6 Things We're Looking Forward to at Sundance

Bonus! You don’t have to be a film buff to appreciate the festival parties and fashions.

It's once again time for the Sundance Film Festival! This weekend, we can't wait to slip into our snow boots and parkas, and head to Park City, Utah, which will fill up with freshly-minted stars and pro cover girls—and guys—alike. Expect Kate Beckinsale, Selena Gomez, Michelle Williams, and more to step onto Main Street this year (AKA: action central) as our editors take you behind the snowy scenes.

Amidst the après–ski fashion, we're sure to discover a wash of high-impact films, hot young actors, and tech innovations that will inform the months ahead. Plus, we'll go inside some of Park City's coolest parties where celebs like Nick Jonas and Matt Damon will be warming up and celebrating their buzzy new projects. Ready? So are we. Here's we're most looking forward to this time around:

01 of 06

The Building Buzz

The Building Buzz
Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Last year's festival brought us Saoirse Ronan's nuanced performance as a young Irish immigrant in Brooklyn, a current Oscar nominee for best picture and best actress, plus faves like The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Mistress America, and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl with breakout star Olivia Cooke. And, while it used to be a rarity for Sundance's indie films to win Academy Awards (documentaries aside), the 2014 festival delivered two major Oscar victories when Patricia Arquette took home a statue for best supporting actress in Boyhood and J.K. Simmons won for best supporting actor in Whiplash.

Which is why we're keeping our ears to the ground for the most talked about flicks and the hottest stars at this year's festival. Already getting our attention: sartorial star Chloe Sevigny has a double debut in Love & Friendship with Kate Beckinsale and Antibirth with Natasha Lyonne; Tika Sumpter plays a young Michelle Obama in Southside with You; Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, and Michelle Williams play small-town women with intersecting storylines in Certain Women; and Rebecca Hall portrays a real-life 1974 news reporter in Christine.

02 of 06

The Virtual Reality Takeover

The Virtual Reality Takeover
Fox Innovation Lab 20th Century Fox

2016 is set to be the year virtual reality goes mainstream, thanks in part to Oculus viewers and other consumer-friendly VR campaigns (see our own virtual page here). Sundance was an early supporter of VR through its forward-looking New Frontier program and this year, it will have two spaces devoted to bringing festival-goers inside the VR experience, offering more than 20 virtual reality pieces viewable on mobile VR headsets.

Original efforts like Defrost, which takes viewers on a journey through the eyes of a woman who wakes up after being frozen for nearly 30 years, and fun bonuses like The Martian VR Experience, which allows users to step inside astronaut Mark Watney's space suit and dive into scenes from the feature film, are sure to be big hits. Even comedy video site Funny or Die is getting in on the action (stay tuned for reports on that!).

03 of 06

Smart, Funny Women Lead the Way

Smart, Funny Women Lead the Way
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

There's nothing we love more than multi-hyphenate women who are whip-smart, witty, strong, and sexy all at once. Expect more than a few of these ladies to stand out at this year's festival. For starters, Lena Dunham will showcase her talents off-screen as a festival juror and producer of the HBO documentary Suited, about a Brooklyn tailoring company that makes suits for gender non-conforming clients (airing in June).

Chelsea Handler will, of course, premiere her new Netflix docu-series Chelsea Does, and Greta Gerwig, a festival regular by now, returns with two movies we can't wait to watch: Wiener-Dog, a funny flick about a joy-inducing dachshund; and Maggie's Plan, in which Gerwig stars with dream cast mates Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore, Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph (another one of our faves). Plus YouTube comedian Jessie Kahnweiler debuts her new Refinery29 web series, The Skinny (she's the writer, director, and star), exploring body image issues with a dark sense of humor.

04 of 06

Musicians Stealing the Show

Musicians Stealing the Show
Annette Brown

It's no surprise that superstar pop artists like Selena Gomez and Nick Jonas are making their mark on the film industry now, too (they're well on their way to triple threat status). The singers have two of the most highly-anticipated movies at this year's festival: Gomez in The Fundamentals of Caring alongside Paul Rudd, and Jonas in Goat, alongside newcomer Virginia Gardner.

But music is also a hot script topic: Films like Sing Street, about a boy in 1980s Dublin who starts a band to (naturally) win over a girl, could launch the careers of its young cast members. And documentaries like Eat That Question–Frank Zappa in His Own Words and Michael Jackson's Journey from Motown to Off the Wall, directed by Spike Lee, will bring us archival footage and new revelations about the artists. Music to our ears and eyes.

05 of 06

There's TV, too!

There’s TV, too!
Saeed Adyani/Netflix

There's no need to wait for all of the films premiering at Sundance to make their way to theaters. This year, expect a wave of small screen debuts with as much impact as their silver screen sisters. Notably, comedian Chelsea Handler brings her signature brand of raunch to her new docu-series Chelsea Does, premiering at the festival and on Netflix on Jan. 23. Don't expect another irreverent talk show. This time, Handler is exploring serious topics such as marriage, racism and drugs with her own humorous twist–and a surprising amount of vulnerability.

Hulu's next all-star original series, 11.22.63, based on a Stephen King novel, directed by J.J. Abrams and starring James Franco, will debut its two-hour pilot at the festival. It arrives on Hulu Feb. 15. And look out for The Girlfriend Experience, premiering April 10 on Starz, and the next installment of ESPN's acclaimed 30 for 30 series, which premieres at Sundance and will air on the network in June. This time, it's formatted as a topical, five-part documentary mini-series, "OJ: Made in America"–a riveting look at the intersection of racial tension in Los Angeles and OJ Simpson's rise and fall.

06 of 06

Bonus! You don't have to be a film buff to appreciate the festival parties and fashions.

Bonus! You don’t have to be a film buff to appreciate the festival parties and fashions.

The vibe in Sundance is low-key, casual-cool–and that makes party hopping and late night celebrations standard (no heels = no problems). From cast dinners and premiere parties for films like Captain Fantastic (Viggo Mortensen, Kathryn Hahn) and Goat (Nick Jonas), to the always-a-scene Tao Lounge where VIPs head after dark, to parties with purpose like Women in Film and Matt Damon's Water.org event, there's always somewhere interesting to be, and someone inspiring to meet.

And the question "Who are you wearing?" finally has a totally attainable answer. Festival staples like Sorel boots and Moose Knuckles coats (both brands will set up shop in Park City this year) are paired with comfy sweaters and jeans in enviable ways. The layering game is strong! It's street style at its coolest.

Stay tuned for more straight from the festival and check out all of our Sundance coverage right here.

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