We make snap judgements about which movies we’re going to see and not see all the time. Usually when picking out a movie we ask “what’s it about?” and then “who’s in it?” As in “it’s the one where the guy beats people up for information,” and “Tom Cruise.” In the case of Sundance films, the question is more likely, “what’s it about?” and “who made it?” Here, I’ll be making irresponsible judgments of films based only on the log lines and my IMDb searches of the filmmakers. I apologize in advance.
Afternoon Delight / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Jill Soloway) — In this sexy, dark comedy, a lost L.A. housewife puts her idyllic hipster life in jeopardy when she tries to rescue a stripper by taking her in as a live-in nanny. Cast: Kathryn Hahn, Juno Temple, Josh Radnor, Jane Lynch.
Initial Impression: Jill Soloway is a “Six Feet Under” veteran writer/producer, so I’m in. Plus Kathryn Hahn and Jane Lynch are in it, and they’re genuinely funny babes. I think the success of the premise here depends on the tone, and “sexy, dark comedy” sounds promising. Off to a good start!
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: David Lowery) — The tale of an outlaw who escapes from prison and sets out across the Texas hills to reunite with his wife and the daughter he has never met. Cast: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Nate Parker, Keith Carradine.
Initial Impression: Whoa, check out this cast! Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck are probably the most broodingly beautiful stars in Hollywood. It’s great to see Ben Foster in such good company, but with its too-cool-to-understand title, this shit looks daaarrrk. David Lowery is an editor and cinematographer of numerous independent films and has won awards for some short films. Promising.
Austenland / U.S.A., United Kingdom (Director: Jerusha Hess, Screenwriters: Jerusha Hess, Shannon Hale) — Thirtysomething, single Jane is obsessed with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in Pride and Prejudice. On a trip to an English resort, her fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman become more real than she ever imagined. Cast: Keri Russell, JJ Feild, Bret McKenzie, Jennifer Coolidge, Georgia King, James Callis.
Initial Impression: First directing effort from Napoleon Dynamite writer Jerusha Hess. Is this like that movie with Renee Zellweger where she tries to meet that soap star? I like that the logline specifically calls out Colin Firth in a movie he’s apparently not in (or is he?), but I’m not sure I need to see Keri Russell travel to great lengths because of her obsession with a fantasy man… again.
C.O.G. / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Kyle Patrick Alvarez) — In the first ever film adaptation of David Sedaris’ work, a cocky young man travels to Oregon to work on an apple farm. Out of his element, he finds his lifestyle and notions being picked apart by everyone who crosses his path. Cast: Jonathan Groff, Denis O’Hare, Corey Stoll, Dean Stockwell, Casey Wilson, Troian Bellisario.
Initial Impression: The “first ever film adaptation of David Sedaris’ work” has definitely piqued this NPR-listener’s interest.
Concussion / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Stacie Passon) — After a blow to the head, Abby decides she can’t do it anymore. Her life just can’t be only about the house, the kids and the wife. She needs more: she needs to be Eleanor. Cast: Robin Weigert, Maggie Siff, Johnathan Tchaikovsky, Julie Fain Lawrence, Emily Kinney, Laila Robins.
Initial Impression: Something about “blows to the head” just gets my goat, so I’ll probably be skipping this one. Although I’m intrigued by this writer/director with no other credits who received the same Woman Of Vision Salute awarded to Lena Dunham. Plus, her last name is only one letter away from “passion,” which has to count for something if I’m superficially judging these movies.
Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Francesca Gregorini) — Emanuel, a troubled girl, becomes preoccupied with her mysterious, new neighbor, who bears a striking resemblance to her dead mother. In offering to babysit her newborn, Emanuel unwittingly enters a fragile, fictional world, of which she becomes the gatekeeper. Cast: Kaya Scodelario, Jessica Biel, Alfred Molina, Frances O’Connor, Jimmi Simpson, Aneurin Barnard.
Initial Impression: This is such a cryptic log line. Very mysterious, but I’m not sure how all of this could pay off. Is this woman a ghost? Also, I need more information as to how a person unwittingly enters a fictional world, and what is so fragile about it? Okay, I’m picking this apart, but I think it’s because I got turned off by the title.
Fruitvale / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Ryan Coogler) — The true story of Oscar, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family and strangers on the last day of 2008. Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz, Ahna O’Reilly, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray.
Initial Impression: If Truth About Fishes has the most cryptic log line, this log line has to be the most general. However, since Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer are in it, I will most certainly see it. That’s just how the cookie crumbles! [Editor’s note: David, this is the film about that kid who got killed by police on New Years back in 2008. Goooooose chilllllls.]
In a World… / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Lake Bell) — An underachieving vocal coach is motivated by her father, the king of movie-trailer voice-overs, to pursue her aspirations of becoming a voiceover star. Amidst pride, sexism and family dysfunction, she sets out to change the voice of a generation. Cast: Lake Bell, Demetri Martin, Rob Corddry, Michaela Watkins, Ken Marino, Fred Melamed.
Initial Impression: Um… I don’t know. If this is done in a really funny and sophisticated way, it could be amazing. If not, it could seem like a sketch comedy bit stretched out over an hour and a half. Lake Bell has been the best part of a couple bad movies, so I buy her as a writer/director. I’ll wait for reviews.
Kill Your Darlings / U.S.A. (Director: John Krokidas, Screenwriters: Austin Bunn, John Krokidas) — An untold story of murder that brought together a young Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs at Columbia University in 1944, providing the spark that led to the birth of an entire generation – their Beat revolution. Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHann, Ben Foster, Michael C. Hall, Jack Huston, Elizabeth Olsen.
Initial Impression: So many literary hotties; this is a can’t miss.
The Lifeguard / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Liz W. Garcia) — A former valedictorian quits her reporter job in New York and returns to the place she last felt happy: her childhood home in Connecticut. She gets work as a lifeguard and starts a dangerous relationship with a troubled teenager. Cast: Kristen Bell, Mamie Gummer, Martin Starr, Alex Shaffer, Amy Madigan, David Lambert.
Initial Impression: I’ve written many drafts of different sentences trying to articulate my lack of interest in this. I think it’s the generic title and ho-hum storyline that worry me. Liz W. Garcia is a prodigious TV writer and Kristen Bell is great, so we’ll see. Actually, I probably won’t. But you might!
May in the Summer / U.S.A., Qatar, Jordan (Director and screenwriter: Cherien Dabis) — A bride-to-be is forced to reevaluate her life when she reunites with her family in Jordan and finds herself confronted with the aftermath of her parents’ divorce. Cast: Cherien Dabis, Hiam Abbass, Bill Pullman, Alia Shawkat, Nadine Malouf, Alexander Siddig. DAY ONE FILM
Initial Impression: Promising storyline from the writer/director of Amreeka! Sounds good. [Editor’s note: You sound good, David.]
Mother of George / U.S.A. (Director: Andrew Dosunmu, Screenwriter: Darci Picoult) — A story about a woman willing to do anything and risk everything for her marriage. Cast: Isaach De Bankolé, Danai Gurira, Anthony Okungbowa, Yaya Alafia, Bukky Ajayi.
Initial Impression: Yes, but what is she willing to do and to risk? Would she risk an onslaught of falling meatballs? Because that certainly sounds a lot like the plot of Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs.
The Spectacular Now / U.S.A. (Director: James Ponsoldt, Screenwriters: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber) — Sutter is a high school senior who lives for the moment; Aimee is the introvert he attempts to “save.” As their relationship deepens, the lines between right and wrong, friendship and love, and “saving” and corrupting become inextricably blurred. Cast: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kyle Chandler.
Initial Impression: Amazing cast from the writer/director of Smashed (the movie with Aaron Paul and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, not that NBC show where Anjelica Huston throws martinis in gay men’s faces). I read the script to this one and quite liked it, plus Shailene Woodley is the next big thing or something.
Touchy Feely / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Lynn Shelton) — A massage therapist is unable to do her job when stricken with a mysterious and sudden aversion to bodily contact. Meanwhile, her uptight brother’s foundering dental practice receives new life when clients seek out his “healing touch.” Cast: Rosemarie DeWitt, Allison Janney, Ron Livingston, Scoot McNairy, Ellen Page, Josh Pais.
Initial Impression: This is a funny title and premise with a highly Sundance-y cast from the writer/director of Hump Day and Your Sister’s Sister. Sounds like it was shot in Seattle. Oh, wait. It was!
Toy’s House / U.S.A. (Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts, Screenwriter: Chris Galletta) — Three unhappy teenage boys flee to the wilderness where they build a makeshift house and live off the land as masters of their own destiny. Or at least that’s the plan. Cast: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Alison Brie.
Initial Impression: This one has a good script, but it all depends on the casting of the boys. If they land the right chemistry, it has to makings to be a mini-classic. If not, it could come and go. [Editor’s note: I think I wrote a book about this.]
Upstream Color / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Shane Carruth) — A man and woman are drawn together, entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism. Identity becomes an illusion as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of wrecked lives. Cast: Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth, Andrew Sensenig, Thiago Martins.
Initial Impression: What? Is this is a movie or a summary from the back cover of the Kama Sutra? I’m sorry, I’m being obtuse. This actually could be really interesting. After all, it’s from the writer/director of Primer, which squeezed some real blood from the time travel turnip. It also won Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize in 2004. Judging by the selection, this could be the only full-blown “art film” in this year’s US dramatic competition lineup.