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The Quinnipiac Chronicle

Sundance 2024: The ones to watch


January started off with a bang as the Sundance Institute hosted the 40th edition of its annual film festival in Park City and Salt Lake City, Utah. Staff writers Connor Youngberg and Jennifer Moglia made the trip out, and now they’ve got the scoop on all the films you can’t (and can) miss, from documentaries to “different men.”


‘HIT MAN’ This Richard Linklater film follows Gary Johnson, an undercover cop and college professor (Glen Powell), who poses as a hitman in order to catch people at their lowest. This film is effortlessly funny as Powell shines in this dynamic role that sees his character enter an unpredictable plot along with Adria Arjona’s character, Madison Masters.

The film is loosely based on the real Gary Johnson, as Linklater was inspired by the Texas Monthly article also titled “Hit Man,” written by Skip Hollandsworth in October 2001. However, it’s not a direct adaptation, with Linklater and Powell — who both have writing credits for the film — taking creative liberties for the audience’s enjoyment.

‘A DIFFERENT MAN’ When Edward (Sebastian Stan), an aspiring actor, struggles with insecurities due to his facial deformities, he undergoes an experimental procedure in an attempt to become a different man. When things go right, things immediately go wrong, making this unpredictable story a must-watch for when it hits theaters this year.

Stan delivers an exciting and fresh performance. By casting Adam Pearson, a British actor with neurofibromatosis, and having the story surround an off-Broadway play, writer and director Aaron Schimberg plays with real issues regarding casting in Hollywood.

This is Schimberg’s third feature film and the camera work is spectacular. Schimberg’s camera is always moving, utilizing pans and zooms that give the film so much character. The grain gives “A Different Man” such a vintage feel and the film is simply shot beautifully.

However, the best part of “A Different Man” is arguably the score. Composed by Umberto Smerilli, the music adds so much to the film, matching both the emotional and darker tones extremely well.

‘ROB PEACE’ Writer, director and actor Chiwetel Ejiofor adapts Jeff Hobbs’ 2014 book “The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League” to near perfection. This emotional tribute to the life of Rob Peace is truly spectacular. It left the Sundance audience in tears, including Jackie Peace, Rob’s mother, who received a standing ovation following the film’s premiere.

The cast consists of Ejiofor himself, Mary J. Blige, Camila Cabello and, most importantly, Jay Will, who delivers a heartfelt portrayal of Rob in what should be his breakout role.

The film explores Rob’s dual life as an intellect and a drug dealer, while centering around the love Rob has for his family and trying to do the right thing for the ones he loves.

‘SASQUATCH SUNSET’ Possibly the most polarizing film of the entire festival, “Sasquatch Sunset” follows a family of sasquatches throughout the calendar year. Going in blind to this film was certainly an experience to remember.

Jesse Eisenberg, Riley Keough, Christophe Zajac-Denek and co-director Nathan Zellner star as the sasquatch family. The film doesn’t abide by the three-act structure, rather using seasons as acts to tell this family’s story. And while we’re on the subject of unconventional, there is not a single word of dialogue throughout this entire film.

While it’s certainly worth it to applaud the filmmakers for this extremely unique idea, the film utilizes a lot of middle school toilet humor that is either really funny or really not. There is a lackluster attempt to make this film actually say something meaningful, but by the point we get there, the film is already held back by the unserious poop jokes.

The cinematography is absolutely stunning and there are many filmmaking aspects to love, but if you don’t love this movie, you’ll hate it.


‘MY OLD ASS’ Most Sundance attendees walked into “My Old Ass” knowing next to nothing about the plot, but they left with tears in their eyes and their bodies out of their seats for multiple standing ovations. The sophomore feature from producer Margot Robbie and director Megan Park follows Elliott (Maisy Stella), who dabbles in substance use for the first time during the final summer before she leaves for college.

During her drug trip, Elliott meets a version of herself from 20 years in the future (Aubrey Plaza). Throughout the film, older Elliott gives younger Elliott some mysterious answers and advice that complicate her senior year summer, for better and for worse.

The entire cast shines with the help of a refreshingly original script, with many of the actors serving in their first or one of their first few major roles. Despite its time-travel elements, this is an incredibly relatable, funny and heartwarming story about enjoying the time you have with the people and places you love while you can.

‘WILL & HARPER’ This is a great year for Sundance documentaries and “Will & Harper” was no exception, especially with the help of actor Will Ferrell’s star power.

This documentary follows Ferrell and his best friend Harper Steele, who met while they were both working for “Saturday Night Live” throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s. Steele came out to her family and friends as a transgender woman in 2020, and to properly understand how he can best assist her throughout her transition and help her rediscover herself, Ferrell takes Steele on a road trip across the country for two weeks.

While Ferrell’s name recognition may have gotten movie buffs’ eyes on the film, Steele’s humor, charm and heart while addressing the realities of being transgender in America were the highlights of the documentary. The relationship between the two is incredibly wholesome, and the way they support each other is a breath of fresh air in a time when so much transphobia is present in the United States.

‘WINNER’ When you hear something you’re not supposed to that has the potential to change lives, do you keep quiet, or do you tell the world? Dark comedy “Winner,” directed by Susanna Fogel (“Booksmart”)and starring Emilia Jones (“CODA”) answers that very question.

Screenwriter Kerry Howley penned this script based on her own New York Magazine feature, “Who Is Reality Winner?,” published in 2017. The real-life Winner, an air-force veteran and former NSA translator, received the longest prison sentence ever given for the unauthorized release of government information to the media for leaking a report on Russia’s involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

For those who have never heard Winner’s story, this is an eye-opening look at just how corrupt and unfair our government and justice system can be. It isn’t all doom and gloom, though – there are tons of laughs and heartwarming moments as well.

Anyone could decide to make a movie based on a true story, but a stellar cast brings this to life, highlighted by the performances of the Winner family: the aforementioned Jones (Reality), Kathryn Newton (Reality’s sister Brittany), Connie Britton (their mother Billie) and Zach Galifianakis (their father Ron). The best part?

The film received the seal of approval from the real Reality Winner herself, who appeared at the premiere in Park City.

‘I SAW THE TV GLOW’ Writer and director Jane Schoenbrun made their second appearance at Sundance with “I Saw the TV Glow,” as their debut “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” was featured in the online edition of the festival in 2021. Both movies share themes of dependence on the internet, yearning for a sense of community and personal discovery, specifically in the vein of gender expression and transgender identity.

“TV Glow” was one of the most anticipated films of the festival for many, produced by Emma Stone and it featured appearances by musicians Fred Durst (Limp Bizkit), Lindsey Jordan (Snail Mail) and Phoebe Bridgers.

Its plot centers around Justice Smith (“Jurassic World Dominion”) and Brigette Lundy-Paine (Netflix’s “Atypical”) as an unlikely pair of childhood friends through multiple decades who can’t tell the difference between reality and their favorite TV show, spiraling into chaos and madness when the series is mysteriously canceled and one of them disappears.

This film didn’t land for a lot of audiences; the non-linear storytelling and unclear delivery of themes and messages proved to be too much for many. However, the film’s inclusion on this list remains because of how much it does mean to so many people, and how much it will mean to even more people when it gets a wide release.

‘LOVE LIES BLEEDING’ If you love a “good-for-her” horror flick but wish there were two queer final girls instead of just one who survives, A24’s “Love Lies Bleeding” is the film for you. Written and directed by Rose Glass (“Saint Maud”) and boasting a stacked cast of Kristen Stewart, Katy O’Brian (“The Mandalorian”), Ed Harris and Dave Franco, this romantic thriller is as dark as it is fun and even ridiculous at times.

Stewart and O’Brian star as Lou and Jackie, respectively, a gym owner and bodybuilder who fall in lust at first sight. Both of their dark pasts complicate their relationship, leading to more love, lies and bleeding than you could ever imagine.

I’m not usually a fan of gore and body horror (don’t ask me how I reacted to the aforementioned “A Different Man”), but I enjoyed the sparing, yet satisfying use of it in this film. The coloring, lighting, editing and music create a sinister vibe that makes you feel like you’re living right in that house with Lou and Jackie. Stewart and O’Brian put on amazing individual performances and have just as strong chemistry together, supported by Harris and Franco playing the worst people you’ve ever met (they’re actors, it’s a compliment).

There are moments where this one got a bit too outrageous for some audience members, earning an equal amount of gasps, eye rolls, laughs and cheers throughout the premiere, but I soaked up every second of it. “Love Lies Bleeding” is as unhinged as it gets. As soon as the credits began to roll, I couldn’t wait to feel all of the anxiety of watching it again.

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Connor Youngberg
Connor Youngberg, Associate Multimedia Editor

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