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7 must-watch Sundance films that critics are flipping out for

The Sundance Film Festival is well underway, bringing forth a slew of new movies that are getting viewers excited for the new year in film. Most notable is The Birth of a Nation, a drama about the Nat Turner-led slave rebellion of 1831 that just closed a massive $17.5 million deal with Fox Searchlight for worldwide rights, marking the largest deal ever made at Sundance. This time last year, Fox Searchlight set a record by purchasing the rights to Brooklyn, a recent Oscar nominee for Best Picture.

Fox Searchlight won a bidding war for the film, with reports that The Weinstein Company, Netflix, and Sony also made offers that went as high as a reported $20 million.

The Birth of a Nation isn’t hogging all of the spotlight, though. Several other movies are performing extremely well at the Festival and netting big takes from studios that would be record breakers on their own were it not for Fox Seachlight’s big score this year. Below we’ve got a rundown on the films creating the biggest stir, all of which will be worth watching out for in 2016.

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The Birth of a Nation

In 1831, Turner led a two-day slave rebellion in Virginia that resulted in the reported death of at least 50 White Americans and the release of many slaves. Turner managed to hide for two months while at least 200 African-Americans who joined his rebellion were killed. But he was eventually captured, convicted, and sentenced to death by hanging.

Nate Parker, known for The Great Debaters and Beyond the Lights, not only stars as Turner in the film, but also wrote and directed it. A true passion project, he also invested his own money to get it made. Already, there’s Oscar buzz about the film; an interesting observation given that the movie is based on African-American history and features a mainly African-American cast. With talk of the lack of diversity in this year’s Oscars nominations, which even spawned the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, the reception to this movie could spark some serious conversations.


The female-led Wall Street drama Equity is making waves. It stars Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad) as a high-powered investment banker that’s navigating the male-dominated world of Wall Street. The movie, which was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics, touches on two hot topics today: the financial market, and gender equality. It’s no wonder the movie is striking a chord with viewers.

Morris From America

Snatched up by A24 — the force behind Oscar-nominated Room Morris From America is a comedy starring Craig Robinson (Mr. Robinson, Hot Tub Time Machine) as an African-American father dealing with life in a mainly white city in Germany. With his son as a key character as well (a first role for actor Markees Christmas), it’s dubbed a “coming-of-age” story.

Manchester by the Sea

Starring Casey Affleck (Lewis and Clark, Gone Baby Gone), Manchester By the Sea is one of several films picked up by Amazon. This one went for $10 million following a bidding war. The story follows Lee Chandler (Affleck) who becomes the legal guardian for his teenage nephew following the sudden death of his brother. It also stars Michelle Williams (Suite Française, Shutter Island) and Kyle Chandler (Bloodline); Matt Damon serves as a producer.

Complete Unknown

Complete-Unknown_1 copy
Image used with permission by copyright holder

In Complete Unknown, which was also picked up by Amazon for about $2 million, Rachel Weisz (Oz the Great and Powerful, The Lovely Bones) plays a con woman who returns from obscurity to confront an ex-lover, played by Michael Shannon (Boardwalk Empire). It’s dubbed a “Hitchcockian-style drama.”

Love and Friendship

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Amazon scooped up a third film at Sundance, this one alongside Roadside Attractions: the Jane Austen adaptation Love and Friendship was bought for about $2 million. The period drama stars Kate Beckinsale (Underworld, Total Recall) as a widow named Lady Susan Vernon, who coops herself up in her in-law’s house to avoid rumors about her romantic liaisons. It also stars Chloe Sevigny (American Horror Story). The film will reportedly be released in theatres before it becomes available to Amazon Prime subscribers.

Worth noting: TallulahThe Fundamentals of Caring, and Under the Shadow

Related Offer: Amazon Prime – Instant Video

Netflix has been very present at the Festival as well, buying up movies like comedic drama Tallulah starring Ellen Page (Freeheld, X-Men: Days of Future Past) and Allison Janney (Mom) — for about $5 million, The Fundamentals of Caring — starring Paul Rudd (Ant-Man, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp), Craig Roberts (Red Oaks, Neighbors), and Selena Gomez (The Big Short, Spring Breakers) —  for $7 million, and Iran-set horror flick Under the Shadow, reports The New York Times. In fact, when all purchases are totaled, streaming services Amazon and Netflix turn out to have been the top buyers thus far at the event.

The Sundance Film Festival runs from January 21-31, 2016 in Park City, Utah.

Christine Persaud
Christine has decades of experience in trade and consumer journalism. While she started her career writing exclusively about…
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