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Here are 10 titles playing at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival likely to grab attention

Anticipation is high for these big stars, a likely Oscar contender and some famous documentary subjects.

(Photo courtesy of MGM Media Licensing / Sundance Institute) Rita Moreno, seen here on the set of MGM's 1961 classic "West Side Story," is the subject of "Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It," by Mariem Pérez Riera. It's an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

The ticket buyer asks the veteran Sundance Film Festival hand: “What looks good this year?” The old hand shrugs his shoulders and replies, “Heck if I know.”

That’s always the dilemma with Sundance: The slate of feature films is loaded with mysteries — and, despite what any prognosticators say, nobody knows for sure what’s going to be good until after they screen. In 2021, with 73 titles waiting for their online premieres, the question marks only loom larger.

Still, there are good omens for some films — a director with an established track record, or a familiar face in the cast, or a documentary subject who can’t help but be interesting.

With that in mind, here are 10 titles from the virtual 2021 Sundance Film Festival that are high on the anticipation scale:

(Photo courtesy of KPJR Films / Sundance Institute) Author Amy Tan is the subject of the documentary "Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir," by James Redford. It's an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

“Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir” (Premieres) • This profile of the author of “The Joy Luck Club,” made for PBS’ “American Masters” series, is notable as being the final work of documentarian James Redford, son of Sundance Institute founder Robert Redford. James Redford submitted the movie to Sundance just before he died in October of bile-duct cancer at age 58, and its inclusion in the festival seems a fitting memorial.

(Image courtesy of Sundance Institute) An image from director Dash Shaw's animated "Cryptozoo." It's an official selection of the NEXT section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

“Cryptozoo” (Next) • Animated features are a rarity at Sundance, but writer-director Dash Shaw — who made the creative “My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea” — is up to the task with this tale where keepers at a zoo filled with legendary beasts wonder if they’re doing the right thing with the strange creatures in their charge.

(Eunsoo Cho | courtesy of Sundance Institute) Steve Iwamoto, pictured here with Constance Wu, plays an old Hawai'ian man looking back on his life in "I Was a Simple Man," by Christopher Makoto Yogi. It's an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

“I Was a Simple Man” (U.S. Dramatic) • Director/writer Christopher Makato Yogi’s tale of an elderly Hawaiian man (Steve Iwamoto) looking back on his life is the sort of quiet, moving drama that could get lost in the shuffle, even with Constance Wu (“Crazy Rich Asians”) in the cast. Early word says not to sleep on this one.

(Glen Wilson | courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures) Daniel Kaluuya, top, plays Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton, while LaKeith Stanfield (in front of the podium) plays his friend-turned-informant, William O'Neal, in director Shaka King's political drama "Judas and the Black Messiah." The film is an official selection of the Premieres program of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

“Judas and the Black Messiah” (Premieres) • It’s unusual for Sundance to factor into the Oscar race, but the motion-picture academy’s pandemic-extended schedule opens the door for director Shaka King’s historical drama. King tells of William O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield), an FBI informant assigned in the late 1960s to infiltrate the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, led by the charismatic Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). Aside from the “Get Out” reunion of Kaluuya and Stanfield, this promises to be a timely, incendiary drama, with a good shot at a Best Picture nomination.

(Daniel Power | courtesy of Focus Features / Sundance Institute) Robin Wright directs and stars in the drama "Land." It's an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

“Land” (Premieres) • Robin Wright, whose acting career has spanned from “The Princess Bride” to “Wonder Woman,” makes her feature directing debut with this solitary drama, in which she plays a grieving woman who decides to live off the grid in Wyoming. This could be a tour-de-force for Wright, if her directing skill matches her considerable acting talent.

(Marshall Adams | courtesy of Sundance Institute) Christopher Abbott, left, and Jerrod Carmichael play friends who make a deadly pact in "On the Count of Three," directed by Carmichael. It's an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

“On the Count of Three” (U.S. Premieres) • The actor-comedian Jerrod Carmichael is one of those talents that seems on the verge of busting out — though his short-lived sitcom “The Carmichael Show” didn’t quite make that happen. Carmichael directed and stars in this dark comedy-thriller, in which he and Christopher Abbott play friends determined to fulfill their suicide pact.

(Edu Grau | courtesy of Sundance Institute) Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson play friends who can pass for white in 1920s New York, but take different paths, in "Passing," an adaptation of Nella Larsen's groundbreaking 1929 novel, directed by Rebecca Hall. It's an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

“Passing” (U.S. Dramatic) • Tessa Thompson (“Thor: Ragnarok”) and Ruth Negga (“Loving”) star as Black high school friends in 1920s New York who pass for white — and what happens when one of them creates a life in white society, while the other lives as an African American. Actor Rebecca Hall makes her directorial debut with this adaptation of Nella Larsen’s landmark 1929 novel, a movie that’s sure to get people talking.

(Photo courtesy of MGM Media Licensing / Sundance Institute) Rita Moreno, seen here on the set of MGM's 1961 classic "West Side Story," is the subject of "Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It," by Mariem Pérez Riera. It's an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

“Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It” (U.S. Documentary) • Every year, there are a few documentaries that ask viewers to pay proper tribute to a performer whose legend is so big that we take them for granted. This year, Moreno — a trailblazer for Latina actors, and one of the first people to land the famed EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony) — gets that onscreen treatment.

(Luke Geissbühler | courtesy of Sundance Institute) Puppeteer Carrol Spinney and his character, Oscar the Grouch, seen in the documentary "Street Gang: How We Got To Sesame Street," by Marilyn Agrelo. It's an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

“Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street” (Premieres) • Speaking of legends getting their due, the visionaries who created America’s favorite street are highlighted in Marilyn Agrelo’s documentary. You’d have to be a grouch not to want to see it.

(Photo courtesy of Black Ticket Films / Sundance Institute) A Dalit woman works as a journalist, in a scene from the Indian documentary "Writing With Fire," by Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Gosh. It's an official selection of the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

“Writing With Fire” (World Cinema Documentary) • When Tabitha Jackson, the festival’s new director, was asked to pick a film from the lineup that might get ignored among the big-name talent, she chose this documentary about women in India’s Dalit community forming their own newspaper. The film shows these women speaking truth to power and “making trouble in the best traditions of journalism,” Jackson said.

Learn more about the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and buy tickets at Sundance.org.

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