20 Films I'm Looking Forward to Seeing at The 2011 Sundance Film Festival
This week, Ben P and I leave for Park City, Utah to attend the 2011 Sundance Film Festival! I’m incredibly excited for this year; there seems like a decent amount of good films that will be showing. I always try to see as many films as humanely possible, and I have a personal list of over 50 films I want to see while I am there. The movies I’ve included below are a top 20 list of films that I will make a valiant effort to see while I am there.
You never really know what you’re getting yourself into when you attend a film festival like Sundance. When going into see these films, all you really have to go off of is the information that the festival provides, like a synopsis, a collection of photos, and maybe a trailer. Sometimes the movies end up being incredible, and sometimes they end up being utter crap, and then somtimes I see films not on my list that end up blowing my mind like last year's Winter’s Bone.
So here’s my list! Check it out and tell us what you think! Are you going to be at the Sundance Film Festival? If so, what movies are you looking forward to seeing?
Ever since Clerks (co-winner of the Filmmakers Trophy at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival), Kevin Smith has been known for his sharp, subversive, comedic writing. He shifts from comedy to horror with Red State and aptly demonstrates that good writing transcends genre.
Red State begins by following three horny high school boys who come across an online ad from an older woman looking for a gang bang. Boys being boys, they hit the road to satisfy their libidinal urges. But what begins as a fantasy takes a dark turn, as they come face-to-face with a terrifying "holy" force with a fatal agenda.
Instead of relying on archetypes and predictable formulas, Smith meticulously fashions all-too-real characters, utilizing exceptional performances (notably by Michael Parks) and an intelligent script. His realistic style gives the film an intimate feeling, heightening the terror to biblical proportions. Red State is a shocking new kind of horror film that aggressively confronts higher powers and extreme doctrines with a vengeance.
I Saw the Devil
Kim Jee-woon's latest masterpiece, I Saw the Devil, floored audiences at the Toronto Film Festival and Fantastic Fest with its visual audacity and gut-wrenching violence. We’re honored to welcome him to the Festival.
A remorseless psychopath stalks deserted roads looking for women to rape and slaughter. But when he murders the pregnant fiancée of a secret service agent, the tables turn, and the stalker becomes the prey as the grief-stricken agent pursues a gruesome revenge. Soo-hyun hunts down the killer but does not turn him over to the authorities. Instead, he exacts a punishment designed to make the psycho truly suffer. The sadistic mayhem escalates as the pair enact a gory cat-and-mouse game that quickly spirals out of control.
As excellently crafted as it is blood soaked, Kim Jee-woon’s hard-edged revenge thriller leaves an indelible mark on its audience. The brutality and unrelenting violence of I Saw the Devil is only half as jarring as its unflinching portrait of the dark side of human nature.
Bobby Fischer Against the World
Considered by many to be the world’s greatest chess player, Bobby Fischer personified the link between genius and madness. His trajectory propelled him from child prodigy to world chess champion at age 29 and then into a nosedive of delusions and paranoia. Fischer was a recluse for decades before resurfacing for a bizarre final chapter as a fugitive.
As a loner with no familial support, Fischer had to defend his title while representing his country against the mighty Russians during the cold war. The center of media attention, Fischer was never equipped for a life in the spotlight.
From veteran filmmaker Liz Garbus, and the final project of late editor Karen Schmeer, Bobby Fischer Against the World exposes the disturbingly high price Fischer paid to achieve his legendary success and the resulting toll it took on his psyche. Rare archival footage and insightful interviews with those closest to him expand this captivating story of a mastermind’s tumultuous rise—and fall.
When three student filmmakers venture into the remote forests of Norway to make a documentary about illegal bear poaching, all signs point to Hans as the guilty party. A grizzled behemoth of a man, he refuses to give the students the time of day, so, eager to get their story, they decide to follow him. They soon learn that Hans isn’t a poacher at all; he is an off-the-books government operative burdened with the task of protecting an unsuspecting public from the gargantuan terrors that lurk in the dark and desolate woods. For centuries, unsuspecting Norwegians have assumed trolls are nothing more than myth and legend, but as Hans grows older and wearier of his role as sentinel, he is eager to blow the lid off the whole operation.
An incredibly fresh and original entry into the found footage genre, The Troll Hunter is a raucous thrill ride with eye-popping visual effects that will have you convinced that giant trolls really do exist.
There is a place. A place where the skies are wide and the forests are thick—and strange. You can lose yourself forever in these woods. You’ll meet truckers with problems and old women with strange powers. You may even make a furry friend. Just be sure to stay quiet. Spend some time with a woman from Oregon who is lost on the road and running away from her past. Now she has a chance to experience everything the grotesque Northwest has to offer, whether she likes it or not.
If you know Calvin Lee Reeder’s short films Little Farm and The Rambler, you know you are in for some thick atmosphere in The Oregonian. Reeder is a king of ambiance, using color and sound to creep you out as much as the sinister characters do. The moody, tense vibes will make you laugh, too. Come in, sit down, and get lost.
Hobo With a Shotgun
A train rolls into its final stop. From one of the freight cars jumps a weary-eyed transient with dreams of a fresh start in a new town. Instead, he lands smack-dab in the middle of an urban hellhole, a place where the cops are crooked and the underprivileged masses are treated like insignificant animals. This is a city where crime reigns supreme, and the man pulling the strings is known only as "The Drake." Along with his two cold-blooded and sadistic sons, Ivan and Slick, he rules with an iron fist, and nobody dares fuck with The Drake, especially not some hobo.
Director Jason Eisener’s blood-soaked return to the Sundance Film Festival is more than just a nod to the grindhouse flicks of the 1970s and ’80s; he ups the ante in a major way, and Rutger Hauer’s performance is a legendary display of brutal ass-kicking and meticulous name-taking that is not to be missed.
Residing in Ireland and parts of the United Kingdom, the Travellers are a traditionally nomadic ethnic group with their own customs and a deep sense of clan pride, despite being interrelated by marriage within their small population. When conflicts arise, arguments are often settled through ritualized, bare-knuckle fighting.
Director Ian Palmer followed members of the Traveller community for 12 years and became privy to a decades-long family feud of Hatfield-McCoy proportions. At the center of the conflict is James, the confident, yet reluctant, defender of the Quinn McDonaghs, who is frequently challenged to fight his cousins, the Joyces. An outsider in a secretive world, Palmer waited years before he began to learn the reasons for the animosity between the rival clans.
Disturbingly raw, yet compulsively engaging, KNUCKLE offers candid access to a rarely seen, brutal world where a cycle of bloody violence seems destined to continue unabated.
It all started with the raccoons. After 10 years of marriage, Jeff and Nealy have a young son, an idyllic suburban life, and a marriage that’s stuck. Accordingly, Jeff decides to plant a perfect backyard lawn. Enter the raccoons, who repeatedly tear up his grass. When Jeff tries to eradicate these meddlesome vandals, his efforts initiate a bewildering chain reaction involving a crazy cat lady, multiple infidelities, extortion, organ donation, and somebody on the wrong end of a bow and arrow.
Devilish throughout, The Details is both a love story and a horror story (of the existential kind). The root of Jeff’s dread (and subsequent misdeeds) is that he wants to love his wife but no longer knows how. Filmmaker Jacob Aaron Estes plays with the notion that the tiniest thing can unravel our lives. His narrative spontaneity and anarchic spirit allow characters to keep digging themselves into deeper moral holes to see if the universe will punish them. The result is a darkly funny meditation on marital malaise.
From her first feature, River of Grass, which premiered at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival, to her subsequent works, Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy, and Meek’s Cutoff, Kelly Reichardt has emerged as a unique voice in cinema; it’s our pleasure to welcome her back.
Set in 1845 along the unforgiving Oregon Trail, Meek’s Cutoff follows three pioneer families who have entrusted a scout, Stephen Meek, with guiding their wagons across a supposed shortcut. Faced with dwindling water supplies, mounting uncertainty about Meek’s dependability, and growing disagreement over a captured Native American, the group begins to fray.
Reichardt’s breathtaking vision recasts the mythology of the western. Focusing on simple rhythms and daily tasks, she conveys the families’ routines (boiling water, reloading a musket, or replacing a wagon axle) with incredible detail and authenticity. The film’s unadorned aesthetic yields a morally complex drama and meditation on human nature. Set during the emergence of Manifest Destiny, it also presents an oblique, cutting comment on America and its policies today.
Renowned actor Paddy Considine’s first feature behind the camera is a tour de force propelled by the sheer intensity of its performances and storytelling.
Joseph (Peter Mullan), a tormented, self-destructive man plagued by violence, finds hope of redemption in Hannah (Olivia Colman), a Christian charity-shop worker he meets one day while fleeing an altercation. Initially derisive of her faith and presumed idyllic existence, Joseph nonetheless returns to the shop and soon realizes that Hannah’s life is anything but placid. As a relationship develops, they come to understand the deep pain in each other’s lives.
An unconventional love story, Tyrannosaur transcends its bleak circumstances through Joseph and Hannah’s vigorous impulse toward redemption. Shouldering the weight of burdened lives with great humanity and a deep understanding of our capacity to heal, Mullan and Colman deliver two of the most outstanding performances of the year. Considine’s portrait of these two lost souls, bloody but unbowed, is a devastating and profoundly beautiful experience.
Good-old-fashioned-horror impresario Lucky McKee (McKee’s May screened at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival) returns to Park City with an outrageously sadistic peek under the surface of family values gone terribly wrong.
When stern patriarch Chris Cleek stumbles upon a wild woman while hunting deep in the woods, he does what he believes is the only logical thing—he stalks, captures, and imprisons the savage in his shed with the intent of civilizing her. Naturally, Cleek wants his whole family to participate in the process; refusal is not an option for his frail wife, reluctant daughters, and all-too-eager son. As his training methods turn increasingly torturous, resistance is met with brute force and animalistic urges, building meticulously to an unrelenting, carnage-filled climax.
Writhing through themes of abuse, legacies, and adolescent pain, McKee’s exercise in cruelty gleefully grinds the classic Pygmalion story into a macabre pulp for all to enjoy.
The Catechism Cataclysm
Storytelling in all its forms is skewered in The Catechism Cataclysm. This shish kebab of wild characters melts together stories within stories until the lines between the Bible, Mark Twain, and campfire tales are wiped out, and the viewer is carried down the river into a divinely bizarre and funny tale.
Father Billy, a young priest who has lost interest in the church, decides to take a sabbatical. He tracks down his high-school friend Robbie, who begrudgingly agrees to a canoe trip. On the water, the two men reminisce about Billy’s days as the keyboardist in a Christian band and Robbie’s as a guitarist for a metal band, but when night approaches, they realize they have lost their way—and that’s when things get weird.
Buoyed by commanding comedic performances and deft handling by director Todd Rohal, The Catechism Cataclysm spins a fantastic yarn that shines a light on the power of absurd fiction.
Eighteen years after disappearing without a trace, Cornelius Rawlings returns to his family’s farm. While his parents are long deceased, Cornelius's brothers continue to live in isolation on this forgotten piece of land. Ezra is a freak for two things: cleanliness and Jesus. Amos is a self-taught artist who fetishizes sports and Satan. Although back home, Cornelius is still distant. In between challenging strangers to one-on-one games, he huffs and drinks the days away. The family’s high-school sports demons show up one day in the guise of a plumber and a pretty girl. Only a mysterious drifter can redeem their souls on 4th and goal.
Triple-threat actor/writer/director (and disturbingly gifted athlete) Michael Tully creates a backwoods world that’s only a few trees away from our own, complete with characters on the edge of sanity that we can actually relate to. A hero tale gone wrong, Septien is funny when it’s inappropriate to laugh, and realistic when it should be psychotic. Goooaaaaaaaaal!
On The Ice
In the isolated, frozen town of Barrow, Alaska, Iñupiaq teenagers Qalli and Aivaaq have grown up like brothers in a tight-knit community defined as much by ancient traditions as by hip-hop and snowmobiles. Early one morning, on a seal hunt with their friend James, a tussle turns violent, and James is killed. Panic stricken, terrified, and with no one to blame but themselves, Qalli and Aivaaq lie and declare the death a tragic accident. As Barrow roils with grief and his protective father becomes suspicious, Qalli stumbles through guilt-filled days, wrestling with his part in the death. For the first time in his life, he’s treading alone on existential ice.
In this utterly engrossing, suspenseful feature-film debut by award-winning short filmmaker Andrew Okpeaha MacLean, the snowy Arctic plains embody Qalli’s lost innocence, while the claustrophobic town mirrors his entrapment, as he trudges through layers of deceit and the gauntlet of how to be a friend and a man.
George (Freddie Highmore), a smart teenage loner, has made it to his senior year despite the fact that he has never completed an assignment. Enter Sally (Emma Roberts), the school beauty, who hides her melancholy behind the protective mask of popularity. An unlikely connection blooms as these kindred spirits bond over their troubled parental relationships. With his education hanging by a thread, George concedes to let Dustin mentor him. Dustin is a successful artist, and he’s 25 years old—finally, someone George can respect! With Sally and Dustin by his side, George blossoms and dares to look toward the future. But George soon learns that life and love have a way of dashing dreams as rites of passage and mounds of homework threaten to do him in on the eve of his graduation.
Buoyed by a gifted cast, Gavin Wiesen’s accomplished first feature is a winningly perceptive drama that breathes fresh life into the beloved coming-of-age genre.
Rhoda Williams, a bright young woman recently accepted into MIT's astrophysics program, aspires to explore the cosmos. John Burroughs, a brilliant composer, has just reached the pinnacle of his profession, and is about to have a second child with his loving wife. On the eve of the discovery of a duplicate Earth, tragedy strikes, and the lives of these strangers become irrevocably intertwined. Estranged from the world and the selves they once knew, the two outsiders begin an unlikely love affair, which reawakens them to life. But when one of them is presented with the opportunity to travel to the other Earth and embrace an alternative reality, which new life will they choose?
In this auspicious debut, director/cowriter Mike Cahill offers a taut, superbly conceived science-fiction romance that marks the emergence of the multitalented actor/cowriter Brit Marling. Marrying character with high concept,Another Earth lures audiences to go where no one has gone before.
Miguel Arteta returns to the Sundance Film Festival with a comedy about a group of insurance salesmen who use the opportunity to attend an annual convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, as a way to escape their doleful existence . . . like Vegas but with corn.
Tim Lippe has been living in a small town his whole life and gets a rude awakening when he arrives in the "giant" metropolis of Cedar Rapids. However, his boyish charm and innocence eventually win over his fellow conventioneers, but he becomes disheartened when he uncovers corporate corruption. When it seems his life—and chances to succeed—are completely topsy-turvy, he finds his own unjaded way to turn things around.
Cedar Rapids deftly straddles that line between laughing at and with its subjects thanks to Arteta’s skilled direction and Ed Helms’s hilarious, yet thoughtful, performance. John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, and Isiah Whitlock Jr. play off Helms perfectly to fashion characters that are eccentric, yet honest. Filled with quotable dialogue and unforgettable scenes, Cedar Rapidsachieves the impossible: it makes insurance fun.
When Susan (Eva Green), an epidemiologist, reemerges from an affair gone sour, she encounters a peculiar patient—a Glasgow truck driver who experienced a sudden, uncontrollable crying fit. Now he is calm, but he has lost his sense of smell. Susan learns there are 11 cases like him in Glasgow, 7 in Aberdeen, 5 in Dundee, and 18 in Edinburgh. In fact, Great Britain has 100 cases, with additional ones reported in France, Belgium, Italy, and Spain, and they all appeared in the last 24 hours.Although Susan’s encounter with Michael (Ewan McGregor), a local restaurant chef, holds the promise of new love, the world is about to change dramatically. People across the globe begin to suffer strange symptoms, affecting the emotions, then the senses.
Director David Mackenzie returns to the Sundance Film Festival (Spreadplayed in 2009) with Perfect Sense, a magnetic romance/thriller that offers a deeply moving proposition about the way the human race might weather a global pandemic.
The Son of No One
The Sundance Film Festival is thrilled to welcome back a familiar face to close out its 2011 program. Dito Montiel won the dramatic Directing Award for The Guide to Recognizing Your Saints in 2006. He returns with another gripping New York story.
The Son of No One is a police thriller about a young cop who is assigned to a precinct in the Queens neighborhood where he grew up. To provide for his wife and ailing daughter, he works hard to keep his life on track. But this life is threatened when a dark secret bubbles to the surface. An anonymous source reveals new information about the unsolved murder of two boys and a possible police cover-up, setting off a chain of events that rattles the neighborhood.
Despite its studio-caliber cast, The Son of No One remains fiercely independent, thanks to Montiel’s passion and ability. He works within the cop-drama genre but fleshes out his characters and their world with an authenticity that heightens the film’s impact. You’ll remember it long after the Festival is over.
Following his acclaimed debut, Shotgun Stories, writer/director Jeff Nichols reteams with actor Michael Shannon to create a haunting tale that will creep under your skin and expose your darkest fears.
Curtis LaForche lives in a small town in Ohio with his wife, Samantha, and daughter, Hannah, a six-year-old deaf girl. 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. His seemingly inexplicable behavior concerns and confounds those closest to him, but the resulting strain on his marriage and tension within his community can’t compare with Curtis’s privately held fear of what his dreams may truly signify.
Take Shelter features fully realized characters crumbling under the weight of real-life problems. Using tone and atmosphere to chilling effect, Nichols crafts a powerful psychological thriller that is a disturbing tale for our times.