Film

From Walter Mercado to Diego Luna: Must-See Latino Movies & Series at Sundance Film Festival

Lead Photo: Collage art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla
Collage art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla

Every year, the Sundance Film Festival marks the beginning of a new year for cinema. It’s where must-see flicks become future classics and where indie director darlings become household names. The fest has introduced us to movies like Mosquita y Mari, El Mariachi and Real Women Have Curvesas well as to filmmakers like Alejandro Landes, Alfonso Gómez-Rejón and Patricia Riggen. Held in Park City, Utah, the renowned fest is always a coveted destination for any kind of cinephile. And this year, whether you’re looking to catch a new film on Walter Mercado or a new Wagner Moura starring vehicle, or perhaps even a new doc on Lin-Manuel Miranda, the exhaustive film program has got you covered.

As usual, we scoured the entirety of Sundance’s offerings to find any and all kinds of projects you should have on your radar, the ones you’ll be hearing about for months to come and which you should begin adding to your 2020 must-watch list. See them all below where you’ll find our comprehensive list of everything from U.S. Latino and Latin American talent that’s playing the chilly fest this year.

Sundance Film Festival runs January 23 — February 2, 2020.

FEATURE FILMS

Blast Beat

Esteban Arango

On the cusp of the year 2000, Colombian brothers Carly (Mateo Arias) and Mateo (Moises Arias) prepare to move to the United States for their last years of high school. Metalhead Carly has his heart set on attending the Georgia Aerospace Institute and working for NASA, while his supportive parents (Diane Guerrero and Wilmer Valderrama) seize the chance to escape the political turmoil in Colombia and chase the American dream. At first, Mateo is the only one to express any cynicism, but when the reality of their new life sinks in, the family struggles to adapt as their expectations are shattered. When events threaten to derail their future, Carly’s dream becomes his only lifeline. Esteban Arango’s blazing debut feature cracks open a sibling rivalry in an isolating time predating social media. Real-life brothers Mateo and Moises bring honesty and brazenness to this energetic, metal-fueled coming-of-age story that unapologetically confronts the reality of growing up between cultures. Blast Beast is a Latinx anthem for a displaced generation — and it’s the anthem we’ve been waiting for.

United States
Drama
Esteban Arango, Erick Castrillon
Poppy Hanks, Erick Castrillon, Ty Walker, Charles D. King
2019
110

Charm City Kings

Angel Manuel Soto

Fourteen-year-old Mouse (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) desperately wants to join the Midnight Clique, an infamous group of Baltimore dirt-bike riders who rule the summertime streets. His older brother, Stro, was their top rider before his tragic death — a loss that consumes Mouse as much as his passion for bikes. Mouse’s mom (Teyonah Parris) and his police mentor, Detective Rivers (William Catlett), work overtime to help the charismatic teen reach his full potential, but when the Midnight Clique’s leader, Blax (Meek Mill), takes the boy under his wing, the lure of revving his own dirt bike skids Mouse toward a road way past the straight and narrow. Puerto Rican director Angel Manuel Soto directs an astonishingly talented cast to create a narrative bursting with pitch-perfect performances and intoxicating emotion. Inspired by the bike culture seen in the documentary 12 O’Clock Boys, Charm City Kings is one boy’s unforgettable journey toward manhood.

https://youtu.be/97Wn4fEScDM

United States
Drama
Sherman Payne
Caleeb Pinkett, Marc Bienstock, Clarence Hammond
2019
125

Palm Springs

Max Barbakow

Stuck in Palm Springs for her younger sister Tala’s destination wedding, family black sheep and reluctant maid of honor Sarah (Cristin Miloti) meets carefree Nyles (Andy Samberg), the date of a vapid bridesmaid. After Nyles bails Sarah out of giving a wedding toast, she quickly realizes that he is actually not a sentimental fool at all and feels drawn to his offbeat nihilism. After their impromptu tryst is thwarted by a surreal, unexpected interruption, Sarah joins Nyles in embracing the idea that nothing really matters, and they begin wreaking spirited havoc on the wedding celebration. Director Max Barbakow’s ambitious and playful dramatic feature debut, Palm Springs is a lighthearted romp peppered with thoughtful realizations about the nature of love and loneliness. A terrific ensemble cast, including Peter Gallagher and Academy Award winner J.K. Simmons alongside rising stars like Riverdale‘s Camila Mendes deliver memorable supporting turns as the colorful guests at the seemingly endless wedding.

United States
Comedy
Andy Siara
Andy Samberg, Becky Sloviter, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone, Dylan Sellers, Chris Parker
2020
87

Wander Darkly

Tara Miele

In the aftermath of a traumatic incident, Adrienne (Sienna Miller) finds herself in a disorienting state of limbo, unstuck in time and witnessing life from a distance. Forced to confront her troubled relationship with her longtime partner, Matteo (Diego Luna), and the future of their infant daughter, Adrienne must relive and renegotiate the events of the recent past — and solve the mystery of the accident. Stepping into the shadows with Matteo, Adrienne looks for clues about what went wrong between them. Gently moving between the enigmatic and the romantic, Wander Darkly traverses genre borders, taking us on a journey that is both uncanny and emotionally resonant. Miller gives a wonderfully layered performance, navigating the film’s demanding tonal shifts. Luna is both elusive and engaged, walking the line between the film’s ethereal and earthly planes. Writer-director Tara Miele’s highly affecting existential drama deftly explores how we build narratives of love and loss from the fragmented memories of our lives.

United States
Drama
Tara Miele
Samantha Housman, Shivani Rawat, Monica Levinson, Lynette Howell Taylor
2020
97

Zola

Janicza Bravo

“You wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out? It’s kind of long but full of suspense.” Zola meets Stefani at a restaurant where Zola waitresses, and the two immediately click over pole dancing. Only a day after they exchange numbers, Stefani invites Zola on a cross-country road trip, where the goal is to make as much money as possible dancing in Florida strip clubs. Zola agrees, and suddenly she is trapped in the craziest, most unexpected trip of her life. US.-Panamanian filmmaker Janicza Bravo directs this outrageously unique and eccentrically animated saga that was first chronicled in 144 tweets posted by A’ziah King on October 27, 2015. Written by Bravo and playwright Jeremy O. Harris, Zola frames the protagonist’s narrative in a groundbreaking exchange that plays with and questions perspective. Bravo’s luscious atmosphere and impeccable attention to detail is unequaled and further confirms the sophomore director as a visionary voice of American independent cinema.

United States
Drama
Jeremy O. Harris, Janicza Bravo
Vince Jolivette, Elizabeth Haggard, Dave Franco, Gia Walsh, Kara Baker, David Hinojosa, Christine Vachon
2020
90

Nine Days

Edson Oda

What if being born is not the beginning but the goal? In a house distant from the reality we know, a reclusive man named Will interviews prospective candidates—personifications of human souls—for the privilege he once had: to be born. Five contenders emerge. During the course of nine days, Will tests each of them, but he can choose only one. The victor will be rewarded with a coveted opportunity to become a newborn in the real world, while the others will cease to exist—nine days is everything they’ll ever experience. Supernatural, metaphysical, and packed with the deepest, most human emotions, this spiritual child of Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry will hit you in the head and the heart. Propelled by an extraordinary performance from Winston Duke as Will and buoyed by a stunning supporting cast of highly accomplished actors, Nine Days marks not only the feature debut but the cinematic birth of Brazilian writer-director Edson Oda, a singular, visionary artist.

United States
Drama
Edson Oda
Jason Michael Berman, Mette-Marie Kongsved, Matthew Lindner, Laura Tunstall, Datari Turner
2020
110

Mucho Mucho Amor

Kareem Tabsch, Cristina Costantini

Extravagant Puerto Rican astrologer, psychic, and gender nonconforming legend Walter Mercado charmed the world for over 30 years with his televised horoscopes. Equal parts Oprah, Liberace, and Mr. Rogers, Walter was a celebrated daily part of Latino culture — until one day in 2007 he mysteriously disappeared. Over a decade later, the filmmakers find Walter and invite us into his home and interior world as he prepares to restore his legacy in the public eye. The film explores Walter’s complex story from the rural sugar cane fields of Puerto Rico to international astrology superstardom, rising above homophobia and the heteronormative beliefs of Latino society with a message of love and hope. From Latinx co-directors Kareem Tabsch and Cristina Costantini, Mucho Mucho Amor is a love letter to Walter Mercado. The filmmakers, who grew up watching him with their abuelos, craft a film with levity and a playful spirit. Light-years ahead of his time, Walter has become a nostalgic cult icon of self-expression and positivity for the gender-fluid youth of today.

Read Remezcla’s review.

United States
Documentary
Kareem Tabsch, Alex Fumero, Cristina Costantini
2020
96

Us Kids

Kim A. Snyder

After a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School claims 17 lives, a number of students rally themselves around the tragedy as an opportunity to speak out against the national gun-violence epidemic. As their adrenaline propels a dive into full-on activism, their movement catalyzes, and students impacted by gun violence nationwide join in, giving voice to a generation of traumatized but determined youth. Director Kim A. Snyder carefully chronicles 18 pivotal months in the development of the March For Our Lives movement through a deeply personal lens. With extended access to the young activists (including Emma González) not only on stage but in their homes and among their friends, Us Kids allows us to see them through one another’s eyes — as “normal-ass kids” bravely dealing with the weight of their traumas. Snyder tells the touching coming-of-age story of this group of driven, resilient, empathetic individuals all navigating the personal consequences of their remarkable choice to dedicate their own lives to honor the fallen and take back democracy.

United States
Documentary
Kim A. Snyder, Maria Cuomo Cole, Lori Cheatle
2020
98

Boys State

Jesse Moss, Amanda McBaine

Strap up your saddle and get ready for a wild ride. Boys State is a political coming-of-age story, examining the health of U.S. democracy through an unusual experiment: a thousand 17-year-old boys from across the state of Texas gather together to build a representative government from the ground up. High-minded ideals collide with lowdown dirty tricks as four boys of diverse backgrounds and political views navigate the challenges of organizing political parties, shaping consensus, and campaigning for the highest office at Texas Boys State — governor. Documenting impeachment threats, dramatic debates, underdog victories, and even nefarious internet memes, filmmakers Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine chart the dramatic twists and turns of these intersecting stories to reveal profound truths about our political choices and civic obligations and to remind us, ultimately, that democracy is not a spectator sport. With cunning insight that will have audiences buzzing, Boys State holds a mirror up to our divided country. This is a film for the ages in every sense of the term.

United States
Documentary
Jesse Moss, Amanda McBaine
2020
105

Marea alta

Verónica Chen

Laura has lost control. After she sleeps with Weisman, the lead contractor building a barbecue shed in the backyard of her beach house, the other two workers on the job cross a boundary, making Laura feel that her space has been encroached upon. As Weisman disappears, sheltered and privileged Laura must manage the laborers herself. Her admonishments fall flat, forcing her to retreat behind the pristine glass windows—keeping watch and being watched simultaneously. Tensions churn, the workers become more unruly, and Laura ignores calls from her husband while downing bottles of red wine, waiting for Weisman to reappear. By escalating the tension from one scene to the next, writer/director Verónica Chen relentlessly pushes her story—and Laura—to the breaking point. Using light and shadow, expansive overhead shots, and tight close-ups, Chen builds an unsettling atmosphere situated on differences of class and power. Gloria Carrá is brilliant as Laura, igniting the character with a quiet ferocity that undermines her serene life. Before you know it, Marea alta (High Tide) envelops you, pulling you under until you can’t breathe.

Argentina
Drama
Verónica Chen
Esteban Mentasti, Hori Mentasti
2020
103

Sin señas particulares

Fernanda Valadez

Magdalena hasn’t heard from her son in months — not since he left their town to cross the border into the United States. The authorities want her to sign her son’s death certificate, but an encounter with a bereaved parent makes Magdalena realize that she cannot live without knowing his fate. She begins an odyssey across Mexico, though areas of violence and desolation, chasing any available lead despite being warned not to publicly ask such questions. Along the way, she meets and travels with recently deported Miguel, who finds himself journeying home through a changed country. Grappling with the painful issue of migrants disappearing on their way to the U.S., writer-director Fernanda Valadez’s ambitious feature debut employs a tremendous economy of film language as it traverses across a varied contemporary Mexican landscape, expanding as our emotional experience of Magdalena’s journey swells to meet her own. The solemn Sin Señas Particulares punctuates its contemplation of family and loss with fleeting moments of human connection, allowing one woman’s aching personal story to encapsulate the weight of a tremendous real-world humanitarian crisis.

Spain, Mexico
Drama
Fernanda Valadez, Astrid Rondero
Astrid Rondero, Jack Zagha, Yossy Zagha, Fernanda Valadez
2020
95

Blanco de verano

Rodrigo Ruiz Patterson

Rodrigo is an introverted 13-year-old who spends much of his time alone — except when he is with his mother, Valeria, who happens to be his best friend, his protector, and his entire world. Rodrigo believes their relationship is intimate and anchored in trust, until one morning he wakes up to a stranger in the house: Fernando, his mother’s new boyfriend, who had spent the night. Immediately Rodrigo’s domain is completely disrupted, and he is left with no choice but to fight back and reconstruct the solace he once had. Mexican writer/director Rodrigo Ruiz Patterson offers an outstanding debut that dives into a complex story of a boy coming of age as he grapples with sharing his mother’s love for the first time. Propelled by intimate yet powerful performances from Adrián Rossi as Rodrigo, Sophie Alexander-Katz as Valeria, and Fabián Corres as Fernando, Blanco de verano (Summer White) builds a psychological, testosterone-driven battle between a man perceived as an intruder and a child testing his limits.

Mexico
Drama
Rodrigo Ruiz Patterson, Raúl Sebastián Quintanilla
Alejandro Cortés Rubiales
2020
87

Epicentro

Hubert Sauper

Waves crashing over a breakwater at the edge of the sea—this dramatic opening image conveys the vital spirit of a place that has withstood decades of external pressure. On the streets of Havana, residents of all ages share their views on living under such impositions by outsiders, as well as on the internal freedom they experience in spite of the repercussions of harsh sanctions. Descriptions of the waves of imperialism that have shaped this country’s history provide a deeper understanding of the impact of long-term oppression and the powerful desire to exist without outside forces weighing in. Academy Award–nominated director Hubert Sauper explores contemporary perspectives from citizens of the golden isle accompanied by images of another time—reflecting how Cuba still sits partially frozen in time, delicately suspended between the modern era and a time before technology seeped into all facets of life. A visual meld of geopolitical, cinematic, and personal connections, Epicentro enchants and suggests a new perspective on an old world.

Austria, France, United States
Documentary
Hubert Sauper
Martin Marquet, Daniel Marquet, Paolo Calamita, Gabriele Kranzelbinder
2019
107

The Mole Agent

Maite Alberdi

Sergio is a Chilean spy. Sort of. At least, he is offered the role of one after a casting session organized by Detective Romulo, a private investigator who needs a credible mole to infiltrate a retirement home. Romulo’s client, the concerned daughter of a resident, suspects her mother is being abused and hires him to find out what is really happening. However, Sergio is 83, not 007, and not an easy trainee when it comes to technology and spying techniques. But he is a keen student, looking for ways to distract himself after recently losing his wife. What could be a better distraction than some undercover spy action? While gathering intelligence, Sergio grows close to several residents and realizes that the menacing truth beneath the surface is not what anyone had suspected. Maite Alberdi’s The Mole Agent is a stylish combination of an observational documentary and a spy movie, with sleek camerawork and wonderfully watchable characters. It’s a unique meditation on compassion and loneliness that will infiltrate your heart and never let go.

Chile
Documentary
Maite Alberdi
Marcela Santibañez
2020
84

Once Upon a Time in Venezuela

Anabel Rodríguez Ríos

Once upon a time, the Venezuelan village of Congo Mirador, floating on stilts just inches above the deep Lake Maracaibo, was prosperous, alive with fishermen and poets. In recent years, it has decayed and disintegrated, rotting beneath pollution and neglect—a small but prophetic reflection of Venezuela itself. At the center of the village’s existential fight for survival stand two female leaders—Mrs. Tamara, the Chavista government coordinator of the village, and Natalie, a vocal teacher and opponent of Mrs. Tamara and her state-approved practices of bribery and intimidation. As the contentious national elections approach, fear within the community extends beyond the partisan divide of Venezuelan politics; the villagers’ homes are quite literally vanishing into the sedimented water, displacing families with no means of surviving elsewhere. Director Anabel Rodríguez Ríos’s striking and mournful ode to her country bears firsthand witness to the irreversible consequences of government corruption, while simultaneously capturing the resilient spirit of those most directly affected by Venezuela’s profound economic and political crises.

Austria, United Kingdom, Venezuela, Brazil
Documentary
Anabel Rodríguez Ríos, Sepp R. Brudermann
Sepp R. Brudermann
2020
99

Ema

Pablo Larrain

Set in the scenic seaport city of Valparaíso, the latest from Pablo Larraín reunites the visionary Chilean auteur with Mexican superstar Gael García Bernal (No, Neruda) for an incendiary drama about art, desire, and family. Ema (Mariana di Girolamo) is a talented young dancer whose roots lie in the carnal reggaeton grooves she and her friends perform to in the city streets, but she’s forged a career as part of a more cerebral modern-dance ensemble helmed by her husband, choreographer Gastón (García Bernal). As the film opens, the couple is reeling from a terrible crisis: their adopted 12-year-old son Polo has set fire to their home, severely burning the face of Ema’s sister in the process. With her child taken from her and her marriage crumbling, Ema sets out on a strange, secretive, and risky quest to reset her life.

Read Remezcla’s review.

Chile
Music, Drama
Alejandro Moreno, Pablo Larraín, Guillermo Calderón
Juan de Dios Larraín
2019
106

La Llorona

Jayro Bustamante

The story of La Llorona (The Weeping Woman), concerns a Medea-like figure who drowns her children after being abandoned by her husband. She’s thereafter condemned to wander the earth, bringing misfortune to all who cross her path. A perennial myth in Latin American culture, La Llorona has appeared in countless works of music, literature, and cinema — but she’s never been re-imagined with the level of trenchancy found in the latest work from writer-director Jayro Bustamante. Transplanting the ancient tale to a contemporary Guatemala still struggling to find justice for the victims of its Civil War, La Llorona is a horror story whose deepest chills are generated by real-life atrocities. Once a fearsome commanding officer, General Enrique Monteverde is now an elderly man in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Decades after the Civil War, Monteverde is belatedly brought to trial and found guilty of genocide, but his conviction is swiftly overturned on judicial technicalities. Accompanied by his wife and daughter — as well as their faithful housekeeper and her mysterious new subordinate — Monteverde is brought home. While demonstrators clamor daily for retribution outside the walls of his property, Monteverde begins to hear and see strange things transpiring within his home during the wee hours.

Guatemala, France
Drama
Lisandro Sánchez, Jayro Bustamante
Gustavo Matheu, Georges Renand, Jayro Bustamante, Marina Peralta
2019
96

Sylvie’s Love

Eugene Ashe

The jazz is smooth and the air sultry in the New York summer of 1957. Sylvie helps around her father’s record store as she waits for her fiance to return from war — until sweet saxophonist Robert walks in looking for a day job to subsidize his residency at the Blue Morocco lounge. This chance meeting kindles a deep passion in each of them unlike anything they’ve felt before. Sylvie’s mother immediately disapproves and reminds Sylvie of her engagement, while Robert’s band books their first big gig overseas. As time passes, the sexual revolution begins, and Motown becomes king, the two fall in and out of each other’s arms, but never out of love. Writer-director Eugene Ashe delicately melds romance and music into a sweeping romantic story that transcends changing times, geography, and professional success. Afro-Latina actress Tessa Thompson shines as unapologetic, confident Sylvie in a groundbreaking role of a woman who takes control of her life in unexpected ways. With exquisite costumes and a timeless soundtrack, Sylvie’s Love is an ode to the unstoppable force of love in our lives. The rest of the cast includes Nnamdi Asomugha, Eva Longoria, Aja Naomi King, Wendi McLendon-Covey and Jemima Kirke.

United States
Music, Romance
Eugene Ashe
Nnamdi Asomugha, Gabrielle Glore, Jonathan Baker, Matthew Thurm
2020
114

Kajillionaire

Miranda July

Con artists Theresa and Robert have spent 26 years training their only daughter, Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood), to swindle, scam, and steal at every opportunity. During a desperate, hastily conceived heist, they charm a kind stranger, Melanie (Jane the Virgin‘s Gina Rodriguez), into joining their next scheme, completely shaking up Old Dolio’s routine. Her unlikely connection with Melanie begins to challenge Old Dolio’s odd and stoic reality — and she finds herself suddenly caught between the only family she has ever known and the prospect of total freedom. Writer-director Miranda July has created this absurd comedy bursting with uncanny sweetness and lyrical charm. Evan Rachel Wood and Gina Rodriguez’s chemistry is undeniable as they hatch a plan to free Old Dolio from her deceptive parents’ control. July’s playful portrait of self-discovery unfolds the profound and beautiful experience of true connection.

United States
Drama
Miranda July
Youree Henley, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner
2020
106

Black Bear

Lawrence Michael Levine

At a remote lake house in the Adirondack Mountains, a couple entertains an out-of-town guest looking for inspiration in her filmmaking. The group quickly falls into a calculated game of desire, manipulation, and jealousy, unaware of how dangerously convoluted their lives will soon become in the filmmaker’s pursuit of a work of art, which blurs the boundaries between autobiography and invention. The lives and sentiments of three artists (played by Christopher Abbott, Sarah Gadon and Aubrey Plaza, who’s half-Puerto Rican) interlock and are pushed to provocative limits in this enthralling drama that rejoices in subverting expectations and exploring the layers of a fragmented world. Writer-director Lawrence Michael Levine lures us into a tense and intrepid tale of gender dynamics and temptation, using the complexity of relationships to detonate the thin line separating art from life. Gadon, Abbott, and Plaza star as ideal players in this dark game of deception, navigating self-awareness and vulnerability as stakes pile higher and the suspicion grows that victory may elude all of them.

United States
Drama
Lawrence Michael Levine
Julie Christeas, Jonathan Blitstein, Richard J Bosner, Aubrey Plaza, Lawrence Michael Levine, Sophia Takal, Jai Khanna
2019
109

I Carry You With Me

Heidi Ewing

As a young aspiring chef in Mexico, Iván works at a restaurant, hoping to land a spot in the kitchen while supporting the mother of his child. One night he meets Gerardo, a handsome teacher who, unlike Iván, is out as a gay man. Their chemistry is instant. The discovery of their romance, however, causes conflict, and he is told he can no longer see his son. In despair, Iván makes the arduous decision to cross the border to advance his culinary career, promising his son and newfound love he will return. This bittersweet American Dream is based on an acclaimed New York City chef, whose cuisine pays homage to his beloved country. Lensed by the impressive and fast-rising Mexican cinematographer Juan Pablo Ramírez, Iván’s memory is rendered indelible, making Iván’s predicament of not being able to return to Mexico all the more heartrending. The film is a tender romance and a complicated journey beautifully captured.

Mexico, United States
Drama
Heidi Ewing, Alan Page Arriaga
Mynette Louie, Heidi Ewing
2020
111

La leyenda negra

Patricia Vidal Delgado

Teenage Aleteia has just transferred to a new high school in Compton and struggles to make friends. As a Salvadoran immigrant who has grown up in the United States, Aleteia has made underground activism her foundation for making her voice heard, but everything is thrown into jeopardy when her temporary protection status is compromised and her future becomes uncertain. She unexpectedly befriends Rosarito, a popular girl who is tired of her vapid clique and drawn to Aleteia’s resilience, much to queen bee Monica’s annoyance. As the girls grow closer, Aleteia becomes more determined than ever to fight for her right to stay in the home she has always known. First-time feature filmmaker Patricia Vidal Delgado lovingly crafts a poignant and emotional coming-of-age story that unfolds against a tense and divided social backdrop. Equally capturing the political turbulence affecting communities and the prickliness of teenage dynamics, La Leyenda Negra examines the price of sacrifices and the rarity of true connection. Drawing on striking black-and-white photography and raw emotion, this quietly bold film marks Delgado as an exciting new cinematic voice.

United States
Drama
Patricia Vidal Delgado
Alicia Herder, Marcel Perez
2020
84

Omniboat: A Fast Boat Fantasia

Daniels, Hannah Fidell, Alexa Lim Haas, Olivia Lloyd, The Meza Brothers, Terence Nance, Brett Potter, Dylan Redford, Xander Robin, Julian Yuri Rodriguez, Celia Rowlson-Hall, Lucas Leyva, Jillian Mayer

Big-time real estate developer Jim Cummings is seeking investments in his new Miami condo skyscraper designed to fulfill people’s hopes and desires. He explains that Miami was once total swampland at the edge of the country before it was willed into a metropolis of endless summer: the perfect setting for a wild adventure. For over a decade, Borscht Corporation has produced and commissioned hundreds of short films. For their feature film debut, they assembled 15 filmmakers—including Lucas Leyva, The Meza Brothers, and Julian Yuri Rodriguez—to create a symphony inspired by and made in Miami. What emerges is a crazy boat ride that navigates everything from talking dolphins to unconventional love. At the core of the film is the boat (bought specifically to make this film)—a vessel of ingenuity that carries the hilariously surreal, uncanny stories, defying expectations and rules of filmmaking. Omniboat: A Fast Boat Fantasia uniquely engages with the constant destruction and reconstruction of Miami and proposes to celebrate the people brave enough to create under circumstances that were never meant to yield success.

United States
Anthology
Daniels, Hannah Fidell, Alexa Lim Haas, Olivia Lloyd, Jillian Mayer, The Meza Brothers, Terence Nance, Brett Potter, Dylan Redford, Xander Robin, Julian Yuri Rodriguez, Celia Rowlson-Hall, Lucas Leyva, Phil Lord
Olivia Lloyd, Taylor Shung, Matthew Perniciaro, Michael Sherman
2020
120

Summertime

Carlos Lopez Estrada

Over the course of a hot summer day in Los Angeles, the lives of 25 young Angelenos intersect. A skating guitarist, a tagger, two wannabe rappers, an exasperated fast-food worker, a limo driver — they all weave in and out of each other’s stories. Through poetry they express life, love, heartache, family, home, and fear. One of them just wants to find someplace that still serves good cheeseburgers. Inspired by a spoken-word showcase featuring 25 diverse high school performers, Mexican filmmaker Carlos López Estrada (Blindspotting) proposed a collaboration to develop the performers’ work into a loose, interconnected narrative, allowing the nonactors to express themselves and their relationship to the city. With its Slacker-inspired structure, fanciful form, and exuberant magical realism, Summertime is a free-verse poem — of the kids, by the kids, for the kids. The young poets radiate vitality, honesty, and profound emotion.

United States
Experimental, Drama
Dave Harris, 27 Get Lit Poets
Kimberly Stuckwisch, Jeffrey Soros, Alisa Tager, Simon Horsman, Diane Luby Lane
2020
95

Four Good Days

Rodrigo Garcia

When Deb (Glenn Close) gets a surprise visit from her daughter Molly (Mila Kunis), she is less than thrilled. She is, in fact, terrified. At first, it may seem like Deb is being cruel, initially refusing to let Molly into her house. But Molly is a drug addict with a decadelong history of failed detox programs, who repeatedly swore she wanted to get better but then lied to and stole from the family. Deb’s refusal to give Molly yet another chance gradually fades when she sees glimpses of the child she knew in this deeply broken young woman. Something about this time feels different — or does she just want it to feel different? Colombian filmmaker Rodrigo García is a master of empathy, whose confident direction guides two exceptionally nuanced performances by Close and Kunis in this tense story of hope and codependency. A true emotional roller coaster, Four Good Days showcases the desperate decisions of a family destroyed by Molly’s addiction to drugs and her mother’s guilt-ridden compulsion to save her.

United States
Drama
Rodrigo Garcia, Eli Saslow
Jon Avnet, Marina Grasic, Jake Avnet, Rodrigo Garcia, Jai Khanna
2020
100

The Last Thing He Wanted

Dee Rees

Journalist and single mother Elena McMahon (Anne Hathaway) has rigorously investigated Contra activity in Central America for years. Frustrated when her coverage is censored, relief comes in an unexpected package: her acerbic father (Willem Dafoe) falls ill and leaves her a series of unfinished and unsavory arms deals in that very region. Now a pawn in a risky and unfamiliar game, surrounded by live ammunition in more ways than one, and alongside a U.S. state official (Ben Affleck) with whom she has a checkered past, Elena needs to parse her own story to survive. With her disenchanting life awaiting her back home, she is forced to consider what she really wants. Director Dee Rees co-wrote this adaptation of Joan Didion’s novel by the same name with Marco Villalobos. Seasoned performances by Hathaway, Affleck, Dafoe and Rosie Perez match the sobriety of the subject matter and convey the questionable intentions, inscrutable connections, and bitter fates of these complex characters.

United States
Drama
Dee Rees, Marco Villalobos
2019
115

Sergio

Greg Barker

Brazilian United Nations diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello has an extensive resume: assistant high commissioner for refugees, special representative of the secretary-general in Kosovo, transitional administrator in East Timor. It’s 2003 and his latest role as high commissioner for human rights sees him traveling to Iraq to lead peace efforts under President George W. Bush. As he tries to balance heightening tensions on the ground with his desire to spend more time with his partner, Carolina Larriera (Cuban actress Ana de Armas), the unexpected and tragic happens, forcing Sergio to reflect on his 34 years of service to the UN and, more importantly, on the woman he loves. Greg Barker transforms his documentary of the same name into a gripping work of fiction that honors Sergio’s legacy by portraying him in his fullness. Interlacing memories of Sergio’s past with his last moments of life, Barker uses a nonlinear framework to articulate significant moments of Sergio’s personal and professional life. Brazilian actor Wagner Moura delivers one of his finest performances, embodying Sergio with grace, dignity, and courage.

United States
Biography, Drama
Craig Borten
Brent Travers, Daniel Dreifuss, Wagner Moura
2019
118

The Glorias

Julie Taymor

Journalist, fighter, and feminist Gloria Steinem is an indelible icon known for her world-shaping activism, her guidance of the revolutionary women’s movement, and her writing that has impacted generations. In this nontraditional biopic, against the backdrop of a lonely bus on an open highway, five Glorias trace Steinem’s influential journey to prominence—from her time in India as a young woman, to the founding of Ms. magazine in New York, to her role in the rise of the women’s rights movement in the 1960s and beyond. In her hotly anticipated new film, Julie Taymor (Frida, Across the Universe) brings her signature inventiveness and audacity to craft a complex tapestry of one of the most iconic and legendary figures of modern history, based on Steinem’s own memoir My Life on the Road. Remarkable performances by Julianne Moore and Alicia Vikander steer an engaging cast with strong supporting turns from Janelle Monáe, Bette Midler and Monica Sanchez (who plays Dolores Huerta). Taymor makes her own rules in this dazzling ode to self-reflection, exploring the importance of forging your own path and embracing the challenge of the open road.

United States
Biopic, Drama
Julie Taymor, Sarah Ruhl
Lynn Hendee, Alex Saks
2019
139

Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen

Sam Feder

This unprecedented documentary offers an eye-opening look at transgender depictions in film and television, revealing how Hollywood simultaneously reflects and manufactures our deepest anxieties about gender. Leading trans thinkers and creatives, including Laverne Cox, Lilly Wachowski, Yance Ford, Mj Rodriguez, Jamie Clayton, and Chaz Bono, share their personal reactions and resistance to gender stereotypes in some of Hollywood’s most beloved moments. Grappling with films like A Florida Enchantment, Dog Day Afternoon, and Boys Don’t Cry, and with shows like All in the Family, The L Word, and Pose, Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen traces a history that is dehumanizing yet also evolving, complex, and at times humorous. Examining this collective narrative provides a striking view of how our perceptions of trans characters have been shaped through the decades. Insightful trans director Sam Feder confronts unexamined assumptions, reframing familiar scenes and iconic characters through a new lens. Where Jerry Springer and Ace Ventura once captured the American imagination, they now elicit new feelings. Disclosure provokes a startling revolution in how we see and understand trans people—but also media itself.

United States
Documentary
Sam Feder, Amy Scholder
2020
100

Vivos

Ai Weiwei

On a late-September day in 2014, students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College were brutally attacked by police forces and other masked assailants as they were traveling through the town of Iguala, Guerrero. Six people were killed and 43 students were abducted and never heard from again. Since then, the families of the students have lived in limbo with their unanswered questions — and the psychological and emotional toll of the endemic violence currently plaguing Mexican society. With meditative, breathtaking photography and intimate interviews, renowned artist and filmmaker Ai Weiwei details the void stories of the Ayotzinapa victims. Focusing on the families directly affected by the deaths and disappearances, Ai Weiwei gives visual expression to an unsolved humanitarian crisis aligning with his known dissent against repressive governments. Vivos is a lyrical and unique approach to the tragedy that beautifully humanizes each and every victim as an individual and affirms they are forever alive in the constant and present consciousness of their loved ones.

Germany, Mexico
Documentary
Ai Weiwei
2019
112

Siempre, Luis

John James

When Luis A. Miranda Jr. left Puerto Rico for New York City in the 1970s, he had big dreams — but little did he know how far he’d go. Landing an influential position in New York City mayor Ed Koch’s administration as the director of Hispanic affairs, he built a career representing Latinx (and largely, due to their prevalence in the city, Puerto Rican) communities, helping to elect some of the most powerful politicians in the country. Over the course of an intense year, Luis’s devotion to family and country propel him forward despite recent health issues. He finds that there is always more to do, especially when his beloved Puerto Rico is in need. Following the devastation of Hurricane Maria, he helps plan relief efforts and, to raise money and awareness, manages the logistics behind bringing his son Lin-Manuel Miranda’s award-winning production of Hamilton to the island. With humor and a lot of heart, Siempre, Luis tells the story of a unique and proud American.

United States
Documentary
John James, Katie Taber, Carlos Garcia de Dios
2019
95

We Are Freestyle Love Supreme

Andrew Fried

Well before the world knew of the award-winning Broadway musicals In The Heights and Hamilton, a young, bright-eyed Lin-Manuel Miranda was in an improv hip-hop group called Freestyle Love Supreme, along with director Thomas Kail and performers Christopher Jackson and Anthony Veneziale. Freestyle Love Supreme was a way for these carefree artists out of college to experiment with theatre and craft their own unique musical sound. This film chronicles a 15-year journey of twists and turns, friendship, and unprecedented musical talent — culminating with much-anticipated reunion performances in New York City in 2019. Filmmaker Andrew Fried began with a small SD camera in the summer of 2005, capturing the early days of Freestyle Love Supreme beatboxing on the sidewalks — unaware of how their story would unfold. Fourteen years later, after directing famed series like Chef’s Table and 7 Days Out, Fried revisits old footage to craft this fated story. Both poignant and inspired, We Are Freestyle Love Supreme recalls the creative dreams of youth and why this project still means so much to these accomplished performers.

United States
Documentary
Andrew Fried, Sarina Roma, Thomas Kail, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jill Furman, Jon Steingart, Jenny Steingart
2020
90

SERIES

The Trade

Matthew Heineman

The Trade is a vérité, character-driven docuseries that focuses on the illicit trades of human smuggling and trafficking. The series tracks the cycle of Central American migrants coming to the United States and being deported back to their home countries, focusing on the shadow industries that surround them at every step of the journey. By documenting smugglers who prey on the migrant’s vulnerability, traffickers who exploit their status to abuse them and law enforcement who try to catch them at the border, the series will take audiences inside the underbelly of the migrant world. Shot with unparalleled access in the gang ridden slums of Honduras, stash houses of Mexico, and the riverbeds of the Texas border, The Trade journeys beyond the headlines to tell a complex, nuanced story of the dark side of the American dream.

United States
Documentary Series
Myles Estey, Brent Kunkle, Damon Tabor
2017
125

McMillion$

James Lee Hernandez, Brian Lazarte

In the 1990s, the McDonald’s Monopoly game was ubiquitous, with widespread marketing drawing millions into the restaurants, everyone hoping to win prizes that ranged from sandwiches to vacations to cash prizes. Less well known is the network of players who were arrested on charges of defrauding McDonald’s out of more than $24 million by manipulating the Monopoly game. An investigation set in motion by an anonymous tip reveals memorable FBI agents, strange and hilarious prizewinners, and a remarkably complex scheme that mirrored the game itself. Latino directors James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte present a forgotten American story, whose first wave of indictments took place just days before September 11, 2001 — after which, headlines and hearts were focused elsewhere. Presented with humor and compassion, what initially seems like a victimless crime is ultimately revealed to be a conspiracy that continues to affect the lives of the people involved.

https://youtu.be/kK2ZGOsbeqo

United States
Documentary Series
James Lee Hernandez, Brian Lazarte
2019
162