PARK CITY, UTAH—For hundreds of years*, Sundance has played host to a spate of brilliant and buzzy films, filmmakers and famous people, thanks in part to the festival’s chairman Robert Redford, the Jesus of Hollywood who each year bestows upon Utah an event where independent films can be seen, heard and felt. But for Jezebel, this is Year One, and what a year to attend.
Given the obvious climate, at this year’s Sundance there’s been added emphasis on discussions of sexual assault and women in Hollywood. On January 20, at the “Women Breaking Barriers” talk—which featured Sandra Oh, Octavia Spencer and director Reed Morano—actress Tina Lifford said, “This is a wonderful moment that’s happening right now. It is making us confront deep-seated cultural issues. It’s a paradigm shift.” Oh stated, “There is a new generation of women who have less heaviness on them and I’m sure there are lot of women in this room who have a clear creative vision and will put it out there and they inspire me tremendously.”
As ever, the movies reflect the times. Last year’s biggest and most serendipitous Sundance story was Jordan Peele’s big little horror film Get Out, which went on to break records and earned four Oscar nominations today. Midway through Sundance 2018, the most discussed pictures include: The Tale, a Jennifer Fox film about a teen’s sexual abuse that’s being touted as a film for the #MeToo era as if that’s a badge of honor; Sorry to Bother You, a trippy adventure led by Atlanta’s Lakeith Stanfield; and Eighth Grade, a classic tale of middle-school awkwardness.
It’s still early, but Variety, in a post titled “Where Are the Masterpieces? Sorry, There Are None (Opinion),” has already declared that there’s nothing here worthy of our intense communal praise: “There doesn’t seem to be a movie people are getting high on.” The primarily white male critics in attendance here are so used to seeing dozens of films months ahead of everyone else that I fear they’ve become emotionally exhausted. Here’s a slice of conversation overheard at the screening for Reed Morano’s post-apocalyptic slow-burner (starring Peter Dinklage and Elle Fanning) I Think We’re Alone Now:
Man A: “I thought you didn’t want to see this.”
Man B: “I didn’t... There’s nothing else.”
There are, like, a hundred things else. I’ll get to some of them later. But first, a superficial grievance. An annual staple of Sundance is the probability of spotting movie stars out in the wild snowy mountains of Utah. Many of them came for the weekend and then left before I arrived late Sunday night, and while Jezebel didn’t come “for” the celebs (we’re here to review movies and other important matters), it would have been nice to brush past Idris Elba’s shoulder at a corporate-sponsored lounge. Here are a bunch of the celebs whose faces we missed.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg Was Here
“Oh, she was here yesterday,” a media colleague informed me after I mentioned how much I loved the RBG documentary, a charming and intimate portrait of Ginsburg as an iconic legal, feminist force. I didn’t get to see her.
Idris Elba Was Here
He DJ’d at an after party for his directorial debut Yardie.
Issa Rae and Lena Waithe Were Here
Looks like they had fun, but I wasn’t there so wouldn’t know.
Jon Hamm Was Here
Extremely rude that he hung out with the cast and crew of Skate Kitchen and a snowman at a [insert corporate sponsor’s name] lodge.
Jemaine Clement Was Here
“JUH-MAINE! Hey JUH-MAINE!” I would’ve yelled at him, in a fake New Zealand accent, had I seen him.
Jay Ellis Was Here
I was told that he was really sweet when he was here. Okay.
John Legend Was Here
The shot to the heart is that after a day of screenings, I attended a cast party for Monster. After I left, John Legend did a surprise performance, which I missed.
*Really, the festival is 40 years old, founded in 1978.