15 Must-See Films of Sundance 2012

Sundance is many things – cold temperatures, snow, memorizing the shuttle schedule, training your body to take two hour “naps” each night, Simon Baker stopping your delirious self from walking into on-coming traffic on Main Street (a true, and embarrassing, story), but most importantly – it’s about movies. The Sundance Film Festival is the first big film festival of the year and as such, it never fails to set the bar high with standout programming from premiere features to moving documentaries to midnight scare-a-thons. With an impressive (and at times overwhelming) slate of films to choose from, I narrowed down the films that seem to be getting the most buzz already and are popping up on people’s “must-see” lists. Of course there will probably be a film or two here that do not live up to expectations while there is also a good chance that I have left something out that will end up being a standout at this year’s festival, but it is that unpredictability that’s part of the fun.

Stay tuned to FSR as Kate Erbland and I head to Park City this weekend to take in as many of these titles as we can and report back on whether they live up to the hype and what should stay on your must-see lists as these films (fingers crossed) get picked up for distribution over the next eleven days. A mix of features and documentaries, comedies and horror, this list features both actors and filmmakers returning to Sundance and those making their debuts at the festival.

And let us know if there is a film you are looking forward to seeing that was missed here in the comments!

John Dies At The End

Already an Internet hit, John Dies At The End is being brought to the big screen by director Don Coscarelli making it not only an anticipated release for fans of the web series, but horror fans as well. Coscarelli is well-versed in the horror genre and should be able to tap into that aspect in this story about a street drug able to give users a literal out-of-body experience (possibly permanently) while the fate of humanity rests on the shoulders of two out of work slackers. Considering John (Rob Mayes) and Dave (Chase Williamson) are less than ideal candidates to save Earth, this film is set up for an interesting premise executed by a knowledgeable director.

Robot and Frank

While not an entirely new idea (I, Robot and A.I. both tackled the relationship between robots and humans), Robot and Frank sounds like it will be more of a buddy adventure than thriller. While including aspects of a heist film, Frank (Frank Langella) develops not only a relationship with his robot caretaker, but said robot gets Frank to revisit his more “colorful” past. This may be Jake Schreier’s first feature, but the film is filled with a stellar cast to accompany Langella which includes Susan Sarandon, James Marsden, Liv Tyler and Peter Saarsgard who are sure to bring a new slant to the story of humans and machines.

Searching for Sugar Man

When some musicians die, their legends do not end with them. Fans of artists such as Tupac and Elvis are either not quite able to let go of their idols or they feel there is still reason to believe they are not yet gone. While rocker Rodriguez did not find much success stateside, his album became a huge hit in South Africa and when his second album is released there, two of his fans try to figure out exactly what happened to him. Rodriguez disappeared to rumors of his death, but with his latest release, questions are raised about what exactly happened to him as this documentary follows these men as they try and figure out if those rumors are actually true.

Save the Date

As Kate highlighted here, Lizzy Caplan is looking to make quite an impression on Sundance this year with not one, but two releases. Save the Date pairs Caplan with Alison Brie (of Community and Mad Men fame) in a story about love and loss. While these are not new tropes tackled by film, in the hands of Caplan and Brie (who have proven both their comedy and dramatic chops over the years) it should be interesting to not only watch these two as sisters, but as two women at very different points in their lives. 


While many films look at addiction and the downward spiral it can send users into, Smashed looks to focus on the point between rock bottom and recovery as Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) sobers up and realizes that her marriage to Charlie (Aaron Paul) may have been rooted in booze rather than love. Paul has been getting critical acclaim for his work on AMC’s Breaking Bad and it should be interesting to see him playing against Windstead (whose performance was one of the highlights in last year’s The Thing) with TV royalty Nick Offerman and wife Megan Mullally rounding out the cast.

Safety Not Guaranteed

If you weren’t lucky enough to have a sidekick like Marty McFly when you decided to travel through time, what would you do? Put out a want ad to fill the position, of course. And if the person who responded to your ad was played by Aubrey Plaza (who has been making a name for herself playing the seemingly disinterested, but lovable April on Parks and Recreation), this already offbeat meet-cute premise is even further turned on its ear. With the Duplass brothers (who brought us last year’s Cyrus) as two the film’s executive producers, here’s hoping Safety Not Guaranteed’s time traveling device rivals that of the now classic Delorean.

Shut Up and Play the Hits

There is something to be said for leaving them wanting more and when LCD Soundsystem was scheduled to play Madison Square Garden last year, rather than use the gig as a launching pad to further their career, they decided it would instead be their last performance. Even if you are not a huge fan of the band, it is hard to deny their influence on music and when an influence like that decides to pack up shop, it is hard not to note it. Shut Up and Play the Hits follows the two days leading up to this final performance and the moments and feelings surrounding that decision. Fans of the band or not should find this to be an interesting look at what it means to consciously decide to bring about the end of an era.

Allison has always been fascinated by the power music has when paired with an image – particularly its effect in film. Thanks to a background in recording and her days spent licensing music to various productions (including, of course, movies), Allison can usually be found sticking around to see all the songs noted in a film’s credits and those listening to her iTunes inevitably ask, “What movie is this song from?”

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