This year, Hollywood.com will once again be jetting off to Park City, Utah for the prestigious Sundance Film Festival. For 10 days, the small mountain town becomes the epicenter for all things movies, with A-List stars and filmmakers from around the world congregating to get their taste of independent cinema.
Sundance plays host to movies big and small, with comedies starring our favorite funny people, dramas sporting famous faces ready to blow us away, and complete unknowns ready to emerge as the next Beasts of the Southern Wild. Just because you've never heard of the director, lead actor, or lead actress doesn't mean the movie and its crew won't be walking the red carpet at the Oscars next year. This is where the journey begins.
To prepare you for the discoveries to come, our two correspondents on the ground in Park City, Matt Patches and Brian Moylan, sifted through the hundreds of films playing the festival to whittle down a list of their most anticipated list. The top 10 has a little bit of everything — check out their picks and keep your eyes peeled for more Sundance coverage to come:
We've seen Adam Scott and Amy Poehler fall in love on Parks and Recreation, but can we buy them as adversaries? Scott plays a befuddled guy (and inspiration for his shrink's self-help book) who is trying to broker peace between his long-divorced mother (Catherine O'Hara) and his father (Richard Jenkins), who is married to the zany Poehler. If this is half as funny as it sounds, it will be the funniest movie of the festival. — Moylan
Every Sundance has its handful of breakouts and with a costarring role in the David Sedaris adaptation C.O.G. and a prominent part (as well as co-writer credit) on the midnight premiere Ass Backwards, that festival star could be Casey Wilson. She's due for it too: a brief stint on Saturday Night Live led her to become a regular on Happy Endings, and now she has her own flick. Ass Backwards, which follows two women who "both tied for dead last in their hometown beauty paganent" way back when, sounds twisted in all the right ways. — Patches
This past summer, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, and director Richard Linklater headed to Summer to shoot the third entry in their "Before trilogy," the story that began with a romantic chance meeting in 1995's Before Sunrise and resurfaced for 2004's Before Sunset. Can the trio continue the magic by having the intertwined lives of Celine and Jesse connect again? With a heap of emotion invested in the fictitious pair, I sure hope so. — Patches
Sundance's NEXT category features a slate of low, low-budget films contending with the star-driven movies that have now become a staple. They're usually amazing too, which is why I'm keeping an eye on Blue Caprice, a black and white docudrama that puts us in the middle of the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks, all from the perspective of the shooters. My heart is racing already. — Patches
Brit Marling and director Zal Batmanglij blew attendees minds in 2011 with their cult sci-fi thriller Sound of My Voice and they return this year to Sundance with a project that's equally mysterious. The East focuses on a contract worker infiltrating an eco-terrorist group — not too dissimilar sounding from Sound of My Voice. Marling returns, joined this time by Ellen Page and Alexander Skarsgård. A larger scope should give Batmanglij more playing room, and even more of a chance to repeat their previous success. — Patches
Kill Your Darlings
Daniel Radcliffe makes his first Sundance appearance playing poet Allen Ginsberg during his days at Columbia University. With a bevy of great actors (including Dane DeHaan, Ben Foster, Michael C. Hall, Jack Huston, Elizabeth Olsen), Kill Your Darlings may approach the biopic with recognizable indie sensibilities, but it's on our radar just to see if Radcliffe has a real dramatic life after Potter. — Patches
What do we want for Sundance? Socially conscious indies from around the world that make us think while being entertained, right? Well, that and pictures of celebs in ski gear. No one will be skiing in this Chilean movie where Gael Garcia Bernal plays a real-life ad man in the '80s who engineered a campaign to get voters to oust dictator Augusto Pinochet. This checks off every box in the Sundance requirements while seeming original at the same time. — Moylan
After two misses with Your Highness and The Sitter, David Gordon Green returns to his indie roots for Prince Avalanche. Pairing two actors I can't help but love, Paul Rudd and Emilie Hirsch, the film should meld the director's penchant for comedy and past character study work. If it's a happy medium, it should be one of the festival's best. — Patches
The Spectacular Now
The addiction drama Smashed was one of the best movies to play 2012's festival. Director James Ponsoldt returns to Sundance with his next, The Spectacular Now, adapting similar themes (alcoholism appears to be an important part of the tale) to a story of adolescent relationships. Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, two up-and-comers with thoughtful work to their names, star, giving us hope that the movie digs deeper into youth culture than most Hollywood films would even allow. — Patches
What's the only thing better than a movie about a woman falling in love with her best friend's son? A movie about two best friends falling in love with each other's sons! When the two mothers are played by Naomi Watts and Robin Wright (no more Penn) and directed by Anne Fontaine, it's sure to be a deep psychological insight about love and longing rather than the rom-com set up it sounds like. — Moylan
What movies are you looking forward to hearing more about? Check out the films announced to play Sundance and tell us!
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: Benaroya Pictures]
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At the moment there are few greater clichés in the media than the freaking out single woman on the cusp of 30. Of course clichés are clichés for a reason worth exploring even through the lens of just one or two women as in Lola Versus. Unfortunately while the intention behind Lola Versus isn't that we should all be happily married by the age of 30 it still fits into the same rubric of all those "Why You're Not Married" books.
Lola (Greta Gerwig) has a gorgeous fiancé Luke (Joel Kinnaman) and they live in a giant loft together the kind of dreamy NYC real estate that seems to exist primarily in the movies. Just as they're planning their gluten-free wedding cake with a non-GMO rice milk-based frosting Luke dumps her. It's cruelly sudden — although Luke isn't a cruel man. Lola finds little comfort in the acerbic wit of her best friend the eternally single Alice (Zoe Lister-Jones) who is probably delighted to see her perfectly blonde best friend taken down a peg and into the murky world of New York coupling. Lola and Luke share a best friend Henry (Hamish Linklater) a messy-haired rumpled sweetheart who is kind and safe and the inevitable shelter for Lola's fallout. Her parents well-meaning and well-to-do hippie types feed her kombucha and try to figure out their iPads and give her irrelevant advice.
Lola Versus is slippery. Its tone careens between broad TV comedy and earnest dramedy almost as if Alice is in charge of the dirty zingers and Lola's job is to make supposedly introspective statements. Alice's vulgar non-sequiturs are tossed off without much relish and Lola's dialogue comes off too often as expository and plaintive. We don't need Lola to tell Henry "I'm vulnerable I'm not myself I'm easily persuaded" or "I'm slutty but I'm a good person!" (Which is by the way an asinine statement to make. One might even say she's not even that "slutty " she's just making dumb decisions that hurt those around her just as much as she's hurting herself.)
We know that she's a mess — that's the point of the story! It's not so much that a particularly acerbic woman wouldn't say to her best friend "Find your spirit animal and ride it until its d**k falls off " but that she wouldn't say it in the context of this movie. It's from some other movie over there one where everyone is as snarky and bitter as Alice. You can't have your black-hearted comedy and your introspective yoga classes. Is it really a stride forward for feminism that the clueless single woman has taken the place of the stoner man-child in media today? When Lola tells Luke "I'm taken by myself. I've gotta just do me for a while " it's true. But it doesn't sound true and it doesn't feel true.
In one scene Lola stumbles on the sidewalk and falls to the ground. No one asks her if she's okay or needs help; she simply gets up on her own and goes on her way. It's a moment that has happened to so many people. It's humiliating and so very public but of course you just gotta pick yourself up and get where you're going. In this movie it's a head-smackingly obvious metaphor. In one of the biggest missteps of the movie Jay Pharoah plays a bartender that makes the occasional joke while Lola is waiting tables at her mom's restaurant. His big line at the end is "And I'm your friend who's black!" It would have been better to leave his entire character on the cutting room floor than attempt such a half-hearted wink at the audience.
Lister-Jones and director Daryl Wein co-wrote the screenplay for Lola Versus as they did with 2009's Breaking Upwards. Both films deal with the ins and outs of their own romantic relationship in one way or another. Breaking Upwards a micro-budget indie about a rough patch in their relationship was much more successful in tone and direction. Lola Versus has its seeds in Lister-Jones' experience as a single woman in New York and is a little bit farther removed from their experiences. Lola Versus feels like a wasted opportunity. Relatively speaking there are so few movies getting made with a female writer or co-writer that it almost feels like a betrayal to see such a tone-deaf portrayal of women onscreen. What makes it even more disappointing is how smart and likable everyone involved is and knowing that they could have made a better movie.
Cooked up in the head of Oscar-winning screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich) comes the movie in which he makes his directorial debut. Without Michel Gondry or Spike Jonze sifting through the maze this time Kaufman himself weaves this crazy quilt with consummate skill. In other words Synecdoche New York is just as successfully quirky humane and head scratching as all the others in the Kaufman ouerve. To sum up the plot succinctly is impossible but it centers on a stage director and hypochondriac Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who trades in his suburban life with wife Adele (Catherine Keener) daughter Olive (Sadie Goldstein) and regional theatrical work in Schenectady for a chance at Broadway. He puts together a cast (resembling those in his own dream world) and brings them to a Manhattan warehouse being designed as a replica of the city outside. As the world he is creating inside these walls expands so does the focus of his own life and relationships. As the years literally fly by he gets deeper into his theatrical self which soon starts to merge with his own increasingly pathetic reality. Whatever you make of the tale Kaufman is telling here the casting could not be better or more suited to the quirky material. Philip Seymour Hoffman offers up a tour-de-force and is simply superb playing all the tics and foibles of the deeply disturbed Caden. His early scenes in his “normal” home are wonderfully alive with all his phobias and hypochondria in view. Later we literally watch this man disintegrate as his master creation overwhelms him. Hoffman seems to fully understand the mental trauma of a man running as far from his own realities as he possibly can. Catherine Keener as always is right on target as his wife Adele. She has a knack for taking what seems like tiny moments and making them define exactly who this woman is. Jennifer Jason Leigh as a mentor to Caden’s daughter is always fascinating to watch and plays Maria with an ounce of irony. Tom Noonan playing the actor portraying Caden in the play is the perfect doppelganger and delightfully adds to Caden’s confused state. The all-pro trio of Michelle Williams as Caden’s new wife Claire; Samantha Morton as the irresistible assistant Hazel; and Hope Davis as Caden’s self-absorbed therapist add greatly to the merry mix. It’s nice to watch Charlie Kaufman seize control of his own work. In this instance he’s really the only one who can deliver us his Fellini-esque vision. Centering it all on the theatrical director’s weird universe Synecdoche does seem like it might be Kaufman’s own take on Fellini’s 8 ½ or even Woody Allen’s paean to that film Stardust Memories. Let’s just say we know most of it must exist somewhere inside Kaufman. Early domestic scenes could have been played flat but the novice director moves the camera around skillfully enough to make us immediately engaged in Caden’s world. Second half of the film set in the phantasmagoric warehouse is a stunning tapestry of scenes from Kaufman’s singularly fertile imagination. It’s nice to note he’s well equipped with the basic tools a director needs for this type of challenging material. Overall his film is a surprising confounding visual feast -- a dream/nightmare come to life and then spinning out of control.