Well, here we are again — another Sundance Film Festival that I was unable to attend has come and gone. After last year’s festival, I had high hopes that I might be able to attend in 2012, but life got in the way (doesn’t it always?), so I was left to sit on my couch, voraciously following coverage of the festival I so desperately want to some day attend. Last year, to fight that terrible annual disease I call Sundance Envy, I put together a list of films screening at the festival that I was looking forward to seeing. I managed to see about half of them, with a few still in my Netflix queue, waiting to be viewed. And of those that I saw, some managed to be among my favorite films of last year (Take Shelter, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Another Earth, Win Win).
Sundance Envy has returned in full force this year, so I figured I’d do something useful with my obsessive following of Sundance coverage and put together a list of films that screened at this year’s festival that I am looking forward to seeing. I wonder how many of these films will wind up being my favorites at the end of the year? Sadly, no films screened at this year’s festival starring my two favorite humans, Michael Shannon and Tilda Swinton.
Films I’m Anticipating the Most:
Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present – Marina Abramović is one of my favorite artists and I was terribly disappointed that I had just missed seeing her restrospective at MOMA in 2010 (it closed on May 31st and I arrived in the city for vacation in mid-June). So I was thrilled when I first learned about this HBO documentary, directed by Matthew Akers, which takes a journey deep inside Abramović’s world. The film provides insight into her background and process, as well as extensively covering the MOMA retrospective, including giving the viewer the opportunity to experience what it would’ve been like to sit across from Abramović during one of the most remarkable performance pieces of her career. Since this film is an HBO documentary, it will air on the cable giant some time this year and I cannot wait to see it. (Note: the trailer below is a little NSFW.)
The Surrogate – Word on the street is that this could be the role that finally gets John Hawkes a Best Actor nomination. He definitely deserves more attention, as his performances in both Winter’s Bone and Martha Marcy May Marlene were incredible though, unfortunately, overshadowed by the performances of the newcomer actresses he co-starred with. But, from what I’ve been reading, his turn as a writer debilitated by polio who turns to a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) to help him lose his virginity is brilliant (he got a standing ovation at the film’s Sundance premiere) and should thrust him directly into the limelight, where he belongs. The Surrogate, which was acquired by Fox Searchlight for $6 million, will be one to keep an eye on — in addition to the audience and critical acclaim it has received thus far, it won the Audience Award, U.S. Dramatic and U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Ensemble Acting at the festival’s awards ceremony.
Liberal Arts – I really like Josh Radnor, who plays Ted Mosby on the sitcom How I Met Your Mother. Though I haven’t yet seen his directorial debut, happythankyoumoreplease (I have no excuse — a screener was sent to me months ago), I am really looking forward to his latest film, Liberal Arts, which he wrote and directed. In it, Radnor stars as Jesse, a 30-something man who, after being invited to return to his alma mater to speak at his favorite college professor’s retirement dinner, meets a beautiful sophomore named Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen) who stirs powerful feelings in him that he thought were long-dormant. The cast also includes Allison Janney, Richard Jenkins, Elizabeth Reaser, and Zach Efron, and was acquired by IFC Films for U.S. distribution.
Sleepwalk with Me — Mike Birbiglia is one of my favorite comedians, so I was very excited to learn a film was being made based on his stories of sleepwalking, one of which appeared on This American Life and inspired the film. Ira Glass, the host and driving force behind TAL and co-writer and producer of the film, is lobbying hard to get Sleepwalk with Me into as many theaters as possible; if you go to this page on the TAL site, you can express your desire to see the film open in your city by providing your zip code and email address. Sleepwalk with Me won the Best of Next award at the festival’s awards ceremony and it has gotten quite a bit of love from audiences, thus far. I’m hoping it does get a wide release this year and that Birbiglia gets the recognition he deserves as a brilliantly funny storyteller.
Searching for Sugar Man – Winner of the World Cinema Audience Award and the World Cinema Jury Special Prize, Documentary, Searching for Sugar Man seems to be the documentary most beloved at this year’s festival. It’s about two South African fans of ’70s rock musician Rodriguez who set out to learn the truth about him and his mysterious death. I’m a sucker for documentaries about musicians and documentaries that feature a “surprising revelation,” which Searching for Sugar Man promises, so I’m really looking forward to this one.
Beasts of the Southern Wild – By now, you may have heard everyone going batshit over this movie. It won the coveted Grand Jury Prize, Drama (as well as Excellence in Cinematography, U.S. Dramatic) at the festival’s awards ceremony and every review I’ve read has given it high praise. It’s about a father and his six-year-old daughter — whose names, Wink and Hushpuppy, are the best names ever — who live at the “edge of the world.” When Wink gets sick, Hushpuppy is forced to fend for herself as the universe unravels and she goes in search of her long-lost mother. I’m guessing that this movie’s buzz means that the indie world isn’t yet weary of end-of-the-world themed films.
For Ellen – I was blown away by the quiet beauty of writer/director So Yong Kim’s 2008 film Treeless Mountain, so when I heard that she had directed Paul Dano in a film about a rock musician battling his estranged wife (Jenna Malone) for custody of their young daughter, I was intrigued. I’m hearing that Dano gives his best performance yet in this movie, and that Yong Kim’s patient, deliberate style of storytelling works well with Dano’s acting style. Jon Heder co-stars and I’m curious to see him in a dramatic film (though, having not seen the film, I don’t know if he turns in a non-comedic performance).
Safety Not Guaranteed – The synopsis of this film, provided by Sundance, is as follows: “A trio of magazine employees investigate a classified ad seeking a partner for time travel. One employee develops feelings for the paranoid but compelling loner and seeks to discover what he’s really up to.” Sounds intriguing enough, right? Well, add to that the fact that the cast includes Aubrey Plaza, Jake M. Johnson, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Mark Duplass, Kristen Bell, and Jeff Garlin, and it’s even more intriguing. Apparently, the script, which won the festival’s Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for its writer, Colin Tevorrow, is based on a real classified ad that showed up in the “Headlines” segment of The Tonight Show. Regardless of the fact that it might have come about because of Jay Leno, I think Safety Not Guaranteed sounds like a lot of fun.
28 Hotel Rooms – In 28 Hotel Rooms, Chris Messina and Marin Ireland play two people who, though in relationships with other people, have a one-night stand that winds up evolving into something much more complicated. I’m interested in this film for two reasons: one, I think Messina is a wonderful, underrated actor and I’ve liked him in pretty much everything I’ve seen him in. And two, my friend, Dor, said it was one of her five favorite films of the festival (say that really fast 10 times), and I trust Dor’s taste implicitly.
Oslo, August 31st – I’ve heard that this film, about a day in the life of Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie), a recovering drug addict who takes a short leave from his drug treatment center to go on a job interview and visit friends in Oslo, was one of the most powerful, affecting films to screen at the festival. After watching the trailer, I can see why.
The Invisible War – It may sound strange to look forward to seeing a documentary about rape, and the subsequent cover-ups, within the U.S. military, but I am. It won the Audience Award, U.S. Documentary at the festival’s awards ceremony and I think its subject matter is very important and, though it may be difficult to discuss, I think it’s vital to do so. I have no doubt that watching this film will be an emotional experience.
Other films I’m looking forward to:
Celeste and Jesse Forever
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
The Queen of Versailles
The House I Live In
I Am Not a Hipster
For a Good Time Call…