2017 Sundance Film Festival Preview: 23 Movies We Can't Wait to See

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As the first major film festival of every calendar year, the Sundance Film Festival always sets the conversation for the films that serious movie buffs will be seeking out and debating for the next 12 months. And the 2017 edition, which runs from January 19-29 in the festival’s longtime home base of Park City, Utah, will be no different. Yahoo Movies combed through the 181-entry lineup to pick the 23 features we’re most excited to see at this year’s festival. And check back here often for our continuing coverage from Park City. — Ethan Alter and Kevin Polowy

Salma Hayek in <em>Beatriz at Dinner</em> (Photo: Sundance Institute)
Salma Hayek in Beatriz at Dinner (Photo: Sundance Institute)

Beatriz at Dinner
The dynamic duo behind the 2000 Sundance sensation Chuck & Buck, writer Mike White and director Miguel Arteta, team up again for another off-kilter comedy. After her car breaks down, holistic health expert Beatriz (Salma Hayek) is stranded at a client’s house as a celebratory dinner party is about to begin. Over the course of the evening, she becomes increasingly obsessed with one of the partygoers, Doug (John Lithgow). And, as Chuck & Buck fans know, obsession is fertile territory for White and Arteta.

Before I Fall
Ry Russo-Young’s adaptation of Lauren Oliver’s bestselling novel puts a YA spin on the “live, die, repeat” school of movies, like Groundhog Day and Edge of Tomorrow. Zoey Deutch stars as Sam, a high school Queen Bee who finds herself reliving the day of her death over and over again. Open Road Films will release this cult-hit-in-the-making in March.

Zoe Kazan and Kumail Nanjiani in <em>The Big Sick</em> (Photo: Sundance Institute)
Zoe Kazan and Kumail Nanjiani in The Big Sick (Photo: Sundance Institute)

The Big Sick
Silicon Valley and Twitterverse funnyman Kumail Nanjiani co-wrote this rom-com with wife, Emily V. Gordon, based on their real-life coupling. He plays an aspiring comedian whose one-night stand with a grad student (Zoe Kazan) blossoms into a full-fledged relationship, much to the chagrin of his Muslim parents. Directed by The State creator Michael Showalter and produced by king of comedy Judd Apatow, the film also features Ray Romano and Holly Hunter.

Burning Sands
Welcome to Hell Week, frat-house style. Gerard McMurray’s scalding debut feature takes audiences inside an African-American college fraternity as a new group of pledges, led by promising freshman Zurich (Trevor Jackson), endures emotional and physical abuse in the name of brotherhood. Look for a supporting turn from Moonlight star Trevante Rhodes.

Crown Heights
After impressive supporting roles in Short Term 12 and Selma, LaKeith Stanfield (fresh off those sick dance moves he busted out while celebrating Atlanta‘s win at the Golden Globes) lands his first starring role. He flexes a Trinidadian accent as Colin Warner, the real-life Brooklyn man who spent 20 years in prison after being falsely convicted of murder. The drama, written and directed by Matt Ruskin, follows the efforts of Warner’s best friend Carl King (Nnamdi Asomugha) to clear his name.

<em>The Discovery</em> (Photo: Sundance Institute)
The Discovery (Photo: Sundance Institute)

The Discovery
Sundance is never short on promising premises, and this one is intriguing. It’s touted as a love story set in a world where the afterlife has been scientifically proven, which has set off a rash of suicides by people eager to get to the other side. Directed by Charlie McDowell, who brought the twisty sci-fi romance The One I Love to the fest in 2014, the ensemble features McDowell’s longtime girlfriend, Rooney Mara, as well as Jason Segel, Jesse Plemons, Riley Keough, and the Sundance Kid himself, Robert Redford.

Fun Mom Dinner
Like Sundance’s indie response to the raunchy 2016 box office hit Bad Moms, this comedy unites Toni Collette, Molly Shannon, Katie Aselton, and Bridgett Everett as four preschool mothers who bond over the course of a wine-soaked, weed-clouded evening out. Written by Julie Yaeger Rudd (wife of Paul Rudd) and directed by Alethea Jones (making her feature debut), the film counts both the Ant-Man star and Adam Scott (who also appears) as producers.

A Ghost Story
Three years ago, the trio of David Lowery, Casey Affleck, and Rooney Mara teamed up for the breakout Sundance favorite, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. Now, they’re reuniting for the haunting tale of a dead man (Affleck) who returns from the hereafter to watch his lover (Mara) grow old without him. Despite the tragic subject matter, Affleck will have something to smile about during Sundance: His name will almost certainly be among the Best Actor candidates when Oscar nominations are announced on Jan. 24.

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power
Al Gore’s slideshow-driven global warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth defied all expectations in 2006 when it earned $24 million at the U.S. box office — a blockbuster number for a doc. Sundance 2017 will open with this sequel to the influential film, which also headlines the festival’s inaugural “Climates” section.

Jessica Williams in &#39;The Incredible Jessica James&#39; (Photo: Sundance Institute)
Jessica Williams in The Incredible Jessica James (Photo: Sundance Institute)

The Incredible Jessica James
Popular Daily Show alum Jessica Williams headlines her first film, playing a New York 20-something struggling to get over a breakup and make it as a playwright. The fest’s closing-night film is written and directed by Jim C. Strouse, a Sundance regular with entries like Grace Is Gone, People Places Things, and The Hollars. Expect Jessica James to capture love and heartbreak in the same poignant, sharply funny fashion.

Ingrid Goes West
The perils of social media connections are explored in this dark comedy from first-time feature director Matt Spicer, who co-wrote with David Branson Smith. Parks and Rec alum Aubrey Plaza plays a mentally disturbed young woman who becomes so obsessed with an online “influencer” (Avengers star Elizabeth Olsen) she moves to Los Angeles to befriend her — and, we can only assume, “Single White Female” her. Look for our reaction on Twitter.

Jenny Slate, left, in <em>Landline</em> (Photo: Sundance Institute)
Jenny Slate, left, in Landline (Photo: Sundance Institute)

Landline
Gillian Robespierre and Jenny Slate’s followup to the 2014 Sundance favorite Obvious Child transports audiences back to that magical, mythical world known as the 1990s. While Dana (Slate) sows her wild oats as her wedding day approaches, her sister Ali (Abby Quinn) indulges in Party Girl-era New York City nightlife. For true ’90s authenticity, we expect a soundtrack filled with equal parts TLC, Hootie and the Blowfish, and Gin Blossoms.

The Little Hours
Real-life comedy power couples unite. Engaged item Dave Franco and Alison Brie co-star with Aubrey Plaza, whose boyfriend, Jeff Baena (Life After Beth, Joshy), wrote and directed this Middle Ages-set laugher about three nuns (Brie, Plaza, and Don’t Think Twice breakout Kate Micucci), whose chaste existence is thrown into upheaval by the arrival of a studly day laborer. Baena based the story on The Decameron, the novellas of 14th-century author Giovanni Boccaccio.

<em>Nobody Speak</em> (Photo: Sundance Institute)
Nobody Speak (Photo: Sundance Institute)

Nobody Speak: Hulk Hogan, Gawker and Trials of a Free Press
With a wave of newsroom closings and charges of “fake news” flying around almost daily, the journalism industry is facing serious challenges in the coming years. Brian Knappenberger’s unnervingly timely documentary seeks to use one specific case — Hulk Hogan’s high-profile lawsuit against now-defunct website Gawker — to speak to the larger ramifications of living in an America in which the “free press” isn’t truly free.

Person to Person
Dustin Guy Defa (who brought a short film by the same name to Sundance in 2014) wrote and directed this collage of intersecting tales of New Yorkers on the go. A newspaperman (Michael Cera) mentors a rookie reporter (Broad City‘s Abbi Jacobson) on the crime beat; a teenager (Tavi Gevinson) critiques her best friend’s new boyfriend; a slacker (George Sample III) offers an apology for posting nude pics of his ex-girlfriend; and a vinyl junkie (Craig Butta) chases a lead on a rare record.

The Polka King
Just take one look at the title and tell us this doesn’t look like a vehicle tailor-made for Jack Black? The School of Rock and Bernie funnyman plays real-life Pennsylvania polka singer Jan Lewan, who (inadvertently?) operates a Ponzi scheme that will inevitably be his undoing. Jenny Slate, Jason Schwartzman, Jacki Weaver, and J.B. Smoove costar in this tragicomedy from writer-directors Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky (Infinitely Polar Bear).

Nicholas Hoult as J.D. Salinger in <em>Rebel in the Rye</em> (Photo: Sundance Institute)
Nicholas Hoult as J.D. Salinger in Rebel in the Rye (Photo: Sundance Institute)

Rebel in the Rye
Suggested alternate title: Holden Caulfield Begins. Writer-director Danny Strong (one of the masterminds behind the hit Fox series Empire) revisits the formative years of future Catcher in the Rye novelist J.D. Salinger (Nicholas Hoult), when he was just a struggling writer romancing Hollywood royalty Oona O’Neill (Zoey Deutch).

Roxanne Roxanne
You wouldn’t necessarily think old-school rapper Roxanne Shanté (Chanté Adams) would be next in line for the hip-hop biopic treatment after the likes of Biggie, Tupac, and NWA, but that’s all the more reason this drama about the groundbreaking Queens emcee deserves its props. From the producing team behind the 2015 Sundance breakout Dope (including Pharrell Williams and Forest Whitaker), the Michael Larnell-directed film also features Nia Long and Moonlight co-star Mahershala Ali.

78/52
Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho gets the Room 237 treatment with Alexandre O. Philippe’s shot-by-shot deep dive into the film’s notorious shower scene. Instead of Shining “truthers,” though, Philippe relies on directors like Guillermo del Toro and Peter Bogdanovich to analyze the art and science behind this nightmare-inducing sequence, which has been putting viewers off taking regular showers since 1960.

To the Bone
Prolific TV writer-producer Marti Noxon — whose small-screen credits range from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Unreal — makes her feature filmmaking debut with the highly personal story of a 20-year-old woman (Lily Collins) wrestling with a serious eating disorder. With Noxon at the helm, not to mention skilled supporting players like Keanu Reeves and Lili Taylor in the ensemble, there’s little chance that To the Bone will play like an afterschool special.

Michelle Pfeiffer and Kiefer Sutherland in &#39;Where Is Kyra&#39; (Photo: Sundance Institute)
Michelle Pfeiffer and Kiefer Sutherland in Where Is Kyra? (Photo: Sundance Institute)

Where Is Kyra?
We’ve lived through the McConaissance; maybe 2017 will be the Pfeiffersance? With roles in Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express and Darren Aronofsky’s Mother in the coming months, Michelle Pfeiffer begins the year with a star turn in Andrew Dosunmu’s drama about grief-stricken, emotionally unstable woman whose reliance on the kindness of a stranger (Kiefer Sutherland) takes a dark turn.

Wilson
Daniel Clowes’ 2010 darkly amusing graphic novel about an aging crank jumps off the page and onto the screen, with Woody Harrelson in the title role and writer-director Craig Johnson (The Skeleton Twins) behind the camera. General audiences will have a chance to see Wilson in March courtesy of Fox Searchlight, but Sundance crowds will be the first to know whether Johnson has done Ghost World-level justice to Clowes’ work.

XX
Even as horror anthologies like V/H/S and The ABCs of Death have proliferated, female filmmakers are too rarely invited to join in the gory fun. Enter XX, which serves up four scary stories helmed by women, including Karyn Kusama (The Invitation), Roxanne Benjamin (Southbound), Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) and Jovanka Vuckovic (The Captured Bird). It’s well past time for a horror movie to shatter that glass ceiling … and use the resulting shards to draw some serious blood.