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Still from ‘Sing Street’
Still from ‘Sing Street’via YouTube

What to watch at Sundance 2016

Daniel Radcliffe plays a dead corpse, Greta Gerwig befriends a wiener dog and a news anchor commits on-air suicide

Keep your eye on Sundance. That’s where they tell you to look if you’re on the hunt for the next big breakout. It’s kind of like the unglamourous step-sister festival holed away in the icy recesses of Park City, Utah. It’s a place that is relevant for one month of the year and colder than the set of Fargo. Nobody is going to be getting frisky on this red carpet. Just who’s made their name at Sundance? Directors like Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, Darren Aronofsky, The Coen Brothers… And while it may be skin-bitingly frigid, this year’s spread looks set to pop Hollywood’s thermometer. Here are ten that are worth checking out.


Determined to expand his actorly range, Daniel Radcliffe will play a corpse befriended by Paul Dano. Already off his list: teen wizard, flouncy poet, Igor in an adaptation of Frankenstein and an alcoholic who can grow horns. After such outlandish roles, perhaps the natural next step is to literally play dead. Or maybe he’s just really tired. Dano is stranded on a desert island and befriends Radcliffe’s cold, lifeless body, which serves as inspiration to escape. Pegged as an “offbeat dramedy” (Weekend at Bernie’s?), Swiss Army Man is the feature debut by Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan – aka DANIELS – the duo behind award-winning Dazed short, Interesting Ball.


Already being hailed as this generation’s new Kids (a proclamation we’ve been guilty of making ourselves), White Girl is a gritty romance that shares some similarities with Larry Clark’s unflinching inner-city saga: drugs, New York, a hellraising relationship. But White Girl is probably better likened to Crazy/Beautiful – that movie where Kirsten Dunst tries to elope with a stereotype-shattering Latino. Anyway, back to White Girl. The story is based on the real-life experience of director Elizabeth Wood. “I moved to the hood, fell in love with a drug dealer, and when he went to jail, I made it my life’s mission to get him out,” the 32-year-old tells Opening Ceremony. The adaptation could be harrowing, especially as it’s got a direct link to Clark’s Kids – they share the same producer, Christine Vachon.


Two movies about news anchor Christine Chubbuck’s live, on-air suicide are slated to wow at Sundance. The other, Kate Plays Christine, is more a documentary-style film about an actress (Kate Lyn Shiel) who prepares to play Chubbuck in a “stylized cheap 70s soap opera” retelling. This version, by director Antonio Campos, is all nightmare fuel. Rebecca Hall plays Christine, a 29-year-old Florida news anchor who shot herself in the head on the morning of July 15, 1974, during a broadcast, shortly after reading the lines, “In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in ‘blood and guts’, and in living color, you are going to see another first – attempted suicide.” Watch for posters with taglines like “jaw-dropping” and “totally disturbing” once it hits theatres.  


Twenty years after Todd Solondz nabbed the top prize at Sundance for his hilarious portrait of suburban dweeb Dawn Wiener, he’s back with a spiritual sequel of sorts. Wiener-Dog features the delectable comedic physicality of Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha) as she re-ups the role of Dawn, now a compassionate vet technician. Dawn comes in contact with a dachschund who spreads comfort and joy. This same pooch touches the lives of a young boy and a struggling film professor. There are so many good things about this film  – the cast, the producers (Christine Vachon!) – that it almost seems too big to fail.


We won’t have to wait much longer to see what Lily Rose-Depp is made of. Another sorta-sequel, Kevin Smith’s Yoga Hosers is a helluva lot similar to Clerks. The official Sundance description doesn’t give much away in terms of plot, but it’s a hilarious bid for relevancy: “Colleen and Colleen are BFFs AF. Life is whatevs, but also on fleek. That’s kinda what being 15 and a half is all about. #RealTalk” BFFs AF? I’m not even sure what that means, but I’m curious how Smith will portray the contrasting dichotomy of their whatevs/on fleek life. The inseparable pair work at a convenience store in Manitoba, play in a band and do yoga. When they get invited to a party by some seniors, they are determined to go despite some life-threatening evil lurking underneath the store. According to Smith, “It’s like Clueless meets Gremlins.”


As a badass boxer, 11-year-old tom boy Toni longingly observes the dance drill team who practices at the same rec centre where she deals knockouts. Tired of throwing punches, she cashes in her furtive glances and decides to join the team. Toni works off her tush learning the routines; she gets her ears pierced to fit in. Then something weird happens. The girls on her team begin to experience Missy Elliott-worthy shaking and fainting spells. This is like Save the Last Dance meets Girlhood meets The Falling. And perhaps it’s those films that have informed filmmaker Anna Rose Holmer for her floor-shaking debut.


When his parents can no longer afford tuition to attend private school, Conor is thrust into the utter torture of attending public school. This is 80s Dublin, however, and Conor is soon wooed by the cresting waves of Raphina’s blowout. He asks her to star in his band’s music videos. She unknowingly agrees, and Conor is forced to deliver on his promise – he must assemble a band. Laced with the hard rock of The Cure, Duran Duran, The Police, and Genesis, Sing Street is kind of like a Diesel advert come to life with the bass-pumping sounds of yesteryear.


OK this one’s a doozy. Nick Jonas is in a movie about hazing. So if you watched Scream Queens, you’ll have a faint idea of what’s in store. Except this one comes from the mind of David Gordon Green, who penned the screenplay. It follows a 19-year-old who joins the same college as his brother and pledges his fraternity. Then comes the debauched partying, hooking up with coeds, all those things Americans apparently do. It’s all one big game of beer pong until the hazing escalates and his loyalty to his brother is tested.


Tickled – sounds funny, right? This film is no laughing matter, though. It’s one big WTF. Director and reporter David Farrier stumbled upon an “endurance tickling video” online, wherein young boys are paid to be tied up and tickled. Still laughing? When Farrier enquires about doing a story on this worrying phenomenon, he is met with derision and bullying. He decides to take matters into his own hands, going undercover to the tickling facilities in LA only to discover a vast network of sick and twisted criminal activity. The film is produced by Stephen Fry, so while it sounds freakishly dark, there will also be some freakishly dark humour.


He may not be attending the Oscars this year, but Spike Lee hasn’t given up filmmaking altogether. He’s been slavishly putting together a documentary charting Michael Jackson’s rise from his Motown days to the release of Off The Wall. It’s his second documentary about the King of Pop. The film includes a who’s-who of the music industry – everyone from Questlove to The Weeknd – compiling archive footage with talking heads to create an all-round portrait of MJ in his heady days as a soprano Jackson 5 member to cementing a relationship with super-producer Quincy Jones. This is one part of Jackson’s life that hasn’t been shoved under the microscope – and as a superfan, Lee refuses to disappoint.

Sundance Film Festival runs from January 22 - Feb 1, 2016