As the Oscar drumbeat builds (not a moment too soon, frankly), a fresh crop of undiscovered indies awaits us at the Sundance Film Festival, beginning tomorrow in Park City, Utah. As usual, The Times will be on the ground with reviews, interviews, daily dispatches and more. Love Kristen Stewart? She'll be there with two movies. So will her three-time co-star Jesse Eisenberg, though you won't be able to recognize him in one of his two offerings (see below). While we pack our snow boots and plan for double and triple layering, here are the 10 titles we're most anticipating.
'Better Angels: The Gospel According to Tammy Faye'
You may be asking yourself: Do we really need another examination of Tammy Faye Messner, formerly Bakker, prominent televangelist, media fixture, three-time memoirist and subject of more podcasts, stage productions and Oscar-winning movies than you can shake a Bible at? If you’ll indulge me a moment, yes. With her blond hair and penchant for big eyelashes, heavy mascara and bright lipstick, Messner struck a glamorous — some would say gaudy — figure for a church leader’s wife. But as a singer, LGBTQ rights advocate, divorcee, cancer patient and businesswoman, among many other potential labels, she led a life far more interesting, and complicated, than the tabloid treatment of her appearance would suggest. In other words, Dana Adam Shapiro’s four-part reconsideration of Messner, constructed from interviews with “family, friends, and enemies,” promises to be the most thorough account yet of a woman so fascinating, she’s always resisted definition. Sign me up. — Matt Brennan
I’ve been a fan of Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden since their debut feature, "Half Nelson,” sent an arrow through the heart of the inspirational-teacher yarn. Still, nearly 20 years later, I can say that I’ve anticipated none of their six collaborations as much as “Freaky Tales.” Perhaps it’s because, five years after “Captain Marvel,” I’m eager to see them return to their indie roots. Maybe it’s because they’ve once again attracted a sublimely unpredictable cast, including Pedro Pascal (“The Last of Us”), Jay Ellis (“Insecure”), pop star Normani and Angus Cloud ("Euphoria"). Most of all, though, I suspect it’s because “Freaky Tales” — featuring interconnected stories of teen punks and Nazi skinheads, rap duos and NBA ballers set against the backdrop of the directors’ Bay Area stomping grounds — has been tipped as their most raucous, crowd-pleasing film yet. If their off-key, overlooked masterpiece “Mississippi Grind” is any indication, “Freaky Tales” may well be the next iteration of Boden and Fleck at their loose and lived-in best. — Matt Brennan
'I Saw the TV Glow'
Two small-town misfits bond over a canceled teen show in Jane Schoenbrun’s reality-bending “I Saw the TV Glow,” which arrives at Sundance with a bounty of buzz thanks to its A24 pedigree and the filmmaker’s own 2021 cult feature “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair.” (It doesn’t hurt that Emma Stone is a producer and Phoebe Bridgers appears in the film and on its soundtrack.) Justice Smith stars as Owen, a lonely suburban kid who treads the hallways of his high school like an extra on a CW show, painfully aware that his very existence feels off — until he meets Maddy (Brigitte Lundy-Paine), whose alienation and obsession with a late-night supernatural drama mirrors his own. Evoking ’90s pop nostalgia with a hallucinatory touch, a dash of “Twin Peaks” and a pinch of “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” filmmaker Schoenbrun’s immersive, existential fever dream is poised to be among the conversation starters of this year’s festival, and a promising Gen-Z breakout for its distributor. — Jen Yamato
Hard intel on this film is scant, and Kristen Stewart hasn't really helped us by describing it to Entertainment Weekly as a "love story between a satellite and a buoy." These three things we do know: We're mainly looking at two actors here, Stewart and "Minari's" captivating Steven Yeun. Second, it's set some time after the end of civilization: a postapocalyptic future that sounds a little less "Fury Road," a little more cozy-up-with-a-crossword-in-the-bunker intimate. And third, Sundance has long been a place for potent two-handers to flourish. We'll see if "Love Me" falls closer to "Blue Valentine" (Sundance, class of 2010) than "I Think We're Alone Now" (Sundance, class of 2018). — Joshua Rothkopf
Saoirseheads, assemble: Ronan is back and shining in this recovery drama based on Amy Liptrot's rapturously received 2016 memoir. Per the contours of the book, "The Outrun" toggles between wild, self-destructive days as an alcoholic in London and more tentative moments of reflection in scenic Orkney, an archipelago in the northern Scottish Isles. A heartbreaker about windy weather (internally and otherwise), it's the kind of wide-ranging showcase that this actor — the finest of her generation — all but demands. Ronan is joined by Stephen Dillane and "I May Destroy You's" Paapa Essiedu; the director is Nora Fingscheidt (the Sandra Bullock-starring "The Unforgivable"). — Joshua Rothkopf
Yance Ford’s debut documentary, 2017’s “Strong Island,” won a prize at Sundance and an Emmy and was nominated for an Academy Award. That film was an intensely personal investigation of the death of Ford’s brother and how the system failed to bring his killer to justice. Ford’s new film, “Power,” takes a few steps further back to examine the history of policing in America and how it is intertwined with race, politics and the exertion of dominance over people. The film asks bracing questions about who is protected and who is served by the ways in which law enforcement has historically been carried out, as well as how it could be changed for the better within communities too often impacted by having a militaristic force essentially occupying their neighborhoods. — Mark Olsen
Veteran screenwriter David Koepp is a versatile but famously erratic talent (“Jurassic Park,” yes, but also, “Mortdecai”). He wrote one of the finest movies of his career just a few years ago with “Kimi” (2022), a scrappy yet ingenious low-budget thriller that suggested that Koepp and director Steven Soderbergh were a particularly fortuitous match. Now the two have reteamed on “Presence,” which will debut in Sundance’s Premieres section. Few details have been disclosed yet, beyond the fact that the movie features Lucy Liu, Julia Fox and Chris Sullivan and follows a family that’s just moved into a new house, to presumably scary, shivery effect. If it sounds derivative, that’s hardly a knock: So, after all, did “Kimi.” — Justin Chang
Filmmaking brothers David and Nathan Zellner have long skirted around the edges of the mainstream, creating an idiosyncratic series of features and short films that explore oddball Americana with a particular interest in the relationship between people, animals and the natural world. Their latest, “Sasquatch Sunset,” is weird and funny and also a startlingly sincere and moving portrait of a family of creatures living in the wilderness as human civilization creeps ever closer. Actors Riley Keough and Jesse Eisenberg are rendered unrecognizable beneath transformative makeup that turns them into members of a family that, for all its strangeness, resonates with familiar feelings. The Zellners recently directed episodes of the series “The Curse” and, with Ari Aster ("Midsommar") on board as an executive producer, it may be that their latest project finds the mainstream coming closer to them, rather than the other way around. — Mark Olsen
‘Seeking Mavis Beacon’
Speaking as someone who, like millions of students across the country, learned to type using the famous “Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing” software, I’m fascinated by the mere idea of a feature-length documentary on the subject. But with any luck, Jazmin Renée Jones’ “Seeking Mavis Beacon,” screening in Sundance’s NEXT section, will be more than just a primer on finger placements and alphanumeric keystrokes (or even that super-addictive car-racing game where you outpace your nemeses by typing as fast as you can). Central to the story is the strange disappearance of Renée L’Espérance, the Haitian-born model who served as the basis for the fictional Mavis Beacon character. Consider me intrigued. — Justin Chang
Oscar nominee June Squibb (“Nebraska”) turns action heroine in this surefire mainstream crowd-pleaser poised to make a sale out of Sundance. The 94-year-old Squibb stars in the L.A.-set comedy noir as Thelma, a self-sufficient grandma who sets out across the city on a quest for justice after being scammed over the phone by a stranger. Written and directed by debut feature filmmaker Josh Margolin, the multigenerational genre-blender with a rare kind of central character offers bittersweet observations on aging and self-reliance so keenly and kindly observed, it’ll make you phone your own elderly loved ones afterward — or wish you still could. And in his final onscreen role, Richard Roundtree gets in on the fun as Thelma’s old pal Ben, reluctantly roped into an odyssey into the treacherous wilds of the San Fernando Valley as her worried family (Parker Posey, Clark Gregg, Fred Hechinger) frets, hot on their tails. — Jen Yamato
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.