Memo to Distributors: Buy These 2018 Sundance Film Festival Movies

Here are the standouts from this year’s festival that still deserve to find homes.

By most estimations, this year’s Sundance was not a big marketplace. While Neon picked up the midnight movie “Assassination Nation” for $10 million, and breakouts like “Sorry to Bother You” (Annapurna), “Puzzle” (Sony Pictures Classics) and “Colette” (Bleecker Street) are all coming to theaters at some point, a number of highlights from this year’s program ended it without homes. Of course, it goes without saying that obvious commercial plays like “Juliet, Naked” and star-driven dramas like “Wildlife,” both of which didn’t end Sundance with distribution plans in place, will eventually find them. But they aren’t alone. As the dealmakers continue to sift through their options, here are the festival standouts we’d like to see at the top of every buyer’s list.

“306 Hollywood”

A film still from <i>306 Hollywood</i> by Elan Bogarín and Jonathan Bogarín, an official selection of the NEXT program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Elan Bogarín and Jonathan Bogarín. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

“306 Hollywood”

Courtesy of Sundance Institute, photo by Elan Bogarín and Jonathan Bogarín

When people occupies the same household for decades, they tend to leave a lot of possessions in their wake. From this ordinary scenario, Elan and Jonathan Bogarin mine a very special cinematic experience. The sibling filmmakers treat their late grandmother’s home as the site of an archeological dig — literally defining it in those terms — digging through the random ephemera she accrued through multiple generations in search of a bigger picture. The movie’s whimsical approach to random objects (Band-Aids, pennies, old clothes) is just on the edge of Wes Anderson territory, but it applies the fetishization of objects to weave an intimate psychological profile, using old interviews with the late woman to explore how she lingered in a world of her own making. The movie’s blend of charm and philosophical inquiry makes it at once structurally daring and a total crowdpleaser, sure to find appreciative audiences who will see echoes of their own clutter-filled lives in its story. —EK

Sales Contact: Endeavor

“Blaze”

Benjamin Dickey Alia Shawkat BLAZE

“BLAZE”

Courtesy of Sundance Institute, photo by Steve Cosens.

Texan Ethan Hawke’s third narrative feature “Blaze” is an accomplished musical portrait of late country singer-songwriter Blaze Foley, played with sensitivity by Arkansas musician-turned-actor Ben Dickey. Writer-actress Sybil Rubin helped Hawke to adapt her memoir of her romance with Foley. Alia Shawkat plays Rubin with sexy authority while musician Charlie Sexton and character actor Josh Hamilton provide ace support. Hawke, who directed the documentary portrait of a pianist, ‘Seymour: An Introduction,” has supplied music for several movies including “Boyhood” and Sundance entry “Juliet, Naked,” which is also seeking a buyer. “Blaze” should play well on the arthouse circuit. —AT

Sales Contact: Cinetic

“Burden”

Garrett Hedlund appears in <i>Burden</i> by Andrew Heckler, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Michael Muller. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

Garrett Hedlund in “Burden”

Courtesy of Sundance Institute, photo by Michael Muller

Andrew Heckler’s decades-in-the-making look at the life of former KKK member Mike Burden features Garrett Hedlund in his best role ever. The actor responds to tough material with the kind of truly conflicted performance often missing from the redemption genre. This is a man in pain, but he’s also a man who has caused tremendous pain. The magic of “Burden” is that it marries those ideas, with Hedlund providing his most nuanced, lived-in performance yet. It’s a timely, rich film, but also the kind of thing that could put up quite a fight at next year’s Oscars, with Hedlund as its headline. —KE

Sales Contact: CAA, Endeavor, Good Universe

“Holiday”

Victoria Carmen Sonne in Holiday movie Isabella Eklöf's Holiday

“Holiday”

Sundance Institute/Jonas Lodahl

“Holiday” is already unsettling in its portrait of a young woman trapped by a cruel overlord, and then it arrives at a brutal, graphic rape scene more alarming than anything comparable in world cinema since “Irreversible.” No matter the extreme disgust at the center of this scene and the devastating circumstances surrounding it, Danish writer-director Isabella Eklof’s debut never feels like an empty provocation. This astonishing first feature depicts a world of superficial pleasures with such precision that even the people trapped in its confines can’t deny its appeal. As Sacha (Victoria Carmen Sonne) contends with being arm candy for slick gangster Michael (Lai Yde), she prances around a Turkish resort in search of finding a good time on her own. Instead, she creates more problems for herself and the people she encountered; however, as the movie barrels toward a gripping finale, it’s not entirely clear who has the upper hand. Eklof’s brutal storytelling isn’t for the feint of heart, but it’s never devoid of purpose. In the right hands, it could be quite the conversation-starter about the nature of abuse and power, and deserves a prominent spot at the table. —EK

Sales Contact: Heretic Outreach

“Inventing Tomorrow”

Fernando Miguel Sánchez Villalobos, Jose Manuel Elizade Esparaza and Jesús Alfonso Martínez Aranda appear in <i>Inventing Tomorrow</i> by Laura Nix, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by IQ 190 Productions. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

“Inventing Tomorrow”

Courtesy of Sundance Institute, photo by IQ 190 Productions

Among a rash of bleak Sundance documentaries, veteran documentary producer-writer-director Laura Nix’s environmental agit-prop “Inventing Tomorrow” offers much-needed hope that young science brainiacs are eager to save our planet. Nix (TIFF debut “The Yes Men Are Revolting”) followed two high school girls (from Indonesia and India) and two boys (from Hawaii and Mexico) who were presenting innovative environmental solutions at California’s Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). We see each of the kids interacting with their supportive families, gathering data and assembling their projects, and facing the daunting prospect of explaining and defending their research to the judges at the fair. Deputing in the U.S. Documentary competition, the movie left audiences crying and applauding. There is hope, people. —AT

Sales Contact: Submarine

“Mandy”

Nicolas Cage in "Mandy"

Nicolas Cage in “Mandy”

Sundance

Even before Nicholas Cage does a line of coke off a shard of broken glass in “Mandy,” the movie has entered batshit insane territory. Panos Cosmatos’ followup to his wacky debut “Beyond the Black Rainbow” is another stunning dose of psychedelia and derangement, this one folded into the constraints of a woodsy revenge thriller, but that’s mainly an excuse for Cage to unleash his most psychotic extremes. Cosmatos gives him plenty of opportunities in this hypnotic midnight movie, which veers from astonishing, expressionistic exchanges to gory mayhem without an iota of compromise. For years, Cage has swung wildly in search of gonzo material; at long last, he’s found a movie willing to match his wild intentions. Reports suggest a backstop deal involving the film’s producers have delayed its sale; here’s hoping someone figures out a way around that hurdle, because the world is clamoring for more crazy Cage. —EK

Sales Contact: CAA

“Madeline’s Madeline”

Helena Howard in “Madeline’s Madeline”

One of the boldest and most invigorating American films of the 21st century, Josephine Decker’s “Madeline’s Madeline” is an ecstatically disorienting experience that defines its terms right from the start and then obliterates any trace of traditional film language, achieving a cinematic aphasia that allows Decker to redraw the boundaries between the stories we tell and the people we tell them about. The story of a single mother Regina (the multi-talented Miranda July), her irrepressible teenage daughter Madeline (major newcomer Helena Howard), and the unspecified mental illness that drives a wedge between them when the latter joins an experimental theater troupe, this mesmeric tour de force claws at its premise with incredible precision, using. The result is an experimental movie with the emotional tug of a mainstream hit, a fragmented coming-of-age drama that explores the vast space between Jacques Rivette and Greta Gerwig in order to find something truly new and ineffably of its time. Decker’s masterpiece might not be the easiest sell in the world, but it’s far more accessible than its aesthetic might suggest, and it’s also a completely immersive theatrical experience. A small distributor would do well to show this one some love and let it become a word-of-mouth hit that people return to time and again. —DE

Sales Contact: Paradigm, Visit Films

“The Miseducation of Cameron Post”

“The Miseducation of Cameron Post”

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Winner of this year’s Grand Jury Prize, “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” is a humble, poignant, and extremely touching coming-of-age drama that unfolds like a seriocomic “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” set at a gay conversion camp for Christian teens circa 1993. Complete with Jennifer Ehle as an indomitable riff on Nurse Ratched, the movie shears Emily M. Danforth’s massive YA novel of the same name down to a sensitive film that cuts right to the heart of the matter. Played by am understated Chloë Grace Moretz, Cameron Post is an orphaned high school junior who develops some very biblical — and blessedly mutual — feelings for a girl she meets at Sunday school. But then she gets caught and shipped off to the woodsy and suppressive environs of God’s Promise. Directed by Desiree Akhavan, and similar in feel to “Short Term 12,” (though with much greater box office potential), this is a small movie, far too modest and knowing to surrender to melodrama or apply cosmetic fixes to deep wounds, but it beautifully articulates the need for young people to realize the validity of who they are, and even more beautifully crystalizes the moment when that starts to happen. In other words, it’s Mike Pence’s worst nightmare, which is reason enough to put it into theaters across America. It’s funny, it’s sensitive, and it’s desperately needed. —DE

Sales Contact: Endeavor, UTA, Elle Driver

“Nancy”

Andrea Riseborough appears in <i>NANCY</i> by Christina Choe, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Zoë White. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

Andrea Riseborough in “Nancy”

Sundance

Andrea Riseborough’s remarkable performance is the main attraction in this twisted and wholly satisfying psychological thriller, while filmmaker Christina Choe’s writing is as taut and incisive as it comes. The first-time feature filmmaker is all about delivering compelling details with a minimum of fuss — just one tossed-off comment from co-star Ann Dowd and a single rejection later from The Paris Review, and the status of Nancy’s nonexistent career is blindingly obvious. A trio of slapdash digital photos conveys years’ worth of Nancy’s wicked pathology and how she ensnares people in her lies. Risebourgh — who was at Sundance with four films — feels destined to break out this year, and a wily distributor could build huge buzz around her stunning performance in the film, while also getting on board with rising star Choe while there’s still time. —KE

Sales Contact: Endeavor

“On Her Shoulders”

“On Her Shoulders”

A 24-year-old Yazidi woman who escaped an ISIS genocide of her people, joined forces with Amal Clooney to take legal action against the terrorists, and then became the first person to ever brief the UN Security Council on the subject of human trafficking, Nadia Murad is a remarkable human being, and any distributor should be lucky to have a hand in telling her story. Lucky for them, Murad is now also the subject of a remarkable documentary. Far from a simple tribute, Alexandria Bombach’s “On Her Shoulders” offers a profound testament to Murad’s suffering, courage and unfathomable tenacity, but this deceptively straightforward portrait also recognizes that compassion has never been so competitive, or in such short supply. This isn’t just an issue film, it’s also an urgent character study about the burdens of loss, the need to be heard, and the difficulty of convincing people to listen. “On Her Shoulders” will still be relevant and vital stuff long after the Yazidi crisis has passed; unfortunately, that doesn’t look as though that’s going to happen any time soon. —DE

Sales Contact: UTA