Each January for the past few years, I’ve left the frigid Minnesota cold to travel to another cold city: the ski resort town of Park City, Utah, home of the Sundance Film Festival. Over the past 30 years, Sundance has distinguished itself as the premier American film festival.
Sundance has given exposure to some of the biggest directors working today including Steven Sodenbergh (sex, lies and videotape), Darren Arofonsky (Pi), Paul Thomas Anderson (Hard Eight a.k.a. Sidney), Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs), and Kevin Smith (Clerks)—whose latest film, Red State, premieres at Sundance this year with only two screenings and no press screenings and supposedly an “auction” of the film after its screenings.M any films that premiered at Sundance last year are now vying for Oscar nominations, which will be announced next Tuesday. Some of those films include Blue Valentine, The Kids Are All Right, Restrepo, Winter’s Bone, Exit Through the Gift Shop, and Animal Kingdom.
So as I head out there for a week to cover the festival for the Daily Planet, who knows what films premiering over the festival running from January 20-30 in the snow-covered town of roughly 7,000 will be the films everyone will be talking about next January right before the Oscar nominations, or what new directors will be discovered this year. Well, this is my Sundance preview of 201: here are a few I’m excited to see, including some notable films with Minnesota ties. Some of the Sundance films will be available through VOD options from local cable and satellite subscriptions (Comcast and Time Warner), so even if you can’t make it to Utah, you can still catch some of the films the same day as their premieres.
The film that I’m most excited to see is Miranda July’s latest film, The Future, which will be in the premiere section. (All descriptions are from the Sundance Film Festival catalog.) “The Future begins one afternoon on a sofa. Sophie and Jason, a 30-something couple in Los Angeles, realize that in one month, their live will change dramatically when they pick up a terminally ill shelter cat they’ve adopted.”
Another film in the premiere section is the locally-shot The Convincer, starring Greg Kinnear (As Good As it Gets), Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine), and Billy Crudup (Almost Famous). The film was produced by local company Werc Werk Works (Life During Wartime, Howl) and directed by Jill Sprecher (Clockwatchers). “An insurance agent is looking for a way to jumpstart his business, reunite with his estranged wife, and escape the dismal Midwestern weather. This self-proclaimed master of duplicity believers that salesmanship is all about selling a story-all he needs is a sucker willing to buy it.”
In the U.S. Dramatic Competition there are more than a few I’m willing to dive into, but these two I’m ecstatic about seeing: Jeff Nichols’s Take Shelter (above, image courtesy Sony Pictures Classics), which finds the director reuniting with Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road); and Azazel Jacobs’s new film Terri, starring the ever-reliable John C. Reilly (Cyrus). “Take Shelter stars Shannon playing Curtis LaForche who lives in a small town in Ohio with his wife, Samantha, and his six-year old deaf daughter, Hannah. When Curtis begins to have terrifying dreams, he keeps the visions to himself, channeling his anxiety into obsessively building a storm shelter in his backyard. High school student Terri finds himself alienated and alone. But when the dreaded vice principal Mr. Fitzgerald (Reilly) sees a bit of himself in the boy they establish a friendship that encourages Terri to consider the possibility that life is something to be shared, even enjoyed, not just endured.”
The U.S. Documentary Competition has another potential hit: actor/writer Michael Rapaport (Beautiful Girls) making his directorial debut with the music doc Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest. “Having forged a 20-year run as one of the most innovative and influential hip-hop bands of all time, A Tribe Called Quest has kept a generation hungry for more of its groundbreaking music since the group’s much-publicized break-up in 1998.”
Lastly in the World Cinema Documentary Competition from India, United Kingdom and USA, The Bengali Detective‘s description had me instantly sold. The film was produced by Minnesota native Annie Sundberg, who had one of the biggest films at Sundance last year: Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. “The Bengali Detective follows the life of detective Rajesh Ji, who, along with his ragtag team of assistants, investigates cases ranging from counterfeit hair products to a brutal triple murder. When Rajesh is not sleuthing, he has big dreams of competing on a televised national talent show, so he and his gang form a dance troupe.”
While there is still about another 30 films I’m itching to see at Sundance, seeing films at Sundance isn’t your only option: four films having their world premieres at the festival will be offered by your cable or satellite (Comcast and Time Warner) providers courtesy of Sundance Selects. The films will be made available the day the film first premieres. Having seen four of the five films so far, I cannot write actual reviews of them, until they have their actual festival screening. The one film I can mention is Gregg Araki’s Kaboom, which have its U.S. premiere at Sundance.
Like Araki’s earlier films (Mysterious Skin, The Doom Generation, Nowhere), Kaboom (available Friday, January 21) has many of the same reoccurring themes: sex, drugs, violence, end of our existence, masked villains, goofy dialogue, carefully placed recognizable music, and plenty of pop culture references. Kaboom doesn’t come close to his finest film, Mysterious Skin, but is a helluva good time, with a wild plot. A young film student named Smith keeps having a recurring dream about a dead girl after eating a drug-laced cookie. As he tries to solve the puzzle, he becomes a target on campus for not only his dopey roommate Thor, but also his newest bedmate London, and his best friend Stella, who is having trouble ending her relationship with Lorelei (who may or may not be a witch). He’s also been getting secret messages from his dorm R.A., “The Messiah.” Kaboom may not be perfect, but is entertaining and with a story like this, the more people watching it with you, I think the more you’ll enjoy it.
The other four films are world premieres recently acquired by Sundance Selects, from writer/director Brendan Fletcher: his family Australian feature Mad Bastards (available Monday, January 24); director/writer/star Michael Tully’s Park City at Midnight selection, Septien (available Sunday, January 23); a documentary on the National Film Registry, These Amazing Shadows (available Saturday, January 22); and director Joe Swanberg’s newest Mumblecore film, Uncle Kent (available Friday, January 21).