If you’re an up-and-coming filmmaker — or just a big film fan — then the annual Sundance Film Festival has been the place to be for the last 30 years. This year’s festival is shaping up to be one of the most exciting yet, and several films have already earned major buzz and major distribution deals. Here are five films that have made waves at Sundance 2014.
Vulture calls Whiplash Sundance’s “strongest opening film in years,” and by all accounts, the film’s premiere brought down the house in Park City, Utah, on Thursday. Writer and director Damien Chazelle debuted a short version of Whiplash at last year’s Sundance festival, where it won the Short Film Jury Award: U.S. Fiction. This year, Chazelle came back with a feature-length film starring Miles Teller as a drumming prodigy and J.K. Simmons as his tyrannical jazz band instructor; the film is about the power struggle between the two creative minds. Whiplash has already been picked up by Sony Pictures, which will distribute the film internationally.
2. Obvious Child
A comedy about abortion starring a Saturday Night Live alum best known for an embarrassing gaffe: On paper, first-time director Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child may not sound like a hit film, but it’s been an enormous success at Sundance. Jenny Slate stars as a comedian who has to make some tough choices after she gets pregnant during a one-night stand. Slate’s SNL career never quite took off, but she’s earning rave reviews for this performance. The film, which is making headlines for its no-holds-barred approach at tackling controversial issues, also stars Gaby Hoffman, David Cross, Polly Draper, and Richard Kind. It will be distributed this year in North America by A24 Films.
For years, Sundance has been a place where Hollywood hopefuls go to be discovered. Now, it’s also the place where Hollywood A-listers go to gain some indie cred — that’s exactly what Kiera Knightley does in Lynn Shelton’s dark comedy Laggies. She stars as Megan, a young woman who spends the weekend of her high school reunion trying to escape the life she’s spent the last 10 years building. Chloë Grace Moretz stars as a teenager Megan befriends, and Sam Rockwell as a single dad who mingles with Megan. Laggies has earned mixed reviews from critics but delighted Sundance audiences nonetheless. It will be released by A24 Films.
4. Wish I Was Here
In 2004, actor Zach Braff earned some serious Sundance buzz with his debut film, Garden State. Ten years later, he’s back with his follow-up, the crowd-funded Wish I Was Here, to show that his brand of wonderful weirdness is still fresh and relevant. Braff wrote, directed, and stars in the film about Aiden, a struggling actor still stuck between the daydreams of youth and the harsh realities of adulthood; he has to grow up quickly when his father his diagnosed with terminal cancer. It also stars Kate Hudson and Josh Gad as Aiden’s doting wife and dorky brother, respectively. Focus Features will distribute Wish I Was Here in 2014.
5. Infinitely Polar Bear
Writer and director Maya Forbes has made it clear that Infinitely Polar Bear is an incredibly personal film — she drew on her own experiences growing up with a bipolar father to make it. Infinitely Polar Bear is set in the 1970s and stars Mark Ruffalo as Cam, a manic-depressive man who tries to cobble his life and family back together after leaving his wife (Zoe Saldana) and two daughters and committing himself. The film, which also stars Keir Dullea and Wallace Wolodarsky, has been praised for its “compassionate perspective on mental illness.” Studios are still bidding on Infinitely Polar Bear, though it seems that Forbes may end up inking one of this year’s biggest deals at Sundance.