Two things you can be sure to see at Sundance (well, besides rich celebrities loaded down with tons of free swag we mortals will never lay eyes on) are snow - lots of snow - and films. Lots of films. Over the next 11 days, each of us on the Cinematical Sundance team will be watching films until our eyeballs burn, and faithfully reporting on what we think about them, which films score the hottest buzz, and which ones have the biggest walkouts. I considered a couple ways of compiling this list, including choosing a film from each category, so as to cover a wide spectrum, and just randomly opening the film catalog with my eyes closed and pointing. Ultimately, though, although there are lots of films on my "want to see" list, these seven are the ones I'm really psyched about.
Come Early Morning - The directorial and writing debut by Chasing Amy's Joey Lauren Adams stars Ashley Judd as a woman in her 30s searching for love. The catalog description isn't terribly descriptive: Come Early Morning is about life transitions, the search for love, and the burdens we carry with us", which could describe pretty much anything from Brokeback Mountain to The Wedding Crashers, so I'm not really sure what to expect from this one. The film stars Ashley Judd, who can be a talented actress given the right material, with a supporting cast including Jeffrey Donovan, Tim Blake Nelson, Diane Ladd and Stacey Keach.
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Sherrybaby - Sherrybaby stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as a woman just released from prison trying to rebuild her life and reclaim her daughter, who is being cared for by her brother and sister-in-law. I've liked Gyllenhaal in pretty much every film I've seen her in; even in Secretary, which I didn't care for overall, Gyllenhaal was the strong point. I think she has both the strength and fragility to add depth to a role like this, and I can't wait to see what she does with it.
Angry Monk: reflections on Tibet - Don't the words "angry" and "monk" in the same sentence just sound intriguing? Showing in the World Cinema - Documentary competition, Angry Monk tells the tale of Gundun Choepal, an early-twentieth-century Tibetan Buddhist monk who believed it was important for geographically and culturally isolated Tibet to engage with the rest of the world, and who traveled extensively in his quest to fulfill his vision of a more interconnected Tibet. Kind of like a Tibetan Buddhist road trip flick.
13 (Tzameti) - When someone hands 20-year-old Sébastien a train ticket and set of instructions obviously intended for someone else, he does what anyone else would do - decides to pretend he's the person they were supposed to go to - and embarks on an adventure. Unfortunately for our hero, the journey ends up being much more dark and depraved that he could have imagined. Described as "neo-noir" and borrowing from traditions including Hitchcock, 13 Tzameti looks to be one of the most intriguing films in the World Cinema competition.
Wristcutters - A Love Story - This one had me from the title alone. Director Goran Dukic explores a vision of an afterlife for suicide victims that includes menial jobs, dingy bars, and jukeboxes playing Kurt Cobain. Zia commits suicide over a thwarted love affair, but when he learns that his ex has also committed suicide, he embarks on a quest through the afterlife in a rickety red station wagon held together with tape, to find and reunite with his lost love.
The Darwin Awards - What's not to like about a film that got its beginnings from the annual awards given to the people who remove themselves from the gene pool by dying in stupid ways? To make it even better, it stars Jospeh Fiennes, who smoldered in Shakespeare in Love, and Winona Ryder, hopefully making strides toward a major comeback after that unfortunate shoplifting incident. Ryder has three more films lined up after this one, so things seem to be looking up. Fiennes plays Michael Burrows, a detective with a knack for profiling criminals, and Ryder plays Siri, an insurance investigator whose company hires Burrows to create a profile for potential "Darwin Award winners", presumably so they can avoid insuring them. The premise of this film sounds just bizarre enough to work, and the combination of Fiennes and Ryder makes it practically irresistible - plus it costars Tim Blake Nelson, David Arquette, Wilber Valderrama and Lucas Haas.
The Ilusionist - This film, described as a "stunning romantic thriller" tells the tale of Eisenheim, a magician with the hots for the crown prince's fiancee (never a good idea if you want to keep your head). When the fiancee ends up dead, Eisenheim has to prove the crown prince did it before the monarcy destroys him. The Illusionist, which "explores art and technology as populist forces" (how's that for a highbrow description?), stars Edward Norton, Jessica Biel, Paul Giamatti (who is just good in everything) and Rufus Sewell.