Nate von Zumwalt
In the immortal words of pop empress Britney Spears: “Sundance is weird. The movies are weird – you actually have to think about them when you watch them.” Lest we forget, this erudite quote has been pinned to bulletin boards around Sundance offices for years.
We’re not saying anything new when we talk about the crowded marketplace that is the summer movie season. This year’s blockbuster roster is a studio-strong medley of anthropomorphic turtles, parapsychologists, well-established superheroes, an Ellen-voiced fish, a Will Smith-less alien insurgence, and one Ben-Hur, just for good measure, I guess. Not to detract from those cinematic efforts, but there is an equally diverse – albeit more human-focused – slate of Sundance-supported independent films hitting theaters in June, July, and August that offer something of a change of speed. It may even be the films to which our good friend Britney was referring.
So, here’s a guide to some weird Sundance films that may require some cognitive activity. Below is an untested, unempirical system to choosing which films you should check out – like a low-functioning version of Netflix suggestions on a Compaq computer.
If you liked Wall Street or Margin Call…
You should see Equity (July 29, Sony Pictures Classic).
Meera Menon shifts the lens to tell a female-focused Wall Street story that dispels the notion that the Machiavellian world of investment banking is an exclusively male one. Like its financial drama predecessors, Equity paints a portrait of a high-risk, high-reward professional world where anything goes.
If you liked Little Miss Sunshine…
You should see Captain Fantastic (July 8, Bleecker Street).
The storylines may be disparate, but there is an offbeat ethos at play in Matt Ross’ Captain Fantastic that’s evocative of one of the biggest Sundance hits of all time, Little Miss Sunshine. A father of six, Ben’s (Viggo Mortensen) well-intentioned but reckless approach to raising his children deep in the forest of the Pacific Northwest is both hilarious and heartbreaking as the family deals with tragedy.
If you liked Creed or Black Swan or, uh, Step Up…
You should see The Fits (June 3, Oscilloscope)
Individually, those three offerings may be a reach, considering none embody the almost brooding visuals that define The Fits. But if nothing else, the seemingly oxymoronic films are a testament to how The Fits goes about reinventing, or entirely dismissing, the genre constraints of a “boxing movie” or a “dance movie.” Anna Rose Holmer merges both worlds in her directorial debut that sees an 11-year-old tomboy named Toni (Royalty Hightower) struggle to transition into joining the dance drill team that trains at her boxing gym. And then things get strange…
If you liked Weekend at Bernie’s or Cast Away…
You should see Swiss Army Man (June 24, A24)
No, really, that’s the most apropos mash-up we can conceive to even remotely communicate the madness that is Swiss Army Man. The Daniels, a directing duo renowned for their music video prowess, are masters of subverting expectation. In Swiss Army Man, Hank (Paul Dano) finds himself stranded on a deserted island and nearly bereft of hope when he discovers a “dead body” (Daniel Radcliffe) that may serve as the toolkit to his escape.
If you liked Before Sunrise…
You should see Southside With You (August 26, Miramax/Roadside Attractions)
Richard Tanne took on one of the most ambitious projects in recent memory in telling the story of Michelle and Barack Obama’s first date. For one, there is a paucity of information around the date itself, meaning a fair amount of creative license would be necessary. But how does one take artistic liberties when revisiting the personal life of an active president? Somehow, Tanne pulls it off with remarkable charm and tact in Southside With You, a film that embraces minimalism and sharp dialogue (á la Linklater’s Before trilogy) and character development to tell a story with tremendous heart.