In a world where studio movies often get release dates before they have a script, it's relatively easy to know what films to look forward to in the coming year. The indie world is a little trickier; films can often fly under the radar until they arrive on the festival circuit, without the wall-to-wall coverage of the tentpoles (although we do our best). But we're about ten days away from the Sundance Film Festival kicking off, and the indie line-up for 2012 will start to crystallize a little more.
As such, as the final part of our 2012 preview features (after our Most Anticipated, the Popcorn movies and the Foreign-Language films), we've taken a look at some of the non-studio pictures that look promising in the next twelve months. About half are on the Sundance line-up (and we've given you the dates for their showings in Utah, just in case any of y'all are heading to Park City), with another half that should reach theaters or film festivals this year. And in a world where film financing is harder than ever to get a hold of, it's heartening to see so many promising smaller-scale projects on the way. Check the list out below.
"2 Days In New York"
Synopsis: Marion, the neurotic center of “2 Days in Paris,” returns with a new lover, and a child, and is now living in the Big Apple.
What You Need To Know: When details of Julie Delpy’s directorial debut, “2 Days In Paris” emerged, it seemed a little odd — wasn’t Delpy simply recreating her best-known role from Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset”? In fact, the finished film owed more to Woody Allen than to Linklater, and turned out to be a really enjoyable comedy, thanks to the tremendous performances by Delpy and Adam Goldberg. A sequel is finally bowing, picking up with Delpy’s character a few years later, with a new baby, and living back in NYC, and while Goldberg’s not returning, she's found a decent replacement to play her new beau in the form of Chris Rock. The actor has always been a tricky presence on screen, but he should fit into the kind of neurotic comedy from the first film quite nicely. And let’s not forget, “Before Sunset” is one of the few sequels that surpasses the original. Maybe Delpy can pull off the same trick here?
When? Sundance — Jan 23rd, 24th and 28th in Park City, 25th in Ogden and 28th in SLC.
Synopsis: On the verge of his sixtieth birthday, hedge fund king Robert Miller tries to sell his company before his terrible fraud can be discovered.
What You Need To Know: In the era of Enron and Lehmann Brothers, can you make a fraudulent scumbag a sympathetic lead? That's the question that Nicholas Jarecki (the brother of documentarians Andrew and Eugene) hopes to answer with "Arbitrage," and he could't have asked for an actor with a better track record in morally ambivalent males than Richard Gere (who replaced Al Pacino in the part). Gere's involvement seems like a microcosm of the film in general; while Jarecki might have been courting the likes of Pacino, Eva Green and rapper Drake, he's ended up with a pretty terrific cast, with Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, William Friedkin (?!), Nate Parker and last year's Sundance darling Brit Marling supporting Gere, and if nothing else, the plot couldn't be more timely. Plus, Cliff Martinez ("Drive," "Contagion") is handling the score, so it should be a treat for the ears.
When? Sundance – 21st, 22nd & 28th (Park City), 23rd (Ogden), 28th (SLC).
"Arthur Newman: Golf Pro"
Synopsis: A miserable suburban man fakes his own death. He then poses as the titular sportsman and, with an acquaintance, starts a new life of breaking into houses and pretending to be the owners.
What You Need To Know: Now that Colin Firth: Charming Character Actor has become Colin Firth: Oscar-Winning Megastar, he's clearly taking advantage of his abilty to get passion projects greenlit, turning down the likes of "Stoker" and "Oldboy" to make dark little indies like the upcoming "The Railway Man" and this black comedy. Marking the directorial debut of commercial helmer Dante Ariola, and from the pen of Becky Johnston ("The Prince of Tides"), and despite sounding like an Adam Sandler-produced David Spade film, it's more an "American Beauty" type dramedy of ennui. While Ariola's something of an unknown quantity at this point, the premise is intriguing, and the pairing of Firth and Emily Blunt (who are backed up by Anne Heche and "The Killing" star Kristin Lehmann) is fairly irresistible.
When? Toronto seems likely, short of anyone picking it up in the meantime.
Synopsis: Three friends discover that the girl they tormented as 'Pig-Face' in high school is getting married before them, and that they've been asked to be bridesmaids.
What You Need To Know: "Bachelorette" has more than a few advantages that should put it ahead of the pack of anyone trying to capitalize off the success of "Bridesmaids" and 2011's R-rated female-centric comedies. Firstly, it's soon enough after that it shouldn't be tainted as a copycat, while still being able to ride the wave. Secondly, with a Sundance premiere, and a catalog listing promising "coke and booze," it should have a slightly harder edge to it. Thirdly, the behind-the-scenes talent is just as impressive: Will Ferrell and Adam McKay are producing, and Leslye Headland, who was a writer on the brilliant, much-missed "Terriers," makes her feature writing and directing debut. And finally, and most importantly, it has a cast with just as much comic pedigree as Paul Feig and Kristin Wiig's film: career revived post-"Melancholia" Kirsten Dunst, leads Lizzy Caplan, Isla Fisher, Rebel Wilson, James Marsden, Adam Scott and Kyle Bornheimer. Worst case scenario, it's the next "Our Idiot Brother," best case scenario, it'll be one of the comedies of the year.
When? Sundance — 23rd, 24th, 28th, (Park City), 26th (Ogden)
"Berberian Sound Studio"
Synopsis: A shy British sound mixer travels to a low-rent post-production house in Italy to work on a giallo horror film, and finds himself gradually losing his mind.
What You Need To Know: He's virtually omnipresent these days, with six major films in 2011, and four in 2012 (plus two TV appearances), but Toby Jones hasn't actually starred in a film since his breakout turn as Truman Capote in "Infamous." But he couldn't have asked for a better return to lead roles than "Berberian Sound Studio." Helmed by British director Peter Strickland, who made quite a critical splash with his Silver Bear-winning Hungarian-language debut "Katalin Varga" back in 2009, this promises to be a a horror-thriller in the vein of "The Conversation" or "Blow Out," reliant heavily on sound design — something that can only be a good thing for anyone who heard the exceptional mix on 'Katalin.' There's some impressive behind-the-scenes talent too; the ever-reliable Warp is backing the film, with 'Uncle Boonmee' producer Keith Griffiths and Oscar-winning editor Chris Dickens ("Hot Fuzz," "Slumdog Millionaire") also on board.
When? Filming got underway last March, so we should see this on the festival circuit later in the year.
Synopsis: Three old friends head away together for a weekend trip to a remote island in Maine, but soon discover that someone else is with them, someone who means them harm.
What You Need To Know: After a moderately well-received debut with "The Freebie" two years ago, "The League" star Katie Aselton heads back behind the camera for a very different film, one that melds indie-type character dynamics with a lean genre thriller — or at least, that's the hope. It doesn't sound a world away from "Baghead," so it's not surprising that one of the film's leads, and Aselton's husband, Mark Duplass, penned the script. But make no mistake, it's Aselton who's front and center here, directing and taking one of the three lead roles, alongside Kate Bosworth and professional scene-stealer Lake Bell. Will she be able to bring the genre goods for this? A slot in the Midnight section of Sundance suggests so, and this could turn out to be something of a crossover hit.
When? Sundance – 21st, 24th, 25th & 26th (Park City), 22nd (SLC) & 28th (SLC)
"Bones Brigade: An Autobiography"
Synopsis: Skateboarder-turned-documentarian Stacy Peralta examines the lives of his old crew, the Bones Brigade, who helped revive the sport in the 1980s.
What You Need To Know: After examining the Bloods and the Crips in his last film, "Made in America," Peralta returns to the board-riding antics that he made his name with on "Dogtown & Z-Boys" and "Riding Giants." Essentially a sequel to 'Dogtown,' Peralta's fourth film picks up the events after that, in the early 1980s, when he brought together a group of unlikely outsiders to form the titular Bones Brigade, which revitalized skateboarding. The director's zippy style was a breath of fresh documentary air eleven years ago, but his follow-ups have been disappointing; let's hope a return to the world he knows best sees him get his mojo back. When? Sundance – 21st, 22nd & 27th (Park City), 24th (SLC), 26th (Sundance Resort) 28th (Ogden)
"Celeste and Jesse Forever"
Synopsis: A formerly married couple try to discover if it's possible to stay friends after divorce.
What You Need To Know: This year's winner of the Sundance Brit Marling, At-The-Front-Of-The-Queue-When-God-Was-Giving-Out-The-Talent Award looks like it's going to Rashida Jones. Not content with being the beautiful and comically gifted star of "Parks and Recreation," among other things, the actress has now written a starring vehicle for herself, appearing opposite 'SNL' star Andy Samberg. It's clearly heading for that "(500) Days of Summer" indie/studio crossover vibe, but the presence of Lee Toland Krieger, the youthful director of the woefully underseen "The Vicious Kind," and the decent script (co-written by Will McCormack) gives us hope that it'll be more substantial than that film. An eclectic supporting cast, including Emma Roberts, Elijah Wood, Ari Graynor and Chris Messina, also promises something a little different, but we're perhaps most interested in seeing if Samberg can play (relatively) straight.
When? Sundance – 22nd & 23rd (Park City), 27th (Ogden), 28th (SLC).
Synopsis: A privileged hipster hangs out with his vapid pals in Williamsburg, as they gradually test their limits.
What You Need To Know: Satirizing hipsters might seem like shooting really trendy, ironic fish in a barrel, but in the hands of filmmaker Rick Alverson ("New Jerusalem"), we wouldn't expect "The Comedy" to focus on easy targets and low-hanging fruit. Featuring a dramatic debut from Tim Heidecker in the lead, along with his partner Eric Wareheim (their other movie, in their more recognizable guises, "Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie," also bows at Sundance) and an acting role from LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy, the film adds up to an intriguing mix of Brooklyn icons that should deliver something more knowing and self-reflexive than it might initially seem. The Sundance brochure makes it sounds more like "Dogtooth" than "Greenberg," which is something that we're certainly on board for.
When? Sundance – 21st, 23rd, 26th & 28th (Park City) 24th (Sundance Resort), 27th, (SLC)
"Comes A Bright Day"
Synopsis: Two young people fall in love after being taken hostage during the robbery of a jewelery store.
What You Need To Know: Imogen Poots had a pretty good 2011, between a supporting turn in "Jane Eyre" and a lead in "Fright Night." Craig Roberts had a pretty good 2011 too, thanks to his lead role in Richard Ayoade's "Submarine." And now, two of the brightest talents to come out of the U.K. in the last twelve months have been paired up, in an intriguingly genre-hopping picture, from debut writer-director Simon Aboud. The pair are backed up by Kevin McKidd ("Rome," "Grey's Anatomy") and veteran Timothy Spall, while costumes come from famed designed Paul Smith, so if nothing else, it'll be the best-dressed film since "A Single Man." Blending thriller, heist and romance, it's an odd little mix, but the casting has us interested enough to want to see how it all turns out.
When? May make a sales appearance in Berlin, but otherwise it'll likely turn up later in the year.
Synopsis: The story follows computer programmers in the 1980s as they test artificial intelligence… through chess tournaments.
What You Need To Know: Probably one of the most talented directors to be part of that dreadful m-word American film movement (m*mbl*c*re), Andrew Bujalski has been sorely missed since we last saw him in 2009 with the fantastic and criminally underseen "Beeswax." Thankfully his new film, a period piece if you will, not only succeeded in its crowd-sourcing endeavor but completed shooting late last summer and is likely to crop up any day now. While the "Funny Ha Ha" filmmaker will be keeping it real by using people he knows as opposed to trained actors for the main roles (a gaggle of folk including a "former comp sci student turned treehouse-dwelling chocolatier"), this film will mark his move away from celluloid and flatbed editing — instead, the digital cameras of the era will be used. It sounds like an interesting prospect and quite a bizarre world, especially considering how far we've come technologically since then. Smartly, Bujalski has insisted that he will not include any wink-wink 1980s references, but his camera will be watching these characters like a hawk and there will be plenty of humor despite the lack of Suncoast Video references.
When? We'd put cold hard cash on a SXSW premiere.
Synopsis: A young Hungarian writer hires a housekeeper, an eccentric, fiercely private woman, and begins a relationship that changes both their lives.
What You Need To Know: Now that she's got her Oscar in the bag, Helen Mirren seems to be taking parts in, well, whatever the hell she feels like — from commercial projects like "Red" and "Arthur" to more offbeat fare like "The Tempest" and David Mamet's HBO Phil Spector movie that will air later in 2012. But "The Door" promises to be one of her most challenging, fascinating roles to date. Based on the excellent novel by Hungarian writer Magda Szabo, and helmed by one of the country's top directors in Istvan Szabo (no relation — the director of "Sunshine," "Taking Sides" and "Being Julia"), she'll play the maddening, mysterious housekeeper in what could turn out to be a film that gets her further awards buzz. Szabo's somewhat underrated these days, but the combination of him and Mirren should be an interesting one.
When? Szabo's been a Cannes favorite in the past, but less so recently; Toronto may be more likely.
"The End of Love"
Synopsis: An out-of-work actor is forced to become a single father when his son's mother suddenly passes away.
What You Need To Know: Having stolen the show repeatedly in Edgar Wright's "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World," Mark Webber steps back behind the camera to follow-up his debut "Explicit Ills," which won three awards at SXSW, including the Narrative Feature Audience Award. This time, he's starring as well, alongside his own two-year-old son and a cast of famous pals that includes Shannyn Sossamon, Michael Cera, Jason Ritter and Amanda Seyfried. It could just be the kind of man-child-grows-up narrative we've seen many times before, but in Webber's hands we're expecting something much rawer and more honest, and it could really elevate him into the big leagues.
When? Sundance – 21st, 23rd, 25th & 27th (Park City), 22nd (Sundance Resort), 24th (SLC).
Synopsis: A young Latina rap star is offered a shot at the big time by a sleazy producer, but has to choose between potential fame, and abandoning her friends.
What You Need To Know: It's been seven years since "Hustle & Flow" premiered at Sundance, a little hip-hop drama that ended up winning an Oscar, plus a nomination for star Terrence Howard, launching his career and that of director Craig Brewer. Now, another film with an MC as its central character is heading to Utah, and even before its premiere, we're already hearing a lot of buzz, particularly about lead Gina Rodriguez, who leads a cast that also includes Lou Diamond Phillips and Edward James Olmos (who doubles up as executive producer). Marking the second team-up of FX artist-turned-helmer Youssef Delara and Olmos' son Michael D. Olmos, the pair's credits to date aren't hugely impressive, but this feels like the kind of picture that traditionally catches fire at Sundance.
When? Sundance – 20th, 21st, 24th & 27th (Park City), 22nd (SLC)
"For A Good Time Call"
Synopsis: Two college acquaintances move in together only for one girl to discover that the other has a secret job…
What You Need To Know: Sounding not unlike recent TV hit "2 Broke Girls," but with more of the oldest profession added into the mix, this comedy, co-written by and starring Lauren Anne Miller (aka Mrs. Seth Rogen), and directed by acclaimed shorts director Jamie Travis, seems to fit firmly into the filthy-but-fun zeitgeist of the moment. Furthermore, it gives a much-needed showcase to Ari Graynor, who's been stealing the show in everything from "The Sopranos" to "The Sitter" of late, and the supporting cast is both wide-ranging and kind of fascinating, from comedic indie darlings like Mark Webber and Justin Long, to "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" mastermind Nia Vardalos (with Rogen making a cameo). Despite the, hm, tough subject matter, this could be the breakout comedy of the festival.
When? Sundance – 22nd, 23rd (Park City), 29th (SLC), 29th (SLC)
Synopsis: A young musician returns home to divorce his wife, but realizes that doing so will mean he'll lose custody of his daughter.
What You Need To Know: So Yong Kim won a Sundance Special Jury Prize first time out for her debut "In Between Days," and only made more of an impression with follow-up "Treeless Mountain." Third time around, she's working with bigger names, casting Paul Dano in the lead, with Jena Malone and, intriguingly, "Napoleon Dynamite" star Jon Heder in a straight role, in support. On the page, it sounds like Sundance-by-numbers — a twentysomething returns to a small town? Surely not! But Kim's shown herself to be a sensitive and personal filmmaker in the past, and has compared her new project to the likes of "Five Easy Pieces," which is music to our ears. Dano’s set to have a good year, with “Being Flynn” and “He Loves Me” on the way as well, so he may finally be about to emerge from the long shadow cast by his fine turn as Eli Sunday.
When? Sundance – 21st, 23rd, 26th, 27th (Park City), 24th (Sundance Resort) and 25th (SLC).
"The Fourth Dimension"
Synopsis: Anthology film including chapters from the U.S., Poland, and Russia, most notably featuring an experimental film from Harmony Korine focusing on a terrible motivational speaker.
What You Need To Know: It's three years since Harmony Korine's outsider-art-esque "Trash Humpers," and, though the director's been busy with a whole series of shorts since, it's been a while since anything hit the big screen. He's making what seems to be his most mainstream effort to date, the comedy "Spring Breakers," with Emma Roberts, Vanessa Hudgens and James Franco later this year, but we don't think that'll be ready before the end of 2012. Instead, the helmer's next project is a short starring Val Kilmer as a dreadful motivational speaker, shot in Nashville and bound by a Dogme-style manifesto, as part of an anthology film funded by Vice Films and Grolsch FilmWorks. There's been no word on any of the other segments yet, but the team-up of Korine & Kilmer is more than enough to get us into theaters on its own.
When? The finished film will premiere at film festivals in 2012 sponsored by the lager in each of the directors' respective home countries: The San Francisco Film Festival in the U.S., the Beat Film Festival in Russia and Mlodzi i Film in Poland.
Synopsis: In 1950s, male-dominated New York State, a group of teenage girls form the Foxfire gang.
What You Need To Know: Do we really need another adaptation of Joyce Carol Oate's "Foxfire," only fifteen years after the last take (which provided Angelina Jolie's first film role)? Well, considering that version wasn't very good, we'd be inclined to say yes, particularly as the remake marks the English-language debut of Laurent Cantet, whose last film, "The Class," won the Palme D'Or in 2008. He's promising to be more faithful than the original, sticking to the 1950s setting and going with a cast of total unknowns. So it seems he's playing to the strengths he established on "The Class," with hopefully the more thoughtful qualities of his work in the superb "Time Out" along for the ride too.
When? Cannes quite likely, considering his Palme D'Or success. Toronto is also possible.
Synopsis: A Texan single mother who's lost custody of her child becomes involved in the smuggling of illegal immigrants, and is forced to look after a 9-year-old Mexican girl.
What You Need To Know: After a major breakthrough as the star of Jane Campion's "Bright Star," Australian actress Abbie Cornish had a mixed 2011 — she appeared in sleeper hit "Limitless," albeit in a thankless role, but was otherwise stuck in arguably two of the worst films of the year, "Sucker Punch" and "W.E." But 2012 promises better things; not just Martin McDonagh's "Seven Psychopaths," but also this drama, which was originally intended to star Emily Blunt. It marks the belated return of director David Riker, who impressed with 1998 debut "La Ciudad" (as well as co-writing the cult sci-fi flick "Sleep Dealer"), and seems to give Cornish the kind of challenging lead role she hasn't been given by the studios to date. Will Patton and newcomer Santiago Maritza are in support.
When? We expected it for Sundance, but it didn't show; it should turn up at SXSW or Toronto instead.
Synopsis: A teenage boy, all but raised by a weed-growing nomad known as Goat Man, is sent away to an East Coast prep school.
What You Need To Know: The Coppola family tree has many branches, but until recently, one that hadn't received much sunshine (to stretch a metaphor), was Christopher Neil, whose father, Bill Neil, is the brother of Eleanor Coppola (Francis Ford's wife). Neil Jr. has been an acting/dialogue coach on films from "The Rainmaker" and "The Virgin Suicides" to "Revenge of the Sith" and "Hesher," as well as directing second unit on Roman Coppola's "CQ," but he's now making his directorial debut with this quirky coming-of-age tale, which seemingly satirizes New Age lifestyles and preppy private schools. If nothing else, Neil has the right kind of actors on his side: "The Good Wife" star Graham Phillips has the youthful lead, with Vera Farmiga, Ty Burrell, Keri Russell and the still-in-search-of-a-good-big-screen-showcase David Duchovny backing him up. The Coppola genes (even by marriage) haven't led us wrong yet, so hopefully Neil wil be another good addition to the lineage.
When? Sundance – 24th, 25th, 28th (Park City), 26th (SLC)
Synopsis: When a tiny island off the coast of Ireland comes under attack from aliens, the locals discover there's only one way to protect themselves from the creatures; get as drunk as humanly possible.
What You Need To Know: Like all festivals, Sundance occasionally takes a little bit of a break from heavy onscreen drama, and gets to let its hair down. And no film looks like it'll do a better job of providing that in 2012 than British/Irish horror-comedy "Grabbers." Complete with an ingenious, irresistible conceit from screenwriter Kevin Lehane (the aliens won't attack if there's booze in your blood), and with the spirit akin to "Tremors," it seems at a distance to be something of a combination of last year's sleeper hits "Attack the Block" and "The Guard." Jon Wright, who helmed the fitfully enjoyable British teen horror "Tormented," is directing, and the cast is toplined by Richard Coyle ("Prince of Persia") and Russell Tovey ("The History Boys," "Being Human"). And if there's any film it seems fair to drink your way through at the festival this year, this would surely be one…
When? Sundance – 23rd, 25th (SLC), 26th, 27th
"Hello I Must Be Going"
Synopsis: A divorced 35-year-old moves back in with her parents, only to begin a relationship with a boy close to her half her age .
What You Need To Know: The return to direction of "High Fidelity" star Todd Louiso, who was behind the undervalued "Love Liza," and the already forgotten "The Marc Pease Experience," would be enough to gain a modicum of interest, but really, there's one reason, and one reason only, why we've got our eyes locked on "Hello, I Must Be Going": a long, long overdue lead role for the great New Zealand actress Melanie Lynskey. Having made her debut aged only sixteen, opposite Kate Winslet in Peter Jackson's "Heavenly Creatures," she's been working steadily ever since, but has really wowed (quietly) in the last few years with supporting turns in "Up in the Air," "The Informant!" and "Win Win," among others; she's been ready for a breakout for a while. We can't guarantee that she'll do a Melissa Leo off the back of this, but an Olivia Colman-type jump feels about right, and hopefully the film around her will be as strong as she deserves.
When? Sundance – 19th, 20th, 24th, 27th (Park City), 21st (Sundance Resort), 22nd (SLC),
"I Used To Be Darker"
Synopsis: A pregnant Northern Irish woman runs away to relatives in Baltimore, only to discover that her aunt is on the verge of getting divorced.
What You Need To Know: Matthew Porterfield's "Putty Hill" became something of a critical hit when it premiered in Berlin two years ago, and kept it up when it was released in the U.S. last year (it placed highly on one of our writers' top ten lists). Keeping up his momentum, Porterfield got rolling on his crowd-funded follow-up late last summer, which reunites him with much of the same creative team, with musicians Ned Oldham and Kim Taylor, and newcomers Hannah Gross and Deragh Campbell leading the cast. Hopefully we can expect the same realistic, truthful approach, and the same picturesque Baltimore locations, but with a musical leaning that some have compared to "Once."
When? SXSW is probably a little early, but given his Berlin presence last time around, somewhere like Venice or San Sebastian could be possible.
Synopsis: A playwright attempts suicide to win back her ex-boyfriend, and is forced to live with her gambling addict mother
What You Need To Know: Kristin Wiig must have had a dozen offers after "Bridesmaids" went supernova, but the actress held out for this, something of a passion project, penned by relative newcomer Michelle Morgan, and directed by "American Splendor" duo Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini. It seems to be significantly darker than the comedy that made her name, and they've landed something of a coup with the presence of Annette Bening as Wiig's mother, with Matt Dillon, "Glee" star Darren Criss, Nathan Corddry and Natasha Lyonne making up the rest of the eclectic cast. We can't say we've been huge fans of most of what Berman and Pulcini have done since they broke out — although last year's HBO movie "Cinema Verite" was the best of the bunch — but the promise of Wiig and Bening together is certainly enough to keep us optimistic.
When? Pretty much a dead cert for Toronto, we'd imagine.
"The Invisible War"
Synopsis: Documentary investigating the epidemic of sexual assault on women in the U.S. military.
What You Need To Know: Taking as its starting point the astonishing statistic that a U.S. servicewoman is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire, Oscar-nominated Kirby Dick (director of "Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist," "Twist of Faith" and "This Film Is Not Yet Rated") examines the way in which women become targets to their colleagues, and are then left adrift by a military justice system with no interest in prosecuting the offenders (only 2% of reported military rapes result in a conviction). It seems to be an incredibly vital, necessary subject for a documentary, and Dick seems like the filmmaker to do it, if his previous work, and the film's trailer, is anything to go by — this feels like the rare documentary that might even be able to bring about significant change in the world it depicts.
When? Sundance – 20th, 22nd, 25th, 28th (Park City), 21st (SLC)
"Jack and Diane"
Synopsis: A pair of teenage girls fall in love, only for one to reveal that she's a werewolf.
What You Need To Know: Originally intended to reteam "Juno" stars Ellen Page and Olivia Thirlby, it's taken some time for "Jack and Diane," director Bradley Rust Gray's follow-up to 2009's "The Exploding Girl," to get going. But the film finally mounted last year, with rising stars Juno Temple and Riley Keough ("The Runaways") in the leads, and while it might sound like some kind of titillating "Twilight" knock-off on the surface, we're hopeful that it's something much more. Gray has proven a talent to watch so far, and the film will feature animated sequences from stop-motion legends the Brothers Quay, and an interestingly diverse supporting cast, including Dane DeHaan, Jena Malone, Lou Taylor Pucci, Cara Seymour and pop legend Kylie Minogue, as a tattooed lesbian. Early days yet, obviously, but there's a lot of potential here.
When? Magnolia has set the film for a June 1st release date, which means it's very likely to get a simultaneous or earlier VoD bow. Could show up at SXSW as well.
"A Late Quartet"
Synopsis: The ties between the four members of a world-famous string quartet start to come undone when their leader is diagnosed with a terminal illness.
What You Need To Know: Classical music hasn't exactly been a draw since, what, "Shine" fifteen years ago, but there's a number of films hoping to break the streak this year. First up is "A Late Quartet," which marks the feature debut of Yaron Zilberman, who was behind the acclaimed documentary "Watermarks" in 2004. And he's assembled a pretty mean cast, with Christopher Walken as the Parkinson's-afflicted musican, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener and Ukranian actor Mark Ivanir ("Schindler's List") as the rest of his quartet, plus Imogen Poots as the daughter of Hoffman and Keener's characters. It could end up being a nondescript middlebrow drama, but with actors like that, one has to pay a little attention.
When? Didn't make it to Sundance, so Toronto seems like a good bet.
Synopsis: An uninspired, drifting thirtysomething goes back to his college to bid farewell to a famous professor, only to meet, and fall for, a precocious young sophomore.
What You Need To Know: As the star of hit sitcom "How I Met Your Mother," Josh Radnor was always going to have the shadow of Zach Braff and "Garden State" hanging over his directorial debut "happythankyoumoreplease." While that film had its share of issues, he's already beaten Braff by getting his second film under his belt only two years after the first. And Radnor's been smart enough to cast last year's Sundance breakout Elizabeth Olsen opposite himself (well, wouldn't you?) in what seems to be a more focused picture than his uneven debut, something that bodes well. Plus, alongside Olsen, he's assembled an intriguing supporting cast, including "Young Adult"'s Elizabeth Reaser, an indie debut from Zac Efron, and, as professors, Allison Janney and Richard Jenkins, two actors scientifically proven to make any film they're in 20% better. Each. We're a little wary of this being an ego-trip, but it seems like it'll be worth seeing purely for the cast.
When? Sundance – 22nd & 23rd (Park City), 27th (Ogden), 28th (SLC).
Synopsis: Just after the end of the Second World War, the daughter of an SS commander tries to take her four siblings across the country to their grandparents in Hamburg.
What You Need To Know: It's eight whole years since Cate Shortland turned heads with her film "Somersault" (launching the careers of Abbie Cornish and Sam Worthington in the process), but the wait for a follow-up will finally come to an end in 2012 with "Lore." And the director's not one for resting on her laurels, as the project, an adaptation of the novella by German-Australian-British author Rachel Seiffert, was shot entirely in German, with a cast of relative unknowns, and focuses on the children of an unrepentant Nazi. It's potentially powerful stuff, and while seemingly very different from "Somersault," that film was strong enough to suggest she'll be able to pull it off.
When? Shortland's last picture debuted at Cannes, in the Un Certain Regard section, so that's certainly a possibility.
"The Man With The Iron Fists"
Synopsis: A blacksmith helps a feudal Chinese village defend itself when it comes under attack.
What You Need To Know: Not strictly speaking an independent film — Universal has backed the project to the tune of $20 million — this film feels quite independent in spirit, and also, we forgot to include it on any of our other lists, so here it is. Marking the directorial debut of Wu-Tang Clan member RZA, a man who knows the kung-fu genre better than most alive, and co-written and produced by Eli Roth, this looks to scratch the grindhouse/exploitation itch more than most. RZA, who takes the title role as well, has always been a fun screen presence, and he's got an oddball cast backing him up, including Pam Grier, Lucy Liu, professional fighters Dave Bautista and Cung Le, and as the villain, the rapper/actor's pal Russell Crowe, a part that we're sure that the Aussie actor will have a lot of fun with. RZA's been working away on the project for years, so plenty of time has gone into it; hopefully, the proof will be in the ass-kicking.
When? Rumors abound of an October release, but Universal hasn't announced anything officially yet.
Synopsis: Joe Fulton, a jack-of-all-trades fixer, is followed over the course of his day, as he continue to over-achieve without ever really making any progress.
What You Need To Know: Hal Hartley hasn't been away as long as fellow 90s indie stalwart Whit Stillman, but with seven years passing since the former's last film, "Fay Grim," it's curiously fitting that 2012 will see both directors release new films. Originally intended as the pilot for a TV series, but now being self-released by Hartley (with completion funding via Kickstarter), the one-hour mini feature (along the lines of "Surviving Desire" and "The Book of Life") stars Hartley favorite D.J. Mendel, and has already released a fairly amusing trailer, that suggests that… well, it's a Hal Hartley film.
When? Likely to bypass theaters because of its length, Hartley says on Kickstarter to expect delivery of DVDs by February. But we wouldn't rule out a festival bow somewhere around that time.
Synopsis: Three environmentalists plot to blow up a dam.
What You Need To Know: After a brief stint playing in the old west for the hypnotic "Meek's Cutoff," Kelly Reichardt will return to contemporary times with Peter Sarsgaard and Paul Dano for what is expected to be another slow-burning human tale. A plot like this is tricky as it can easily veer off into preachy territory but her generally subtle, quiet way of filmmaking should keep it away from any sermonizing. There's still some casting to be done, including for the one female eco-terrorist. An offer was put out to Rooney Mara, but considering her busy future (and the fact that we haven't heard a confirmation for months), don't bet too much on her actually being involved. Might we suggest Zoe Kazan?
When? "Night Moves" will be looking for a co-financier at the International Film Festival Rotterdam's CineMart, but if everything comes together quickly we might see a late festival screening. A 2013 festival bow is more likely, however.
Synopsis: A 23-year old artist arrives in LA to stay in a family's pool house as she finishes her movie, but her presence brings out warring impulses in everyone around her.
What You Need To Know: Like some kind of lo-fi indie dream team, "Nobody Walks" is penned by Ry Russo-Young, whose last film "You Won't Miss Me" played Sundance three years ago, and Lena Dunham, who went supernova after her film "Tiny Furniture" debuted in 2010. With Dunham busy on her Judd Apatow-produced HBO series "Girls," Russo-Young takes the helm, and has definitely upgraded in terms of the kind of cast she's been able to attract, with John Krasinski, Olivia Thirlby, Rosemarie DeWitt and Dylan McDermott among the players. From what we can tell, it seems to be closer to the director's more dramatic-leaning work than Dunham's hipster Woody Allen vibe, but we're certainly curious to see how the combination works out.
When? Sundance: 22nd, 23rd, 25th, 27th (Park City), 24th (SLC), 26th (Sundance Resort).
"The Perks of Being A Wallflower"
Synopsis: A high school freshman struggles to get over the suicide of his best friend
What You Need To Know: If you're going to make an adaptation of one of the most beloved cult novels of the last fifteen years or so, it's always going to reassure fans to know that the project has the backing of the original author. But Stephen Chblosky doesn't just approve of the adaptation of his bildungsroman "The Perks of Being A Wallflower," he's written and directed it as well, thanks to the backing of John Malkovich's Mr. Mudd company (who were also behind "Juno"). And he's managed to attract a solid cast too, with Logan Lerman taking the central role, Emma Watson looking to break out beyond Hermione as female lead Sam, and Ezra Miller, Mae Whitman, Kate Walsh, Paul Rudd, Nina Dobrev and Johnny Simmons also involved. Of course, being an author doesn't help you be a filmmaker, but Chlobsky's got some experience on screen, adapting "Rent" for Chris Columbus and creating and producing the cult post-apocalyptic TV show "Jericho," so if anyone can translate the book, it's likely to be him.
When? Summit will release the film this year.
Synopsis: A young musical prodigy tries to take his drug-addicted mother to rehab on the day of his audition for a prestigious music school.
What You Need To Know: Given that they can only have been swamped with offers of late, it has to be a good sign that "Predisposed," the feature directorial debut of art director Philip Dorling and "Philadelphia" screenwriter Ron Ryswaner, was able to attract last year's Oscar-winner Melissa Leo, and last year's Oscar-nominee Jesse Eisenberg, to its two lead roles. An extension of the pair's short, which played Sundance back in 2009 (and also starred Leo), it seems like the kind of quirky, family-driven fare that always goes down well at the festival. And with "30 Rock" star Tracy Morgan, and Isiah 'Sheeeeet' Whitlock Jr from "The Wire" in support, playing Leo's drug dealers who tag along for the ride, it should deliver the laughs as well.
When? Sundance – 27th, 28th, (Park City), 29th (SLC)
Synopsis: Four opera singers in a retirement home decide to hold one last concert.
What You Need To Know: Nearly 35 years after he was replaced midway through "Straight Time," Dustin Hoffman finally makes his full directorial debut, with an adaptation of the stage play by Ronald Harwood ("The Pianist"). And despite being one of the key actors of American cinema in the second half of the 20th century, he's gone across the pond, utilizing a who's-who of elderly British character actors, with Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins and Billy Connolly as the four opera singers, and featuring Michael Gambon and the youthful Sheridan Smith also among the cast. It's like the Hogwarts common room got their own movie, and it'll be interesting to see how capable Hoffman turns out to be behind the camera. It's certainly been a long enough time coming — let's hope the wait was worthwhile. .
When? The London Film Festival would be a perfect venue, perhaps with a Toronto premiere beforehand.
Synopsis: A pair of paranormal debunkers come up against a legendary blind psychic, who's been missing for 30 years.
What You Need To Know: Rodrigo Cortes made a splash two years ago with set-in-a-coffin thriller "Buried," although the film failed to be the sleeper hit that some had predicted, thanks to mixed reviews outside Park City. He's back again with a more expansive kind of thriller this time around, that boasts a pretty starry cast: Cillian Murphy, Sigourney Weaver, Elizabeth Olsen, Toby Jones, and, perhaps most excitingly, Robert De Niro, who, after years of coasting, has more intriguing projects on his 2012 slate. If it manages to be something more than a bog-standard supernatural thriller and Cortes can reign in his hyperactive style, this could be a lot of fun.
When? Sundance – 20th, 21st, 25th, 28th (Park City), 21st (SLC), 24th (Ogden)
"Safety Not Guaranteed"
Synopsis: A group of newspaper reporters are sent to investigate a classified ad placed by a man who is recruiting companions for a trip back in time.
What You Need To Know: It was only a matter of time before someone adapted an internet meme; we're just glad that the first is one that looks as promising as "Safety Not Guaranteed." Based on the Danish classified ad that went viral back in 2006, the film marks the directorial debut of Colin Trevorrow, from a script by Derek Connolly, who's assembled an impressive cast — Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass and Jake Johnson lead, with Jeff Garlin, Kristen Bell, Mary-Lynn Rajskub and Lynn Shelton in support. Duplass is also producing the film, with his brother Jay, and while the premise could be overwhelmed with quirk, it's also pretty irresistible, and there's more than enough comic talent on board to pull it off, assuming Trevorrow has the chops.
When? Sundance – 22nd, 24th, 26th and 28th (Park City), 27th (SLC).
"Save The Date"
Synopsis: Twentysomething Sarah breaks her boyfriend's heart, and takes up with a new infatuation, while her sister Beth plans her wedding and offers unwanted advice.
What You Need To Know: The plot description might be a little vague, but Michael Mohan, who debuted at the festival two years back with the low-budget "One Too Many Mornings," has a couple of secret weapons that separate his indie rom-com from the competition: namely his on-the-verge-of-breaking-out stars Lizzy Caplan and Alison Brie. The duo have won fans in recent years with TV roles both comedic and dramatic ("Party Down" and "True Blood" for Caplan, "Community" and "Mad Men" for Brie), and while they'll play support in other films in 2012, the chance to see them lead is a tantalizing one, especially with comedy faves Martin Starr ("Freaks and Geeks"), Geoffrey Arend ("(500) Days Of Summer") and Mark Webber ("Scott Pilgrim") playing the men in their lives. And with a script co-written by playwright Egan Reich and, crucially, cult graphic novelist Jeffrey Brown, this could be a funny, mature relationship movie.
When? Sundance – 22nd, 24th, 27th and 28th (Park City), 25th (SLC)
Synopsis: A well-meaning Scoutmaster kidnaps his Sudanese nephew to take him to discover the wilderness, but soon puts his entire troop in peril.
What You Need To Know: David Gordon Green, who executive produced "Scoutmasters," has veered from delicate, observational indie dramas to gory, batshit crazy comedies. His old pal Todd Rohal ("The Catechism Cataclysm") seems to make both those kinds of films simultaneously, and in doing so has won a cult following, although admittedly a tiny one. His third film looks to widen that cult a little, thanks to the presence of comedy names like Patton Oswalt, Johnny Knoxville, Rob Riggle, Maura Tierney, Darrel Hammond and, in his last screen appearance, the late Patrice O'Neal. Whether the material is more accessible this time around remains to be seen, but we're sure we won't see anything else remotely like it all year.
When? The film shot last summer; SXSW could be a good bet.
Synopsis: A single mother in the IRA is captured by MI5, and forced to turn informant against her terrorist colleagues.
What You Need To Know: While they were among the favorite villains of Hollywood in the 1990s in the likes of "Patriot Games" and "The Devil's Own," the relative peace in Northern Ireland during the last fifteen years has seen few films focusing on the IRA. But this "Donnie Brasco"-style thriller looks to change that, and it has a few aces up its sleeve, first and foremost the presence of director James Marsh. Best known for his documentary work like the Oscar-winning "Man On Wire" and "Project Nim," his fictional features "The King" and "Red Riding: 1980" are also strong, if underrated. And so the film, an adaptation of Tom Bradby's novel, is in good hands, especially as Marsh has assembled a good cast, with Andrea Riseborough (who replaced the originally cast Rebecca Hall) and Clive Owen in the leads, and Gillian Anderson, Aidan Gillen and Domnhall Gleeson in support. The plot might sound a little generic, but hopefully Marsh can bring something new to it, and given the cast, we're expecting this to be one of the pricier sales of the festival.
When? Sundance – 24th, 25th, 28th (Park City), 26th (SLC)
"Shut Up And Play The Hits"
Synopsis: Concert doc focusing on the Madison Square Garden farewell show of James Murphy's dance-punk band LCD Soundsystem.
What You Need To Know: It's probably just us, but we can't help thinking of LCD Soundsystem as perhaps the seminal band of the last decade; James Murphy's lyrics summed up the noughties with wit and verve, and the band's music was danceable, versatile and endlessly surprising. As such, while it was a heartbreaker for Murphy to disband the group while they were on top, we're at least glad that filmmakers Dylan Souther and Will Lovelace ("Blur: No Distance Left To Run") were on hand to document the band's already legendary final gig last spring. Blending performances, fly-on-the-wall backstage footage and a conversation between Murphy and lauded rock critic Chuck Klosterman, this seems like it could be a concert movie to treasure.
When? Sundance – 22nd, 25th, 27th (Park City), 23rd, 28th (SLC)
Synopsis: After breaking up with his girlfriend, a college grad heads to Paris, and falls in love with a prostitute.
What You Need To Know: Last year's it-film in Sundance was "Martha Marcy May Marlene," the tremendous, unsettling psychological thriller that marked the debut of Sean Durkin. But it wasn't Durkin's first time in the industry; he previously produced Antonio Campos' equally good, but less well-known "Afterschool," which premiered at Cannes in 2008. Nearly four years on, Campos is back (with Durkin again producing), with 'Martha Marcy' alumnus Brady Corbet, a favorite of Lars Von Trier and Gregg Araki, in the lead role. Little is known beyond that, other than that the film was partially shot in Paris, but hopefully the attention that 'MMMM' received will help the critics and audiences who ignored "Afterschool" take notice this time around.
When? Sundance – 20th, 21st, 25th, 27th (Park City), 22nd (SLC)
Synopsis: An overweight man, Franklin Franklin, lives in an apartment complex and dreams of Switzerland, but finds his neighbors leaking into his life.
What You Need To Know: On the "randomly assembled cast" meter, only one film in 2012 is able to compete with "Battleship" — "Small Apartments." The latest film from music video veteran Jonas Akerlund, it features among its ensemble James Caan, Billy Crystal, Johnny Knoxville, Rosie Perez and Dolph Lundgren. Based on Canadian writer Chris Millis' award-winning novel, British comedian Matt Lucas ("Bridesmaids," "Alice in Wonderland") toplines this quirky dark comedy, compared by some to "A Confederacy of Dunces," with Juno Temple, Amanda Plummer, Saffron Burrows, DJ Qualls, Rebel Wilson, Peter Stormare and David Koechner also along for the ride. Akerlund's hyperactive style did no favors to his near-unwatchable "Spun" or "Horsemen," but this seems like enough of an oddity that we're intrigued to see more. Also intriguing to note, ex-Roxette frontman Per Gessle is scoring the film.
When? Slated for Sundance, but absent from the line-up, we're sure it'll do the festival route later in the year.
Synopsis: Kate & Charlie, a hard-partying, borderline alcoholic married couple, have their relationship tested when Kate decides to get sober.
What You Need To Know: On the surface, "Smashed" seems to have a fairly similar premise to Playlist favorite short film "Successful Alcoholics," but where that film ended with one of the central couple giving up the bottle, that seems to be the starting point for its feature-length cousin, which comes from James Ponsoldt, who directed Nick Nolte-starrer "Off The Black," and co-writer Susan Burke ("Important Things With Demetri Martin"). And they've certainly assembled an enticing cast, with imminent Oscar-nominee Octavia Spencer, Megan Mullally, Nick Offerman (aka RON FUCKING SWANSON), and, in the leads, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul. It's the latter two who have us particularly intrigued; Winstead's someone who we feel doesn't work enough, and could have a real breakout here, while "Breaking Bad" Emmy-winner Aaron Paul gets his first real big-screen role since coming to fame as Jesse Pinkman. The tone will be crucial here, but we're certainly interested in how it turns out.
When? Sundance – 22nd, 25th, 25th, 27th (Park City), 23rd (SLC)
"Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap "
Synopsis: A documentary about the history of hip-hop, from one of its most controversial stars, Ice-T.
What You Need To Know: The hip-hop documentary came of age last year with Michael Rapaport's "Beats, Rhymes & Life," and this year brings another promising look at the medium, this time from one of its key artists: Ice-T. The days of "Cop Killer" long behind him (he's now probably best known for his TV role on "Law & Order"), T's film, co-directed with Andy Baybutt ("The Band Aid Story"), promises to be a sober, in-depth look at the craft of rhyming, with interviews from some of the biggest stars in rap, including Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Caz, Nas, Mos Def, Eminem, Chuck D, KRS-One, Run-DMC, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg (though, unsurprisingly, not LL Cool J, who famously feuded with T).
When? Sundance – 21st, 22nd, (Park City), 23rd (SLC), 27th, 28th (Sundance Resort), and it'll air on the BBC later in the year.
"Song For Marion"
Synopsis: When his wife becomes critically ill, an elderly man agrees to join the amateur choir that she adores.
What You Need To Know: You can't have a better vote of confidence for an independent film than being picked up by The Weinstein Company before you've even locked your print down, and that's exactly what happened to "Song For Marion" late last year. The fourth film from Paul Andrew Williams, who made a killer debut with "London to Brighton" a half-decade ago, it's a sweet, moving little script, one that's a little rawer than obvious comparison points like "Calendar Girls," and it provides real showcase roles for stars Terence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave (who lead a cast also including Gemma Arterton and Christopher Eccleston); we're sure the awards potential is what led the Weinsteins to snap the film up. The question is, will the film be more than a canvas for the performances?
When? We suspect the Weinsteins may want to go the same Telluride/Toronto route they did with "The King's Speech" and "The Artist."
Synopsis: Polio-afflicted writer and poet Mark O'Brien decides, at the age of 38, to lose his virginity, and hires a sex surrogate to help him do so.
What You Need To Know: John Hawkes has become a bit of a Sundance favorite over the years, but after two brilliant but deeply sinister turns in a row — his Oscar-nominated performance in "Winter's Bone" and last year's "Martha Marcy May Marlene" — it's a wonder they let him in the place anymore without checking him for meth or rape drugs. Fortunately his 2012 entry is more benevolent, with Hawkes taking on the pathos-magnet role of journalist and poet Mark O'Brien, the subject of the 1997 Oscar-winning documentary "Breathing Lessons" who was near-paralyzed, and restricted to an iron lung for most of his time, by polio. And the actor's joined by Oscar-winner Helen Hunt, who's on the comeback trail in 2012 after a long absence, along with the great William H. Macy, as O'Brien's priest. Writer-director Ben Lewin has a long career as a documentarian and TV helmer behind him, so hopefully he'll be able to avoid obvious sentimentality here.
When? Sundance – 23rd, 24th, 26th, 28th (Park City), 27th (SLC)
"The To-Do List"
Synopsis: A virginal high-school honors student tries to gain sexual experience over the summer before she starts college.
What You Need To Know: Another raunchy female-driven comedy, "The To-Do List" (formerly titled "The Hand Job"), sets itself apart from the pack by the sheer depth of talent it's attracted. Written and directed by Maggie Carey, the filmmaker other half of SNL star Bill Hader, the film toplines "Parks & Recreation" star Aubrey Plaza as the Type-A girl crossing off a few sexual practices, with Hader, Andy Samberg, Alia Shawkat, Mae Whitman, Johnny Simmons, Connie Britton, Clark Gregg, Rachel Bilson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Scott Porter, D.C. Pierson and Dominic Bierkes making up the hugely impressive supporting cast. Hader told us last year to expect the film to be a "raunchy 'Sixteen Candles,'" and Carey's very strong script certainly backs that up.
When? The film shot last summer, so SXSW could be feasible. If not, Toronto's very likely too.
"Trap For Cinderella"
Synopsis: A young girl, Micky, wakes up after a terrible fire in which her best friend, Do, died. But how did the fire come about? And can Micky's memories be relied on?
What You Need To Know: Thanks to "Black Swan," the high-stakes melodrama is very much back in favor, and nothing seems to scratch that itch in 2012 as much as "Trap For Cinderella." Based on the novel by Sebastian Japrisot ("A Very Long Engagement"), it's written and directed by Iain Softley, though responsible for weak fare like "K-Pax" and "Inkheart," also directed the terminally underrated "The Wings of the Dove," and has made the film something of a passion project. Initially intended for Felicity Jones and Imogen Poots, Softley ended up going with the next generation of rising stars, with the excellent Tuppence Middleton ("Skeletons") and Alexandra Roach ("The Iron Lady") taking the leads, with Kerry Fox, Alex Jennings and Aneurin Barnard in support. We enjoyed the script, a taut, Polanski-esque little potboiler, so this could turn out to be an under-the-radar surprise.
When? The film shot last summer, so we're sure it'll get a U.K. release, at the least, before the end of the year.
"Untitled Drake Doremus Project"
Synopsis: A high-school teacher is tempted to cheat on his wife by a precocious student.
What You Need To Know: Drake Doremus became the toast of Sundance last year with his youthful relationship drama "Like Crazy," but the young director didn't stick around to soak up the praise; before the film even hit theaters, he was lensing an even bigger project, albeit one using the same semi-improvised techniques as the last. His "Like Crazy" breakout Felicity Jones returns, alongside Guy Pearce, Amy Ryan and Nico Tortorella and Doremus told us a few months back that the project has thriller aspects to it, something that definitely has us intrigued. While "Like Crazy" was flawed, there was more than enough in there to suggest that Doremus was a major talent to watch.
When? Toronto seems like the best bet; we'd be surprised if Doremus was ready in time for SXSW.
"Untitled Ramin Bahrani Project"
Synopsis: A farmer plans to expand his business, but his racing driver son has no desire to follow in his father's footsteps.
What You Need To Know: If there's a stranger combination on this list than Iranian-American Ramin Bahrani — favorite of Roger Ebert and helmer of lovely, delicate humanistic pictures normally focusing on immigrants — and Zac Efron, star of the "High School Musical" series, then we haven't been paying enough attention. After the acclaimed likes of "Goodbye Solo" and "Man Push Cart," Bahrani is dancing with recognizable names this time out, with Efron, Dennis Quaid, Heather Graham, Clancy Brown and Kim Dickens, although the "Days of Heaven"-esque subject matter suggests he's not fallen too far from his usual concerns. While we ordinarily wouldn't rush to see something starring Quaid, Efron and Graham, we're fascinated to see if Bahrani can work his magic on his performers, and cross over to a wider audience while he's at it.
When? Bahrani's a favorite at Venice, so that's our top guess, but "Chop Shop" debuted at Cannes, so the film shouldn't be ruled out from participating there instead.
"The We & The I"
Synopsis: A group of schoolkids travel into the future by accident, discovering a machine that keeps them younger.
What You Need To Know: It's a year since Michel Gondry's ill-fated Hollywood experiment "The Green Hornet" landed, but the filmmaker didn't spend too long licking his wounds. Instead the French helmer got underway on production of "The We & The I," a smaller-scale film born out of meetings with the publishers of his "Be Kind Rewind"-tied book about community filmmaking. Starring a group of non-professional Brooklyn school kids, and seemingly with the same focus on community that much of the director's best recent work has had, this won't just be some kitchen-sink flick, with a rep for the film revealing to us last year that the project contained some sci-fi elements. Could this be Gondry's first kids' film? He'd seem particularly well-suited to it, if so.
When? We've been told that the film's still in post, which is why it's not at Sundance, and unlikely to make it to SXSW. Given the Brooklyn setting, an NYC premiere at Tribeca or the NYFF would seem to make sense, but don't rule out Toronto.
"West of Memphis"
Synopsis: A documentary following the quashing of the convictions of the West Memphis Three, the three Arkansas teenagers who were convicted of the 1994 murders of three children.
What You Need To Know: "Lord of the Rings" helmer Peter Jackson has taken a particular interest in the West Memphis Three since the start of his career, helping to fund their defense and now producing this documentary about the case and the recent release of the three, from Amy Berg, director of the Oscar-nominated "Deliver Us From Evil." There are plenty of questions to be raised in advance here. Will another doc, on top of three "Paradise Lost" films from Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, prove surplus to requirements? Will Jackson's interest in the case, and the producer credit for West Memphis Three member Damien Echols, mean that any ambiguities (of which there are a few) will be brushed over? We'll see, but there'll be few other docs in Park City with the same hot button value as this one.
When? Sundance – 20th, 21st, 28th (Park City), 21st (SLC), 24th (Sundance Resort).
"What Maisie Knew"
Synopsis: An adaptation of Henry James' novel, about a young girl shuffled between her divorced parents.
What You Need To Know: The films of Scott McGehee and David Siegel ("Suture," "The Deep End," "Uncertainty") have been consistently interesting without ever overcoming their flaws, but they seem to be onto something good with their latest. It looks to be a more grounded, less genre-tinged project, an update of a lesser-known Henry James novel to the present day, with Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan cast as the irresponsible parents (a rock star and an art dealer, respectively) of the central character, while the much-in-demand Alexander Skarsgard will play Moore's second husband. A lot will depend on the acting abilites of Onata Aprile, the young actress the pair put in the lead role, but the premise still holds plenty of weight, over a century after James wrote the book, so this could turn out to be a hidden gem.
When? Toronto, at best guess.
"Wish You Were Here"
Synopsis: Expectant couple Alice and Dave travel to Cambodia on holiday with Alice's sister Steph and her boyfriend Jeremy, but Jeremy tragically disappears, leading to the revelation of shattering secrets.
What You Need To Know: Australian filmmaking collective Blue Tongue Films has turned a lot of heads in the last few years, thanks principally to excellent gangster tale "Animal Kingdom," and they're only likely to gain more attention now that member Joel Edgerton is on the rise. Before his role in "The Great Gatsby," he'll start off 2012 with the latest Blue Tongue production, helmed by Kieran Darcy-Smith, who had a supporting role in 'Kingdom.' With fellow rising star Teresa Palmer and the film's co-writer Felicity Price in support, the film looks extremely promising from the early trailer, and given the company's track record to date, this has to be one of the most anticipated films of the festival.
When? Sundance – 19th, 20th, 25th, 27th (Park City), 20th (SLC), 21st (Ogden)
Synopsis: A struggling writer passes off a lost manuscript as his own, only to find the decision coming back to haunt him.
What You Need To Know: Given that he became something of a superstar after "Limitless" and "The Hangover Part II" in 2011, kudos to Bradley Cooper for making his next film an indie, albeit one with more A-list talent than most. Written and directed by actor Brian Klugman and "Tron: Legacy" story-writer Lee Sternthal, this looks to be an unusually adult, literate kind of morality play, the kind of film that doesn't get made much anymore. And there's more than enough star wattage to sell it to audiences. Cooper is joined by Zoe Saldana, Olivia Wilde, Jeremy Irons, Dennis Quaid, Ben Barnes, Ron Rifkin, J.K. Simmons, John Hannah, Zeljko Ivanek and Michael McKean, which probably helps to explain its closing-night status. Klugman and Sternthal are pretty much unknown quantities, but their script has to be pretty strong to attract this many big names, right?
When? Sundance – 22nd & 23rd (Park City), 27th (Ogden), 28th (SLC).
Synopsis: Dolph Springer wakes up to discover that the only thing he loves in life, his dog, has disappeared. He sets out onto the L.A. streets to find him, encountering a variety of weird and wonderful characters along the way.
What You Need To Know: French filmmaker Quentin Dupiex, aka electro artist Mr. Oizo, had a bit of a midnight movie success with psychic-killer-tire-that-makes-heads-explode movie "Rubber" last year. While his follow-up might sound a little more down-to-earth, everything we've seen so far suggests otherwise, right down to the lead character's name — Dolph Springer (as played by TV actor Jack Plotnick). There's a few more recognizable faces in the mix, including Alexis Dziena and, most excitingly, a heavily-scarred, ponytailed William Fichtner, who's sure to steal the show. The Sundance catalogue promises another playful, rule-breaking piece of cinema, and, if nothing else, we're assured another banging soundtrack courtesy of Dupieux's alter ego, this time collaborating with French fuzzpop band Tahiti Boy and the Palmtree Family
When? Sundance – 21st, 24th, 26th and 27th (Park City,) 22nd (SLC.)
Honorable Mentions: Things that we didn't have quite the space for include "The Motel Life," which stars Dakota Fanning and Emile Hirsch, from the Polsky Brothers; "Yellow," which marks the return of Nick Cassavettes, with a cast led by Sienna Miller; "The Wait," with Chloe Sevigny and Jena Malone, about two sisters guarding their mother's body in case she comes back to life; and "The English Teacher," with Julianne Moore.
Also on the way from the U.S: the Jeff Buckley-themed drama "Greetings From Tim Buckley," starring Imogen Poots and Penn Badgley; porn biopic "Lovelace," with Amanda Seyfried and Peter Sarsgaard; ensemble drama "Disconnect," with Jason Bateman, Alexander Skarsgard, and Paula Patton; Billy Bob Thornton's return to direction with "Jayne Mansfield's Car" and "Ma George," from "Restless City" director Andrew Dosunmu.
And from across the pond, other entries include Felicity Jones in "Cheerful Weather For The Wedding"; Ken Loach's "The Angel's Share"; Irish drama "What Richard Did," from the acclaimed director of "Garage," Lenny Abrahamson; and horror combo "Cockneys Vs. Zombies" and "Tower Block," both from "Severance" writer James Moran.
– Oliver Lyttelton, Christopher Bell