Park City, Utah is a little mountain mining town turned skier’s paradise. The storied, formally quaint village has breathtaking views in every direction and a good bar and restaurant scene to entertain. Once a year at the end of January, the local library, health club, synagogue, high school auditorium and a couple hotel ballrooms are all transformed into movie theaters under the guise of The Sundance Film Festival.
While Sundance has become known for influencers wandering East for a snowy backdrop in the lamest swag-infested part of the festival, the best part is the new and awesome voices of film who are launched out of a cannon onto the creative scene. They are soon to be employed by the studios looking for original ways to crack the next monster movie or superhero excursion.
But the same way a great baseball hitter hones their young swing in summer cape cod ball, Sundance is where we see these directors hone their craft in these mostly-independent-made, down-and-dirty explorations of real and earnest subjects. Each year’s Sundance lineup is a socio-political flip book of the state of the world.
Sundance 2021 starts this Thursday. And while virtual screenings have made the trek to this tiny mountain town unnecessary, we decided to turn this into a great excuse to look at a few Sundance films past from some of our current blockbuster directors.
SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED
Director: Colin Trevorrow
A group of reporters head out to meet a guy who posts a classified ad looking for a time travel buddy. Sound quirky? It is. But that’s the beauty of many Sundance movies—they tell fun original stories like this which always feel like a discovery. Trevorrow followed up this esoteric blast with a slightly less quirky one called Jurassic World.
Director: Ryan Coogler
Before Black Panther and Creed, Michael B. Jordan and Coogler worked together on an emotional tour-de-force that is worth revisiting, especially right now, called Fruitvale Station. The first screening at Sundance was tough to hear over an openly weeping and sniffling audience, as this heart wrenching drama tells the story of the last day of a man’s life before being shot by police.
THE KINGS OF SUMMER
Director: Jordan Vogt Roberts
While Kong was a great reinvention of the big gorilla story, Roberts first reinvented the runaway film with this badass comedy about a group of kids who retreat into the forest to escape the pains of typical teenage shit. Titled Toy’s House when it played at the festival, this impeccably cast flick is a who’s who of up and coming actors. This beautifully shot rendition of the woods behind the burbs is not your typical coming-of-age film.
HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE
Director: Taika Waititi
It is unfair to pick just one of Waititi’s Sundance films as he has played a few there, so we threw a cinematic dart and hit this gem. Before Thor: Ragnarok, Taika played the festival with this story about a city kid brimming with attitude and curse words moving in with a surly old foster uncle in the New Zealand bush. They have to hit the road together taking Waititi’s unmatched comedic directing abilities along. He later also went on to direct one of last year’s Oscar favorites Jo Jo Rabbit.
Director: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
Often times the arrival of the director is accompanied by the arrival of an acting force. In this case, Ryan Gosling is there to help drive the directing skilsl of Boden and Fleck. Sundance is terrific at giving difficult but relevant stories a platform they might not otherwise have. In Half Nelson, we follow an idealistic teacher juggling his students and school with a serious drug habit. The duo went on to most recently direct Marvel’s Captain Marvel.