Sundance ’15 | The Dirty Dozen



As the 21st Annual Sundance Film Festival comes to a close this weekend, it’s time to take one more look back at some of the movies that generated the strongest buzz and had distributors opening their wallets WIDE looking for the next big hit.

While the general consensus among press and industry that this year’s fest lacked the overall star power of past efforts, think recent hits such as Boyhood, Dear White People, Whiplash from last year, there was still a crop of impressive titles that wowed audiences and sent distributors scrambling.

Although, we can only grade the almost 30 films we had the opportunity to screen, there were some certain hits, a strong group of solid films and some that may have trouble escaping the proverbial “festival bubble.” These are the films that generated considerable conversations among film critics, festival programmers and industry executives. Here is our list of the Top 12 films from this year’s fest or simply, “The Dirty Dozen.”

1. Dope – $7 million / Open Road
Writer/director Rick Famuyiwa’s smart, breezy comedy, about a geeky 1990s hip-hop fan and his two friends who find themselves with a stash of dope and must sell it while trying to avoid some bad guys looking to get it back. An absolute crowd-pleaser and a potential box-office sleeper.

2. Me, Earl & the Dying Girl – $4.7 million / Fox Searchlight
After being implored by his mother to visit a fellow high school student diagnosed with leukemia, a popular student forms an unforgettable friendship in this moving drama. Not many dry eyes at the conclusion of this story that could be this year’s The Fault in Out Stars.

3. Brooklyn – $9 million / Fox Searchlight
Irish actress Saoirse Ronan returns to her roots for a winning immigrant drama about a young woman who comes to America, braves homesickness to find true love and must decide whether to follow her heart or her home. The first awards contender of 2015.

Saoirse Ronan and Domhnall Gleeson in Brooklyn
Saoirse Ronan and Domhnall Gleeson in Brooklyn

4. The Witch – $1.5 million / A24
Compelling period drama about a God-fearing family that settles in the wilderness after being banished from their community. After their infant daughter disappears, it begins a chain of events that will ultimately test their faith. A classic psychological thriller that will certainly scare up business.

5. True Story – N/A
James Franco and Jonah Hill dial down the laughs for this drama based on a true story of a disgraced journalist who sees a chance for redemption, only to discover that things are not quite what they seem. Both leads show their versatility in delivering solid performances.

6. Stockholm, Pennsylvania – N/A
The Sundance Film Fest MVP, Saoirse Ronan, once again sparkles as a young woman who is returned to her birth parents after being held captive for nearly 20 years. A very unsettling drama about the complexities of true love and discovering your place.

Chris Pine, Margot Robbie and Chiwetel Ejiofor in Z for Zachariah
Chris Pine, Margot Robbie and Chiwetel Ejiofor in Z for Zachariah

7. Z for Zachariah – N/A
This apocalyptic drama about a group of survivors who come together to rebuild society after nuclear fallout has killed everyone is a modern-day version of the 1959 drama, The World, The Flesh and The Devil. Surprisingly strong work from Margot Robbie and the ever-dependable Chiwetel Ejiofor.

8. What Happened, Miss Simone – N/A
Intriguing documentary focusing on highs and lows of the “High Priestess of Soul,” Nina Simone. From her apex during the civil rights movement to her battle in her later years dealing with her illness and failing health, Simone NEVER stopped being herself.

9. The Overnight – $1 million / Orchid
One of two hilarious comedies, the story of the “ultimate” adult playdate finds a recently-relocated couple’s memorable evening with a mysterious couple that has more than “friendship” on their minds. Jason Schartzman is the comic engine behind this surprise hit.

10. The D Train – $3 million / IFC
A unlovable obsessed loser tries to turn back the clock when he invites the most popular guy in his high school back to the upcoming class reunion. Jack Black and James Marsden are comic gold in this laugh-out-loud comedy that had many in the audience constantly trying to catch their breath.

James Marsden and Jack Black
James Marsden and Jack Black

11. The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution – N/A
Documentary filmmaker, Stanley Nelson lovingly tells the story of the “Vanguard,” The Black Panther Party for Self Defense in this fascinating story. Find out why the Panthers were once dubbed, “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” A much-needed story.

12. The Diary of a Teenage Girl – $2 million / Sony Pictures Classic
Newcomer Bel Powley is a ball of energy in this 1970s coming-of-age period drama about a young sexually-adventurous girl who discovers love for the first time with an older man. Powley is a sensation in this story of female empowerment slightly skewed.