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Cinema Chat: 2023 Sundance Film Festival gets underway and new movies opening in Ann Arbor

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Sundance Film Festival at the Michigan Theater (Ann Arbor, Michigan)

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL LINEUP SET WITH UKRAINE WAR, LITTLE RICHARD, MICHAEL J. FOX, JUDY BLUME DOCS; PICS WITH ANNE HATHAWAY, EMILIA CLARKE, JONATHAN MAJORS; MORE

Back to in-person attendance for the first time since 2020, the Sundance Film Festival is leaning into its independent roots with a timely 2023 lineup that examines the Russian invasion of Ukraine, conflict in Iran and the dangers of technology, and includes documentaries on author Judy Blume, Michael J, Fox, Brooke Shields and the Emperor of Rock ’n’ Roll himself, Little Richard.

Running from January 19-29 in and around Park City, the Robert Redford-created shindig today unveiled 101 feature films in the U.S. and World Dramatic and Documentary competition categories as well as Premieres, Next, Midnight, New Frontier, Spotlight and Kids selections. That’s up from last year’s 84 feature titles and a nod to the evolution of festival attendance due to the Covid pandemic, and off of a record number of 15,855 submissions comprised of 4,061 feature-length films. Of the 4,061 feature film submissions, 1,662 were from the U.S., and 2,399 were international.

Highly Anticipated Films to Look Out For:

"To Live and Die and Live" – director Qasim Basir, graduate of Ann Arbor’s Huron High School, returns to Sundance forging a fresh exploration of addiction, loss, and love with this stunningly beautiful love letter to Detroit. Featuring an exceptional Amin Joseph as Muhammad, the film is an emotional testament to the astonishing power community can provide in a cruel world.

"Cat Person" – Starring Emilia Jones (breakout star of the 2021 festival with "CODA") and based on the 2017 New Yorker story that went viral. A provocative portrait of modern dating that is sure to spark debate, exploring power dynamics and the terrifying nature of some gray areas.

"Infinity Pool" - Writer-director Brandon Cronenberg ("Possessor," 2020 Sundance Film Festival, and son of director David Cronenberg) returns to Park City with a new sci-fi trip through the wicked exploits of foreigners abroad. Crushing violence and surreal horrors puncture this dark satire of the privileged few, centered on the depraved lead performances of Alexander Skarsgård and Mia Goth.

And you won’t have to wait long to see it, because it’s opening next week Thursday, January 26 at the State Theatre!

"Little Richard: I Am Everything" – Like a quasar burning past the gaslight, director Lisa Cortés’ eye-opening documentary explodes the whitewashed canon of American pop music. The film shines a clarifying light on the Black, queer origins of rock ’n’ roll, and establishes the genre’s big bang: Richard Wayne Penniman.

"Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie" – Fox's improbable story sounds like the stuff of Hollywood, so what better way to tell it than through scenes from his own work, supplemented with stylish recreations? Owning his own narrative, the actor playfully recounts his journey with intimacy, candor, and humor. In the hands of Davis Guggenheim ("An Inconvenient Truth," 2006 Sundance Film Festival), the film reveals what happens when an eternal optimist confronts an incurable disease.

"You Hurt My Feelings" – Writer/director Nicole Holofcener ("Enough Said," "Can You Ever Forgive Me?") returns to Sundance for the fourth time with a cleverly observed, witty film that delicately skewers its sharply drawn, imperfect characters’ insecurities, privilege, and narcissism. Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tobias Menzies lead a uniformly superb, funny cast, as they pull everyone around them into the fallout of navigating whether loving someone also requires loving their work.

OPENING THIS WEEK

"The Son" — OPENS TODAY AT THE MICHIGAN

Based on Florian Zeller's 2018 stage play of the same name, the film serves as a prequel to 2020's "The Father", which earned Anthony Hopkins the Academy Award for Best Actor.

A cautionary tale that centers on Peter (Hugh Jackman), whose hectic life with his infant and new partner Beth (Vanessa Kirby) is upended when his ex-wife Kate (Laura Dern) appears at his door to discuss their troubled teenage son Nicholas (Zen McGrath). Peter strives to take care of Nicholas as he would have wanted his own father (Anthony Hopkins) to have taken care of him, while juggling his and Beth's new son, and the pending offer of his dream job. However, by reaching for the past to correct its mistakes, he loses sight of how to hold onto Nicholas in the present.

"Broker" — OPENS FRIDAY, JANUARY 20 AT THE STATE

Highly anticipated new film from acclaimed director Hirokazu Kore-eda ("Shoplifters;" "After the Storm;" "Like Father, Like Son")

The film follows two brokers who sell orphaned infants, circumventing the bureaucracy of legal adoption, to affluent couples who can't have children of their own. After an infant's mother surprises the duo by returning to ensure her child finds a good home, the three embark on a journey to find the right couple, building an unlikely family of their own.

Starring Song Kang-ho, who audiences will remember for his memorable role in 2019’s "Parasite," and who won the Best Actor Award at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, where the film was also nominated for the Palme d’Or.

"When You Finish Saving the World" — OPENS FRIDAY, JANUARY 20 AT THE STATE

A 2022 Sundance breakout, written and directed by Jesse Eisenberg in his feature directorial debut. The film stars Julianne Moore and Finn Wolfhard ("Stranger Things") as high school student Ziggy, who performs original folk-rock songs for an adoring online fan base. But this concept mystifies his formal and uptight mother, Evelyn, who runs a shelter for survivors of domestic abuse.

SPECIAL SCREENINGS DOWNTOWN

"Metropolis" (anime) — PLAYS FRIDAY, JANUARY 20 AT 9:30 PM AT THE STATE

Part of the Late Nights at the State series

An animated futuristic dieselpunk drama film based upon a 1949 manga of the same name, inspired by Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent classic, and from screenwriter Katsuhiro Otomo, known for another cult-classic anime "Akira."

A Japanese detective and his young nephew go on the trail of a dangerous scientist, who they discover has created the beautiful Tima, destined to control humanity's future.

"Hunt" — PLAYS SATURDAY, JANUARY 21 AT 1:30 PM AT THE STATE

Part of the Korean CinemaNow Series

After President Park's murder in 1980, North Korea sense an opportunity for future invasion and send one of its spies, giving two South Korean senior security officers the task of hunting down the infiltrator.

"Stratford Festival Presents: Henry VIII" — PLAYS SUNDAY, JANUARY 22 AT 1:30 PM AT THE MICHIGAN

A U.S. Premiere! A live on-stage recording from the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Canada.

Passion, political intrigue, and personal faith drive the action as Shakespeare brings vividly to life the thrilling human drama behind a pivotal moment in history.

"The Lady Vanishes" — PLAYS MONDAY JANUARY 23 AT 7:30 PM AT THE MICHIGAN

Part of the Films We Love series

From director Alfred Hitchcock -- On a train headed for England a group of travelers is delayed by an avalanche. Holed up in a hotel in a fictional European country, young Iris (Margaret Lockwood) befriends elderly Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty). When the train resumes, Iris suffers a bout of unconsciousness and wakes to find the old woman has disappeared. The other passengers ominously deny Miss Froy ever existed, so Iris begins to investigate with another traveler (Michael Redgrave) and, as the pair sleuth, romantic sparks fly.

"Tampopo" — PLAYS THURSDAY, JANUARY 26 AT 7:15 PM AT THE STATE

Part of our Diamonds by the Decade series presented with the University of Michigan Center for Japanese Studies

We come to the 1980s in this series celebrating the best films of each decade since CJS began at the University of Michigan, with this 1987 Ramen-Western (a play on the term Spaghetti Western) about two Japanese milk-truck drivers who help a restaurant owner learn how to cook great noodles.

Cultura d'Italia Series (Thursdays at the State)

CONTINUING DOWNTOWN

"Skinamarink" 

This is a 2022 Canadian experimental horror film written and directed by Kyle Edward Ball in his feature directorial debut. The film follows two children who wake up during the night to discover that they cannot find their father, and that the windows, doors, and other objects in their house have disappeared.

The film was shot digitally on a budget of $15,000, in Ball's childhood home in Edmonton, Canada. It premiered at the 26th Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal on July 25, 2022 and went on to screen at other film festivals. Ball cited the work of filmmakers Chantal Akerman, Stan Brakhage, Maya Deren, Stanley Kubrick, and David Lynch as influences on the film. He also stated that he was influenced by the 1967 avant-garde film "Wavelength" and the 1974 slasher film "Black Christmas."

"EO" 

An internationally co-produced 2022 road film directed by Jerzy Skolimowski and inspired by Robert Bresson's 1966 film "Au Hasard Balthazar," it follows the life of a donkey born in a Polish circus. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2022, where it won the Jury Prize. It is on the shortlist for the 2023 Academy Award for Best International Feature Film.

The world is a mysterious place when seen through the eyes of an animal. EO, a grey donkey with melancholic eyes, meets good and bad people on his life's path, experiences joy and pain, endures the wheel of fortune randomly turn his luck into disaster and his despair into unexpected bliss. But not even for a moment does he lose his innocence.

"Decision to Leave" 

From writer/director Park Chan-wook, one of the most prominent South Korean filmmakers working today "‘Oldboy", "The Handmaiden")

From a mountain peak in South Korea, a man plummets to his death, leaving the question: Did he jump, or was he pushed? When detective Hae-joon arrives on the scene, he begins to suspect the dead man's wife, but as he digs deeper into the investigation, he finds himself trapped in a web of deception and desire.

The film was selected to compete for the Palme d'Or at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, where Park won Best Director, and was also selected as the South Korean entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 95th Academy Awards. It was also named one of the top 5 international films of 2022 by the National Board of Review.

"The Whale" 

From director Darren Aronofsky, known for his psychological dramas "Pi", "Requiem for a Dream", and "Black Swan".

Starring Brendan Fraser as a reclusive English teacher suffering from severe obesity who attempts to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter for one last chance at redemption.

Fraser has received a Best Actor nomination at the 80th Golden Globe Awards and is inspiring the discussion of a “Frasierssance” that may be upon us.

"The Fabelmans" 

A 2022 American coming-of-age drama film directed by Steven Spielberg and written and produced by Tony Kushner and Spielberg. It is a semi-autobiographical story loosely based on Spielberg's adolescence and first years as a director, told through an original story of the fictional Sammy Fabelman, a young aspiring filmmaker who explores how the power of movies can help him see the truth about his dysfunctional family and those around him. The film features an ensemble cast that includes Gabriel LaBelle, Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, and Judd Hirsch. It is dedicated to the memories of Spielberg's real-life parents Arnold Spielberg and Leah Adler. The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10, 2022, where it won the People's Choice Award.

Young Sammy Fabelman falls in love with movies after his parents take him to see "The Greatest Show on Earth." Armed with a camera, Sammy starts to make his own films at home, much to the delight of his supportive mother.

"The Menu"

A 2022 American comedy horror film directed by Mark Mylod, written by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, and produced by Adam McKay, Betsy Koch, and Will Ferrell through their production banners Hyperobject Industries and Gary Sanchez Productions respectively. The film stars Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Hong Chau, Janet McTeer, Judith Light, and John Leguizamo. It had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Young couple Margot and Tyler (Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult) travel to a remote island to eat at Hawthorne, an exclusive restaurant run by celebrity chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes), who has prepared a lavish molecular gastronomy menu where food is treated as conceptual art, although his approach to cuisine has some shocking surprises for the wealthy guests.

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Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
Nick Alderink is the programming manager at Ann Arbor's historic Michigan Theater.
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