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Here are the 14 Films We Can’t Wait to See at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival

Here are the 14 Films We Can't Wait to See at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival

Over 120 feature-length films will screen over the course of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, which launches this Thursday and runs until January 26. Before flying out to Park City to present our annual coverage of the event, Indiewire has weeded through the massive lineup to pick the 14 features we’re most excited to see. Below are our selections in alphabetical order.

Richard Linklater’s “Before” trilogy has enthralled audiences for almost
two decades, but it’s not the only time-based narrative that the
ambitious filmmaker has been guiding along. For years known only as
“Linklater’s 12 Year Project,” the latest addition to the Sundance lineup, “Boyhood,” is said to
have begun production in Houston in the summer of 2002 and reportedly
completed shooting in late 2013. The central drama involves a divorced
couple (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) and their impact on their son
(Ellar Salmon) as he grows from childhood to his teen years. The
experimental production has largely been shrouded in secrecy as
Linklater has returned to it each summer, but one can imagine based on
the director’s recent work that a thoughtful and tremulously innovative
analysis of human development is in store.

Dear White People
We’ve got a special interest in “Dear White People,” which was Indiewire
and Tribeca Film Institute’s first-ever Project of the Year. First-time
writer/director Justin Simien’s semi-autobiographical film centers on
four black students at an Ivy League college where a riot breaks out
over an “African American” themed party thrown by white students. We’re
hoping for a smart satire that explores racial identity. Although he’s
likely to be compared to another African-American Sundance-approved
filmmaker, Simien told Indiewire, “I’m not the next Spike Lee. I’m the
first me.”

“Dinosaur 13”
This opening night selection for the Sundance Film Festival contains the
irresistible qualities of being a non-fiction thriller about dinosaurs.
More specifically, Todd Miller’s look at the 1990 discovery of the
world’s most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton suggests an element of
intrigue that could be applied to all history no matter how distant. In
the aftermath of the excavation, the skeleton becomes the center of a
battle between the FBI and the National Guard, self-righteous museums
and passionate Native American tribes. If documentary can bring this war
to life with the same excitement and danger that the story entails, it
may very well rank among one of the more enticing stories of the year.
More than anything else, “Dinosaur 13” looks well-poised to tap into the
massive reverberations of far-flung history in the present moment.

Just as he (surely) receives his first Oscar nomination for “12 Years a
Slave,” Michael Fassbender will show audiences at Sundance his very
different follow-up. A comic take on the true story of Chris Sievey
(Fassbender), a comedian who decides to front a pop band via his alter
ego Frank Sidebottom (who hides under a cardboard head), “Frank” is a
long ways away from “12 Years a Slave.” Co-starring Maggie Gyllenhaal
and Domhnall Gleeson, the film is director Lenny Abrahamson’s follow-up
to the underrated “What Richard Did,” and should definitely be high on
the to-see lists of anyone heading to Sundance.

Finding Fela
Fela Kuti, the late Nigerian musician who spawned Afrobeat and the
political movement that accompanied it, has already inspired a
successful musical and there’s also a Hollywood biopic in the works. But
his Kuti’s story warrants the documentary treatment and Academy Award
winning documentarian Alex Gibney (“The Armstrong Lie”) is just the
director to bring it to life. From his musical legacy to his political
activism (Kuti was jailed on political grounds in Nigeria) to his love
life (he had many wives), Fela Kuti’s life should make a gripping
documentary – and the music is guaranteed to satisfy.

Happy Christmas
After going all star crazy with last summer’s
“Drinking Buddies,” Joe Swanberg is at it again, employing bankable
actors for his latest ensemble comedy, “Happy Christmas.” “Buddies” star
Anna Kendrick is back, alongside a roster of Swanberg newcomers
including Lena Dunham, Mark Webber and Melanie Lynskey. Working with “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
cinematographer Ben Richardson (who also shot “Drinking Buddies”), the
quintessentially digital-friendly Swanberg made “Happy Christmas” on
Super 16mm film, his first production to utilize the medium since film

I Origins
Mike Cahill’s debut feature, the sci-fi “Another Earth” won the Special
Jury Prize at Sundance ’11, and “I Origins” has already received the
Sundance stamp of approval. Not only will it premiere at the upcoming
fest, but the film also was the first-ever recipient of the Dolby Family
Sound Fellowship. Cahill wrote, directed, produced and edited the film
about a molecular biologist and his lab partner who discover evidence
that could have dramatic implications for society. We’re expecting some
stunning visuals and impressive sound design.

A new movie from “Humpday” filmmaker Lynn Shelton is always a welcome
prospect, and “Laggies” finds the director working with her highest
profile cast yet as well as making her first film penned by another
screenwriter — Andrea Seigel in her screenplay debut. 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). Shelton’s always been good about
belated coming of age stories — it should be fun to see how the often
very grown up Knightley does at letting loose.

Life Itself
It’s the first-ever feature-length documentary on the life of Roger
Ebert, which is enough of a reason for us to see it. But the fact that
it’s directed by Steve James (“Hoop Dreams”) and features interviews
with filmmakers such as Errol Morris, Werner Herzog, Ava DuVernay and
Martin Scorsese (who is one o the film’s executive producers), elevates
the film to must-see status. No doubt, it will cover Ebert’s early days
at the University of Illinois to his move to Chicago where he became the
first critic ever to win the Pulitzer Prize, and then to his time on
television where he became a household name alongside Gene Siskel. But
we’re most excited to see the way the film handles Ebert’s “third act,”
when he overcome disabilities and became an important voice on social
media, not to mention his ongoing love affair with his wife, Chaz Ebert.

Love is Strange
Two years after winning raves
for his “Keep The Lights On,” Ira Sachs is back with
another gay love story, though this doesn’t sound quite as
brutal as the semi-autobiographical “Lights.” “Love Is Strange” stars
John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as Ben and George, who after 39 years
together decided to take advantage of the new marriage laws and tie the
knot in New York City. On the return from their honeymoon, and
on account of their vows, Ben gets fired from his longtime job as a
choir director for a co-ed Catholic school. Suddenly, with no real
savings to count on, the couple finds that they can’t afford the rent on
their small Chelsea apartment. The film looks like an age demographic
not often served in LGBT cinema (or in any cinema, really) and we’re very
curious to see where Sachs takes us after keeping those lights on two
years ago.

The Raid 2: Berandal
Gareth Evans’ 2011 Indonesian action movie “The Raid: Redemption,” a
blisteringly fast-paced action story set entirely in the confines of an
apartment building, resulted in one of the most remarkable entries in
the genre to come along in years. Both the tale of a bumbling SWAT team
making its way through hordes of criminals and a relentless martial arts
experience, “The Raid” also managed to establish a keen contrast in
warring siblings Rama (Iko Wais), an unflappable police officer, and
Andi (Donny Alamsyah), a committed mob boss. They still haven’t worked
out their differences: Though the plot of “The Raid 2: Berandal” isn’t
entirely clear, we know that it begins relatively soon after the end of
the first movie and that the plot involves Rama going undercover as a
criminal to protect his family. That might sound like familiar turf, but
the trailer promises wall-to-wall action from start to finish — and
judging by the first movie, that means you may as well grow nails out,
because “The Raid 2” is likely to make you gnaw them to pieces.

The Trip to Italy
This follow-up to Michael Winterbottom’s road trip comedy, “The Trip,”
this semi-fictional film also re-teams stars Steve Coogan and Rob
Brydon. Following the pair on a driving tour of Italy from Liguria to
Capri as they talk about life, love and work, the film promises
spectacular scenery as well as lots of clever, off-the-cuff banter.

“While Bird in a Blizzard”
The first dramatic offering from Gregg Araki since his acclaimed 2005 film
“Mysterious Skin,” “White Bird in a Blizzard” is a late 1980s set tale
of a a young woman (Shailene Woodley) whose life is thrown into chaos
when her mother disappears. Based on the acclaimed novel by Laura
Kasischke, “Blizzard” will make its debut amidst the snow covered
mountains of Sundance, it could very well mark a turning point in the
career of Araki, who burst onto the scene at that very festival 21 years
ago with “The Living End.”

Wish I Was Here
Even if you weren’t a fan of Zach Braff’s directorial debut “Garden State,”
you might be charmed by his Kickstarter-funded follow-up effort which
stars Braff as a 35-year-old struggling actor, father and husband who
homeschools his two kids. The supporting cast alone – including Joey
Kimg, Kate Hudson, Mandy Patinkin, Josh Gad and Ashley Green – is enough
of a reason to check out the film, which managed to raise over $3
million on Kickstarter.

[Paula Bernstein, Peter Knegt, Eric Kohn, Nigel M. Smith and Alison Willmore contributed to this article.]

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