Every January Hollywood descends on Park City, Utah for the Sundance Film Festival and turns Main Street into the single most pretentious place in the country for ten days. Don’t get me wrong—I love film festivals, especially ones like Sundance that are also markets for distributors to pick up films for release. Without festivals like this we would never see movies like Napoleon Dynamite or Frozen River. And Sundance is especially unique for its combination of genuine independent filmmaking (the festival being in a symbiotic relationship with Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute) and straight up Hollywood excess. For ten days Park City, an otherwise nice mountain town, is overrun with agents, studio reps, paparazzi, and celebrities. Of the celebrities there will always be those random famewhores who have no reason to be there other than attracting attention, but generally they’re there to promote and support their movies. This year’s star roster includes James Franco, Ryan Gosling, the Affleck brothers, Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, James Gandolfini—you get the idea.
Of course there are those obnoxious hipsters people who get bent out of shape over the “crass intrusion of Hollywood” in the form of these celebs and agents et al. I would argue without their influence Sundance would have died long ago. As it is, for a film to show well at Sundance can mean future award-show success (take the success of Precious and An Education from last year’s festival), and Sundance is one of the top American markets for indies (Napoleon Dynamite and Little Miss Sunshine broke out after good showings at Sundance). Sundance is what it is—both a celebration of independent filmmaking and Hollywood success.
Every year I like to run down the couple hundred films being screened at the festival and pick the few I’ll exert myself to see. Here’s my list of interesting looking projects showing this year.
The Duplass brothers (Baghead) have made a name for themselves as festival-circuit comedians and Cyrus is tipped to be their breakout hit. They’ve got an all-star cast—John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei and Catherin Keener—and the story sounds interesting. Depressed by the news his ex-wife is remarrying, John (Reilly) meets the beautiful Molly (Keener) at a party and they hit it off, until John meets Molly’s son, Cyrus (Hill). The cast makes me think Stepbrothers but somehow I feel this won’t end up being quite as funny. Still, am intrigued.
Lenny is a divorced dad who only sees his young sons a couple of weeks a year, and Daddy Longlegs tells the story of the lengths he goes to in order to make the most of his time with his kids. Lenny is a typical underdog but he doesn’t give in to the depressing circumstances of his life. Instead he sets out to “win” each day and take care of his kids for the little bit of time he has with them. I can see this movie being both sweetly funny and oddly uplifting, or else a darkly comic look at a sad, pathetic man and his depressing life.
Douchebag (in competition)
Written by Drake Doremus, Lindsay Stidham, Jonathan Schwartz, and Andrew Dickler
The week of his wedding Sam spazzes and hits the road to reunite his estranged brother, Tom, with his long lost love—his fifth grade crush. Sounds kind of like a slacker road movie, probably won’t be laugh-out-loud funny so much as uncomfortable-pathetic-funny, but it’s expected to put its largely unknown cast (Andrew Dickler, Ben York Jones, Marguerite Moreau) on the map.
Written by Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell
A black comedy set in the 1930’s about a hermit who throws a “funeral party” for a recently deceased friend starring Bill Murray, Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek? Sold. Tell me no more. That Duvall supposedly gives a great performance is merely icing on the cake.
Hesher (in competition)
Written by Spencer Susser and David Michod
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Hesher, a guy who lives in a van (down by the river?), is an anarchist, and blows stuff up for fun. Hesher somehow ends up living with TJ, a thirteen year old that has recently lost his mother, TJ’s grieving dad, and his grandma. I like Gordon-Levitt (500 Days of Summer) and this sounds just weird enough to be surprisingly funny.
Howl (in competition)
A biopic about Allen Ginsberg (James Franco), focusing on the 1957 obscenity trial of Ginsberg’s poem Howl. It looks pretty arty, and it’s got a loaded cast including Franco, David Strathairn, Jon Hamm, Mary Louis Parker and Jeff Daniels. And the filmmakers come from documentary roots, which should serve the biography’s narrative device pretty well. Everyone has high hopes for this movie. I just hope it makes me forget Franco starred in Fly Boys.
Lucky (in competition)
The only documentary on my list tracks the lives of a few lottery winners as they adjust to their new wealth. I am of the opinion that money doesn’t change a person, it only reveals what’s already there. I’m interested to see if this documentary supports that notion or will lead me to a new philosophy.
The Killer Inside Me
Written by John Curran
When it comes to the Affleck brothers, I prefer Casey (The Assassination of Jesse James). Here he stars as a west Texas deputy of a stoic nature, dealing with lady trouble, a murder problem, and suspicious town folk. I deduct points from this movie for the presence of Jessica Alba, but I have high expectations of a Winterbottom/Affleck collaboration, no matter who the costars are.
Written & Directed by Floria Sigismondi
Yeah so I’m dying to see this movie. Starring girlcrush #1 Kristen Stewart (as well as Dakota Fanning and Michael Shannon), it documents the rise and fall of 1970’s all-girl punk band The Runaways. You may remember them for their hit “Cherry Bomb”, or maybe for lead singer Cherie Currie stomping around in a corset and fishnets. The Runaways also launched the careers of Joan Jett and Lita Ford. The actresses sing and play as the band in the movie, and going off the teaser, they sound pretty damn good. It looks like the movie will focus mostly on Jett (Stewart), Currie (Fanning), and their impresario producer Kim Fowley (Shannon, Revolutionary Road). Have heard Lita Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton, Halloween) in particular gets short shrift in the story, but then, Jett executive-produced the movie. If you know anything about Joan Jett and/or The Runaways, you know Jett and Ford don’t have the smoothest relationship (the real Lita Ford was fairly vocal about her non-participation with the movie). Still, The Runaways looks like a potentially great punk rock love letter of a film.
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
Written & Directed by Eli Craig
This is a horror parody in which the backwoods hillbillies are the good guys and the SUV full of college kids are the ones suffering from a massive case of misunderstanding and miscommunication. When co-ed Allison falls into the swamp and local hicks Tucker and Dale save her, her friends mistake their action as a kidnapping. Classic horror archetypes are turned around and pit Tucker and Dale against the kids so determined to exact revenge on their very safe friend’s behalf. Starring Tyler Labine (Reaper) and the hugely underrated Alan Tudyk (A Knight’s Tale, Serenity), I expect this movie to have a lot of quick one liners and sarcastic barbs.
Other Sundance films I’d like to see but won’t kill myself to find: Blue Valentine, HIGH School, Holy Rollers, The Company Men, Welcome to the Rileys