There’s no science when it comes to picking the big winners at a film festival before the first film strip unfurls (or someone hits play on a digital file, as is most often the case these days), no proven method to the madness, no guaranteed formula to finding the best of the best. It’s a gamble every single time, and that’s precisely where much of the joy in attending a film festival comes from. That discovery, maddening as it may seem.
This year’s Sundance Film Festival is predictably stuffed with all manner of films and talents – from the star-studded to the utterly up-and-coming – and while it’s certainly easy to pick out pictures that “sound” like they might be good or at least feature “bankable” talent, there are always a few sleepers that sneak in and captivate an unsuspecting audience.
That all said, we here at Film School Rejects have attempted to apply our expertise and our personal interests to this year’s festival in order to pick out a handful of films that just might be the best of the fest, but that are at least guaranteed to send us running into a theater to see them once the festival kicks up. It’s time for Sundance! And it’s time for films! It’s even time for anticipation! And now it’s time for some anticipated Sundance films!
Can Kristen Stewart actually flex some big, actorly chops in a post-Twilight world, or is she doomed to Bella-Swan-sour-face her way through the rest of her work? Hey, I don’t know the answer to that one just yet, but perhaps we’ll have a clearer idea of what the actress is capable of after seeing Peter Sattler’s Guantanamo Bay-set drama, which sees Stewart starring as a young soldier who forms an “unlikely bond” with one of the detainees she’s tasked with overseeing. It’s certainly different than anything she’s done lately, and if she can bring the sort of hidden hardness that punctuates her personal life, Camp X-Ray could certainly break out. – Kate Erbland
A horror comedy from the writer of Saw and Insidious and the creator of Glee about school children turning into deranged, cannibalistic little shits and starring Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson, Alison Pill, and Jack McBrayer? I’m already itchy with anticipation. The only thing that could dampen my excitement for this one would be discovering that it’s aiming for a PG-13 audience. – Rob Hunter
2011 saw the double-barreled arrival of Brit Marling as a talent to watch when she crashed Sundance with two films in which she both starred and co-wrote. Sound of My Voice was the more universally acclaimed of the two, but Another Earth is the one that has stuck with me the longest. This year sees her return with another film from Another Earth director Mike Cahill, and once again it looks to tell a very human and emotional tale through a science fiction lens. – RH
If you’ve seen the “Safe Haven” short in V/H/S/2 (co-directed with Gareth Evans) or the “L Is for Libido” segment in The ABCs of Death, then you’re already familiar with the bloody, violent, and often ridiculously messy works of Timo Tjahjanto. As part of The Mo Brothers he’s also the creator of 2009’s Macabre, and now five years later he and co-director Kimo Stamboel are finally ready to deliver their follow-up feature.
This 137-minute film promises to be an endurance test of sorts as it follows two differently motivated killers whose deeds lead them into a competition resulting in a mangled trail of bodies and multiple violations of YouTube’s user agreement. – RH
The only thing that Sundance loves more than a film about arrested development is a film crafted by Lynn Shelton, and Laggies delivers both in one nifty little package (with bonus Sam Rockwell!). Keira Knightley stars as a twenty-something who is so terrified of moving forward in her life that she literally runs away when her boyfriend proposes. Regressing at a frightening speed, she soon falls in with a new teen bestie (Chloe Grace Moretz) and her hot dad. Who will learn a big life lesson and mature in the course of the film? Who won’t learn a big life lesson and mature in the course of the film? – KE
A Most Wanted Man
Anton Corbijn‘s The American was a highly unconventional thriller thanks to its methodical pace and disinterest in explosions, but viewers craving intelligent, adult cinema were rewarded with one of 2010’s best films. The director’s follow-up is an adaptation of the John le Carré bestseller and promises a high degree of literary thrills, drama, and suspense.
The cast which includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Daniel Brühl, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, and Willem Dafoe is also a fairly good guarantee of quality that hints at a film to rival Tomas Alfredson’s le Carré adaptation, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. -RH
You say “Jenny Slate abortion comedy” and, well, that’s pretty much all you need to say to get me excited for a film. -KE