It’s that time of year again. I am very lucky to say I’ll be attending Sundance for the 4th time! Every year I have been able to attend, there have been surprises. Whether it’s a film with an unknown director and cast breaking out, as in Beasts of the Southern Wild, or Kevin Smith picketing his own movie when Red State premiered, and everything in-between, indie movies have the chance to light up Park City with unexpected buzz. New filmmakers and actors have a chance to step into the spotlight, and movies that would otherwise never make it to a wide audience have a chance to obtain distribution, whether that’s through traditional markets or newer markets, such as Netflix.
Over the years, movies have excited me, thrilled me, bored me, horrified me, moved me, and, most importantly, changed me for the better. I am so grateful I’ve been able to be a part of such a colorful and creative festival.
Here are the movies I’m looking forward to seeing this year. (Descriptions taken from Sundance.org)
“Simon James is a ghost. Friends, family, and coworkers meet his every action with complete indifference. He grimly goes through the motions, hoping for recognition that never comes. All of this changes when James Simon arrives. Physically, James and Simon are dead ringers. Yet in temperament, James is everything Simon is not: personable, spontaneous, assertive, and desirable. When James begins to take over Simon’s life, he is forced to act.
Jesse Eisenberg’s fantastic double performance is bolstered by a cast of seasoned character actors who bring Simon James’ gloomy, retro world to life. Directed with a deftly comic hand and assured visual technique by Richard Ayoade, The Double is a stylish black comedy with acerbic wit to spare.”
“In the gritty, blue-collar neighborhood of God’s Pocket, Mickey Scarpato’s crazy stepson, Leon, is killed in a construction “accident,” and Mickey quickly tries to bury the bad news with the body. But when a local columnist comes sniffing around for the truth, things go from bad to worse. Mickey finds himself stuck in a life-and-death struggle compounded by a body he can’t bury, a wife he can’t please, and a debt he can’t pay.
Acclaimed actor John Slattery makes an impressive jump behind the camera with an assured directorial debut that shows he has a razor-sharp eye for conveying the absurdity, cruelty, desperation, and tragic optimism of the people he portrays. Like life, his scenes seamlessly fuse humor and heartbreak, but it’s Slattery’s wit and confident style that make the portrait so authentic. Featuring a top-shelf cast and impeccable cinematography, God’s Pocket oozes with talent and marks the emergence of an inspired directorial presence.”
Fishing Without Nets
“In Somalia, principled, young husband and father Abdi turns to piracy to support his family. While his wife and child wait for him in Yemen, an outdated and fragile satellite phone is his only connection to all he truly values. Abdi and his fellow pirates hit the high seas and capture a French oil tanker, demanding a hefty ransom. During the long, tedious wait for the cash to arrive, Abdi forges a tentative friendship with one of the hostages. When some of the pirates resort to violence, Abdi must make dramatic choices to determine his course.
Shot in East Africa using Somali non-actors, Fishing Without Nets tells the mesmerizing and sobering story of the bandits from the Somali point of view. First-time feature filmmaker Cutter Hodierne, whose short film of the same name won the Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, combines the epic cinematic vision of a glorious action thriller with the intimate, textured qualities of an art film, humanizing the pirates by bringing us inside their moral dilemmas and gut-wrenching struggles.”
“Frank is a comedy about a young wannabe musician, Jon, who discovers he’s bitten off more than he can chew when he joins a band of eccentric pop musicians led by the mysterious and enigmatic Frank and his terrifying sidekick, Clara. Frank’s uniqueness lies in the fact that he makes music purely for the joy of creating…and because he wears a giant fake head. After a rocky start, Jon ingratiates himself with the band members, and they retreat to a cabin in the woods to record an album. As his influence waxes, creative tensions mount, and the band’s entire raison d’être is called into question.
Already a presence at the Cannes, Berlin, and Toronto film festivals, director Lenny Abrahamson makes his Sundance debut with a captivating offering featuring a phenomenal cast, including Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy, Domhnall Gleeson, and Michael Fassbender as you’ve never seen him before. The ensemble creates lasting images and sounds for a film that playfully examines the nature of art and artists. Frank possesses such creative audacity and thought-provoking observations—propelled by a barrage of wit, performance, and, of course, song—that you are bound to emerge feeling as if you have seen and heard something completely original.”
“Ian Gray, a PhD student studying molecular biology with a specialty in eye evolution, leaves his lab to go to a party and has an intense, but fleeting, encounter with a mysterious, masked model who escapes into the night. With only a picture of her stunning and iconic eyes, he tracks her down, and they fall in love. Their fundamentally different beliefs about life only serve to intensify their connection, and they vow to spend forever together. Years later, Ian and his lab partner, Karen, make a stunning discovery with profound existential implications. He must risk his life’s work and his family to travel across the world to find the truth behind what he has found and what it may mean.
Writer/director Mike Cahill returns to Sundance (Another Earth screened at the Festival in 2011) with a new, enthralling exploration of the connective tissue between love and science. He casts Brit Marling again, as well as Michael Pitt and Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, and utilizes their onscreen chemistry to vigorous effect. As emotionally moving as it is intellectually stimulating, I Origins solidifies Cahill’s position as a distinctive cinematic voice.”
A Most Wanted Man
“Anton Corbijn’s adaptation of John Le Carre’s psychological novel follows German spy Gunther Bachmann as he tracks down Issa, a suspicious Chechen-Russian immigrant on the run in Hamburg. Pressured by his German and American colleagues to capture and interrogate his suspect as a Muslim terrorist, Bachmann instead asks for more time to carefully track Issa’s movements and his relationship with his German immigration lawyer, Annabel Richter. Using his secret contacts and keen skill, Bachmann uncovers a connection between a world-renowned Muslim philanthropist and a terrorist group and devises a plan to use Issa and Annabel in a brilliant ploy to expose the scheme.
In a post-9/11 world, the fear of terrorism grips the globe. Corbijn’s captivating storytelling depicts the underbelly of the often-corrupt business of eliminating terrorists. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of Bachmann is breathtaking as his complicated character strives to maintain his integrity in a grossly depraved industry awash with furtive motives.”
“Father James is a good priest, driven by spiritual integrity. One day in confession, an unseen man tells James that he’s going to kill him precisely because he’s done nothing wrong. Given a week to make his peace with God, James ministers to sundry lost souls—visits that double as a guided tour of suspects. His preparation for death is further complicated by the arrival of his daughter, who has recently attempted suicide.
A departure from The Guard, John Michael McDonagh’s brilliantly layered, darkly comedic drama about a good priest tormented by a cynical, spiteful community offers a more philosophical reflection on faith, rooted in the biblical story of Calvary’s two thieves—one redeemed, one damned.
A crucible of Catholicism’s contemporary woes (from sexual abuse to waning influence),Calvary’s mystery is one of faith. A fascinating character brilliantly inhabited by Brendan Gleeson, James struggles to reconcile himself to God’s will with forgiveness. Seemingly beyond redemption, the town reflects a soulless society of depleted faith and moral equivocation. As dark forces close in, it would be so easy for James, carrying the weight of the world, simply to drop the load.”Hits
“Hits is a comedy about a paranoid municipal worker named Dave, his The Voice–obsessed 19-year-old daughter, a wannabe teenage rapper who has an unrequited crush on the daughter, and their neighbors in a small, working-class town in upstate New York. Dave finds fame when videos of his rants at City Hall go viral, and hordes of appallingly well-meaning hipsters from Brooklyn descend on their town to make sure Dave’s rights aren’t trampled by “the man.”
A writer, comedian, and actor perhaps best known for his work on Mr. Show and Arrested Development, David Cross makes his directorial debut with a sharp-witted satire that pokes fun at the absurd nature of fame in the Internet age. Featuring an impressive collection of some of the funniest comedians around, Hits unabashedly skewers contemporary culture into a delicious shish kebab of laughs.”
What will break out this year? Only time will tell!