By Indiewire | Indiewire January 17, 2012 at 11:46AM
By now everyone's received their 2012 Sundance Film Festival catalogs and, if they look anything like ours, they're already well-thumbed and dog-eared. It's a hell of a thing, trying to figure out which films you need to see; at this point, before the buzz machines kick into gear, it's all intelligent guesswork. On the other hand, the calm before the storm is a good time to assess the landscape and see which films are among those you want to see just because you want to see them.
Indiewire will be on the scene the whole time, bringing you all the news, reviews and features one could possibly hope for. In the meantime, we're offering off this list of 15 films our staff are currently looking forward to in particular. Please note: As of Thursday we'll be spending the next 10 days doing almost nothing but looking out for the good stuff, so everything on this list is subject to change.
"2 Days in New York"
Remember when -- before it came out -- everyone thought Julie Delpy's "2 Days in Paris" simply looked like a bizarrely similar version of the "Before Sunrise"/"Before Sunset" films? Except without Richard Linklater or Ethan Hawke? But then it indeed came out, and we realized that despite the similar structures, "Paris" was a welcome extension of Delpy's collaborative efforts on the "Before" films, with a charm totally unique to itself. And like those films, Delpy has decide to give it the rare indie sequel treatment. This time she's bringing Chris Rock along for the ride and changing the setting from Paris to New York. [Peter Knegt]
Best as I can tell, Mads Brugger is well named. The filmmaker is a fearless madman, one with all the comedy and balls credited to Sacha Baron Cohen, only he pulls off his capers in sociological war zones. At Sundance 2010 it was North Korea with "The Red Chapel;" this time it's central Africa with "The Ambassador," with Brugger posing as the titular emissary. [Dana Harris]
Don't be fooled: "Bachelorette" isn't an indie film knockoff of "Bridesmaids," despite what you may have heard. For starters, "Bachelorette" marks the directorial debut of playwright Leslye Headland, a writer known for her biting wit and pull-no-punches approach to touchy subjects. If the film's inspiration -- Headland's play of the same name -- is any indication, "Bachelorette" will be a no-holds-barred portrait of women embarking on a self-destructive odyssey (alcohol, grudges, bulimia and bad boyfriends are all involved). Leading the impressive ensemble is Kirsten Dunst in her first post-"Melancholia" performance as Regan, an entitled beauty who is mortified to learn that the girl everyone called Pig Face in high school is getting hitched before her. "Bridesmaids" bit player Rebel Wilson (she played Kristin Wiig's invasive roommate) is said to steal every scene she's in as the bashful bride. [Nigel M. Smith]
Benh Zeitlin's 2008 short "Glory at Sea" (which you can watch online) announced the arrival of a new filmmaker with a majestic eye for magic realism. After generating acclaim on the festival circuit, Zeitlin landed a coveted spot in Sundance's screenwriting lab for his likeminded feature-length debut, "Beasts of the Southern Wild." Taking place entirely through the perspective of a six-year-old girl named Hushpuppy, the movie promises a capricious, lyrical experience driven by an immersive visual style and philosophical whims. The story involves Hushpuppy's father, Wink, falling ill while the physical world literally falls apart around him. In other words, climate change gets personal. [Eric Kohn]
Mark Duplass has proven himself to be adept at comedy, both in writing and directing. "Black Rock," directed by and starring his wife Katie Aselton, marks Duplass' first stab at a thriller (he penned the screenplay), so people are no doubt curious to see how he fares. It also marks new territory for Aselton, who until now has only directed the charming romantic comedy, "The Freebie." The plot's been kept under wraps, which only adds to the buzz and curiosity factor. What we know is that Aselton stars as one of three friends (Kate Bosworth and Lake Bell round out the cast) who venture off to a remote island in Maine to reconnect and be one with nature. Something happens that turns the weekend getaway into a fight for survival. Will Duplass forego any laughs in favor of an all-out "Deliverance" homage where the sexes have been reversed? [Nigel M. Smith]
"Bones Brigade: An Autobiography"
Call it a guilty pleasure, but I still love watching skateboarders, especially when Stacy Peralta's behind the camera. And this one stems from the "Bones Brigade Video Show" that Peralta shot in the early '80s with Tony Hawk, Lance Mountain and others. As his "Dogtown and Z-Boys" proved at Sundance back in 2001, Peralta has a singular talent for capturing four-wheeled death-defying feats and making all the action connect with the underlying stories behind these talented young men. [Dana Harris]
Park City at Midnight always boasts a batch of gruesome, twisted fare, but "Excision" seems set to take the cake this year. The film, from first-time feature director Richard Bates Jr., concerns Pauline ("90210" star AnnaLynne McCord), a high school student with dreams of a career in medicine. That makes her sound like kid with a great head on her shoulders. She's not. In her spare time, Pauline enjoys picking at her scabs, dissecting roadkill and having violent psychosexual fantasies. As a result, she's not so popular with her classmates. Traci Lords is said to give a great turn as her hapless mother and John Waters is rumored to make more than just a cameo appearance. What's not to like? [Nigel M. Smith]
"For a Good Time, Call..."
After multiple award-winning short films that played at Sundance and/or Toronto ("The Saddest Boy In The World," "The Armoire"), Jamie Travis makes his feature directorial debut with "For a Good Time, Call..." Following a welcome theme at this year's Sundance, the film is a female-driven comedy with some splashes of raunch (though, like "Bachelorette," it was conceived before the success of "Bridesmaids" so a copycat it's not). It follows two college "frenemies" forced to move into together after relationships and rent control fall apart. Intially an unpromising match, a dirty little business venture brings them together in a way neither ever imagined. [Peter Knegt]
"How to Survive a Plague"
Thankfully, many filmmakers, historians, and cultural critics have been working hard to preserve the legacy of the AIDS activist organization ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). In David France's exploration of the organization and another -- TAG (Treatment Action Group) -- shows how a group of activists learning the ins and outs of the medical industry on the fly took on the behemoth of the pharmaceutical industry. Using long-unseen archival footage, France shows what this ambitious and spectacle-oriented group of activists did when they thought Big Pharma was keeping drug treatments from people who couldn't afford it. [Bryce J. Renninger]
"Mosquita y Mari"
As Indiewire's resident Kickstarter addict, I watched the drama behind "Mosquita y Mari" unfold before my eyes. The film's $80,000 Kickstarter goal was $20,000 from being achieved 24 hours out from the campaign end. Filmmaker Aurora Guerrero has a trip to Sundance under her belt already, for the short "Pura Lingua." Guerrero's fresh directorial voice, showed off in the short and on display in the project's Kickstarter video, have made her title one of the most anticipated films in a very attractive NEXT lineup at this year's festival. [Bryce J. Renninger]
"The Queen of Versailles"
The opening-night film comes to Sundance with the kind of publicity for which Harvey Weinstein would pay dearly. However, Lauren Greenfield's genius move lay not in PR strategy but in her choice of subject. David Siegel's the kind of guy who not only thinks it's sensible to build a 90,000-square-foot mansion (just before the real estate bubble burst, as it happens), but also thinks it's a good idea to file a lawsuit threatening Greenfield and Sundance the week before the film premieres, complaining that the movie makes him look bad. (Never mind that the attendant press attention and public record about his $11 million foreclosure in May 2011, serves to make him look… well, bad.) All that aside, Greenfield also has an eye for candy-colored disaster that is never anything less than incisive and entertaining. [Dana Harris]
With over 100 new films debuting at Sundance, one would think it wouldn't be difficult to come up with a couple newbies for a "must see" list. But for a certain segment, it's hard to deny the appeal of Sundance's restored print screening of "Reality Bites" above anything else. For those born between, say, 1976 and 1986, this Ben Stiller-directed (and Emmanuel Lubezki-shot; who knew?) young adult comedy often comes up as a genuine classic. And many of us have never seen it on the big screen. So Sundance 2012 offers up that opportunity, and an opportunity for naysayers or people who have never seen it to give "Reality" a chance. [Peter Knegt]
"Red Hook Summer"
In a certain sense, "Red Hook Summer" is a return to form for Spike Lee. Based on Indiewire's interview with him earlier this week, I'm not quite sure he would agree. As an exciting new set of depictions of New York on screen have cropped up, many of them by Lee's proteges like Dee Rees ("Pariah") and Rashaad Ernesto Green ("Gun Hill Road"), it's high time for Lee to join them and return to Brooklyn. Don't we all want to see what Lee's particular brand of heightened New York realism peppered with fantastical formal flourishes looks like in 2012? It bodes well that Lee's "Do the Right Thing" character Mookie makes a return in this film. [Bryce J. Renninger]
"Searching for Sugar Man"
There have been innumerable rock docs about faded stars attempting to regain their fame. (At this year's Sundance, see the LCD Soundsystem portrait "Shut Up and Play the Hits" for the latest example.) But "Searching for Sugar Man" promises to explore somewhat different terrain. Malik Bendjelloul's documentary focuses on the neglected '70s American rocker Rodriguez, whose work never landed a following on the musician's home turf but somehow garnered a massive fan base in South Africa, where he became elevated to iconic status. Long thought dead, Rodriguez provides a tantalizing mystery that Bendjelloul sets out to unravel with allegedly enthralling results. If the movie works as well as some who have seen it say, "Sugar Man" has the potential to alter Rodriguez's status in the U.S. and beyond. [Eric Kohn]
French director Quentin Dupieux--also known as the DJ artist Mr. Oizo--last caught the attention of the film world with the highest high concept to hit theaters last year with the outrageously meta "killer tire movie" known as "Rubber." Love it or hate it, "Rubber" was an utterly unique exploration of cinematic narrative, a riotous takedown of Hollywood formula and unapologetically amused with itself from start to finish. Now Dupieux has made a movie seemingly eager to state its edginess in title alone: "Wrong," which stars William Fictner and Steve Little, apparently involves one man's quixotic journey to find his missing dog. Early buzz suggests that Dupieux really brought the crazy this time out, and the official synopsis makes it sound that the story really tracks the dissolution of its protagonist's sanity. If "Wrong" has the loony spirit its early trailer implies, it might have gotten everything right. [Eric Kohn]