With the holidays behind us and the new year beckoning, anticipation heats up the winter season in Park City, UT, as the annual Sundance Film Festival gets ready for another onslaught of film frenziness. With a count of 170 films all screening at the festival, you can be sure that the various cinephiles, film critics and bloggers will find something to talk about. This year’s event, which runs from January 19-29, promises to be as event-driven and relevant, certain to influence the film outlook for 2012.
In the first of a three-part installment, I will attempt to point out certain selections of films that stand out as potential candidates containing worthy storytelling themes and bold cinematic topics.
The following films represent the non-competitive series of Sundance and offer more of a showcase for innovation, already-established actors and filmmakers or traveled from other international festivals.
28 Hotel Rooms – While traveling for work in a city far from their homes, a novelist and a corporate accountant find themselves in bed together. Although she’s married, and he’s seeing someone, their intense attraction turns a one-night stand into an unexpected relationship and a respite from the obligations of daily life. Through a series of moments—some profound, some silly, some intensely intimate—we see a portrait of an evolving relationship that could become the most significant one of their lives.
My Best Day – Karen can’t believe that she has to work her receptionist gig on a gorgeous Fourth of July. Then a call comes from her long-lost father and sets in motion a crazy chain of events that will change one small town forever. Meanwhile, Megan must decide between the stability of her longtime girlfriend and the thrill of a new love. Young Ray fends off bullies and organized sports to woo the girl he likes. In a little burg like this, you’d better believe everything is connected, which means that pretty soon everyone is mixed up in each other’s business.
Sleepwalk With Me – Based on the successful one-man show, Sleepwalk With Me engages in the kind of passionate and personal storytelling that transfigures intimate anguish into comic art. Bursting with sincerity, Mike Birbiglia’s foray into the medium marks the invigorating emergence of a strong and poignant American voice, at once hilarious and heartbreaking. We are thrust into the tale of a burgeoning stand-up comedian struggling with the stress of a stalled career, a stale relationship threatening to race out of his control, and the wild spurts of severe sleepwalking he is desperate to ignore.
Declaration of War – After meeting at a party, Romeo and Juliette fall in love, move in together, and have a child, Adam. The young couple, wearily navigating early parenthood, begin to suspect that Adam has a medical problem, a fear that’s confirmed when doctors discover a brain tumor. Gathering family and friends, they declare war on his illness, and their storybook romance plunges into an unrelenting world of hospitals, exhaustion, and uncertainty.
This Must Be the Place – Sean Penn stars as Cheyenne, the bizarre former lead singer of an iconic goth rock band. Though fabulously rich and living in a palatial estate with his wife, Jane—Frances McDormand plays his down-to-earth emotional anchor—Cheyenne is phlegmatic and disconnected. Emotionally distant from his disapproving father since adolescence and facing a midlife crisis, he undertakes to make things right by, of all things, hunting a Nazi who tormented his father in a concentration camp. The resulting detective work and road trip lead the emotionally unmoored Cheyenne to self-realizations, human connections, and a showdown perhaps more surprising than any other in movie lore.
2 Days In New York – Julie Delpy’s follow-up to 2 Days In Paris, Chris Rock and Delpy portray Marion and Mingus who live cozily—perhaps too cozily—with their cat and two young children from previous relationships. However, when Marion’s jolly father, her oversexed sister, and her sister’s outrageous boyfriend unceremoniously descend upon them for a visit, it initiates two unforgettable days that will test Marion and Mingus’s relationship.
Arbitrage – Buying low and selling high—depends on a person’s ability to determine the true value of any given market. It’s a talent that has made billionaire hedge fund magnate Robert Miller the very portrait of success in American business. But on the eve of his sixtieth birthday, Miller finds himself desperately trying to sell his trading empire to a major bank before the extent of his fraud is discovered. When an unexpected bloody error challenges his perception of what things are worth, Miller finds that his business is not the only thing hanging in the balance.
Bachelorette – Regan is used to being first at everything. Imagine her horror and chagrin when she finds out the girl everyone called Pig Face in high school is going to tie the knot before she does! But Regan sucks it up and takes on bridesmaid duties along with her childhood pals: substance-abusing, promiscuous Gena and ditzy Katie. The single ladies are determined to put their bitterness aside and have an awesomely hedonistic bachelorette party.
Price Check – Pete is a good guy who used to be cool. Once living his dream in the music industry, he now toils away in the pricing department of a failing supermarket chain to provide for his loving wife and young son. When Pete’s new boss, Susan, takes over the department, her high-energy enthusiasm and unconventional ideas start to shake things up. She aims to reinvent the company while grooming Pete for the executive fast track. Making more money now than he ever hoped to in the music industry, Pete begins to wonder if this new career is just what he needs to become the man he’s always wanted to be.
Red Lights – Two investigators of paranormal hoaxes, the veteran Dr. Margaret Matheson and her young assistant, Tom Buckley, study the most varied metaphysical phenomena with the aim of proving their fraudulent origins. Simon Silver, a legendary blind psychic, reappears after an enigmatic absence of 30 years to become the greatest international challenge to both orthodox science and professional sceptics. Tom starts to develop an intense obsession with Silver, whose magnetism becomes stronger with each new manifestation of inexplicable events. As Tom gets closer to Silver, tension mounts, and his worldview is threatened to its core.
Robot and Frank – Curmudgeonly old Frank lives by himself. His routine involves daily visits to his local library, where he has a twinkle in his eye for the librarian. His grown children are concerned about their father’s well-being and buy him a caretaker robot. Initially resistant to the idea, Frank soon appreciates the benefits of robotic support—like nutritious meals and a clean house—and eventually begins to treat his robot like a true companion. With his robot’s assistance, Frank’s passion for his old, unlawful profession is reignited, for better or worse.
The Words – Rory Jansen, a struggling writer, aspires to be the next great literary voice. When he discovers a lost manuscript in a weathered attaché case, he realizes he possesses something extraordinary that he desperately wishes he had created. Rory decides to pass the work off as his own and finally receives the recognition he desperately craves. However, he soon learns that living with his choice will not be as easy as he thought as he faces a moral dilemma that will make him take a hard look at the man he has become.
The Pact – Annie returns home to attend her much-despised mother’s funeral as a favor to her older sister. Sleeping in her old bedroom, Annie senses something unfamiliar in the house. She enlists the help of a local cop and a clairvoyant to answer some questions surrounding her mother’s death. As long-repressed nightmares begin to haunt Annie’s life again, an unsettling presence emerges in her childhood home.
Shut Up and Play the Hits – With the release of their debut album in 2005, New York’s LCD Soundsystem changed the face of dance music, combining equal parts punk, soul, and disco. Their devoted fan base steadily grew, bolstered by Grammy nominations and recognition as one of the best live bands in the world. In early 2011, touring to support their first Billboard Top 10 debut, LCD Soundsystem announced its largest gig to date—Madison Square Garden—and that the concert would be their last ever.
V/H/S – When a group of petty criminals is hired by a mysterious party to retrieve a rare piece of found footage from a rundown house in the middle of nowhere, they soon realize that the job isn’t going to be as easy as they thought. In the living room, a lifeless body holds court before a hub of old television sets, surrounded by stacks of VHS tapes. As they search for the right one, they are treated to a seemingly endless number of horrifying videos, each stranger than the last.