The Sundance Film Festival, which kicks off this weekend, has been known to launch the careers of many a rising talent. The Festival has changed over the decades from a low-profile venue for small-budget, independent creators outside the Hollywood system to a now media extravaganza for the Hollywood industry. One thing that hasn’t changed is the number of great movies which premiere each and every year. This year has one of the best line-ups in recent memory. From niche horror to promising indie debuts, the festival is screening 110 feature-length films from 31 countries, so I’ve decided to narrow it down for everyone. Here are the movies you should keep an eye out for this year.
2 Days In New York
In the follow-up to Julie Delpy’s 2 Days in Paris, 2 Days in New York adds Chris Rock to the cast as the straight-man hipster American boyfriend. Fans of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and Before Sunset should take interest here as the films share many common attributes.
Synopsis: Marion and Mingus live cozily—perhaps too cozily—with their cat and two young children from previous relationships. However, when Marion’s jolly father (played by director Delpy’s real-life dad), her oversexed sister, and her sister’s outrageous boyfriend unceremoniously descend upon them for a visit, it initiates two unforgettable days that will test Marion and Mingus’s relationship. With their unwitting racism and sexual frankness, the French triumvirate hilariously has no boundaries or filters . . . and no person is left unscathed in its wake.
Kirsten Dunst leads a great cast (Isla Fisher, Lizzy Caplan, James Marsden, Adam Scott, Kyle Bornheimer) in what some are promising (and others hoping) will be the next Bridesmaids.
Synopsis: Regan is used to being first at everything. Imagine her horror and chagrin when she finds out the girl everyone called Pig Face in high school is going to tie the knot before she does! But Regan sucks it up and takes on bridesmaid duties along with her childhood pals: substance-abusing, promiscuous Gena and ditzy Katie. The single ladies are determined to put their bitterness aside and have an awesomely hedonistic bachelorette party. Armed with acerbic wit and seemingly endless supplies of coke and booze, the foul-mouthed femmes embark on one very long and emotional night filled with major wedding-dress panic, various bodily fluids, and cute ex-boyfriends.
John Dies at the End
Based on the beloved David Wong novel, John Dies at the End is an offbeat horror film about two college dropouts who have to save the world from undead drug addicts from another dimension.
Paul Giamatti produced and co-stars in this futuristic gore-fest helmed by Don Coscarelli, the director of one of the most-watched movies ever to air on cable television, the creator of one of the most prolific horror mythologies in film history, and a little-known force behind some incredible genre films. Get excited!
Synopsis: On the street, they call it “soy sauce.” It’s a paranormal, psychoactive drug that promises an out-of-body experience with each hit. Its users drift across time and dimensions, but some who come back are devoid of all humanity. While most of Earth’s inhabitants remain blissfully oblivious to its threat—make no mistake—an otherworldly invasion is under way, and mankind needs to be saved. Enter John and David, a pair of college dropouts who can barely hold down jobs. How can these guys possibly be expected to rescue mankind from certain destruction?
Keep the Lights On
Fans of last year’s acclaimed Weekend should be interested in Keep The Lights On, an autobiographically-inspired drama written by Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias about two New York men who meet in the late nineties and carry on an intense, decade-long bad romance. Late New York City musician Arthur Russell provided the score for the film. Sachs collaborated with Russell’s estate to compile the score for Keep the Lights On from much of the musician’s undiscovered work. Sachs is no stranger to Sundance; he last co-wrote and directed Forty Shades of Blue, which won the dramatic grand jury prize at the Sundance fest in 2005.
This Indonesian action film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to critical acclaim and walked away winning The Cadillac People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award. This is a straight-up, pure action film in which the actors are also the fight choreographers. In other words, don’t expect much in the way of plot. The Raid starts with a simple premise and makes no pretensions about showcasing the non-stop breathtaking action from enigmatic young star, Iko Uwais.
Synopsis: At the break of dawn, an elite SWAT team descends upon a rundown tenement in the mammoth city of Jakarta, Indonesia. Their mission? To take down the ruthless and powerful crime boss Tama, who rules the building and its inhabitants with implacable brutality. Holed up on the top floor with an array of security cameras and a legion of massively armed underlings, Tama appears to be untouchable. The police initiate their assault with precision as they make their way through the lower floors of the building. But when their cover is blown, a bloody cataclysm erupts, first with bullets, then with a storm of fists and feet.
Red Hook Summer
Red Hook Summer is a Spike Lee joint, one that could be reminiscent of his best film, his ode to New York street life 25th Hour, while also constituting a welcome return to his roots. Apart from taking place on a hot summer day in Brooklyn, Lee will reprise his role as Mookie from 1989’s Do the Right Thing, which launched Lee into the ranks of major filmmakers. The film is written and directed by Lee and stars Clarke Peters (The Wire, Treme), Jules Brown, Toni Lysaith, Nate Parker, James Ransone and Thomas Jefferson Byrd. Bruce Hornsby has composed the music.
Synopsis: When his mom deposits him at the Red Hook housing project in Brooklyn to spend the summer with the grandfather he’s never met, young Flik may as well have landed on Mars. Fresh from his cushy life in Atlanta, he’s bored and friendless, and his strict grandfather, Enoch, a firebrand preacher, is bent on getting him to accept Jesus Christ as his personal savior. Only Chazz, the feisty girl from church, provides a diversion from the drudgery. As hot summer simmers and Sunday mornings brim with Enoch’s operatic sermons, things turn anything but dull as people’s conflicting agendas collide. Playfully ironic, heightened, yet grounded, Spike Lee’s bold new movie returns him to his roots, where lovable, larger-than-life characters form the tinderbox of a tight-knit community. A story about the coexistence of altruism and corruption, Red Hook Summer toys with expectations, seducing us with the promise of moral and spiritual transcendence.
Last January, 28 year-old Brooklynite Antonio Campos and his Borderline Films comrades premiered one of the best films of 2011, Martha Marcy May Marlene, directed by Sean Durkin and produced by Campos and Josh Mond. This year its Campos sitting on the directors chair for the first time since his divisive 2008 debut, Afterschool. Simon Killer is a neonoir thriller which stars Sundance fave Brady Corbet, an actor who’s no stranger to the festival, having appeared in some of their biggest hits in recent years.
Synopsis: A recent college graduate goes to Paris after breaking up with his girlfriend of five years. His life should be open-ended and full of promise, but he can’t shake his feelings of loss. Being a stranger in a strange land only aggravates his situation. When he falls in love with a young, mysterious prostitute, a fateful journey begins, though we soon learn that Simon is the one with deeper secrets.
Sundance staple James Marsh made quite a name for himself in recent years with acclaimed documentaries Man on Wire and Project Nim. Marsh returns in 2012 with a fiction film, an espionage thriller titled Shadow Dancer. Described as a riveting portrait of shifting convictions and entangled loyalties, Shadow Dancer explores the complex relationship between politics and personal motivations during troubled times in Northern Ireland.
Synopsis: Growing up in a Republican family in 1970s Belfast, Collette McVeigh’s childhood is shattered, and her family radicalized, when her brother is killed. Twenty years later—a single mother with her own young son—Collette is active in the IRA, along with her two surviving brothers.
During an aborted bomb attempt in London, Collette falls into the hands of an MI5 officer, Mac, who offers her a deal: turn informant or go to prison. Fearing for her son’s welfare, she returns to Belfast where—betraying family and beliefs—she becomes a reluctant mole for British intelligence. As suspicion of Collette mounts and Mac takes increasing risks to protect her, both feel the net closing in.
The beautiful Mary Elizabeth Winstead teams with Aaron Paul (of Breaking Bad fame) for Smashed, a movie about two young people whose alcohol-soaked relationship is threatened when one starts to get sober. The film is said to be a loose reworking of Days of Wine and Roses, which originally starred Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick. The supporting cast includes Oscar front-runner Octavia Spencer and golden comic couple Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation) and Megan Mullally.
Synopsis: Kate and Charlie like to have a good time. Their marriage thrives on a shared fondness for music, laughter . . . and getting smashed. When Kate’s partying spirals into hard-core asocial behavior, compromising her job as an elementary schoolteacher, something’s got to give. But change isn’t exactly a cakewalk. Sobriety means she will have to confront the lies she’s been spinning at work, her troubling relationship with her mother, and the nature of her bond with Charlie.
West of Memphis
The documentary co-produced by The Hobbit director Peter Jackson along with Fran Walsh details the campaign to get three men exonerated in West Memphis, Ark. Amy Berg (Deliver Us From Evil) directs examining the crime and its aftermath, providing a voice for the victims’ families, including those with doubts about whether the right people are behind bars. With the help of a former FBI profiler, the doc uncovers new evidence about the convictions of Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr. for the 1993 murders of three 8-year-old boys — Christopher Byers, Steven Branch and Michael Moore — in the small town of West Memphis.