Another Sundance Film Festival is done and dusted and it s been unlike any other previous year. With several high dollar acquisitions – Amazon alone spent nearly million on new titles – much of what we saw in Utah will make its way to theaters this year. If you have been following along with our Sundance Scorecard, which shows Tomatometer scores for any Sundance title that got one after 5 reviews, you ll notice critics were loving Shia LaBeouf’s Honey Boy, Jennifer Kent’s Babadook follow-up The Nightingale, Lulu Wang’s Awkwafina-led dramedy The Farewell, and Mindy Kaling s Late Night. Only four of the 2018 Sundance films made it to the Oscars this year, but chances are we will be talking about at least one of the actors from the 2019 slate come awards time next year. And if the Academy doesn’t nominate one of our favorites? We might still be talking about it anyway (*cough* Toni Collette was robbed).Park City is the place for established stars to break from their typecast molds and give us something completely new. Pete Davidson, Armie Hammer, Awkwafina, and Octavia Spencer shook things up at this year s festival, while veterans like Emma Thompson reminded us of why we love them. These are our favorite performances from Sundance 2019.Awkwafina, Aoi Mizuhara, Diana Lin, Shuzhen Zhou in The Farewell (2019) 97%(Photo by Courtesy the Sundance Institute)In The Farewell, Awkwafina takes her first dramatic turn and although the Crazy Rich Asians star feared she wouldn t be able cry on cue, her muted performance repeatedly brought us to tears. The premise – a family organizes a fake wedding to gather everyone together following the grandmother’s terminal diagnosis (which she does not know about) – is tailor made for tearjerking dramedy, and Lulu Wang’s feature debut had critics laughing through their sobs. Awkwafina plays the ‘straight man,’ while the rest of the cast provides the laughs: Mizuhara as an trepidatious Japanese bride, Lin as a stern Chinese-American mother, and Zhou as the energetic grandmother oblivious to her family s trickery. We enjoyed the men of The Farewell, too, but the women – especially Zhou – give the film its humor and heart.Octavia Spencer in Luce (2019) 90%(Photo by JA/Everett Collection)In Luce, a former African child soldier turned model U.S. student is cast in an entirely new light when he submits a disturbing essay for a school project and his teacher, played by Spencer, deputizes herself as the one to discover the truth – by any means necessary. Spencer manifests the weight of cultural expectations in the role of her career. The taut physiological drama, adapted from J.C. Lee s play, places the weight of African-American ascension upon the shoulders of our eponymous lead and as the woman who chooses to spar with him, Spencer is defiant and vulnerable. She shares scenes with Kelvin Harrison Jr. (as Luce) involving thought-provocative dialogue that pose complex questions about race and expectations, and offers few simplistic answers. Is Spencer s Miss Wilson a dedicated teacher raising valid concerns after troubling warning signs? Or is she an overbearing self-appointed investigator desperately trying to find evidence to support her pre-determinations? We left Luce unable to say one way or the other, but convinced this was an exceptional addition to an already impressive career for Spencer.Geraldine Viswanathan in Hala (2019) 86%(Photo by Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Parrish Lewis)After the Blockers premiere in April 18 at SXSW we expected great things from Geraldine Viswanathan. The hands-down standout from the teen sex comedy, Viswanathan headed to Park City in the title role of Minhal Baig’s debut film Hala, the intimate story of a teenage girl who is struggling to find balance as a Pakistani teen living in America raised in a strict Muslim household. Viswanathan once again shows her comedic chops as the sarcastic first-generation immigrant, but also thrives when placed squarely against her competing ideologies. In the seams of both is where her character eventually finds herself. The film s portrayal of a teen struggling with her disapproving mother, played against an exploration of sex, art, and religion, is not exactly groundbreaking, but it is refreshing to see it from a Muslim teenager s perspective. Viswanathan s acting and Baig s semi-autobiographical script give life and authenticity to a character we don’t often see represented on screen.Lupita Nyong’o in Little Monsters (2019) 79%(Photo by Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Ben King)Between this and Us, Lupita Nyong’o is going all in for horror in 2019. In Little Monsters, she plays a school teacher at an Australian elementary school who is on a field trip when a military accident unleashes a horde of zombies; she and the slacker uncle of one of her students are the only adults who can protect the kids against the brain-eaters. Trapped in a farm-themed amusement park with a wannabe musician and a degenerate children’s television host (Josh Gad), Nyong’o is the emotional anchor and heart of the film. This Aussie Shaun of the Dead fashions Nyong o as a mix of that film s Shaun and Walking Dead favorite Michonne’s badassness, and the Black Panther actress shows off some spectacular zombie-slaying and ukulele-playing skills: trust us when we say “Shake It Off” will never sound the same again.Jillian Bell and Utkarsh Ambudkar Brittany Runs a Marathon (2019) 88%(Photo by Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Jon Pack)Brittany ran the marathon, but Jillian Bell stole the show. Ever since the first season of Workaholics, we have been cracking up from the comedienne’s antics and broad humor. Bell gives a star-making performance as Brittany, an overweight twentysomething who gets a wake-up call when a bogus doctor’s visit to score Adderall results in warnings about her health and wellbeing. With every mile she runs in preparation for the New York Marathon, we watch Britanny make herself over, and by the end, all of us are ready to cheer her to the finish line. While training for the marathon, she meets Jern, played by Utkarsh Ambudkar, and while we don’t want to give too much away, the verbal sparring between these two provides some of the biggest laughs in the film. Not saying that everyone will run a marathon after watching it, but plenty will want to give it a try.Noah Jupe in Honey Boy (2019) 94%(Photo by Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Natasha Braier)Noah Jupe has quietly become one of the most acclaimed child actors in Hollywood. At only 13, he has starred in two bona fide hits (A Quiet Place and Wonder) and racked up stellar reviews for his work. Honey Boy is about to take him to the next level. Shia LaBeouf’s semi-autobiographical retelling of his tumultuous childhood has the young Brit playing LaBeouf in his formative years, while Boy Erased actor Lucas Hedges plays the adult version in Alma Har el s first narrative feature. Hedges provides the contemporary context, but much of the narrative rests entirely on Jupe’s teenaged shoulders – and he goes toe-to-toe with LaBeouf, who plays a version of his own father. More than a vanity project, Honey Boy is a smart and candid depiction of a former child star’s bad behavior and damaged childhood with an incredibly gifted young performer at its center.Emma Thompson in Late Night (2019) 79%(Photo by Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Emily Aragones)Dame Emma Thompson as a highbrow late-night talk show host is the kind of genius casting that you didn’t know you needed in your life. Screenwriter and co-star Mindy Kaling said that she wrote Thompson’s part as a piece of fan fiction, and the result is a Dame Emma fangirl’s dream come true. Witty, sarcastic, brilliant – the British thespian here is part Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada, part David Letterman. Kaling plays the wide-eyed new writer who desperately wants to win her boss’s affection, and Thompson s constant dismissal of her eternal cheerfulness is side-splittingly funny. More than just an ‘Iron Lady,’ Thompson also shows signs of tenderness behind the derision in this uncynical crowdpleaser. Sold to Amazon for a whopping million, Late Night looks to run The Big Sick’s playbook to similar box office success and maybe some award buzz for our Dame.Pete Davidson in Big Time Adolescence (2019) 85%(Photo by Courtesy of Sundance Institute )It’s fair to say going into Sundance that we did not think that SNL s Pete Davidson would make this list. But in Big Time Adolescence, Davidson plays the worst version of his assumed identity and shows real range. Another tale of arrested development, Big Time Adolescence is about a drug-addled man child – Davidson s Zeke – who befriends the only person who still thinks he’s cool, his ex-girlfriend’s teenage brother. Picture James Franco’s Daniel from Freaks and Geeks with tattoos, dyed blonde hair, and less charm. The predictable antics ensue, and his young protégé Mo (Griffin Glick) begins to see the cracks in the bravado and realizes that Zeke’s laid-back persona is just a mask for his perpetual f up status. Davidson is a brilliant comedic actor, and his timing is never off beat in the kind of role that Saturday Night Live players have often used to catapult to superstardom. Charismatic, hilarious, and at times painful to watch, the actor shows what he is capable of doing and we re intrigued to see what he does next.Armie Hammer in Wounds (2019) 47%Of all the big departure performances at this year’s festival, Armie Hammer’s turn in Wounds was the most dramatic. In Babak Anvari’s follow-up to Under the Shadow, Hammer plays Will, an apathetic alcoholic bartender who picks up a lost cellphone, unlocks it, and gets his life changed forever. In really gnarly ways. Light years away from anything else he’s done, Hammer is a hulking, sweaty, paranoid mess in this genuinely terrifying horror thriller. At 69% on the Tomatometer, reactions to the film have been mixed overall, but praise for Hammer has been universal. His first dip into horror sees the Call Me By Your Name star creeping everyone out and ditching his dreamboat persona for cockroaches and gore.
(Photo by New Line Cinema, Universal Pictures, Dimension Films courtesy Everett Collection)In the month of November 2003, the world was treated to three instant Christmas classics in Elf, Love Actually, and Bad Santa, and in the 15 years since, we ve never again reached that level of holiday film perfection. What did these three movies do that made them into Christmas legends and marked 2003 as a Christmas movie season to remember? We looked into it and came up with some answers.1. They Turned Christmas on Its Head and Started Some Trends(Photo by Dimension Films courtesy Everett Collection)At a time when holiday movies were skewing younger, simpler, and more outlandish, these three films went against the trend of saccharine, family-centric entertainment and told compelling stories with complex characters in non-traditional situations. Bad Santa took the iconic character of Santa Claus (and the slightly less iconic character of the Mall Santa), and transformed him into a hard-drinking, sex-addicted criminal with seedy friends and morals looser than his big red suit. Miracle on 34th Street this is not. With a strict R rating, this was not a movie for kids, but Bad Santa was never about appealing to families, and by playing into its raunchiness, it created a whole new style of holiday film.Since then, this grown-up Christmas trope has been channeled in recent movies like Office Christmas Party, A Very Harold Kumar 3D Christmas, and The Night Before, but none have mastered it quite like Bad Santa.In a similar vein, what Bad Santa did for grit, Love Actually did for romance. By crafting an ensemble romantic comedy around a holiday, Love Actually shockingly created a whole subgenre, with recent films New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, and Mother’s Day all trying to recapture what Love Actually created.Love Actually also brought about a surge in Christmas romantic comedies that is still felt to this day. Films like A Christmas Prince, The Princess Switch, and whatever other movie came out on Netflix while you were reading this can thank Love Actually for turning the Christmas season into the season of love.At the same time, Elf may appear like a simple holiday movie for children, but its humor and irreverent take on the holiday season is more than suitable for all ages. It may borrow from many classic holiday film tropes, but it is first and foremost a comedy. It’s heartwarming and festive, but also so clever and genuinely hilarious that it transcends typical holiday family fare and becomes something every adult not just parents of young children can enjoy watching.2. They Launched the Careers of Some Huge Stars(Photo by New Line Cinema)A large part of what makes Bad Santa, Love Actually, and Elf so great is the acting; could anyone else have pulled off Papa Elf, or danced as charmingly as Hugh Grant, or grumbled and belched his way through Bad Santa as convincingly as Billy Bob Thornton? But beyond their established stars, each film managed to find some Christmas magic in relatively unknown actors who would go on to bigger and better things.Thornton had already been nominated for three Oscars (and won one, for the screenplay of Sling Blade) when he starred in Bad Santa, but one of his co-stars would go on to become a thrice-nominated Oscar darling as well. Playing the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role of prostitute Opal, Octavia Spencer’s few lines didn’t lead to instant recognition, but they did show off the acting chops that would lead to turns in The Help, Hidden Figures, and The Shape of Water, all three of which earned her Best Supporting Actress nominations from the Academy, and the first of which resulted in a win.Love Actually also served as an inflection point for some of its actors, with established movie stars, up-and-comers, and others waiting to break through. Nowhere is this breakthrough more apparent than in the love triangle between Juliet, Peter, and Mark or as we now know them, Keira Knightley, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Andrew Lincoln.(Photo by Universal Pictures)In 2003, Keira Knightley was in the midst of a moment. Fresh off Bend It Like Beckham and the first installment in billion-dollar Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Knightley came to the 2003 holiday season on a wave of fame and carried her success both into Love Actually and beyond. Her scene partners haven’t fallen far behind, though.Playing the lovestruck Mark, Lincoln may not resemble the post-apocalyptic sheriff from The Walking Dead that would turn him into a worldwide celebrity, and few might have predicted that the young actor playing Juliet’s husband, a then relatively unknown Chiwetel Ejiofor, would go on to receive an Oscar nomination for his lead role in the Best Picture-winning 12 Years A Slave.As for Elf, you might think that it was obviously going to be a hit with comedy legend Will Ferrell and the adorkable Zooey Deschanel as its leads, but it was an adventurous pairing at the time. Ferrell had just finished a legacy-making run on Saturday Night Live, and he had appeared in small roles in just over a dozen films, but it was still unknown whether he could lead a movie. The success of Elf led Ferrell to a career in comedy blockbusters like Anchorman, Step Brothers, The Other Guys, Daddy’s Home, and many more. As for Deschanel, she would go on to star in romantic comedies like 500 Days of Summer, Yes Man, and the hit sitcom New Girl. Not bad for a lowly mall elf.3. They’re Still Fan Favorites, and We Can Prove It(Photo by New Line Cinema)Despite coming out 15 years ago, these three movies are already holiday staples, and there is actual evidence to back that up.A year ago, FandangoNOW users were asked to vote for the best Christmas movie of the 21st century unsurprisingly, Elf was the fan favorite, followed by The Polar Express, Love Actually in the third spot, and Bad Santa finishing fifth. More recently, FandangoNOW also asked its millennial users to rank which movies they plan on streaming this holiday season, and this time Elf slipped to second-most popular, while Love Actually came in eighth and Bad Santa finished in the 15th spot. A similar study of Roku users searches from the 2017 holiday season shows Elf as the most searched-for Christmas movie, and Love Actually as the ninth most sought after.Plus, even the Tomatometer agrees! In Rotten Tomatoes’ recent list of The 50 Best Christmas Movies of All Time, Elf, Love Actually, and Bad Santa all made the cut.4. They Were All Box Office Hits(Photo by Universal Pictures)You’d think there’s only room for so many Christmas movies in one month, but that wasn’t the case in 2003. Despite all three films being released within three weeks of each other, Elf, Love Actually, and Bad Santa were surprise hits. In fact, Elf and Love Actually both raked in more than 0 million dollars worldwide. And they opened on the same weekend!Elf opened at #2 in the box office with a very healthy million in its first weekend, and it didn’t leave the Top 10 until after the new year. Over the course of its run, it made more than 0 million in the U.S. and nearly million abroad.Love Actually was also a Top 10 film in America for five consecutive weeks, but it did most of its heavy lifting overseas. The British production held the top spot in the U.K. box office for its first four weeks in release and spent four more weeks as a Top 5 film there, earning more than million during its British run.Even the R-rated Bad Santa made more than million over its run, which, coupled with a production budget of only million, was more than enough to convince a studio to take a chance on Bad Santa 2 but let’s not talk about that.In total, these three holiday classics made over 0,000,000 worldwide during one holiday season. So, what was it that made these three films so financially successful, popular, and impactful?Elf, Love Actually, and Bad Santa each appealed to an audience that hadn’t been totally captured in a holiday film. Whether it was the romance of Love Actually, the humor and heart of Elf, or the raunchiness of Bad Santa, each offered a unique perspective on the holiday and created a following that is now arguably stronger than ever.Also, these are simply three elfin’ good movies.Elf and Love Actually were released on November 7, 2003. Bad Santa was released on November 26, 2003.