By Peter Knegt, Eric Kohn and Nigel M. Smith | Indiewire January 16, 2014 at 1:53PM
With the 2014 Sundance Film Festival kicking off tonight, the quality of this year's lineup will gradually emerge in our daily coverage. However, for buyers at the festival, the question is less about the quality of various movies and more about their marketability. While the festival runs ten days, only a handful of movies in the main lineup have generated serious interest for distributors at this early stage. Here's a look at ten contenders.
"Cold In July"
Why It Should Sell Big: Director Jim Mickle's cannibal shocker "We Are What We Are" was the toast of Sundance's midnight section last year before it went on to play at Cannes. Shifting genres slightly, Mickle's pulpy noir about the father of a burglar taking revenge on the man who killed him co-stars Michael C. Hall and Sam Shepherd, suggesting a moody showcase of great performances tied with a suspenseful story with broad accessibility.
Why It Should Sell Big: The presence of Michael Fassbender is always helpful, even if its a very different different Michael Fassbender from what we're used to. In this dark comedy, he plays a musical genius with who wears a giant paper mache head.. Co-starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Domhnall Gleeson, it could be the kind of quirky film that draws bidding wars.
Why It Should Sell Big: A new movie from Lynn Shelton is always a welcome prospect, and "Laggies" finds the director working with her highest profile -- and marketable -- cast yet. Here Keira Knightley stars as a woman who, after her boyfriend (Mark Webber) proposes, lies about going on a business trip in order to spend time with her new teenage friend (Chloë Grace Moretz). It sounds like a promising premise, and having Knightley and Moretz on board should help sell it to buyers.
"Life After Beth"
Why It Should Sell Big: A zombie comedy with Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, Anna Kendrick and John C. Reilly. How can you go wrong? "I Heart Huckabee" writer Jeff Baena's debut involves a young man who keeps his zombified girlfriend locked up at home, which sounds to us like "Shawn of the Dead" meets "Warm Bodies" -- not an unattractive combo when you consider the lasting appeal of "Parks and Rec."
"The Skeleton Twins"
Why It Should Sell Big: Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are far from an unfamiliar screen presence, but this drama from "True Adolescents" director Craig Johnson (produced by the Duplass brothers) finds the typically comedic duo in decidedly more complex terrain as the eponymous twins working on rejuvenating their relationship. Both former SNL castmembers have been steadily complicating their acting roles of late, and this presumably low key character piece might be just the thing to bring them broader acclaim.
Why It Should Sell Big: Anne Hathaway follows up her Oscar winning performance in "Les Miserables" with another music-oriented film: Kate Barker-Froyland's "Song One," the story of a young archaeologist (Hathaway) who strikes up a relationship with her injured brother's favorite musician. Hathaway's not always a sure thing at the box office (see the similarly titled "One Day") but "Song One" would still have to be pretty bad for a major distributor not to want to jump on it.
"They Came Together"
Why It Should Sell Big: Because it's a romantic comedy starring two of the most talented and in demand comedic performers working today: Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd. Directed by comedian David Wain, who directed the cult classic "Wet Hot American Summer," "They Came Together" stars Rudd as a corporate executive for a mega candy store chain who falls for the owner (Poehler) of a small sweet shop. Folks lapped up "You've Got Mail" and this sounds like it's in the same wheelhouse, so expect this comedy to be one of the hot bids of the festival.
Why It Should Sell Big: A feature-length reprise of Damien Chazelle's crowd-pleasing short, "Whiplash" is expected to kick off Sundance to a rousing start when it opens the event tonight. The drama centers on an aspiring young drummer who suffers emotional abuse at the hands of his sadistic, drill-sergeant of a band teacher (J.K. Simmons). "Whiplash" has all the right credentials to become breakout: It stars "The Spectacular Now" star Miles Teller who stars this month alongside Zach Efron and Sundance alum Michael B. Jordan in "That Awkward Moment," has a "Rocky"-esque storyline, and boasts Jason Reitman (“Juno,” "Up in the Air") and Jason Blum ("The Reader," "Paranormal Activity") as executive producers.
"White Bird in a Blizzard"
Why It Should Sell Big: The first dramatic offering from Gregg Araki since his acclaimed 2005 film "Mysterious Skin," has a secret weapon: Shailene Woodley, who could become huge in 2014 thanks to "Divergent" and "The Fault in Her Stars." Might be smart for a distributor to assume that happens, especially if "Blizzard" -- which follows a young woman (Woodley) whose life is thrown into chaos when her mother disappears -- is as good a film as we've come to expect from Araki.
"Wish I Was Here"
Why It Should Sell Big: Zach Braff courted controversy for hitting up Kickstarter to help fund his long-awaited follow-up to "Garden State," "Wish I Was Here," and while many derided the move, it also brought a ton of attention to the indie. Couple that with the fact that his many loyal fans (Braff boasts over a million Twitter followers) broke Kickstarter records to make his dream a reality and there's no doubt that distributors will be lining up to bid on Braff's latest. Adding to Braff's star allure are his co-stars in the film, Kate Hudson, Jim Parsons and Ashley Greene.