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5 things we learned at Sundance 2018

Joshua Rothkopf
Written by
Joshua Rothkopf

It’s all over but the shouting at Sundance, the world’s premiere festival for indie voices—and if we didn’t get a new Call Me by Your Name or Boyhood, don’t blame the cinema gods. There was still much to be stoked about. Here are the highlights from a contentious lineup, consumed during a week of slushy trudging in the Utah snow.

Horror still reigns in Park City
Extending a tradition that’s already stretched from The Babadook and The Witch to Get Out, Sundance proved a dependable launching pad for standout horror: This year’s Hereditary—a nightmarish supernatural grief drama starring an unhinged Toni Collette—was the one film that came closest to a consensus favorite (if by favorite, we mean a movie that thoroughly traumatized all audiences). Brace yourself for June 8, when the rest of the world catches up.

Women told tough tales
Impressively, more than a third of the features debuting at Sundance were female-directed. In a year of #MeToo defiance, that in itself was thrilling. Among those titles, writer-director Tamara Jenkins returned after an 11-year absence and 2007’s The Savages to unleash the well-received infertility comedy Private Life, while docmaker Jennifer Fox turned heads with her first fiction foray, The Tale, a brave dramatization of her own belated discovery of sexual abuse.

The kids are alright
Sundance can launch careers (Jennifer Lawrence, for example, came to the festival virtually unknown in 2010 with Winter’s Bone). Nowhere was that more apparent than in this year’s crop of stellar young actors: The heartbreakingly vulnerable Elsie Fisher supplied Eighth Grade—about an awkward young teen’s final week of middle school—with emotional heft, while five-year-old Parker Sevak held the screen with Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Kindergarten Teacher.

Documentary profiles rocked
The year’s fest supplied an unusually robust slate of inspiring onscreen portraits, from RBG, a fierce (and unexpectedly romantic) chronicling of the life of “notorious” 84-year-old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Jane Fonda in Five Acts, a reclamation of the starlet-turned-activist-turned-aerobics-queen. Top honors were earned by Bad Reputation, a snarling, propulsive look at Joan Jett—ever going her own way, ever loving rock ’n’ roll.

Plenty to fight about
What’s Sundance without its share of arguments? Mandy was either an inspired stoner action-adventure or a proggy snooze until it supplied some primo (Nicolas) Cage Rage. Lizzie was either manna for fans of Chloë Sevigny and Kristen Stewart or the most boring movie that could have sprung from a famously gory true-crime murder. And Assassination Nation—the fest’s big $10 million sale—was either a rousing satire of American bloodlust or dimwitted trash. Pick your side and jump into the fray. That’s why we go.

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