Sundance is a ritual exercise of processing too much information at once — with 103 world premieres, including a large volume of films without distribution. Even without the full program announced—stay tuned later this week for a whole lot more—there are a lot of names that stand out among the directors and actors slated to draw attention in Park City. These include narrative competition entries like “The Overnight,” a comedy starring Taylor Schilling, Adam Scott and Jason Schwartzman, as well as “Compliance” director Craig Zobel’s “Z for Zachariah,” which features Chris Pine and Chiwetel Ejiofor in a post-apocalyptic love story. There are documentaries about endangered species (“The Cove” director Louie Psihoyos’ “Racing Extinction”) and playwright Larry Kramer (“Larry Kramer in Love and Anger”). Anne Thompson offers her overview here.
Some of these movies might be good or even great, but there’s a whole lot more material that doesn’t automatically jump off the page worth anticipating as well. Here are a few hidden gems from today’s announcement, with some input from Sundance director John Cooper and director of programming Trevor Groth. More news awaits.
Sarah Silverman Goes Dramatic
Sarah Silverman has been widely respected for her comedy chops ever since she surfaced in “The Aristocrats,” but her naughty routine has always hinted at a broader range in need of the right material. (Consider her subtler turn in Jeff Garlin’s charming “I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With.”) That potential may have finally come to fruition with the U.S. competition entry “I Smile Back,” the sophomore effort from director Adam Salky (2009’s “Dare”), in which she plays an unstable suburban mom at wit’s end. The plot involves her character going off meds, sleeping around and then trying to put her life back on track while faced with daunting odds. Sundance’s Cooper called it “a very intense dramatic film with a lot of empathy.” Groth added that it really showcases Silverman’s dramatic abilities. “It’s her movie—she’s in every frame as you’ve never seen her before,” he said. “She’s going to get a lot of attention. Where she takes this role will definitely surprise a lot of people.”
A Wild Movie About Kids Making Movies
Often at Sundance, a lot of heavyweight documentary filmmakers to dominate the Documentary Spotlight, while some of the more intriguing unknown quantities surface in competition. One of these possibilities appears to be “The Wolfpack,” the first documentary feature by New York-based filmmaker Crystal Moselle. The story centers on six teen brothers who, after spending a childhood locked away from the outside world — gradually become accustomed to their new reality. In solitude, they spend their time reenacting films such as “Reservoir Dogs” and, in one harrowing instance, John Carpenter’s “Halloween.” According to Cooper, “no matter how much you read about it, it’s going to sound odd.” The synopsis suggests a story told by the group’s oldest member, in which young men whose entire relationship to reality is defined by the movies they watch find that not everything they see in the pictures corresponds with the challenges in front of them.
Andrew Bujalski Directs…Guy Pearce?
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 competition. “Results,” which revolves around a pair of personal trainers who land an affluent client, stars Kevin Corrigan and Guy Pearce, which marks the biggest name talent in a Bujalski production to date. “I think it’s going to surprise people,” Groth said. “It’s a very specific film. When you see it, it makes sense that he made it, but you never would have guess that was the film he’d do. He’s trying something different, but it’s still his smart dialogue. Pearce is really funny and Corrigan is amazing.”
Bujalski’s naturalism always catches viewers off-guard because he actually scripts every word of it. Sundance’s programmers claim this one is no exception. “He’s so good at observation and making it look effortless,” Cooper said.
Another Borderline Breakout
The Borderline Films collective first made a big splash at Sundance with “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” followed by “Simon Killer.” Producer Josh Mond now steps into the director’s chair for his debut, “James White,” a delicate tale based on his own experiences with his mother’s death. “It’s a really personal story,” Cooper said, “and amazingly well-acted. He’s a solid filmmaker. I think he’s going to get a lot of critical acclaim for this.” Groth added that “it looks at something that everyone has gone through and presents it in such a unique way.”
Bobcat Goldthwait, Documentarian
Bobcat Goldthwait surprised a lot of people when he moved beyond his standup comedy career to become a serious filmmaker, with distinctively wacky and perceptive Sundance entries “Stay” and “World’s Greatest Dad.” Now he unites his two careers with a documentary in the U.S. competition, “Call Me Lucky,” which focuses on the career of bar comic Barry Crimmins who later became a peace activist. “His personal story is incredible, harrowing and really gets into the notion of where comedy comes from for standup comedians,” said Groth. “Bobcat’s a great storyteller. He understands audiences and knows how to deal with heavy issues through humor.”
A Little Film About Flight
Sundance launched its world cinema competitions 10 years ago and now Groth thinks it has really found its groove. But that doesn’t mean it gets enough attention. The U.S.-focused festival still tends to generate most of its attention for its American filmmakers. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of international offerings that hold potential. One of them is “The Summer of Sangaile,” a Lithuanian-French film directed by Alanté Kavaite about a teenage woman obsessed with stunt planes who forms a unique relationship with another young woman over the course of a summer aeronautics show. “When I’m looking for films for that section, I dream that it has all the elements this one has,” Groth said. “It’s a beautifully shot, really elegantly composed film but filled with young love and fresh characters. A lot of people obviously may not see it, but I’m going to do what i can to make sure they do.”