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Even as the movie business continues to shift its models, the Sundance Film Festival remains a place where careers are born, Oscar dreams arise and top-dollar distribution deals are made. This year’s edition starts Thursday, Jan. 18, in Park City, Utah and runs through Jan. 28. Here are five movies we’re looking forward to that could make an impact.
‘Sorry to Bother You’
The rapper and activist Boots Riley, of the hip-hop act the Coup, is making his feature directorial debut with this trippy-looking movie set in an alternate present-day version of Oakland. The cast is great, with Lakeith Stanfield (“Atlanta”) starring as a telemarketer who makes a breakthrough to success at his company, Tessa Thompson (“Creed,” “Thor: Ragnarok”) as his artist/activist girlfriend and Armie Hammer as an orgy-hosting C.E.O. With a score by Tune-Yards and music performed by the Coup, “Sorry to Bother You” has the potential to sound as fun as it looks.
The director Ari Aster caused an internet stir with his 2011 short film “The Strange Thing About the Johnsons,” an eyebrow-raising family melodrama that played like a horror film, approaching a taboo subject from a different angle (a son who molests his father). Now Mr. Aster’s first feature is appearing in the midnight section of the festival, and it’s another creepy, family-focused story about a clan who must reckon with a dark fate after the death of a grandmother. Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne and Ann Dowd are part of the cast. Plus, A24 is already set to distribute, and its track record on releasing compelling films, including “The Florida Project” and “Lady Bird,” has been solid to say the least.
‘Leave No Trace’
It’s been eight years since the director Debra Granik showed her film “Winter’s Bone” at Sundance, which garnered acclaim for her and showcased a breakthrough performance by then little-known Jennifer Lawrence. Ms. Granik is back with this drama about a father (Ben Foster) and his teenage daughter (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) who have lived undetected in the Oregon woods until discovered. Could this be a breakout performance that propels Ms. McKenzie’s career to Lawrence-level heights? We’re thrilled to see.
As an actor, Paul Dano brings determination and specificity to his work. He feels like the kind of artist who could succeed with that determination behind the camera. That’s the hope here, as he directs Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal and the young actor Ed Oxenbould in this adaptation of Richard Ford’s novel. Set in 1960s Montana, the film tracks the changes in a family when the father leaves to fight a forest fire near the Canadian border. It seems like a compelling showcase for an always-impressive Ms. Mulligan and an opportunity for Mr. Dano to bring depth to this work.
‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’
Desiree Akhavan created a kinetic and clever comedy in “Appropriate Behavior,” which played at Sundance in 2014. The Times review called that film “alive,” with a screenplay “packed with smart remarks.” Her new movie is set in 1993 and features Chloë Grace Moretz as a small-town Montana high school student who is sent to conversion therapy when she is caught with another girl on prom night. Ms. Akhavan adapted the screenplay with Cecilia Frugiuele from the novel by Emily M. Danforth, and the project has the promise of more smart remarks and plenty of thought-provoking ones too.