As I touched on in my roundup of the must-see films set to screen during this year’s Sundance Film Festival, there are many titles to choose from, but in looking over the ten films I am most looking forward to seeing I realized my interest is centered around character driven narratives (both funny and dramatic) and documentaries with their roots in music (no surprise there.) Of course with a full week at the festival, I am aiming to take in as many movies as I can, but these were the ten that stayed at the top of my list as I revised (and revised) my schedule.
From actors I have had my eye on to compelling stories that grabbed my attention, keep your browsers bookmarked to FSR as I review each of these films and discover whether I was right (or wrong) with my choices here.
The phrase, “Were you raised by wolves?” sounds like it may not be too far from how Ellis Whitman (Graham Phillips) grew up with his out-there mother (Vera Famiga) and faux father figure, Goat Man (David Duchovny.) But at fifteen Ellis decides to trade laid back deserts for an uptight prep school and the question isn’t so much how will he adapt to this new environment, but why he wanted this sudden change of scenery in the first place. Phillips is accompanied by an impressive cast (including Keri Russell and Modern Family’s Ty Burrell as the parental figures on the other side of the coin), but really, you had me at Duchovny playing someone known as “Goat Man.”
Paul Dano first grabbed my attention in as the voluntarily mute brother in Little Miss Sunshine followed by an unsettling performance in There Will Be Blood, supporting roles that never quite left my mind and had me anxiously awaiting the moment he would take the reigns and lead a film. For Ellen may sound like a story we have seen before (deadbeat musician dad who is forced to grow up), but with Dano at the helm I am sure his performance as a father suddenly forced to care will be anything but what we may have seen before.
Celeste and Jesse Forever
Written by Rashida Jones and Will McCormack, Celeste and Jesse Forever looks to explore what happens after you marry your high school sweetheart – and eventually decide to divorce them. Jones plays Celeste while funnyman Andy Samberg takes on his a more serious leading man role as Jesse as the two navigate the waters of not only ending a marriage, but a relationship that everyone in their lives had come to know them by. It should be interesting to see not only Samberg’s performance, but also how Jones and McCormack do as first time writers.
Eli (Jesse Eisenberg) just wants to play the piano. Unfortunately, his addict of a mother (Melissa Leo) makes that dream a difficult one to realize when her drug-addled antics continuously get in his way. When Eli decides it is time to get his mother some help, he is taken hostage by two of her drug dealers (Tracy Morgan and Isiah Whitlock.) Eisenberg has proven he is a good straight man in comedies where things begin to spin out of control (see: Zombieland) and I am looking forward to seeing him play off Leo and Morgan in this madcap adventure.
Shut Up and Play the Hits
“When you start a band, do you imagine how it will end?” The trailer for Shut Up and Play the Hits, the documentary that follows LCD Soundsystem as they prepare for their final performance, gets right to the heart of the matter: what is it like when you consciously decide to end things (rather than having them end suddenly)? Is it better to control that fate or to have it suddenly trust upon you? While I am a fan of the band, I am more interested in finding out what brought them to such a momentous decision and what happens as that decision is carried out.
Have you ever wondered, “Do I actually like this person, or do I just like them because I’m always drunk when I’m with them?” Smashed looks to dive headfirst into this question as Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and her husband Charlie (Aaron Paul) trade in the bottle for sobriety (and the reality that comes with it.) Paul has been burning up TV screens with his portrayal of a meth dealer with heart in Breaking Bad and I look forward to seeing him take the lead on the big screen. Throw in Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally in supporting roles and I’m pretty much sold.
John Hawkes’ name has become almost synonymous with Sundance (with breakout roles in last year’s Martha Marcy May Marlene and 2009’s Winter’s Bone) and this year finds him paired with Helen Hunt, a woman hired to help him lose his virginity – at the ripe ol’ age of 38. But do not expect to see any 40 Year Old Virgin jokes here as The Surrogate looks to focus on the more serious aspect of what waiting that long to experience such a pivotal moment in one’s development (both sexually and socially) really means.
Something From Nothing: The Art Of Rap
Anyone who has tried to take on some of the industry’s top rap artists at karaoke can atest – it is no easy feat spitting those rhymes. Beyond the skill it takes to perform those fast flows, this documentary looks to delve into the process I’ve always been interested in: creating the music and lyrics themselves. Ice-T takes audiences past the bravado and hype that can surround the rap game and find out how some of the world’s top artists (from Nas to Eminem to Run-DMC to Snoop Dogg) create their music and lyrical tongue twisters.
As a writer, there is one thing you must never, ever, ever do – plagiarize. Yes – that blank Word Doc staring back at you can be intimidating, but in the digital era of search fields it is nearly impossible to think you could fly under the radar for long if you poached someone else’s work. Rory Jansen (Bradley Cooper) stars as a struggling writer who does the unthinkable and The Words focuses on his journey as he deals with the repercussions of that decision. I am looking forward to seeing Cooper take on this slightly heavier fare while supported by an amazing cast which includes Jeremy Irons, Dennis Quaid, J.K. Simmons, Olivia Wilde, Zoe Saldana and Ben Barnes.
That’s What She Said
A hopeless romantic (Marcia DeBonis), a chain smoking narcissist (Anne Heche) and a nympho (Alia Shawkat) make quite the trio and should prove both funny (and maybe even heart warming?) as they deal with a series of misadventures. While this is her first leading role, DeBonis looks like she can handle the responsibility alongside Heche who shines in ensemble comedies (as proven last year in Cedar Rapids). Plus this film should hopefully answer whether or not Michael Scott’s catch phrase (which is surprisingly never uttered in the film’s trailer) can hold up as the title of a feature film.
Snuggle up with the rest of our Sundance 2012 coverage