Director: Larry Fessenden
Cast: Daniel Zovatto, Bonnie Dennison, Chris Conroy
Release date: None yet, but it could find a way into SXSW's midnight lineup. The Chiller network has already lined up a deal to broadcast the movie.
Why It Might Be a Must-See: Seven years have passed since indie horror guru Fessenden's last feature, the global warming cautionary tale "The Last Winter," which itself arrived five years after Fessenden's "Wendigo." The director likes to take his time on projects while fostering a new generation of filmmakers inclined toward spooky narratives, like Ti West. But Fessenden, an outspoken environmentalist, is also guided by activist impulses, which makes the various monsters populating his movies into potent symbols. "Beneath" follows a group of high school seniors stuck on a rowboat and attacked by man-eating fish, which sounds like the cheesy backbone for anyone but Fessenden, whose track record suggests he can deliver something alternately spooky and insightful. [Eric Kohn]
"The Bling Ring"
Director: Sofia Coppola
Cast: Leslie Mann, Emma Watson and Taissa Farmiga
Distributor: None yet, but expect that to change shortly.
Release Date: Likely sometime this summer should it find a distributor. It's rumored to open in France during June via Pathe.
Why Might It Be A Must See: Following her Venice award-winning quiet character study "Somewhere," Sofia Coppola is back with "The Bling Ring," a film that on paper seems like fresh ground for the Oscar-winner. While still centered on the wealthy class like "Lost in Translation," "Marie Antoinette" and "Somewhere," "The Bling Ring" is essentially a crime caper, a genre Coppola has never mined before. The film is based on the true story of a group of rich Californian teens who decided to start a heist gang and begin robbing celebrity's houses (including those of Lindsay Lohan and Megan Fox). Lohan doesn't star, but Emma Watson does, along with Leslie Mann in a project that's has nothing to do with Judd Apatow. [Nigel M. Smith]
Director: Lee Daniels
Cast: Alex Pettyfer, Alan Rickman, John Cusack, Robin Williams, James Marsden, Liev Schreiber, Forest Whitaker, David Oyelowo, Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave, Jesse Williams, Melissa Leo, Mariah Carrey and Oprah Winfrey
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Release Date: Likely sometime in the fall to capitalize on awards season.
Why Might It Be A Must See: That cast. There's no film coming out in 2013 with a cast as esteemed and massive as the crop that appears in Lee Daniels' follow-up to his supremely divisive "The Paperboy." Inspired by Wil Haygood's Washington Post article about a black man who served as White House butler to eight presidents over three decades, "The Butler" boasts a script by Daniels and Emmy-winner Danny Strong ("Game Change"), and has Harvey Weinstein backing it as a hopeful awards contender. While "The Paperboy" failed to crossover in the way his Oscar-winning "Precious" did, there's still no denying the producer-turned-filmmaker is one of the best in the business when it comes to eliciting unexpected performances from his actors -- Nicole Kidman in "The Paperboy," Mariah Carey" in "Precious" and Helen Mirren in "Shadowboxer" are all testaments to that. With "The Butler"'s exceptional cast, chances are there will be more than a few worth singling out. [Nigel M. Smith]
Director: Kyle Patrick Alvarez
Cast: Jonathan Groff, Corey Stoll, Casey Wilson, Troian Bellisario, Denis O'Hare
Distributor: None as of yet.
Release Date: Premiering in competiiton at Sundance. Word on distribution and release date should follow soon after.
Why Might It Be a Must See: 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 -- will begin production in October 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]
"Dallas Buyers Club"
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Steve Zahn, Dallas Roberts
Distributor: None as of yet.
Release Date: Look for it to be a world premiere at a major festival (Cannes seems iffy, but surely Toronto if not). If reviews are strong, it should be released for Oscar consideration by end of year.
Why Might It Be a Must See: Considering how few major American narrative films have tackled HIV/AIDS history -- especially in the past decade or so -- it's definitely a bit unnerving on the surface to see one finally arrive that tackles the epidemic, by from the real life perspective of a womanizing, homophobic man who, in 1986 was diagnosed with full blown HIV/AIDS. The real-life story sees him come to terms with his homophobia through his experiences smuggling alternative medicine with an HIV positive transexual woman (played by Jared Leto). Which could prove a bit trying if it overdoes a tolerance theme. But the director (Quebec's Jean-Marc Vallée, who made "C.R.A.Z.Y."), and the cast (Matthew McConaughey plays the lead) are promising enough to let us have hope this doesn't turn into a "Philadelphia" for the 2010s. [Peter Knegt]
Director: Atom Egoyan
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Colin Firth, Amy Ryan, Elias Koteas, Stephen Moyer, Alessandro Nivola
Distributor: none yet
Release Date: none yet, though an acquisition in the first half of the year would give it time for a late Fall awards run
Why Might It Be a Must See: Egoyan is a versatile filmmaker whose canted storytelling techniques often bring an extra element to his typically dark stories of flawed people wrestling with their own morality. The infamous case of the West Memphis Three provides fascinatingly rich material for his kind of cinematic dissection. While they’ve been well covered in four documentaries, this is the first time that the horrifying murders and their effect on the community will be tackled in a fiction format. That the ongoing real-life story continues to provide twists and surprises gives Egoyan’s film a timeliness that should increase its appeal with moviegoers. [Jay A. Fernandez]