Sundance is back, for those finally returning to Park City, Utah, or – if you’re like us – avoiding the snow while hanging on the couch.
After going virtual for a couple of pandemic-affected editions,
Sundance Film Festival (now through Jan. 29) has embraced both normalcy and the new with a hybrid in-person/online format. But the indie films on tap are, as usual with the fest, a pretty interesting mix, from the Jonathan Majors bodybuilding drama “Magazine Dreams” to Daisy Ridley’s “Sometimes I Think About Dying” to a slate of documentaries featuring Judy Blume, Little Richard, Michael J. Fox and Brooke Shields.
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Sundance highlights include Penelope Cruz drama, Little Richard documentary
Here are the best movies we’ve seen so far at Sundance, ranked:
Penelope Cruz headlines a coming-of-age drama about sexual identity.
A terrifying tale of a mother and daughter has a Frankenstein edge.
Rock icon Little Richard’s influential life receives the documentary treatment.
5. ‘Sometimes I Think About Dying’
In a quiet coastal Oregon town, the shy Fran (Daisy Ridley) lives an isolated life, occasionally daydreams of her demise, and works diligently and silently as her officemates chatter on, until an extroverted newcomer (Dave Merheje) forces Fran out of her lonely shell. What superficially seems like a deadpan, socially awkward take on “The Office” becomes an amusing and affecting look at loneliness and the importance of human interaction, with an outstandingly droll turn from Ridley.
A parental nightmare gets Frankenstein’d in this unsettling horror film. When her 6-year-old daughter dies of a sudden bacterial infection and goes missing from the morgue, nurse Celie (Judy Reyes) finds the child has become an experiment for Rose (Marin Ireland), an emotionally cold pathologist obsessed with reanimation. The pair quickly learn bringing the dead back is easier than it sounds, and Celie goes to terrifying extremes for her little girl in a sinister story full of moral quandaries.
3. ‘Judy Blume Forever’
Iconic children’s author Judy Blume is refreshingly cool and endlessly hip in this entertaining documentary, which tracks her life from adolescence to motherhood to finding success in the 1970s. Interviews with fans and celebrities, plus Blume herself, dig into the importance of her stories introducing children to sex and puberty – and the conservative feathers she ruffled. The insightful deep-drive also showcases her surprising sauciness at 84: “I was a good girl with a bad girl lurking just inside.”
2. ‘Little Richard: I Am Everything’
A celebration of the rock legend’s career goes hand in hand with how the music industry whitewashed Richard Penniman’s considerable influence in this honest and essential documentary. Through archival footage and interviews, the film chronicles the flamboyant performer’s early days as a drag act, his superstardom but also a complex life struggling with his queerness and his religion. And if you believe Elvis Presley is the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, this will make you rethink who should be on that throne.
While Penelope Cruz brings a gentle touch and song-and-dance moves to this Italian family drama, it’s newcomer Luana Giuliani who really dazzles. In 1970s Rome, 13-year-old Adriana (Giuliani) starts to identify as a boy, telling mother Clara (Cruz) she feels like an alien from another galaxy. From meetings with a crush to musical fantasies, Adri tries to find herself even as the dynamic with her mom, abusive dad and siblings becomes more unstable in the touching, inclusive coming-of-age tale.