Sundance Hot List: 12 Market Titles Set to Heat Up the Fest

6:00 AM 1/22/2020

by Tatiana Siegel and Mia Galuppo

After 2019's high-profile misfires ('Blinded  by  the  Light,' 'Late  Night'), buyers in Park City might be ready to play it  safe.

Will Sundance 2020, which starts Jan. 23, offer a repeat of last year's explosive market when a record four films sold for more than $13 million apiece, totaling $56 million? Probably not, given that those four — New Line's Blinded by the Light and Amazon's Late Night, The Report and Brittany Runs a Marathon — earned a combined $47 million at the box office. So a market correction could be in order. While some active buyers in recent years have retreated from the distribution space (like Annapurna), others may be picking up the slack (HBO Max, Apple and even Disney+). Subtitled fare could be the next hot sales subgenre in Park City, with ICM Partners' Jessica Lacy noting, "With the success of Parasite and The Farewell, I am hopeful distributors will be willing to take a chance on international films." And no one is counting out Amazon considering that the streaming giant views its three mega-spends as a success, telling THR that they became three of the five best-performing original movies of all time on Prime Video (a metric rarely shared by the company, which has become less reliant on box office).

On the flip side, many of the most commercial domestic titles already are spoken for, including Downhill (Searchlight) and the Anthony Hopkins awards hopeful The Father (Sony Classics). "Where does that leave companies that have to fill their slates?" asks CAA Media Finance's Maren Olson. "We've seen a slow but progressive trend with indie distributors getting involved earlier in the process." Of the titles still available, these 12 could tempt cautious buyers.

  • 'Boys State'

    SUBMARINE

    'Boys State'
    'Boys State'
    Courtesy of Sundance Institute/ Photo by Thorsten Thielow

    DIRECTORS

    Jesse Moss, Amanda McBaine

    BUZZ If there's one doc that could be this year's American Factory, buyers think Boys State is it. The political coming-of-age story examines the health of American democracy through an annual exercise in which 1,000 teens from across Texas join together to build a representative government from the ground up.

     
  • 'The 40-Year-Old Version'

    ENDEAVOR CONTENT

    'The 40-Year-Old Version'
    'The 40-Year-Old Version'
    Courtesy of Sundance Institute/Photo by Jeong Park

    DIRECTOR

    Radha Blank

    CAST Radha Blank, Peter Y. Kim

    BUZZ As an autobiographical story from a writer-director, this competition title is described as in the vein of 2019 festival breakout The Farewell — though Blank also stars in this film. While the cast may not comprise big-name talent, the movie does boast Hollywood heavy hitter Lena Waithe as a producer.

     
  • 'Four Good Days'

    CAA/ENDEAVOR CONTENT

    'Four Good Days'
    'Four Good Days'
    Courtesy of Sundance Institute/ Photo by Igor Jadue Lillo

    DIRECTOR

    Rodrigo García

    CAST Mila Kunis, Glenn Close

    BUZZ García — one of the fest's U.S. dramatic jurors — also co-wrote this topical story of a mother who has to help her opioid-addicted daughter stay clean for four days.

  • 'The Glorias'

    ENDEAVOR CONTENT, FILMNATION

    'The Glorias'
    'The Glorias'
    Courtesy of Sundance Institute/Photo by Daniel McFadden

    DIRECTOR

    Julie Taymor

    CAST Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander

    BUZZ The splashy Premiere section title sees Moore and Vikander star as feminist and activist Gloria Steinem at different points in her life. Bette Midler, Janelle Monáe, Timothy Hutton and Lorraine Toussaint round out the cast.

     
  • 'Ironbark'

    UTA, FILMNATION

    'Ironbark'
    'Ironbark'
    Courtesy of Liam Daniel

    DIRECTOR

    Dominic Cooke

    CAST Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel Brosnahan, Merab Ninidze

    BUZZ Written by Tom O'Connor (The Hitman's Bodyguard), this true story follows a British businessman (Cumberbatch) unwittingly recruited into one of the most fraught international conflicts in history: the Cuban Missile Crisis.

     
  • 'Kajillionaire'

    UTA

    'Kajillionaire'
    'Kajillionaire'
    Courtesy of Sundance Institute/Photo by Matt Kennedy

    DIRECTOR

    Miranda July

    CAST Evan Rachel Wood, Gina Rodriguez, Debra Winger

    BUZZ Produced by Plan B's Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, the film was poised to be released by Annapurna. But with Megan Ellison retreating from the distribution business in favor of producing and financing films, Kajillionaire is up for grabs.

  • 'Palm Springs'

    UTA

    'Palm Springs'
    'Palm Springs'
    Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

    DIRECTOR

    Max Barbakow

    CAST Andy Samberg Cristin Milioti, J.K. Simmons

    BUZZ This comedy sees Saturday Night Live alum Samberg taking on a much more serious and grounded role than audiences have come to expect from him; he's a guest who teams with the reluctant maid-of-honor (Milioti) to survive a destination wedding. Samberg also produced with his Lonely Island cohorts, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone.

  • 'Shirley'

    PARADIGM/UTA

    'Shirley'
    'Shirley'
    Courtesy of Sundance Institute/Photo by Thatcher Keats

    DIRECTOR

    Josephine Decker

    CAST Elisabeth Moss, Michael Stuhlbarg

    BUZZ After bringing Madeline's Madeline to the fest in 2018, Decker is back with a psychological drama that stars Moss as a horror writer who finds her next story in the young couple that moves in to the home she shares with her professor husband (Stuhlbarg).

     
  • 'Sylvie's Love'

    ENDEAVOR CONTENT

    'Sylvie's Love'
    'Sylvie's Love'
    Courtesy of Sundance

    DIRECTOR

    Eugene Ashe

    CAST Tessa Thompson, Nnamdi Asomugha

    BUZZ Described as one of the most

    commercial titles in the U.S. competition lineup, this 1950s love story between an aspiring saxophone player and television producer also stars Eva Longoria.

  • 'Worth'

    ICM/UTA, MADRIVER INTERNATIONAL

    'Worth'
    'Worth'
    Courtesy of Sundance Institute

    DIRECTOR

    Sara Colangelo

    CAST Michael Keaton, Stanley Tucci

    BUZZ In this story based on events surrounding the aftermath of 9/11, Keaton plays real-life D.C. power lawyer Kenneth Feinberg, who becomes entangled in bureaucracy and politics in his role administering government funds to the families of the victims of the terror attack.

  • 'Bad Hair'

    ENDEAVOR CONTENT

    'Bad Hair'
    'Bad Hair'
    Courtesy of Sundance

    DIRECTOR

    Justin Simien

    CAST Elle Lorraine, Vanessa Williams, Jay Pharoah, Lena Waithe, Blair Underwood, Laverne Cox

    BUZZ The Midnight section title is the sophomore feature for Simien, following his 2014's Sundance breakout Dear White People. The genre film, set in 1989 Los Angeles, follows an aspiring on-air personality for a music video show (played by newcomer Lorraine) who at the behest of her new boss gets a weave that ends up having a mind of its own.

  • 'Nine Days'

    CAA/30WEST

    'Nine Days'
    'Nine Days'
    Michael Coles/Mandalay Pictures

    DIRECTOR

    Edson Oda

    CAST Winston Duke, Zazie Beetz, Benedict Wong, Bill Skarsgard

    BUZZ Black Panther breakout Duke stars as a man that is charged with interviewing human souls for the chance to be born. The existential feature hails from Japanese-Brazilian writer-director Oda, who is making his narrative feature debut after establishing himself as a successful commercial director.  

    A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.