The 89th Annual Academy Awards are coming soon, and this year’s nominees were announced in a live ceremony by Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, along with several past nominees and winners. Damien Chazelle’s musical La La Land emerged with 14 nominations, tying Ben-Hur and Titanic for the most nominations by a single film.
Based on the Hillary Jordan novel of the same name, Mudbound tells the story of a black family in the Deep South of the 1940s whose lives are entwined with those of the white family on whose farmland they work. In her third film, director Dee Rees weaves a rich tapestry that explores race relations through a myriad of perspectives, using no less than six different narrators over the course of Mudbound’s 130-minute running time. It’s a framing device lifted directly from Jordan’s novel, and Rees uses it to great effect, allowing each of these individual stories to paint a vivid portrait of the differences…
At long last, this year’s enormously anticipated Star Wars: Episode VIII, the follow-up to The Force Awakens, has been given an official title straight from Disney. Written and directed by Looper’s Rian Johnson, the next Skywalker saga film will be called Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Jeff Baena’s The Little Hours marks the writer-director’s third trip to the Sundance Film Festival, and this 14th-century comedy based – just barely – on Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron, might be his biggest crowd-pleaser yet. Taking place mostly in a convent nestled in the Italian countryside, the film immediately establishes itself as an atypical period piece when a gardener bids good morning to Sister Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza) and Sister Genevra (Kate Micucci), who immediately fly into a rage and roar “don’t fucking talk to us!”
Premiering in the Midnight category at Sundance, Damien Power’s feature-length debut Killing Ground spins a pair of stories about ill-fated camping trips in the Australian wilderness. Unflinching in its violence and depravity, the film’s narrative unfolds in non-linear fashion so that both stories run parallel to each other, with their respective climaxes happening in stereo. But that’s the only trick Power seems to have up his sleeve, and a reliance on tried-and-true horror tropes and lurid subject matter becomes a burden the film can’t shoulder.
After a four-year stint as a correspondent on The Daily Show, Jessica Williams brings her comedic sensibilities to the big screen as the title character in the Sundance Film Festival’s closing night film The Incredible Jessica James. A struggling playwright living in New York City, Jessica mitigates the steady stream of rejection letters from theater directors by teaching in an after-school program for a nonprofit organization aimed at getting younger children interested in the arts.
When we first meet Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza), she’s sitting in her car scrolling through an Instagram feed of someone’s wedding, sobbing uncontrollably as she “likes” every photo. Then she storms across the parking lot and right into the event itself, marching up to the bride to blast her in the face with pepper spray for not including her on the invitation list – an act which justifiably lands her in a mental hospital.
“Everything is stupid,” 13-year-old Dayveon Buckingham (Devin Blackmon) tells himself as he rides his bicycle along the tree-lined roads of his rural Arkansas town, and it’s easy to see where he’s coming from. He lives in poverty with his older sister Kim (Chasity Moore), her boyfriend Bryan (Dontrell Bright) and their infant child, spending his free time wandering around the local rock quarry with his friend Brayden (Kordell Johnson) and mourning the shooting death of his older brother.
Following a pair of dynamite performances in 2014’s Birdman and 2015’s Spotlight – both of which received an Academy Award for Best Picture – Michael Keaton remains at the top of his game with his portrayal of McDonald’s mastermind Ray Kroc in The Founder. The latest from director John Lee Hancock charts the fast-talking businessman’s journey from traveling salesman to fast food mogul, and doesn’t shy away from the trail of broken promises and shady business practices left in his wake.
The 2017 Sundance Film Festival begins Thursday, January 19, and once again I’ll be returning to Park City for opening weekend. I had a great experience last year and saw some remarkable selections, and I’m expecting more of the same for my follow-up trip.