My previous article was about my top 8 most anticipated Toronto International Film Festival films of 2015. This time, I’ll be covering the Sundance Film Festival films I’m most looking forward to seeing this year.
1. The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015)
This film is one I’ve been waiting for since last summer. Based on a true story, The Stanford Prison Experiment covers the real-life social psychology experiment conducted in 1971 by Philip Zimbardo, a professor at Stanford University. Let me give a history of the experiment first. Zimbardo wanted to observe the psychological effects of being a prisoner versus being a guard. He selected 24 students and randomly assigned each one to play either prisoner or guard.
The experiment was supposed to last 7-14 days. It was stopped after 6, partially due to the prompting of Dr. Christina Maslach. The “guards” got into their roles that they gained a superior, authoritarian mindset and became abusive with the “prisoners,” who were subjected to psychological torture and physical assault.
Zimbardo originally allowed this to continue before stopping it on day six, as he didn't realize how severe the experiment was becoming. The study went down into psychology history and is often the subject of study in psychology classes. Zimbardo still works at Stanford. In fact, he was even a consultant for the film to make sure it was portrayed accurately.
Billy Crudup plays Zimbardo, with Olivia Thirlby as Dr. Maslach, and many up-and-coming young actors playing the roles of the prisoners and the guards. The film has a young star-studded cast: Ezra Miller (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Flash), Tye Sheridan (Mud, Joe), Johnny Simmons (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, 21 Jump Street), Thomas Mann (Project X), Michael Angarano (Sky High, Almost Famous), Nicholas Braun (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Red State), Ki Hong Lee (The Maze Runner), Keir Gilchrist (It’s Kind of a Funny Story), and many more. It won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for an American drama as well as the Alfred P. Sloane Feature Film Prize.
The trailer alone is intense and gives you an idea of just how powerful the film will be. The fact that this actually happened may more than likely make it hard to watch, especially considering the film includes sadistic humiliation and assault. Viewers will have to use discretion when watching it, but it looks like an amazing film nonetheless and I’m looking forward to seeing it.
2. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)
I already know this film will make me cry. Based on the novel of the same name by Jesse Andrews, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl centers on socially awkward Greg (Thomas Mann), a high schooler who is part of every social group at his school, yet he still has no friends. He loves to make classic movie parodies in his spare time with his friend and co-worker Earl (RJ Cyler). He also used to know Rachel (Olivia Cooke, Bates Motel & Ouija) when they were younger, as they went to the same Hebrew school together, but apparently fell out of touch. However, when Greg’s parents learn that Rachel has been diagnosed with cancer, they urge him to befriend her. He’s hesitant at first, but he comes to find they have an inseparable bond.
The film includes many other notable and amazing actors, including Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead), Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation, 21 Jump Street), Molly Shannon, and Connie Britton (Nashville, American Horror Story).
The film did very well at Sundance, winning both the U.S. Grand Jury Prize for drama and the Audience award for an American drama as well. I’m highly looking forward to seeing it, but I’ll be sure to have a box of tissues nearby.
3. Slow West (2015)
Winner of the World Cinema Jury Prize for a drama, Slow West is a western thriller about Jay (Kodi Smitt-McPhee, Let Me In & Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), a 17-year-old Scottish nobleman who travels the American frontier in the 1800’s in search of the woman he loves. He comes across Silas (Michael Fassbender), a mysterious traveler who finds that the woman of Jay’s affections is being chased by an extremely dangerous bounty hunter (Ben Mendelsohn, Starred Up & Bloodline). Together, Jay and Silas travel the frontier while trying to avoid being caught and killed in their pursuit.
I’m not usually a fan of western films, but Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smitt-McPhee are both very talented actors and it looks like an intense, yet comical, thriller that will have me on the edge of my seat while laughing at the same time.
4. Glassland (2014)
The fourth film on my list is the winner of the World Cinema Special Jury Award for drama. Set in Dublin, Ireland, Glassland revolves around John (Jack Reynor, Transformers: Age of Extinction & Delivery Man), a cab driver who lives paycheck to paycheck and lives with his mother Jean (Toni Collette) in social housing. Jean’s illness is slowly killing her, as she’s basically drinking herself to her own death. To keep that from happening, she must enter a private rehab in order to become sober and being living a normal, healthy life. However, it’s extremely expensive, leaving John with what he sees as no choice but to get the money in not-so-legal ways with his best friend Shane (Will Poulter, We're the Millers & The Maze Runner).
The trailer gives us just a glimpse of how powerful the cast's performance is. It paints a picture of the all too real illness of alcoholism and how it affects families and one’s mental and physical health, as well as the lengths John is willing to go to in order to provide the money necessary to help his mother get better.
5. James White (2015)
Another film revolving around a man with an ill mother, James White won the NEXT Audience Award and has a very talented cast, including Christopher Abbott (Martha Marcy May Marlene, A Most Violent Year), Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi, Cynthia Nixon (Sex and the City), and Ron Livingston (Office Space, Swingers). The film is set in New York City, where James (Abbott) is struggling to gain control over his life. He lives in a self-destructive manner and is extremely self-indulgent. However, as his mother becomes more ill and is losing time, James must turn his life around and put a stop to his reckless, hedonistic behavior.
The film is a directorial debut from Josh Mond, who also wrote the script. He previously produced Martha Marcy May Marlene, which Christopher Abbott starred in as well. The film is sure to be a tearjerker, which people always love.
So there you have it. My 5 most anticipated films from Sundance this year. What are yours?