By Indiewire | Indiewire January 15, 2013 at 12:26PM
In just 2 days the 2013 Sundance Film Festival will kick off in Park City, Utah, and as per usual the Indiewire team will be on the scene offering a vast array of news, reviews and features on the 100+ feature films screening at the fest.
We've also decided to offer up this list of 20 of those films that are we anticipating in particular. Though the great thing about the fest is how the standouts often end up being films you'd never expect (how many folks had heard much about "Beasts of the Southern Wild" going into last year's festival?). So while we'll definitely be checking out the following, it might end up being a film that's totallly not on our radar that ends up being Sundance's big breakout.
Not flinching from the hot-button issue of abortion, filmmakers Martha Shane and Lana Wilson provide a firsthand glimpse of the four doctors still performing third-term abortions after the murder of Dr. George Tiller by an anti-abortion ativist in 2009 in Wichita, Kansas. The film has unprecedented access in showing the ins-and-outs of these four doctors' lives. Sundance is known for showing excellent films that don't shy away from controversial topics. Perhaps "After Tiller" will be in that Sundance canon. [Bryce J. Renninger]
Signs are pointing to David Lowery's feature film debut "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" being a strong contender in the U.S. Dramatic Competition, thanks in huge part to the presence of in-demand Academy Award-nominee Rooney Mara. This is the actress, who after working with David Fincher on "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," has chosen to work under such revered authors as Spike Jonze, Steven Soderbergh and Terrence Malick. Lowery's in great company. "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" finds Mara playing one half of a young outlaw couple (her beau is played by Casey Affleck) who, at the outset of the drama, is apprehended by lawmen following a brutal shootout. The film then proceeds to track Affleck's journey to reunite with his love and newborn child. [Nigel M. Smith]
Arguably the most anticipated film of the festival, the second sequel to Richard Linklater's beloved 1995 "Before Sunrise" (and first to his perhaps even more beloved 2004 film "Before Sunset"), "Before Midnight" reunites us with Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) almost two decades after they met on a train bound for Vienna. Now in their early forties, "Midnight" finds them reuniting in Greece and likely facing a time contraint related to 12am, though not much is officially known. Frankly, the less known the better as we enter the third chapter of one of the great love stories of American indie cinema. [Peter Knegt]
Several years ago, "The Cove" became a Sundance breakout story with its shocking revelations about the dolphin slaughter. This time around, documentarian Gabriela Cowperthwaite's "Blackfish" looks poised to boost a similar dialogue about the mistreatment of captive orcas. For decades, much of the world took killer whale theme parks for granted before facing a frightening wakeup call when at least one disgruntled animal killed several trainers. Cowperthwaite focuses on the life of that whale, Tilikum, with an exposé that promises a blend of haunting footage and testimonies that are likely ensure you'll never go to Seaworld again. [Eric Kohn]
For the first time ever, a David Sedaris story will become a movie! "C.O.G." -- a short story from Sedaris' best-selling 1997 essay collection Naked -- comes from writer-director Kyle Patrick Alvarez, who won the "Someone To Watch" Indie Spirit Award for his 2009 directorial debut "Easier Than Practice." The story is based on Sedaris' experiences in his late 20s when he went to go work as an apple picker in the orchards of Oregon. Once there he found himself at odds with the locals and the religious right... It's a great story, and hopefully a great movie that kicks off more in the way of Sedaris adaptation. [Peter Knegt]
“The Crash Reel”
Frequent Sundance presence Lucy Walker (“Devil’s Playground,” 2002; “Waste Land,” 2010) returns with a new documentary about the exhilaration and peril of extreme sports. She builds her story around champion snowboarder Kevin Pearce, who suffered a severe brain injury while training to take on Shaun White at the 2010 Winter Olympics – on a Park City mountain, of all places. Despite the film’s potentially maudlin subject matter, Walker may have delivered her most crowd-pleasing experience, as the joy of the athletes’ risk-taking shines through loads of vérité footage even as danger surrounds them. [Jay A. Fernandez]
One of two films returning Chilean writer-director Sebastian Silva has in the program (the other is the Park City at Midnight selection “Magic Magic”), “Crystal Fairy” follows an obnoxious American traveling through Chile who picks up a “radical spirit” named Crystal Fairy and takes the woman along on his quest to sample a rare hallucinogen. The film promises to show a very different performance from Michael Cera as the insensitive protagonist (Cera also stars in “Magic Magic”). But we’re eager to see any new work from Silva, whose arresting drama “The Maid” took the world cinema grand jury prize at Sundance in 2009. [Jay A. Fernandez]
"Cutie and the Boxer"
Five years in the works, "Cutie and the Boxer" marks the directorial debut of promising New York-based documentary filmmaker Zachary Heinzerling, who was selected as one of 25 filmmakers for the New York Film Festival's Emerging Visions program back in 2011. The intimate sounding doc profiles Ushio and Noriko Shinohara, married Japanese artists living in New York who have been together for 40 years. At the film's outset, Ushio and Noriko are in the midst of preparing a joint exhibit. Using the event as a springboard, Heinzerling delves into the couple's surprising back-story to reveal a look at the sacrifices Noriko made to further Ushio's career. [Nigel M. Smith]
Ryan Coogler's feature-length debut revolves around a twentysomething Bay Area resident over the course of an increasingly problematic New Year's Eve in 2008, when virtually every bit of good the young man tries to do goes wrong. The story promises a gradual descent into chaos within a constrained setting rooted in a single likable guy. That's a good starting point for an actor's showcase, which "Fruitvale" might be: It stars "Chronicle" star Michael B. Jordan alongside Octavia Spencer and several others. [Eric Kohn]
Last year, we got an early look at the footage from "Interior. Leather Bar." when a short version of James Franco and Travis Mathews' film screened in a New York fashion boutique. By creating a situation where a group of men get together to recreate the lost scenes from William Friedkin's seminal -- and controversial -- "Cruising," "Interior. Leather Bar." is an incredible investigation of masculinity and sexuality. We're incredibly excited to see how this hybrid doc pans out in feature-length form. Like Mathews' previous films ("I Want Your Love," "In Their Room," "Do I Look Fat?"), "Interior. Leather Bar." is a searing look at men's relationship to their sexuality, to other men, and to the world around them. [Bryce J. Renninger]
"Kill Your Darlings"
The casting is enough to make you stop in your tracks: Danielle Radcliffe is Allen Ginsberg; Ben Foster is William S. Burroughs; Jack Huston is Jack Kerouac. Michael C. Hall, Kyra Sedgwick, Jennifer Jason Leigh, David Cross and Elizabeth Olsen also star. The film follows the Beat Generation poets as they have to deal with the aftermath when one of their own, Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan) kills a man. The film, directed by first-time feature filmmaker John Krokidas, is in the fest's US Dramtic Comptition. [Bryce J. Renninger]
For anyone who missed Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato’s documentary “Inside Deep Throat” (which played Sundance in 2005), this fictional account of the heartbreaking life and groundbreaking times of Linda Lovelace should illuminate the cultural explosion that was the pornographic crossover sensation “Deep Throat.” The Oscar-winning Epstein (“Howl,” “The Times of Harvey Milk”), along with Friedman, his frequent collaborator, here tackle their richest material yet. And while the film has an eyebrow-raising cast (Peter Sarsgaard!, James Franco!, Sharon Stone!, Chloe Sevigny! Eric Roberts!), all eyes will be on Amanda Seyfried as the titular damsel in undress, and whether she can elevate her status in Hollywood by nailing a challenging role in a film that must toe a very fine line without slipping into the same sleaze it’s depicting. [Jay A. Fernandez]
Tyler Ross, last seen as Nate in "Nate & Margaret," stars in this curious-sounding feature-length debut of writer-director David Andalman, in which the great-great-grandson of Al Jolson wanders around the DC area trying to become a black man (or at least his mangled idea of what a black man should be). Making matters worse, he also suffers through a series of sexual misadventures. Early buzz suggests the movie is very funny, a feat already accomplished by the premise alone. One assumes there will be plenty of sagging and terrible hip hop imitations in store. [Eric Kohn]
"Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer"
Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin’s new doc takes on the controversial trial of the radical feminist activists Pussy Riot. The group had risen up against the legitimacy of Vladimir Putin’s 2011 re-election, famously entering Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior singing “Mother Mary, Banish Putin!” That event led to the arrest and eventual sentencing of three members of the group for hooliganism, which in itself led to an international outcry of support to free Pussy Riot. Lerner and Pozdorovkin's doc provides considerable access to the group as they stand trial and provides a window into the serious injustices of the Russian legal system. [Peter Knegt]
Calvin Lee Reeder has been a regular at Sundance in recent years, first with a series of terrifically unnerving midnight short films and then moving up to the feature-length arena with a deranged genre whatsit called "The Oregonian." His latest effort, which has the same name as his 2008 short film, follows the titular ex-prisoner as he travels a strange American landscape in search of his brother while encountering a series of inexplicable incidents along the way. Reeder's films have as much in common with experimental film as they do conventional horror, a trademark approach that "The Rambler" is destined to reflect. [Eric Kohn]
The best film to play in last year's Midnight Madness section, the anthology found-footage horror film "V/H/S," gets a sequel just a mere few months after opening in theaters and on VOD via Magnolia Pictures. While the initial installment featured shorts helmed by an impressive array of up-and-coming indie talent like Joe Swanberg, Ti West, Radio Silence and the like, the latest entry also boasts a formidable crop that includes Gareth Evans ("The Raid"), Eduardo Sanchez ("The Blair Witch Project"), Adam Wingard ("You're Next"), Timo Tjahjanto ("Macabre") and Jason Eisener ("Hobo With a Shotgun") -- boding well for overall quality of the product. We're expecting horror of the highest and most creative order from this promising crew. [Nigel M. Smith]
Ponsoldt is three-for-three with Sundance — his debut “Off the Black” screened there in 2006, and his follow-up, “Smashed,” played in competition in 2012. This latest tells the story of a self-confident, party-hardy high school senior and a sensitive “good girl” who meet cute and develop a relationship with mixed consequences. The mix of Ponsoldt, who has a way with modestly scaled, realistic drama, and the imaginative writers of “(500) Days of Summer,” forecasts a unique coming-of-age movie. That it features Shailene Woodley in her first big-screen appearance since her remarkable turn in “The Descendants” — along with the ever-riveting Jennifer Jason Leigh — is a major bonus. [Jay A. Fernandez]
Lynn Shelton is following up her acclaimed "Your Sister's Sister" with "Touchy Feely," which reunites her with her one of her "Sister" stars, Rosemarie DeWitt. DeWitt -- playing a massage therapist who suddenly finds the human body repulsive -- is joined by Ellen Page, Ron Livingston, Josh Pais, Scott McNairy and Allison Janney in the film. Featuring multiple storylines, it's a departure from the focused three person narratives of both "Sister" and its predecessor, "Humpday." But there's no reason to suggest Shelton isn't game for this evolution. [Peter Knegt]
Rising indie darling Amy Seimetz stars with writer-director-producer-composer Shane Carruth for his second film after 2004's "Primer." In the film, Seimetz is drugged by a thief and subsequently spirals out of control when she encounters an otherworldly microscopic disrupter of life. After gaining notice for her own "Sun Don't Shine" (which topped Indiewire's Best Unreleased Film poll), "Silver Bullets," "Tiny Furniture," "Gabi On the Roof in July," the indie world is rooting for Seimetz. The do-it-all story behind Carruth's filmmaking and its complicated premise are also definitely raising eyebrows for this US Dramtic Competition entry. [Bryce J. Renninger]
There isn't a documentary playing in the U.S. Documentary Competition likely to be more timely than "Valentine Road," which hones in on the fallout of 14-year old Brandon McInerney's decision to shoot eighth grade classmate Larry King in their school's computer lab. In the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, all eyes will be on Marta Cunningham's documentary to deliver some form of catharsis and/or hope at the end of the tunnel. Most tantalizingly (and possibly controversially), the film is said to focus a good deal on showcasing how much Brandon and Larry both had in common. [Nigel M. Smith]