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Sundance Film Festival 2021 – top 5 most anticipated films

Park City, Utah isn’t quite going to be the same for the 2021, as the Sundance Film Festival is unfortunately still beholden to the restrictions of a global pandemic. However, the festival team have been had at work on a feature-rich, Sundance-built online platform which boasts virtual waiting rooms, live streamed Q&As, and new, inspired online environments.

The festival, which runs from January 28 to February 3, will predominantly be digitally based, but still boasts an impressive array of 71 features, 50 Shorts, 4 Indie Series, 14 New Frontier Projects. Some of this year’s notable entries include Robin Wright‘s directorial debut Land, Ben Wheatley‘s In the Earth, Pascual Sisto‘s dark indie John and the Hole and Polish film Prime Time.

Here are my personal top five picks from this year’s digital offerings…

1. Judas and the Black Messiah

Director: Shaka King

King (a former student of Spike Lee) returns to Sundance Film Festival with his highly anticipated retelling of Fred Hampton’s revolutionary rise to lead the Illinois Black Panther Party. Inspired by true events, the film charts the parties clashes with the FBI, including how they planted William O’Neal to infiltrate and eventually betray the chapter.

Featuring an all-star cast, led by Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield, there’s been plenty of awards buzz surrounding the project, with the film hotly tipped for Oscar success.

This is definitely one to put on your must-see list!

Lakeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya appear in Judas and the Black Messiah by Shaka King, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute

2. On the Count of Three

Director: Jerrod Carmichael

Comedian Carmichael brings his ‘darkly comic’ directorial debut to this year’s digital edition of the festival. Written by Ramy co-creators Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch, the film teases an existential bromance between Carmichael and the ever-talented Christopher Abbot, as their characters grapple with ending things.

Featuring an impressive cast including Christopher Abbott, Tiffany Haddish, J.B. Smoove, Lavell Crawford and Henry Winkler – there’s plenty of talent involved with the project to get excited about.

Chris Abbott and Jerrod Carmichael appear in On the Count of Three by Jerrod Carmichael, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Marshall Adams.

3. Prisoners of the Ghostland

Director: Sion Sono

A mash-up of Western, samurai, and postapocalyptic thriller, an unhinged Nicolas Cage and Sion Sono’s English language debut – what more could you want from a film?!

Honestly this sounds like one of the most bonkers films in this year’s lineup, complete with extreme violence and gore – and I’m all for it. Nicolas Cage has fully embraced the wacky roles, and his last film at Sundance was Mandy, so I am VERY hyped for this one.

Nick Cassavetes and Nic Cage appears in Prisoners of the Ghostland by Sion Sono, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

4. A Glitch in the Matrix

Director: Rodney Ascher

Amongst the fantastic lineup of documentaries on offer, this trippy exploration of simulation theory piqued my interest from the Midnight section.

Much like the main question from the Wachowskis’ groundbreaking trilogy, the film delves into the theory of “what if this is all a simulation?” Documenting the idea’s genesis over the years, Ascher explores whether dominating forces controlling our lives…

A still from A Glitch in the Matrix by Rodney Ascher, an official selection of the Midnight section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

5. Passing

Director: Rebecca Hall

Hall is bringing her anticipated directorial debut to Sundance, adapted from Nella Larsen’s Harlem Renaissance novel. The film stars Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga as two African American women who “pass” as white in 1929 New York City. Billed as an elegant psychological thriller about obsession and repression, I think there’s more than meets the eye to Hall’s adaptation.

Featuring an all-star lineup including Thompson and Negga, along with Alexander Skarsgard, André Holland, the film is also produced by Forest Whitaker.

Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson appear in Passing by Rebecca Hall, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Tickets are now on sale for all films at festival.sundance.org.

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