Essays · Movies

13 Films You Should Be Excited to See at Sundance 2009

There are a lot of films playing at Sundance over the next two weeks. And personally I’ve watered down all of the information to a list of 37 films that I intend to see. I’ve gone even further for this article, pinpointing 13 films that I would recommend to all of you based on early word of mouth, pedigree of its cast/crew or just my own intuition.
By  · Published on January 12th, 2009


If you are an adventurous indie film lover like myself, you might be in the final stages of preparation for a trek into the mountains of Utah. You might be packing away boots and thick socks, thermal underwear and your favorite hot tub attire. You just might have a plane ticket sitting on your counter marked for Salt Lake City, and a shuttle booked shortly after you land that will take you into the beautiful valley town of Park City. If this is you, then we are both prepping for a trip to the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, the biggest and brightest star on the American yearly festival calendar. And as you get set to make this journey, I’d be willing to bet that you’ve given very little thought to which films you’ll actually want to see once the festival starts on Thursday night.

Lucky for you, I’ve examined the entire festival film guide and have read through the endless pitch emails from countless publicists, all pitching me their movie, doing whatever possible to ensure that I carve out two hours of my trip to see and (hopefully) write about their film. It is both helpful and frustrating, the sheer volumes of information given to members of the press leading up to the fest. Personally I’ve watered down all of the information to a list of 37 films that I intend to see. I’ve gone even further for this article, pinpointing 13 films that I would recommend to all of you based on early word of mouth, pedigree of its cast/crew or just my own intuition. The latter of which is most dangerous, but often spot on.

Enough small talk. Lets get on with my list of the 13 Films You Should Be Excited to See at Sundance 2009:

When You’re Strange

U.S. Documentary Competition | Dir. Tom DiCillo | Described as being far from a nostalgic journey and much more than a biopic, director Tom Dicillo’s documentary is said to be an inspired portrait of the legendary band The Doors and its leading man, Jim Morrison. As one of a few docs I’ve pegged for this year’s fest, When You’re Strange sounds like an engaging tribute to music and the individuality of an entire generation. One of which I am not a part, but eager to learn more about. Don’t get me crossed up here, I’m not some hardcore fan of The Doors or anything, I just find Jim Morrison to be an inarguably interesting figure, as evidence by Oliver Stone’s 1991 biopic starring Val Kilmer. I will be interested to see what insights are brought to screen in DiCillo’s very personal project.

Big Fan

U.S. Dramatic Competition | Dir. Robert Siegel | I’ve been of the belief that Patton Oswalt is a very underrated actor for a long, long time. He’s spent years stealing scenes from other, bigger name stars in unfortunately small roles. In Big Fan, Oswalt takes the lead as a 35-year old Staten Island parking-garage attendant who is the self-described ‘world’s biggest New York Giants fan.’ But after a misunderstanding with one of the Giants’ players, he is sent down a path that will test his devotion to the extreme. Written and directed by Robert Siegel, fresh off of writing The Wrestler for Darren Aronofsky, Big Fan brings together two of my favorite themes — unhealthy fandom and the humor it causes. Just in time for playoff season, this one is an easy choice for my list.

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

U.S. Dramatic Competition | Dir. John Krasinski | It’s Jim from The Office. Writing and directing a movie. What more reason do I need to give? Taken a step further, Brief Interviews is based on an very interesting compilation of short stories by the late David Foster Wallace. A compilation that, upon reading, I’ve found to be not exactly ripe for a cinematic adaptation. Call it morbid curiousity, but I’m anxious to see how Krasinski took that book and made it into the story of a woman (Julianne Nicholson) who sets off on a post-breakup quest to interview a series of men. Of course she is going to find out more about men — and herself — than she bargained for, as it is written in the festival guide. What I want to see is how she makes these discoveries and where they lead her.

Paper Heart

U.S. Dramatic Competition | Dir. Nicholas Jasenovec | Remember the awkward younger gal from Knocked Up, the one who tried to get Katherine Heigl’s character to trade boyfriends with her during her time at the house ‘o losers? That is Charlyne Yi. She’s currently dating and starring alongside Juno star Michael Cera in the semi-autobiographical work of fiction Paper Heart, the story of a young Hollywood artist (Yi) and her quest to find out whether or not love really exists. Yi is funny enough. Cera too, is funny enough. So why not give this one a try?


Premieres | Dir. Greg Mattola | From the director of Superbad, Adventureland is a comedy that you’ve probably already heard about. In fact, a trailer was released for it a few weeks back (a trailer that just might end up being tomorrow’s Daily Diversion). It stars Jesse Eisenberg (The Squid and the Whale) as a recent college grad whose dreams of backpacking through Europe for a summer are crushed by his parents unwillingness to foot the bill. Instead he finds employment at a local theme park run by a pair of oddballs, played by SNL’s Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig (very funny), and home to an assortment of bad employees (Ryan Reynolds, Knocked Up’s Martin Stewart) and an intriguing potential love interest, played by Twilight’s Kristen Stewart. A solid cast and a director with a good track record are good enough to get me in a seat anyday, and Adventureland is no exception.

Brooklyn’s Finest

Premieres | Dir. Antoine Fuqua | Speaking of directors with a rock-solid track record, Antoine Fuqua has been behind the camera for four straight solid action features, Training Day, Tears of the Sun, King Arthur and Shooter. At this year’s fest, he looks at add Brooklyn’s Finest the list. Going back to the well with a drama about cops, crooks and the blurry line between them, Fuqua has put together an excellent cast that includes Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke, Don Cheadle, Ellen Barkin and Wesley Snipes, and combined them with a script co-written by Michael C. Martin (TV’s Sleeper Cell) and Brad Caleb Kane (TV’s Fringe). With a more intricate, Crash-like premise that involves intertwined and crosscut subplots, Brooklyn’s Finest sounds like exactly the right kind of movie for the action-loving, drama junkie that lives inside many of us.

I Love You Phillip Morris

Premieres | Dir. Glenn Ficarra, John Requa | The buzz around this film, which is the one that will forever be known as the love story between a Texas policeman turned con artist (Jim Carrey) and his sensitive fellow prisonmate (Ewan McGregor), is red hot. As in big heaping pile of memorably controversial A-list actor kissing scenes hot. But I’ve got a feeling that there’s much more to it than that. This writer/director tandem (Ficarra and Requa) previously wrote the script for Bad Santa, which as you know was a much more clever movie than it ever received credit for. As well, early buzz has been that Ewan McGregor and Jim Carrey are perfect fits to play these two characters. They are said to have great, er, chemistry with one another.

The Informers

Premieres | Dir. Gregor Jordan | Who isn’t trying to find every new and upcoming project of Mickey Rourke’s since his “resurgence” over the past few months, right? From a novel and script by Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho) and the director of Buffalo Soldiers, Informers is the story of movie executives, rock stars and other lowlifes in Hollywood in the early 1980s. It is said to be a gritty exposé of a culture where too much was never enough and a town where the morally bankrupt run the show. Well, at least it’s true to life. The cast is rounded out by Kim Bassinger, Billy Bob Thornton, Winona Ryder (who promises that she didn’t steal anything from the set) and Pineapple Express hottie Amber Heard. It goes without saying that based on cast, writer and director pedigree, The Informers might just be the one movie playing at this year’s fest that is not to be missed.


Premieres | Dir. Duncan Jones | Of course. It makes sense that the son of David Bowie, Duncan Jones, would make a movie about a man whose mind begins unraveling in space. It was clear that his father’s mind unraveled long ago, and many believe him to also be from space. All jokes aside, Moon stars the infinitely talented Sam Rockwell as an employee of Lunar Industries who is finishing up a three year tour as caretaker of the companies moon base. Completely alone, he spends his days tending to plants and waiting for messages from his wife and young daughter. Unfortunately that is not enough and his mind begins to unravel, leading to an unplanned sequence of hallucinations and life-threatening consequences. It sounds like a wicked-interesting character focused sci-fi tale, stripped of the shallow CG razzle and dazzle seen so often in the genre’s most recent entries. And anytime Sam Rockwell stars as a man losing his ming, I’m there.

Children of Invention

Spectrum | Dir. Tze Chun | There is something about the description for Children of Invention that has gotten ahold of me. It tells the endearing story of a Chinese American family living illegally in suburban Boston. Presenting parallel stories of a young boy who seeks to end his family’s hardships by selling his inventions and his mother, who struggles to find work and ultimately gets caught up in a nast pyramid scheme that puts her family at risk, this film is probably the one that I will be taking the biggest chance on. Then again, sometimes the most delightful surprises come from the most unexpected films at Sundance.

Black Dynamite

Park City at Midnight | Dir. Scott Sanders | The Man killed his brother, pumped heroin into local orphanages, and flooded the ghetto with adulterated malt liquor. And in order to revive its blood-soaked streets, an entire city must turn to one man for help: Black Dynamite. Bow chicka wow wow. Michael Jai White stars as the legendary afro-hero, the only man brave enough to go into the Honkey House and set the roof on fire. You’ve seen the trailer. You’ve been excited. Now all that’s left is to do the damn thing and see this late-nite delight. You know that’s where I’ll be.

Død Snø (Dead Snow)

Park City at Midnight | Dir. Tommy Wirkola | As you might have figured by now, the final three films on my list have all come from the ‘Park City at Midnight’ category, the festival’s most interesting line-up. Last year was a relative letdown in the midnight series, allowing for a few nights of partying and, surprisingly, sleep. But this year is a different story — movies such as Dead Snow, the story of eight medical students and their encounter with Nazi zombies in the Norweigen mountains, might just be enough to account for a few sleepless nights. And I won’t be complaining — Nazi zombies are fucking awesome, man.

Mystery Team

Park City at Midnight | Dir. Dan Eckman | I’m a big fan of stories about mal-adjusted adults, as I can easily relate to them. So it goes without saying that Mystery Team, the story of three high school seniors who run around their hometown like a band of childish supersleuths trying to solve mysteries and ending up looking like idiots, appeals to me in a very special way. If that wasn’t enough, there is always the first few lines of Trevor Groth’s film guide synopsis: “If Encyclopedia Brown, the kids from American Pie, and Nancy Drew all had sex, their baby would probably look something like Mystery Team.” I’m willing to accept that description, but after watching the trailer over on the film’s official site, I would also like to add that it appears as if all parties involved took a lot of crack in the process. Bring on the comedic crack-baby. My money is on this being this year’s Napoleon Dynamite, not it’s Adventures of Power.

Check Out More Coverage: Sundance 2009

Are you headed to Sundance this year? If so, are you buying drinks, because if so I’m there. Second question: What films are you looking forward to seeing this year?

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)