Independent films? Really? Nah. The Premiere section at Sundance is always a collection of films designed to draw a crowd of well-known movie stars to the summit of Park City. The big names, in both acting and directing, are huge draws at the festival every year.
It’s been my experience that, within the Premiere section, there are only about one or two standout films each year. The rest try to glide by on name recognition, which rarely works. Many of these movies aren’t even looking for distribution. The independent arms of major studios, such as Fox Searchlight, will submit films in hopes of creating buzz before regular theatrical release.
Some of last year’s notable releases in the Premieres section included ‘The Words‘, ‘Celeste and Jesse Forever‘ and ‘Arbitrage‘. Some of my favorite films from this section over the years include ‘(500) Days of Summer‘, ‘Adventureland‘, ‘In the Loop‘ and ‘In Bruges‘.
Director: Stuart Zicherman
Screenwriters: Ben Karlin and Stuart Zicherman
Cast: Adam Scott, Jessica Alba, Richard Jenkins, Catherine O’Hara, Amy Poehler, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Clark Duke
Synopsis: Carter is a well-adjusted Adult Child of Divorce. So he thinks. When he discovers that he was part of a divorce study as a child, it wreaks havoc on his family and forces him to face his chaotic past.
Thoughts: Stuart Zicherman is a first time director, but you may remember him as the screenwriter from ‘Elektra’. Okay, I agree, that doesn’t really fill one with hope for this movie. Broken families are a staple of film festivals, and this doesn’t jump out as one I need to make a point of seeing. I do, however, admire the hell out of Richard Jenkins. Truthfully, I’d go to this movie just for a chance to see him in a Q&A after the screening.
Director: Richard Linklater
Screenwriters: Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Xenia Kalogeropoulou, Ariane Labed, Athina Rachel Tsangari and Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick
Synopsis: We meet Jesse and Celine nine years on in Greece. Almost two decades have passed since their first meeting on that train bound for Vienna. Before the clock strikes midnight, we will again become part of their story.
Thoughts: Want to know the movie getting the most pre-festival buzz? This is it. Linklater continues his trilogy about Jesse and Celine. For some, these films have become a cinematic religion of sorts. This is sure to be a very hot ticket once the festival rolls around. Tickets to this one are going to be really hard to come by.
Director and Screenwriter: Michael Polish
Cast: Jean-Marc Barr, Kate Bosworth, Josh Lucas, Radha Mitchell, Anthony Edwards and Henry Thomas
Synopsis: Unable to cope with a suddenly demanding public, and battling advanced alcoholism, Jack Kerouac seeks respite in three brief sojourns to a cabin in Big Sur, which reveal his mental and physical deterioration.
Thoughts: Kerouac is also a featured character in another Sundance film this year called ‘Kill Your Darlings’. In that one, he’s played by Jack Huston (‘Boardwalk Empire’). Here, the famed writer is played by Jean-Marc Barr (‘Dogville’). It might be fun to compare the two performances.
Director: Drake Doremus
Screenwriters: Drake Doremus and Ben York Jones
Cast: Guy Pearce, Felicity Jones, Amy Ryan and Mackenzie Davis
Synopsis: When a foreign exchange student arrives in a small upstate New York town, she challenges the dynamics of her host family’s relationships and alters their lives forever.
Thoughts: The director of the Sundance hit ‘Like Crazy’ is back with a new movie that features a very strong cast. Amy Ryan is worth the ticket in just about everything she’s in. On IMDb, this is still listed as ‘Untitled Drake Doremus Project‘.
‘Don Jon’s Addiction’
Director and Screenwriter: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Glenne Headly and Rob Brown
Synopsis: In Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s charming directorial debut, a selfish modern-day Don Juan attempts to change his ways.
Thoughts: Another buzz-worthy addition to the Sundance lineup is Jospeh Gordon-Levitt’s foray into feature-film directing. Headed by a strong cast, this will no doubt be another hot ticket, especially during its premiere showing. Also, the inclusion of Tony Danza is rather awesome. Coupling him together with Mark Hamill in the same festival gives me ’80s flashbacks like crazy.
Director: Zal Batmanglij
Screenwriters: Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling
Cast: Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page, Toby Kebbell, Shiloh Fernandez and Patricia Clarkson
Synopsis: An operative for an elite private intelligence firm goes into deep cover to infiltrate a mysterious anarchist collective attacking major corporations. Bent on apprehending these fugitives, she finds her loyalty tested as her feelings grow for the group’s charismatic leader.
Thoughts: I’m really intrigued by this movie. I’m all for intelligent spy thrillers, and I really love Brit Marling. I’m interested to see how she fares as a screenwriter again after the great script she created for ‘Another Earth’, one of my all-time favorite Sundance films.
‘The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete’
Director: George Tillman Jr.
Screenwriter: Michael Starrbury
Cast: Skylan Brooks, Ethan Dizon, Jennifer Hudson, Jordin Sparks, Anthony Mackie and Jeffrey Wright
Synopsis: Separated from their mothers and facing a summer in the Brooklyn projects alone, two boys hide from police and forage for food, with only each other to trust. A story of salvation through friendship and two boys against the world.
Thoughts: George Tillman Jr. is a fairly established director. His most recent film was ‘Faster‘ with Dwayne Johnson. He also did ‘Notorious’ (the Biggie Smalls biopic) and ‘Men of Honor‘. With that said, the synopsis really doesn’t grab me to the point that I’ll seek this out above other films.
Director: Joshua Michael Stern
Screenwriter: Matt Whiteley
Cast: Ashton Kutcher, Dermot Mulroney, Josh Gad, Lukas Haas, J.K. Simmons and Matthew Modine
Synopsis: The true story of one of the greatest entrepreneurs in American history, ‘jOBS’ chronicles the defining 30 years of Steve Jobs’ life.’jOBS’ is a candid, inspiring and personal portrait of the one who saw things differently.
Thoughts: It was rumored that the Steve Jobs biopic would play at Sundance this year. That rumor has become a reality. I know many people, like myself, are dubious about Ashton Kutcher taking on the role of Jobs. I’m not a huge Apple fan, and never really followed the life of Jobs with much interest. However, this will be one of the must-see movies of the festival simply because of the subject and its timeliness. If it’s good, it’ll be a movie to keep tabs on come awards time next year.
‘The Look of Love’
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Screenwriter: Matt Greenhalgh
Cast: Steve Coogan, Anna Friel, Imogen Poots and Tamsin Egerton
Synopsis: The true story of British adult magazine publisher and entrepreneur Paul Raymond. A modern day King Midas story, Raymond became one of the richest men in Britain at the cost of losing those closest to him.
Thoughts: Winterbottom has a litany of directing credits. He isn’t new to this filmmaking thing at all. I saw his ‘The Killer Inside Me‘ at Sundance a couple years ago. That one had a lukewarm reception at the festival and never really gained much ground when it was released to audiences. He’s also no stranger to focusing a movie on sex, as he was also the director of ‘9 Songs’. I adore Anna Friel, though. I’m torn on whether to see this or not.
Directors: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
Screenwriter: Andy Bellin
Cast: Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, Hank Azaria, Adam Brody, James Franco and Sharon Stone
Synopsis: ‘Deep Throat’, the first pornographic feature film to be a mainstream success, was an international sensation in 1972 and made its star, Linda Lovelace, a media darling. Years later, the “poster girl for the sexual revolution” revealed a darker side to her story.
Thoughts: Another movie that was rumored to play at Sundance has been confirmed. This is the third film at Sundance that James Franco is involved in, and they all have to do with the porn industry in some way. The big question here is how Amanda Seyfried will do in the starring role. Only time will tell. I have hope for this movie because I’ve liked what Epstein and Friedman have done in the past with ‘Howl’ and ‘The Celluloid Closet’.
‘The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman’
Director: Fredrik Bond
Screenwriter: Matt Drake
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Aubrey Plaza, Evan Rachel Wood, Mads Mikkelsen, Rupert Grint, James Buckley and Til Schweiger
Synopsis: Traveling abroad, Charlie Countryman falls for Gabi, a Romanian beauty whose unreachable heart has its origins in Nigel, her violent, charismatic ex. As the darkness of Gabi’s past increasingly envelops him, Charlie resolves to win her heart, or die trying.
Thoughts: It isn’t often that I’m turned off by a movie just due to its cast, but Shia LaBeouf and Evan Rachel Wood in the same film gives me great pause. LaBeouf was pretty much insufferable in ‘Lawless’, and I just don’t know if I can stomach another of his performances.
Director and Screenwriter: David Gordon Green
Cast: Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch
Synopsis: Two highway road workers spend the summer of 1988 away from their city lives. The isolated landscape becomes a place of misadventure as the men find themselves at odds with each other and the women they left behind.
Thoughts: I’m really stoked about this movie. I’m guessing that it will be a comedy since Green’s directing credits include ‘Pineapple Express‘, ‘Your Highness‘ and multiple episodes of ‘Eastbound & Down‘. Plus, Paul Rudd can do no wrong in my eyes. I’ll see anything that he’s in.
Director: Park Chan-Wook
Screenwriter: Wentworth Miller
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Dermot Mulroney, Jacki Weaver and Nicole Kidman
Synopsis: After India’s father dies in an auto accident, her Uncle Charlie comes to live with her and her mother, Evelyn. Soon after his arrival, India suspects that this mysterious, charming man has ulterior motives, but becomes increasingly infatuated with him.
Thoughts: This is Park Chan-Wook’s first English-language movie. The ‘Oldboy’ director will surely draw big crowds. What I find really interesting is that the script is penned by Wentworth Miller from ‘Prison Break’ fame. We already previewed the movie’s trailer in a recent Trailer Park post. Head on over there and take in all its creepiness. I’ll for sure be seeing this one.
Directors: Logan Miller and Noah Miller
Screenwriter: Andrew McKenzie
Cast: Ed Harris, January Jones, Jason Isaacs, Eduardo Noriega, Steven Rude and Amy Madigan
Synopsis: In the late 1800s, a fanatical religious leader, a renegade Sheriff and a former prostitute collide in a blood triangle on the rugged plains of the New Mexico Territory.
Thoughts: I never saw the Miller brother’s previous film, ‘Touching Home’, but it didn’t get very good reviews. That doesn’t really matter to me, since this movie promises Ed Harris and Jason Issacs in the same film. Yep, that’s enough to get me in the door.
‘Top of the Lake’
Directors: Jane Campion and Garth Davis
Screenwriters: Jane Campion and Gerard Lee
Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Holly Hunter, Peter Mullan and David Wenham
Synopsis: A 12-year-old girl stands chest deep in a frozen lake. She is five months pregnant and won’t say who the father is. Then she disappears. So begins a haunting mystery that consumes a community.
Thoughts: This note is attached to Sundance’s press release synopsis: “This six-hour film will screen once during the Festival.” Yeah, a six-hour film will play at Sundance this year. While many people will try to get into this one-time-only screening, I won’t be one of them. I get the feeling that most people will simply want to say, “I survived the six-hour Sundance film.” I really do enjoy Jane Campion’s work, though. It’s easy for me to pass on this movie since it’s already been announced that it will be cut up into bite-sized episodes and aired on the Sundance Channel after the festival is over.
Director: Anne Fontaine
Screenwriter: Christopher Hampton
Cast: Naomi Watts, Robin Wright, Xavier Samuel and James Frechevile
Synopsis: This gripping tale of love, lust and the power of friendship charts the unconventional and passionate affairs of two lifelong friends who fall in love with each other’s sons.
Thoughts: Keep it in the family, huh? Yeah, that sounds like an erotically good time, right? I like Fontaine’s other work too. ‘Coco Before Chanel‘ was pretty good, and I’m looking forward to seeing this at the festival.
‘Very Good Girls’
Director and Screenwriter: Naomi Foner
Cast: Dakota Fanning, Elizabeth Olsen, Boyd Holbrook, Demi Moore, Richard Dreyfuss and Ellen Barkin
Synopsis: In the long, half-naked days of a New York summer, two girls on the brink of becoming women fall for the same guy and find that life isn’t as simple or safe as they had thought.
Thoughts: After seeing ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’ at Sundance a while back, I will never, ever miss another chance to see Elizabeth Olsen in anything. She has wonderful screen presence. Pairing her with Dakota Fanning seems like a win-win for everyone.
‘The Way, Way Back’
Directors and Screenwriters: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Cast: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph and Liam James
Synopsis: Duncan, an introverted 14-year-old, comes into his own over the course of a comedic summer when he forms unlikely friendships with the gregarious manager of a rundown water park and the misfits who work there.
Thoughts: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash are very identifiable comedic character actors. This is their first time directing, though. With this star-studded cast, it’s easy to see that this will be a highly sought after dramedy ticket. Another Sundance rule I have is to never miss Sam Rockwell in anything. It’s worked for me so far.
Leading up to Sundance, we’ll continue to post articles like this that will help you get excited about and understand the movies that will screen at the festival in early 2013. What are some of the movies on this list you’re excited about? Please let us know about it in the Comments.
[Note: The Sundance Film Festival is really the only time I ever use Twitter. Follow me at @AaronPeck to keep up to date with all my movie watching and line waiting when the festival arrives.]