The festival will feature Passing, the directorial debut from longtime actor Rebecca Hall.
The festival will feature Passing, the directorial debut from longtime actor Rebecca Hall. Courtesy Sundance

The Sundance Film Festival, which is coming virtually to Seattle for the first time, just announced its lineup for the 2021 festival! The Stranger will provide comprehensive coverage when it begins on January 28 through February 3.

The festival is expansive, even in virtual form, though here are some of the early standouts.

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Sure to be one of the more talked-about films is Passing. The directorial debut from longtime actor Rebecca Hall, it stars Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga in a thriller about two women living in 1920s New York City where one "passes" as white while the other does not. It is based on the 1929 novel of the same name by the late author Nella Larsen.

Thompson and Negga have always been transcendent performers. This is the first time the duo will share the screen together, and in roles they will certainly get to sink their teeth into. The film also stars André Holland, who is outstanding in everything, from The Knick to Moonlight, and the often frightening Big Little Lies actor Alexander Skarsgård.

Christopher Abbott and Jerrod Carmichael form a suicide pact in On the Count of Three.
Christopher Abbott and Jerrod Carmichael form a suicide pact in On the Count of Three. Courtesy Sundance

What may be the film that caught my attention the most is On the Count of Three. It stars Jerrod Carmichael, more known for his incisive stand-up comedy, in what is also his directorial debut. Carmichael is Val, a depressed man who forms a suicide pact with his best friend Kevin, played by actor Christopher Abbott who looks starkly different from his most recent Possessor performance.

A dark comedy in the truest possible sense, it is also written by Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch, who previously collaborated on one of the best shows of 2020 Ramy. If this film is anything like the tonal balancing act of Ramy, it is sure to be a standout.

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Lets imagine a better world with the Immaculate Heart College.
Let's imagine a better world with the Immaculate Heart College. Courtesy Sundance

Always a utopia for great documentaries, one selection to watch for this year is in many ways about just that: making a better world. Rebel Hearts follows a group of nuns who started the Immaculate Heart College to ensure women could access degrees previously out of reach.

The documentary features the nuns' activism during the 1960s, highlighting a confrontation with the archbishop of Los Angeles over their actions. It is from director Pedro Kos who previously co-directed Bending the Arc, which was about how doctors and activists in Haiti spearheaded a global fight for greater health protections.

The weirdest one were looking forward to.
The weirdest one we're looking forward to. Courtesy Sundance

Last but not least is also possibly the weirdest one: Cryptozoo. It features the voice of awkward weirdo Michael Cera along with Lake Bell, Angeliki Papoulia, Zoe Kazan, and Peter Stormare. Sundance describes it as a "fantastical feature animation for adults" about a zoo that houses mythological creatures, making it the most surreally strange one to look forward to.

Writer and director Dash Shaw's previous work My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea is a pretty good indicator of what is to be expected from the film, though this one seems to be even larger in scope. This may be the one you look to enter into a little bit stoned to maximize the power of the vibrant visuals, if you're into that kind of thing.

That is only just scratching the surface. You can find the full list of programs from shorts to features here to get ready for the festival.