collaboration with Michelle Williams, following "Wendy and Lucy" and "Meek's Cutoff." Williams joins Kristen Stewart and Laura Dern in "Certain Women," an adaptation of Maile Meloy's short-story collections Half in Love and Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It. They play Montana women whose lives intersect. Sony acquired distribution rights immediately after the movie wrapped last April, so this could be one of Sundance's breakouts. -- MJ
  • "The Birth of a Nation"
    Sundance
  • Written and directed by Nate Parker • Starring Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Aja Naomi King, Gabrielle Union, Aunjanue Ellis, Penelope Ann Miller and Jackie Earle Haley 

    If you think rebooting an infamously racist Civil War epic is an odd undertaking, we can't say we disagree. But "Beyond the Lights" and "Non-Stop" star Nate Parker's directorial debut only shares an ironic title with 1915's "The Birth of a Nation." This version focuses on the real story of Nat Turner, a former slave who led a violent uprising in 1830s Virginia. -- MJ
  • "The Hollars"
    Sundance
  • Directed by John Krasinski • Written by Jim Strouse • Starring John Krasinski, Anna Kendrick, Margo Martindale, Richard Jenkins, Sharlto Copley and Charlie Day

    John Krasinski steps out with his second directorial effort, "The Hollars," which he produced and stars in. In the film, Krasinski plays a graphic novelist who is anxiously awaiting the birth of his baby with girlfriend (Anna Kendrick). But when his mother (Margo Martindale) is diagnosed with a brain tumor, John heads home to be with his family, and begins to contemplate the life he left behind. -- LB
  • "Swiss Amy Man"
    Sundance
  • Written and directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert • Starring Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe and Mary Elizabeth Winstead

    You've been waiting to see Daniel Radcliffe portray a dead body, right? Here's your chance: In "Swiss Army Man," he stars as a corpse that washes ashore while a hopeless man (Paul Dano) is stranded in the wilderness. Said man realizes this deceased Harry Potter lookalike (our words, not his) is essential to his quest to return home to his girlfriend. Think "Cast Away" meets Hitchcock's "The Trouble with Harry," except probably far more bizarre. -- MJ
  • "Wiener-Dog"
    Sundance
  • Written and directed by Todd Solondz  Starring Greta Gerwig, Danny DeVito, Ellen Burstyn, Kieran Culkin, Zosia Mamet, Julie Delpy and Tracy Letts

    Beware, films of Sundance: "Wiener-Dog" already has our vote for the festival's most charming movie, sight-unseen. It chronicles a dachshund that inspires the lives of several individuals, including Dawn Wiener, the ridiculed protagonist of Todd Solondz's Grand Jury Prize winner "Welcome to the Dollhouse." Greta Gerwig, who is joined by an all-star cast, plays adult Dawn. Solondz has a rich history with Sundance, with "Dollhouse" jump-starting his career before festival rejected his second feature, 1998's "Happiness," because of its tough depiction of pedophilia. We expect "Wiener-Dog" will skip the controversy in favor of joyful tears. -- MJ
  • "Christine"
    Sundance
  • Directed by Antonio Campos • Written by Craig Shilowich  • Starring Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, Maria Dizzia, Tracy Letts and J. Smith-Cameron

     "Christine" is one of the most buzzed about films to hit Sundance this year. The Antonio Campos-helmed project is based on the true story of Christine Chubbuck, the ambitious but depressed Florida newscaster who infamously shot herself on live television in 1974. Starring Rebecca Hall as Christine, the movie profiles the life of a woman as she balances self-doubt with the demands of her job. -- LB
  • "The Fundamentals of Caring"
    Sundance
  • Written and directed by Rob Burnett • Starring Paul Rudd, Selena Gomez and Craig Roberts

    Written and directed by "Late Show with David Letterman" alum Rob Burnett, "The Fundamentals of Caring" revolves around Ben (Paul Rudd), who becomes a caregiver to earn money after suffering a tragedy. He bonds with his first client, Trevor (Craig Roberts), a hilarious 18-year-old with muscular dystrophy, and they take a road trip through the western states, discovering things about themselves along the way. Good news for this project already: According to The Hollywood Reporter, Netflix is in negotiations to buy the SVOD rights to the film. -- LB
  • "Love and Friendship"
    Sundance
  • Written and directed by Whit Stillman • Starring Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny, Xavier Samuel, Stephen Fry and Emma Greenwell

    Whit Stillman's career took off after his debut film, "Metropolitan," premiered at Sundance in 1990. In that movie, characters only debated Jane Austen's work -- here, they're starring in it. "Love and Friendship" is an adaptation of Austen's 1871 epistolary Lady Susan, a lesser-known story that bypasses some of the pre-Victorian propriety seen in her other novels. Amazon owns distribution rights, with a theatrical release also expected later this year. -- MJ
  • "Goat"
    Sundance
  • Written by David Gordon Green  Directed by Andrew Neel  Starring Nick Jonas, Ben Schnetzer, Virginia Gardner, Chase Crawford, Danny Flaherty and Austin Lyon

    Based on Brad Land's 2005 memoir, "Goat" offers a portrait of "brotherhood" gone wrong in its depiction of a 19-year-old college student who pledges his brother's fraternity and is brutally hazed. Sundance touts the film as “part neorealism, part horror film,” which is a description we can get behind, especially when it involves Nick Jonas in a key role. To top it off, James Franco produced the movie. -- MJ
  • "Complete Unknown"
    Sundance
  • Directed by Joshua Marston • Written by Joshua Marston and Julian Sheppard • Starring Rachel Weisz, Michael Shannon, Kathy Bates, Danny Glover and Michael Chemus

    "Complete Unknown" is a fascinating character study that will surely garner some good reviews for Rachel Weisz and Michael Shannon. The film follows Tom (Shannon), who is reunited with an old flame (Weisz) -- a woman who often changes identities -- while hosting a dinner party with his wife. What ensues is a deep dive into self-reinvention, and how change can be a good or bad thing. -- LB
  • "Yoga Hosers"
    Sundance
  • Written and directed by Kevin Smith • Starring Lily-Rose Depp, Harley Quinn Smith, Johnny Depp, Justin Long, Austin Butler and Tyler Posey

    This one's definitely for the Instagram age. In Kevin Smith's latest comedy-horror flick, his daughter, Harley, and Johnny Depp's daughter, Lily-Rose, star as BFFs, both named Colleen. The 15-year-old girls go to school together, do yoga together, play in a band together, and work together at a boring convenience store. But their lives become a little less mundane after an ancient evil rises from beneath Canada’s crust and releases an army of monsters, ruining their plans to attend a senior party with two older guys. Holy s**t! -- LB

The Sundance Film Festival is Jan. 21-31. See the full lineup here.

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