Every January, the Sundance Film Festival brings the newest, most innovative indie films to cinema buffs around the world. And this year didn’t disappoint!
The festival was held online for the second year in a row and included a full roster of brilliant films across a range of genres. We’ve rounded up eight that you’ll want to catch when you can.
A supernatural horror, Nanny tells the story of Aisha (Anna Diop), a Senegalese immigrant, who leaves behind her son, Lamine, to find work in America. She picks up a job as a nanny for the daughter of a wealthy couple and looks forward to earning a steady paycheck so her son can join her. Alas, Aisha soon realises something isn’t right… she becomes a pawn in the couple’s sham of a marriage and begins to fall victim to disturbing dreams, coupled with a supernatural presence in reality. Nanny bagged the U.S. Grand Jury Prize in the Dramatic competition and is the haunting debut of writer/director Nikyatu Jusu.
2. Palm Trees and Power Lines
Written and directed by Jamie Dack, Palm Trees and Power Lines won the Directing Award for U.S. Dramatic. The film follows a disconnected 17-year-old girl, Lea (Lily McInerny), as she embarks on a romance with Tom (Jonathan Tucker), who’s double her age. This is an uncomfortably honest, coming-of-age tale that captures the power balance and predatory manipulation that occurs between the two characters. It explores adolescent vulnerability and how that can be exploited. You won’t watch this movie without flinching…
3. Cha Cha Real Smooth
Cha Cha Real Smooth won the Audience Award for U.S. Dramatic. This film is about 22-year-old Andrew, fresh out of college and directionless, falling in love with a thirty-something divorcee, Domino, who’s mum to an autistic child. These are two soul mates helping each other get strong for their different life stages. A sweet, funny and emotionally honest drama starring Cooper Raiff (who also wrote, directed and produced the film) and Dakota Johnson.
4. Am I OK?
Dakota Johnson also appears as Lucy in Am I OK?, a charming and comedic story about two women going through self-discovery and personal awakening. Lucy and Jane (Sonoya Mizuno) are long-time BFFs, somewhat upended by Lucy’s revelation that she’s going through an identity crisis and is questioning her sexuality. This isn’t your typical coming-of-age story; it’s about someone in their thirties exploring the moment when they decide to become their true authentic self and the impact this has on their life and friendships. Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne directed the film.
Fresh (directed by Mimi Cave) is a nail-biting thriller/romance/comedy that looks at the anxieties and perils women face within the modern dating scene. Frustrated by dating apps and subsequent lame dates, Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) is excited to make a real connection with clean-cut cosmetic surgeon Steve (Sebastian Stan) at the supermarket. After a promising date, she accepts Steve’s invitation for a weekend getaway, where she finds out that Steve isn’t the sweet guy he made himself out to be.
Bill Nighy stars in a British re-imagining of Akira Kurosawa’s deeply-moving Japanese film ‘Ikiru’ (To Live). Oliver Hermanus’ version, Living, is set in 1950s London, where the narrative follows Mr Williams, a buttoned-up civil servant diagnosed with terminal cancer. He belatedly finds joy in his life after being inspired by his former colleague, Margaret (Aimee Lou Wood).
7. God’s Country
In this modern-day neo-Western thriller directed by Julian Higgins, recently bereaved college professor Sandra (Thandiwe Newton) lives and teaches in a small Western town. She’s spent years trying to please her late mother while navigating the power dynamics at work. The only black woman for miles around, Sandra also has to deal with racism and sexism wherever she goes. Sandra’s self-restraint and emotional limits start to be tested by an encounter with two hunters that trespass on her property. God’s Country raises questions about the grieving process, boundaries, community, inclusion and more.
8. After Yang
Jake (Colin Farrell) and Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) are parents to their adopted Chinese daughter, and the owners of a lifelike Android called Yang. The droid was purchased as a companion for their daughter, but it’s like the loss of a sibling when it breaks down. Jake strives to repair Yang and then finds out the robot was actually recording memories. Directed by Kogonada, After Yang is a story about creating meaning and experiencing loss while touching on other elements such as transracial adoption and data privacy.
Looking for more great films to add to your watchlist? Here’s the complete list of award winners from the Sundance Film Festival. Also, check out our round-up of the best screenings at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival if you missed it first time around.