Sundance 2013: Top ten most anticipated films of the fest


Going through the catalog of Sundance films feels a bit like Christmas. Discovering the latest actor-turned-director debut, long awaited sophomore effort, and film description too bizarre to pass up almost makes scheduling this beast of a festival durable.

Due to an early flight back to Texas, I’ll be missing Jobs, the Ashton Kutcher Steve Jobs biopic (which will likely be terrible). Other than that noticeable omission, I’m pretty content with the ten films you’ll find below, each unique and full of promise. Check back throughout the week to discover how they, along with 20 other films, meet my expectations.

Let me know what films you are excited to hear about, in the comments.

10) Shane Carruth is one of those directors I occasionally remember exists and do a IMDB search on. In 2004, he brought his debut film Primer to Sundance to much acclaim. Though it has aged, it remains one of — if not THE — most influential films on cinema over the past decade. It was the first film to show that you can make something great with less than $10,000, that sci-fi can be smart and mature, and that a captivating film can be shot on digital. With his follow-up, Carruth is entering into a new age of cinema, where low-budget sci-fi and digitally shot films are common. With a vague plot description and decade of preparation, Upstream Color should get viewers talking even if it doesn’t send shock waves throughout the filmmaking community.

9) Before the weed jokes and Hollywood comedy leads, David Gordon Green was Sundance’s golden son. The kind of son that let critics flex their Terrence Malick rhetoric when Malick wasn’t around for them. The kind whose films go from festival to Criterion release in record time. After a solid run of low key Southern dramas, Green went on to direct Pineapple Express and several other amusing but forgettable comedies. Prince Avalanche seems to be a return to form, focusing on a smaller story about friendship, soundtracked by old stand-by Explosions in the Sky. Stars Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch help paint the lane from Hollywood back to Sundance.

8) Park Chan-Wook is a name you might have come across, even if you aren’t a Korean film fanatic. Like John Woo and Wong Kar Wai before him, Park became an internationally recognized director that influenced American cinema aside Asian. Stoker is his English debut, adopting Hollywood’s stars yet staying true to his grim narrative themes and dark sense of humor. Stoker tells the story of a mysterious uncle appearing and moving into the home of a mom and daughter. Expect twisted reveals and displays of incest, Park wouldn’t have it any other way, in the USA or anywhere.

7) Virtually Heroes is on this list not because I think it will be good but that it will be so bad that it will rightfully qualify as must-see. This directorial debut tells the story of a military videogame hero that becomes self-aware, seeking answers about the endless Vietcong hordes that spawn around him. I’m hoping the film embraces its camp nature, channeling Duke Nukem rather than The Truman Show. Regardless of its nature, I just can’t ignore this one.

6) Upon awarding handheld camera horror compilation V/H/S the fifth best film of Sundance 2012, I wrote, “It revives the found footage concept only to bury it for good.” I was mistaken, thankfully. I had no doubt that the filmmakers of V/H/S brought their A-game, and instead of coming back to bring their B- and C-game, it’s now time for seven new filmmakers to shock and awe audiences while limited to minimal resources. Featuring the directors of yet-to-be-released festival hit You’re Next and the ones who kickstarted it all with Blair Witch Project, there is good reason to be optimistic for this follow-up that I didn’t ask for but definitely still want.

5) The plot of The Way, Way Back reads almost like a combination of Youth in Revolt and Adventureland, two of my favorite coming of age stories (at least in Revolt’s original novel form). I have a soft spot for coming-of-age films, especially one about a kid who finds sanctuary and happiness at a water park. Helmed by the writers of The Descendants and starring Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell, The Way, Way Back may dip into that pool of misty-eyed nostalgia instead of plopping into the pit of forced saccharine that often plagues coming-of-age films.

4) When Computer Chess star Wiley Wiggins told me about his upcoming film at one of Austin’s Juegos Rancheros events, I nearly picked up his steak and slapped him with it out of excitement. I’d say good thing I didn’t but it probably would have been a pretty memorable moment for the both of us if I had. ’70s and ’80s computer history and culture is a subject that fascinates me. Books like The Cuckoo’s Egg and Masters of Deception give me an entryway into this world, but film never has. Don’t you dare mention — though I do love it — Hackers! I’m a fan of director/writer Andrew Bujalski’s low-key indie rock drama Mutual Appreciation, and I think he’ll finally give this material the widescreen treatment it deserves.

3) It’s going to be a good year for the Jack Kerouac estate. Alongside the adaptations of On the Road and biopic of writing Big Sur (the film, which shares the novel’s title, also premieres at Sundance), Kill Your Darlings will bring the beat generation’s poster boy to the forefront of cinema. Unlike the other two, Kill Your Darlings keeps Kerouac in the periphery, instead focusing on a true murder that changed the lives of iconic bohemian authors Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs. Along with altering our image of these icons of literature, Kill Your Darlings may also display Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe in a new light as he takes on the role of a young, insecure Ginsberg.

2) I love Steve Coogan. I love his dry wit, his deadpan facial expressions, and that knowingly cynical voice. Though I love Coogan, he just hasn’t been as electric as he was in Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People. A lot of that has to do with role and director. Scatterbrain music mogul Tony Wilson was a role that forced Coogan to strain his wit to 100 mph, roughly the pace that Winterbottom kept throughout the film (an exceptional biopic on the highly influential Factory Records that made people fans and turned fans into super-fans.) Look of Love brings these distinct, but hardly consistent, artists back together for a biopic of porn king Paul Raymond. After the cute but slight The Trip, Look of Love may rekindle what these two had together in 2002 and that’s something to get excited about.

1) Richard Linklater’s sensual ‘90s romance Before Sunrise became an unlikely series with Before Sunset, and now it’s on the way to become a trilogy with Before Midnight. Each entry is separated by nearly decade, making Linklater’s series an idealized version of the Up documentary series. A fantasy in which Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy remain as gorgeous, charming and warm as ever, separated only by circumstance and a lack of commitment that led to theaters full of broken hearts at the end of each film — the verdict is still out on whether Before Sunrise and Sunset are the best or worst first date movies; whatever the case, they are fantastic films to watch before, during, or after a one night stand. They are films that embody a romance with all the raw complications, longing, and moments of joy. Even if I only manage to hook up with myself, I sense that a night with Linklater’s latest will be a good one.