When it comes to discovering nascent cinematic talent and the surprise hits of the year ahead, there is no bigger crucible than the Sundance Film Festival. It’s a cultural event that pushes huge names and new talent together, where a picture starring Shia LeBeouf appears alongside directorial debuts from people you’ve never heard of (yet).
Founded by Robert Redford in 1978 and rebranded Sundance (after one of Redford’s most iconic films, 1969’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) in the mid ’80s, the festival has been a launch pad for the careers of numerous film industry greats, from the Coen brothers (Blood Simple) and Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs) to Kevin Smith (Clerks), Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), and Darren Aronofsky (Pi).
Judging by the reviews pouring out of Sundance Film Festival 2019, this year will be no different. But to save you the bother of diving into every single Sundance review, we’ve filtered through them, emerging with the top five movies that are generating hype at Sundance 2019.
Director: Lulu Wang
Rapper and actor Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians) stars in Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, an observational humor-stacked picture that focuses on the bond between a grandmother and her granddaughter. A24 bought the movie for an estimated $6 million at Sundance, and The Atlantic is already tipping it for Oscar success.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Director: Joe Talbot
Joe Talbot’s debut feature has been hailed by Rolling Stone as a breakout Sundance highlight, describing the film as a reminder of why people go to the festival in the first place. Something of an ode to San Francisco, the narrative follows a young man searching for home in a city that seems to have left him behind. The Last Black Man in San Francisco will also be distributed by A24.
Director: Joanna Hogg
Starring Tilda Swinton and her daughter Honor Swinton-Byrne, The Souvenir is a film that Vanity Fair has dubbed Sundance 2019’s best movie. It’s a cinematically stunning memoir that pays homage to director Joanna Hogg’s time at film school in London in the ’80s and her first love. The movie, once again, has been bought by A24.
Director: Rashid Johnson
As Vulture put it in its review, Native Son breathes a fresh lease of life into Richard Wright’s 1940 novel about class, race, and guilt. The film is conceptual artist Rashid Johnson’s first feature and tells the story of a 20-something-year-old African-American man named Bigger Thomas (Moonlight‘s Ashton Sanders) and the societal odds stacked against him. The movie adaptation was penned by Pulitzer-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and has been picked up by HBO Films.
Director: Alma Har’el
Career-defining is how Polygon is describing the Shia LeBeouf-penned and starring drama Honey Boy. The film is a fictionalized retelling of the actor’s meteoric rise to fame, his abusive family life, and the various battles he and his family have had with addiction. Noah Jupe (A Quiet Place) and Lucas Hedges (Mid90s, Lady Bird) both star as LeBeouf’s on-screen counterpart Otis, while LaBeouf himself plays Otis’ father James.