Morgan Neville (along with co-director Robert Gordon) returns to Sundance with his first film since his Academy Award-winning "20 Feet from Stardom." Relying on archival footage and insightful interviews, "Best of Enemies" looks back at the explosive 1968 televised debates between liberal Gore Vidal and conservative William F. Buckley, Jr. The lively debates, which gave ABC News the ratings they so desperately needed at the time, were not only a battle of wits, but they were also a precursor to the wall-to-wall punditry which dominates cable television news today. Though it's unlikely that "Best of Enemies" will take off as a mainstream hit the way that "20 Feet" did, the film is sure to prompt discussions about the role of television in politics -- and the political rift that divided the country back in 1968 and has only deepened since.
Academy Award-winning Sundance veteran Alex Gibney ("Finding Fela") returns to Park City with this exposé about Scientology based on Pulitzer Prize-winning Lawrence Wright's nonfiction book. Featuring interviews with eight former members of the church, the documentary, not surprisingly, has already been challenged by the Church of Scientology International (with a full page ad in The New York Times, no less). Anticipating trouble, HBO, which is set to air the documentary in March, reportedly had 160 lawyers look at the film to make sure "Going Clear" is in the clear. As far as we're concerned, Alex Gibney plus Lawrence Wright plus Scientology plus controversy equals gripping cinema.
"I Am Michael"
Director: Justin Kelly
After writing and directing music videos, Justin Kelly makes the transition to feature with the help of mentor Gus Van Sant. Written and directed by Kelly and based on Benoit Denizen-Lewis' New York Times Magazine article "My Ex-Gay Friend," the drama tells the controversial story of a gay activist who becomes a Christian pastor. And who else but James Franco could play such a part? We're expecting nothing less than a gripping exploration of love, desire, religion and betrayal.
Director: Noah Baumbach
"Frances Ha" duo Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig are back with their second under-the-radar offering. Not much is known about the comedy apart from the fact that it stars Gerwig as an outgoing young woman who invades the life of her soon-to-be stepsister (played by "Gone Girl" breakout Lola Kirke). Gerwig excels at playing larger than life personas, and she created true magic with Baumbach in "Frances Ha." We have a feeling lightening struck twice with this duo. Fox Searchlight snatched up rights to distribute the comedy earlier this month, which bodes of good things to come.
In 2012, Rodney Ascher's oddball collage of conspiracy theories surrounding the meaning of Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" came out of nowhere to become the great discovery of Sundance that year. Now Ascher has shifted gears from focusing on a nightmarish fiction to the real-deal: "The Nightmare" explores the phenomenon of sleepwalking in numerous subjects, exploring the eerie state of being trapped between waking and dreaming worlds. The film reportedly uses reenactments to replicate the often horrific visions experienced by those afflicted with the condition — including the filmmaker himself. Just as "Room 237" took a bizarre premise and turned it into a compelling portrait of obsession, "The Nightmare" (which screens in Sundance's midnight section) is likely to give viewers a wholly original look at its disturbing malady.
A few years ago, when the term "mumblecore" was rampant, many of the filmmakers looped into this loosely defined American indie movement were left out of the Sundance equation. That included Andrew Bujalski, whose perceptive dramedies "Funny Ha Ha," "Mutual Appreciation" and "Beeswax" played elsewhere. The festival accommodated the director's delightfully offbeat "Computer Chess" two years back, and now he's made his way into the U.S. competition. "Results," which revolves around a pair of personal trainers who land an affluent client, stars Kevin Corrigan and Guy Pearce — marking the biggest name talent in a Bujalski production to date. We've been tracking Bujalski's unique penchant for observational comedy for years; here's hoping "Results" provides an excuse for the rest of the world to take notice, too.
"Sleeping With Other People"
Director: Leslye Headland
A story about the will-they-won't-they platonic relationship between a charming womanizer (Jason Sudeikis) and a serial cheater (Alison Brie) may sound like a giant rom-com cliché, but you should never underestimate the edgy charms of former playwright Leslye Headland. The writer-director's 2012 debut, "Bachelorette," had the misfortune of following in the footsteps of the similarly themed blockbuster "Bridesmaids," but the NYU Tisch graduate showed a promising comic spirit that was feistier and more fearless than any Melissa McCarthy poop-in-the-sink joke. Last February, her raunchy screenplay for the Kevin Hart-starring "About Last Night" was a delightful surprise as it confidently walked the line between naughty and crude without ever indulging in crass immaturity. Given the talented ensemble and the starry Sundance premiere the director has lined up for "Sleeping With Other People," this rom-com will be Headland's biggest break yet and we can't wait to see how she pulls it off. Luckily for Headland, the lovely Alison Brie ("Community") is poised for a star-making turn of her own, and we're hopeful these two ladies will be a match made in comedy heaven.