The 2011 Sundance Film Festival kicks off today in Park City, Utah.After along drought, in which festival darlings were flopping at the box office ,two alums of Sundance '10 The Kids AreAll Right and Winter's Bone arecurrently doing quite well for themselves, both critically and commercially. Sowhich films should we be paying attention to this year?
With the caveat that predicting the success of movies that have (forthe most part) yet to be screened is a mug's game, here are seven films whose fortunes seem bright andbuzzy.
BeingElmo: A Puppeteer's Journey
Everyone loves Elmo. I love him even more now that I know he's voicedby a 50-year-old black man. Don't you?
The long-awaited follow up to Miranda July's debut movie, 2005's much-loved Me and You and Everyone We Know . It's the Amelie- ish-sounding story of a thirty-something couple who are onthe verge of adopting a terminally-ill cat who narrates the film anddecide to quit their jobs and enjoy a last month of freedom before shoulderingtheir new responsibility.
The directorial debut of Up inthe Air actress Vera Farmiga, who also stars, Higher Ground is an adaptation of ThisDark World , Carolyn S. Briggs's memoir about falling in with and thenleaving-a "radical, apocalyptic, New Testament church." Religious extremismseems to be a common theme this year: MarthaMarcy May Marlene , about ayoung woman trying to reintegrate into her family after being brainwashed by acult, is getting good early buzz. (It stars Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen's littlesister!) There's also TheSound of My Voice , about a Los Angeles couple that joins an undergroundcult run by a mysterious, beautiful young woman. (It boasts a soundtrack by hotindie band Vampire Weekend the director and co-writer's brother is one of itsmembers.) Finally, Kevin Smith's hotly-tipped horror film RedState , which starscurrent Oscar frontrunner Melissa Leo , centers on a fundamentalist pastorsaid to be based on Westboro Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps. Predictably, thegroup is planningprotests in Salt Lake City this weekend.
This comedy is currently the buzziest film of the festival, accordingto the Sundance Web site'srankings (which tabulate the number of people who have added the film totheir online calendar). Paul Rudd plays an impressivelybearded idealist rotating among the homes of his three sisters, played byindie darlings Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer, and Elizabeth Banks. Alicia VanCouvering, an editor at FilmmakerMagazine and producer of Lena Dunham's Tiny Furniture , tells Brow Beatthat she thinks this will be "a big sale and a big crowd-pleaser." We just hopethis role finally does Rudd somejustice . (Media types may be interested to know that the film was directedby Jesse Peretz, son of The New Republic's MartyPeretz , and co-written by Jesse's sister, Vanity Fair contributor Evgenia.)
PageOne: A Year Inside the New York Times
Journalists: We like to talk about ourselves. Expect us to do a lot oftalking and pontificating on the state of our beleaguered industry if thisdocumentary makes it into wide release. The film was originally supposed tofollow David Carr (described in the official festival summary as "salty DavidCarr") but it then expandedto the entire media desk . Hopefully this will be in the vein of The September Issue , the well-reviewed documentary about Vogue .
Based on some rough footage, HBO's high-powered documentary divisionjust boughtthe domestic rights to this film, from the team behind Man on Wire . This one's about achimp from the 1970s who was raised as a human in an Upper West Sidebrownstone. He was named ... Nim Chimpsky.
Another film that got an early acquisition (by SonyPictures Classics ) this drama is about a small-town Ohio father who startshaving nightmares about the apocalypse and, Noah-like, starts obsessivelybuilding a storm shelter in his yard. It's earning somecomparisons to Black Swan andalso getting buzzfor its CGI effects are on an indie budget which were produced by the sameteam that worked on Avatar and 2012. It stars Oscar nominee MichaelShannon, most recently seen as the creepy federal agent on Boardwalk Empire . (Personally, having been floored by hisperformance in the recent Off-Broadway revival of Our Town , I'll see him in anything.)
Stuck at home this week?
If you won't be swanning around in the snow yourself, you can stillcatch fiveSundance premieres from the comfort of your own home, via on-demand ,including Kaboom , Gregg Araki's "hyper-stylized TwinPeaks for the Coachella Generation," and Uncle Kent , mumblecore pioneer JoeSwanberg's comedy about a middle-aged children's show writer who lives with hiscat and tries to sleep with a girl he met online.
Still from Higher Ground © Sundance Film Festival.All rights reserved.