Top 10: Most Anticipated Films at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival

While we are in the midst of Awards Season 2018, the Sundance Film Festival is here to take us into 2019. More than 120 films will make their debuts in Park City, high above Salt Lake in the Wasatch Mountains.

Some films will premiere at the festival just ahead of designated releases. They already have distribution and are looking for an audience. Others hope to leave with deals in hand. Today, we look at ten films opening at Sundance 2019.

World Cinema Documentary Competition

Directed by: Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell
Status: Looking for US distribution

The media narrative surrounding life and politics in Gaza has always ignored the most important part of the story: the people who live there. Now, documentary filmmakers Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell go into Gaza and bring those stories to life. The film examines the dreams and realities of children born and raised in a place forsaken by the world.

“Ask Dr. Ruth”
Documentary Premieres

A still from Ask Dr. Ruth by Ryan White, an official selection of the Documentary Premieres Program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by David Paul Jacobson

Director: Ryan White
Status: Purchased by Magnolia Pictures, US release date not set

Dr. Ruth Westheimer was a pop culture icon in the 1980s and 90s with her no-nonsense advice as a radio host who specialized in sex therapy. Now at age 90, Dr. Ruth still doles out her sage wisdom at events around the world. This documentary from Ryan White looks at Dr. Ruth’s life and legacy, as well as presenting a portrait of the woman who is still going strong.

“The Nightingale”

Director: Jennifer Kent
Written by: Jennifer Kent
Starring: Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Damon Herriman
Status: Purchased by IFC Films, US release date not set

Jennifer Kent’s follow up to her sleeper hit, “The Babadook,” earned mostly positive reviews when it hit the fall festival circuit a few months ago. “The Nightingale” is a tale of revenge, feminism, and survival set in the Tasmanian wilderness in the early 1800s. Kent proved herself as a director that knows how to use atmosphere to build tension. It’s time for a new film from Jennifer Kent, and this brutal thriller holds a lot of promise.

“The Farewell”
US Dramatic Competition

Jian Yongbo, Kmamura Aio, Chen Han, Tzi Ma, Awkwafina, Li Ziang, Tzi Ma, Lu Hong and Zhao Shuzhen appear in a still from The Farewellby Lulu Wang, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtsey of Sundance Institute | photo by Big Beach

Director: Lulu Wang
Written by: Lulu Wang
Starring: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Jim Liu
Status: Looking for distribution

Awkwafina made her mark on the industry in 2018 with comedic roles in both “Ocean’s 8” and “Crazy Rich Asians.” Now, she takes on a slightly more serious, though still comedic, role in “The Farewell.” Writer/director Lulu Wang follows up her 2014 film, “Posthumous,” with this tale of a family who learns their grandmother doesn’t have long to live. Hoping to hide the bad news from her, they plan a wedding to gather everyone back together before she dies. What could possibly go wrong?

“Late Night”

Emma Thompson

Director: Nisha Ganatra
Written by: Mindy Kaling
Starring: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, Amy Ryan, John Lithgow
Status: Looking for US distribution

Emma Thompson stars as a late-night television host who learns her show may be cancelled. Thompson is equally great in dramatic and comedic roles, and seeing her in something that is a little bit of both seems like a perfect match. Nisha Ganatra moves to the big screen after several successful years directing television. Coupled with a script by the brilliant and witty Mindy Kaling, “Late Night” is one of the hottest tickets of the festival.

“Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile”

Director: Joe Berlinger
Written by: Michael Werwie
Starring: Zac Efron, Lily Collins, Haley Joel Osment
Status: Looking for US distribution

Ted Bundy was known for his good looks and charm. The stories of his charisma are legendary. Zac Efron long ago shed his Disney image and now takes on the role of the infamous serial killer in “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.” What sets this apart from other serial killer origin movies is that it is told from the perspective of Elizabeth Kloepfer (Lily Collins), Bundy’s longtime girlfriend who believed Ted could never be what they said he was. That this film premieres just a few miles from the scene of several of Bundy’s crimes lends an extra layer of intrigue to it.


Director: Babak Anvari
Written by: Babak Anvari
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Armie Hammer, Zazie Beetz
Status: Released by Annapurna Pictures on March 29

Armie Hammer and Dakota Johnson unite for this horror tale about a bartender and his girlfriend who find themselves in a terrifying situation after he finds a phone left behind one night at his bar. Both Hammer and Johnson enjoyed great years in 2018, and this could just continue their winning records. The film premieres in the midnight section of Sundance but will be in theaters in March.

US Documentary Competition

A still from APOLLO 11 by Todd Miller, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition an at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Neon CNN Films

Director: Todd Douglas Miller
Status: Produced by CNN Films, US release date not set

To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, director Todd Douglas Miller incorporates NASA archival footage, interviews, and even recordings of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins from inside the command module. Much of the footage and the recordings have never been released by NASA before and haven’t been seen in 50 years.

“The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind”

Director: Chiwetel Ejiofor
Written by: Chiwetel Ejiofor
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Noma Dumezweni, Joseph Marcel
Status: Purchased by Netflix, US release date not set

After dozens of performances in film and television and an Academy Award nomination for acting, Chiwetel Ejiofor takes his turn in the director’s chair with this adaptation of the book by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. The film tells the true story of a boy in Malawi who dreamed of helping modernize his village by building a windmill to harness power. Netflix acquired this film and will release it later in 2019.

“Velvet Buzzsaw”

Director: Dan Gilroy
Written by: Dan Gilroy
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Billy Magnussen, John Malkovich
Status: Purchased by Netflix, Global release date February 1

Dan Gilroy made a stunning directorial debut four years ago with “Nightcrawler.” His follow up was less loved, but that hasn’t seemed to diminish anyone’s anticipation for his latest film. Netflix produced this original film, which reunites Gilroy with his “Nightcrawler” stars, Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo. This thriller may have a supernatural twist to it, as an art collector discovers a series of paintings only to find those terrible things happen to people who care more about greed than the art itself. This may, indeed, be a very strange film. And everyone gets to find out for themselves when it hits Netflix worldwide on February 1.

What films are you looking forward to hearing about at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival? Comment below and share!


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Written by Karen M. Peterson

Karen Peterson is a writer from Southern California. When she is not at the ballpark cheering on her LA Angels, she can usually be found in a movie theater or in front of the television. Karen is obsessed with awards shows, and loves everything from the smallest indie film to the biggest of big budget spectacles. She is also unapologetically in love with Tom Cruise.


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