Sundance 2013: Your Guide to the 15 Must-See Films of the Festival

By  · Published on January 15th, 2013

With the year’s first large scale film fest, the Sundance Film Festival, kicking off later this week, it’s high time that we started making some predictions about some of the films that are most likely to explode off the screen up in snowy Park City. Every Sundance (and, really, every major film festival) churns out its darlings, its favorites, its gems, those films that take weary festival-loving audiences by storm and become not only the talk of the festival, but the talk of the cinematic world. Of course, anyone who has ever attended even a massive festival like Sundance knows that festival buzz doesn’t exactly spell out mainstream success, but it’s sure as hell a nice place to start.

While our intrepid Sundance team – myself, Allison, and Rob – have already weighed in our individual “most anticipated” films of the festival, those personal picks don’t cover the full gamut of films poised to become the big ticket films at this year’s festival. Here’s our attempt to sniff those babies out. After the break, check out the fifteen films we’re banking on to light up this year’s Sundance.

Upstream Color

Primer filmmaker Shane Carruth finally returns to the festival with his latest production nine years after picking up both the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize and the Grand Jury Prize for his cult favorite mind-bending tale of time travel. What’s Upstream Color about? I dunno. It doesn’t matter really. Fine, the Festival Guide tells us: “Kris is derailed from her life when she is drugged by a small-time thief. But something bigger is going on. She is unknowingly drawn into the life cycle of a presence that permeates the microscopic world, moving to nematodes, plant life, livestock, and back again. Along the way, she finds another being – a familiar, who is equally consumed by the larger force. The two search urgently for a place of safety within each other as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of their wrecked lives.” A presence? Yeah, we’d snicker too – if it was anyone else but Carruth.

Before Midnight

Richard Linklater finally brings closure (maybe? probably? let’s hope so!) to his charming will-they-or-won’t-they Euro-trotting romance. Will Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy? Won’t they?

The East / Breathe In

Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling’s The East is poised in approximately the same position as Drake Doremus and Ben York JonesBreathe In. Both filmmaking pairs debuted new films at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival (Sound of My Voice and Like Crazy, respectively) that earned big buzz, hearty accolades, and promises of giant stardom – all of which didn’t necessarily pan out when mainstream audiences got to see the films. And that’s a damn shame, because both SOMV and Like Crazy remain fine examples of the some of the best that current Sundance cinema has to offer. Will their new features skyrocket them to fame beyond the walls of Park City? They should, and we hope so.

Don Jon’s Addiction

It’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s filmmaking debut. Come on.

Prince Avalanche

After turning out two comedic stinkers, Your Highness and The Sitter, once-indie auteur David Gordon Green retreated away from Hollywood to make a film that no one even knew he was making – even though it stars Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch and is a remake of the popular (in Iceland?) Icelandic film Either Way. I guess that’s the freedom one gets when they make a film about isolated highway road workers. Either way (get it?), with two more serious films on his horizon (Joe and his Suspiria remake), Prince Avalanche is Green’s chance to prove that the hilarity of Pineapple Express wasn’t a fluke. And, hell, maybe he’ll even throw in some of that pathos he used to craft so well.

Sound City

Musician Dave Grohl takes a crack at directing – with a very personal documentary that waxes poetic on the dearly departed Sound City recording studio (and the rapidly departing “human touch” on recorded music).


The sequel to last year’s nightmare-inducing VHS is coming to Park City to goddamn terrify viewers once again and IsweartoGodIjustpeedinmylongunderwear. At the very least, S-VHS is the unquestionable must-see event for horror fans at this year’s festival.

Escape From Tomorrow

Weeks before last year’s festival, the whispers began – Beasts of the Southern Wild was going to be the film of the festival. Those whispers hit a fever pitch within minutes of the film’s first screening at the festival, and suddenly I was one of the huddled masses begging for a ticket for Sundance’s hottest film. Since that little lesson in paying attention to educated buzz, I promised myself to stay attentive to similar chatter for this year’s festival, and only one film is even in the same league – Randy Moore’s Escape From Tomorrow. Just a story of “an average American family man”? All signs point to nope on that.


Another much-lauded Sundance filmmaker returns to the festival with Jeff Nichols’ Mud. Nichols all but came of age with 2011’s Take Shelter (still a personal favorite around these parts), and now he comes back to Park City with an already critically acclaimed film, his Cannes premiere Mud. Nichols doesn’t really need to prove himself to anyone by now, but who isn’t looking forward to seeing another crowed wowed by his talent?

Stories We Tell

What else can we say about Sarah Polley’s first documentary? It’s Canada’s favorite film, after all.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

Listen, if you’re not interested in seeing Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, and Ben Foster in a shoot-em-up, new-school Bonnie and Clyde romance, you have no place at Sundance.

The Spectacular Now

If any film at this year’s Sundance has a chance to make it big-big-big when it hits theatrical release, it is James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now. Coming complete with a script by (500) Days of Summer scribes Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, the film already has all the charming romance cred it would seem to need. But it’s also got two aces in the hole – two! – young stars Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller, who are both on the absolute cusp of super-stardom.


Greg Barker’s doc sounds like the true-life take on Zero Dark Thirty. And it is. This one will be packed with info junkies needing a post-ZD30 fix. And, you know, it’s fun to just yell “I AM GOING TO MANHUNT!” while you wait in line.

The Lifeguard

Here’s our bet: Liz W. Garcia’s film about thirtysomething regression will be the film that finally makes everyone sit up and say, “oh, yeah, that Kristen Bell! Who knew she could do drama?” This is a star-making turn in every possible way.

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