Ten unacquired Sundance films we still hope to see someday

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The Lifeguard

The 2013 incarnation of the Sundance Film Festival came to a close over the past weekend, giving film fans and critics the first look at numerous anticipated feature films from a slew of directors, writers, and actors, some of whom even pull double duty both in front of and behind the camera. Over the nearly 10-day festival, numerous films were snapped up by distributors, ensuring that the public who was unable to make it to Sundance will get an opportunity to see it at some point. There were more than a few films, however, that did not get picked up by distributors, leaving their fate in limbo, despite looking quite promising. Here are ten films in the latter category that we are still excited and hopeful to see someday.

Note: Not having seen any of these features, this list is in no order other than alphabetical.

1) A.C.O.D.

Ben Karlin, who has previously written for The Daily Show, makes the jump to feature films by co-writing this film with Stu Zicherman, who’s previously worked on series like Lights Out. While the premise, in which the adult child of divorced parents finds out that he’s been the subject of his psychologist’s research, is interesting in and of itself, the stellar cast really makes this interesting; with Adam Scott in the lead role, supporting characters are played by Amy Poehler, Adam Pally, Richard Jenkins, Catherine O’Hara, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Jane Lynch. How such members of the cast play off of each other is bound to be a fun experience, if nothing else, and hopefully it manages to get released in some fashion soon.

2) Afternoon Delight

This is the first feature film from Jill Soloway, who wrote and directed it, and has previously written for shows such as Six Feet Under and United States of Tara, which alone makes it interesting. However, the biggest draw for this film is lead actress Kathryn Hahn. Hahn has proven herself a more than capable performer in numerous supporting roles, most recently in a memorable arc on season four of Parks and Recreation, and is overdue for a leading role. The supporting cast, which includes rising actress Juno Temple as well as Josh Radnor, Jane Lynch, Jessica St. Clair, and Michaela Watkins, doesn’t hurt either.

Ass Backwards

3) Ass Backwards

Casey Wilson and June Diane Raphael, in addition to being very good friends, are very talented funny people, as both are able to prove on Happy Endings and NTSF: SD:SUV::, respectively. While their last writing effort, 2009’s Bride Wars, didn’t quite match the expectations the two had set for the quality of their output, Ass Backwards looks like a much more promising effort. For one thing, the two ladies are the only writers on the film this time around, and also star as the leads. With a story, which revolves around two women with overinflated sense of selves travelling back to their hometown to win a beauty pageant that had eluded them before, that seems reminiscent of 2011’s excellent Young Adult, and a cast that includes the likes of Paul Scheer, Vincent D’Onofrio, Bob Odenkirk, Jon Lajoie, and Jon Cryer, the movie shows quite a bit of promise, and should be fun to watch even if it doesn’t deliver.

4) The East

Brit Marling has always been a talent to look out for both in front of and behind the camera, taking risks and deciding to forge her own cinematic path, which makes any of her written projects something worth keeping an eye on. The latest in this endeavour, following Another Earth and Sound of My Voice, is The East, which also brings in Ellen Page, Alexander Skarsgard, Patricia Clarkson, and Julia Ormond into the fold, centres the story around an eco-terrorist group and a journalist who infiltrates their ranks. Along with Marling, this sounds like a departure for Ellen Page as well, and seeing how the two work with each other is worth watching for, if this gets picked up.

5) In a World…

Lake Bell has been a hilarious presence in several tv and movie appearances, most notably on Childrens’ Hospital, so the fact that she is stretching out into writing and directing feature films is an exciting step forward in her career. The movie itself sounds quite intriguing as well, exploring the world of movie trailer voiceovers from the perspective of the daughter of a legend in the industry, played by Bell. Some reviews have said that the movie goes a little too deep into the trailer voiceover industry, which makes the film that much more appealing, as does a supporting cast that includes Nick Offerman, Rob Corddry, Ken Marino, Demetri Martin, and Geena Davis. Hopefully this will make its way onto a forum for public viewing as well.

The Inevitable defeat of Mister and Pete

6) The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete

2009’s Notorious marked director George Tillman Jr.’s return to filmmaking following a nine-year hiatus, and while the feature, and its follow-up, 2010’s Dwayne Johnson action vehicle Faster, didn’t put the director on the map, his 2013 Sundance feature The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete represents the closest return to form Tillman Jr. has been since his hiatus, as the other movies under his belt have been features such as Men of Honor and Soul Food. The movie itself seems to promise a raw look at issues that are too often swept under the rug, and boasts a cast that includes Jeffrey Wright, Anthony Mackie, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje orbiting around leads Skylan Brooks and Ethan Dizon.

7) The Lifeguard

Memphis Beat co-creator and Cold Case writer Liz W. Garcia makes the jump to feature film writing and directing with this film, which stars Kristen Bell in the lead role. The participation of either would raise the interest level in this feature, as Garcia proved the ability to craft three-dimensional characters and rich relationships with Memphis Beat, and Bell, who has proven herself, also takes on a role she hasn’t really tackled before. The story, of an ex-valedictorian who abruptly drops her New York life and moves back to her hometown in an apparent regression, also sounds fascinating, and having Mamie Gummer, Joshua Harto, and Sendhil Ramamurthy among the supporting cast only adds to the expectations of the film.

8) Sweetwater

A Western set in the 1800s already sounds like an exciting idea, which is only enhanced by the knowledge that the principal cast is comprised of Ed Harris, Jason Isaacs, and Mad Men’s January Jones. Twins Noah and Logan Miller tackle this tale for their second feature, and the ambition displayed in the setting and genre selection alone is a promising sign. The story, which involves a sheriff, a preacher, and a former prostitute crossing paths, brings to mind Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns, which makes this a very exciting feature to see, and hopefully a distributor makes that possible for wider audiences sooner rather than later.

Twenty Feet from Stardom

9) Twenty Feet from Stardom

Behind every successful figure in the public eye, there are numerous individuals who work behind the scenes with minimal public recognition, most of whom tend to have fascinating stories about their careers. Music is no exception, and the focus of this documentary is backup singers. The veterans of the industry are bound to have some interesting tales, both of others and of themselves, as their role is crucial to the development of a good song, yet their part is never acknowledged. Furthermore, nobody ever dreams of becoming a backup singer, so what motivates these individuals to keep working would make for a compelling glimpse at the mindset of the profession.

10) Very Good Girls

The most notable aspect of this story about two girls coming of age over one summer is the two lead actresses, Dakota Fanning and Elizabeth Olsen. Fanning is, of course, now a veteran of the acting industry, having worked with the likes of Steven Spielberg, Robert De Niro, Tony Scott, and Sean Penn, and this role marks another in her gradual slide out from her child actress shadow into more mature roles. Elizabeth Olsen, on the other hand, was captivating in her breakout leading role in Martha Marcy May Marlene,and the idea of watching how the two complement each other onscreen is fascinating enough. Veteran writer Naomi Foner, who also pens this script, steps behind the camera for the first time as well, with the likes of Richard Dreyfuss and Ellen Barkin forming the supporting cast.

As is to be expected from a film festival the size of Sundance, this list is by no means comprehensive. Other films that fall in this category include Top of the Lake, filmmaker Jane Campion’s miniseries turned movie that reunited her with Holly Hunter, Emanuel and the Truth about Fishes, which may end up being lead Kaya Scodelario’s breakout role if it gets picked up, and The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman, which drops Shia Labeouf in the midst of a cast that includes Rupert Grint, Evan Rachel Wood, Melissa Leo, and Mads Mikkelsen, among others. With the numerous avenues of distribution that films currently have, hopefully this is not the last we have heard of any of these features.

– Deepayan Sengupta

7 Comments
  1. Jesse says

    “The Lifeguard” is apparently pretty bad. “Sweetwater” and “In A World” were called “messy”, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they get picked up shortly. That all being said, that is just what I’ve gathered from an assortment of reviews out of Sundance.

    1. Deepayan Sengupta says

      To be honest, the fact that they’re being called “messy” only intrigues me more, especially in Sweetwater’s case. And considering the premise and talent behind The Lifeguard (I may be the only person who actually watched Memphis Beat) I’d remain interested no matter how bad the reviews got. Actually, I shouldn’t say that; I thought the same thing about Movie 43, but the extremely negative reviews did whittle away any anticipation I had for it.

  2. TJ W. says

    Ass Backwards, In a World… and Afternoon Delight are all obviously going to be picked up soon. The rest? Crossing my fingers. This is what onDemand was made for.

    1. Deepayan Sengupta says

      I’m hoping for the same thing. onDemand would be a great way to get it out to interested parties without incurring a heavy cost.

  3. Deepayan Sengupta says

    Ahh, thanks for the clarification, rose and Lez. That’s atleast one more Sundance feature I can look forward to seeing, then, rather than lamenting my inability to travel back in time to the festival.

  4. Lez says

    The East already has distribution, it was made by Fox Searchlight. It’ll come out early summer probably.

  5. rose says

    A correction: THE EAST was one of the few Sundance premieres which already had a distributor: Fox Searchlight(same as Stoker).

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