The annual Sundance Film Festival—which runs from Jan. 17–27 this year—was, when founded by Robert Redford, a small event to foster independent filmmaking. Now, it’s one of the biggest and most important events on the global film-festival calendar, with tough competition, a packed program and many alumni who go on to compete at the Oscars (like this year’s Beasts of the Southern Wild).
So, whether or not you’re lucky enough to make it out to the festival’s location in Park City, Utah, there’s plenty of reason to pay attention to the movies you may be hearing about soon.
If your thing is comedy, keep an eye out for two feature films, A.C.O.D. and Austenland. The former—the title of which stands for “adult child of divorce” and which will receive its world premiere at the festival—stars Parks & Rec‘s Adam Scott as just what those letters stand for. (P&R fans may get a little weirded out, though: Amy Poehler plays his stepmother.) Right when he is trying to help his divorced parents find a way to coexist peacefully, he learns that his childhood therapist wrote a book in which he appeared as an example of a non-nurtered child. If you like your laughs more wacky than twee, look for the latter, an entrant in the U.S. dramatic competition, starring Keri Russell as a Jane Austen-obsessed single woman who goes to a total-immersion Austen vacation, populated by comedy mainstays like Jennifer Coolidge.
If you’re a tech person, there are movies to quench your thirst in a few different categories. The most hyped one is probably jOBS, the oddly-capitalized Steve Jobs biopic that stars Ashton Kutcher. Definitely worth following news on that one, if only for curiosity’s sake. In the documentary categories, there’s Google and the World Brain (trailer below), a Spanish-British film that takes on the question of what Google’s devotion to free access means for global copyright—and story of the people who are out to stop Google in its tracks.
If you liked Zero Dark Thirty, be sure to keep an eye on Manhunt, a documentary about the female CIA analysts on whom the main character in Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar-nominated film was partially based. ZDT is fiction, but here’s the real story behind the story. When these characters tack a photo to a bulletin board, it’s not a prop.
If your thing is serious news, pay attention to major documentaries like Which Way Is The Front Line From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington, a premiere doc about the photojournalist, who was killed in 2011, from Sebastian Junger. Junger and Hetherington were friends—they appear together in the below video from the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, presenting Restrepo, which they made together—and the movie is about its subject’s work and personal life. But this is a particularly crowded category. From 99%, a collaborative Occupy Wall Street documentary, to After Tiller, looking at the three remaining doctors in the U.S. who risk their personal safety to perform third-trimester abortions, to Pandora’s Promise, about the future of nuclear energy, documentary fans will be kept busy in Park City.
If you’re a beatnik living in the wrong time period, you’ll be happy to learn that the beat-adaptation thing didn’t stop with On the Road (a festival film from last year that’s in many theaters right now). To stick with Kerouac, go for Big Sur (trailer below), about the author’s post-Road life and how he came to write the 1962 novel that shares the movie’s title. If you’d rather Kerouac were a minor character, go for Kill Your Darlings, in which Harry Potter‘s Daniel Radcliffe stars as a young Allen Ginsberg, at the time in his life when he met Kerouac and William Burroughs, among other important figures of the beat movement.
If you’re interested in the sociology of porn, James Franco is happy to oblige. He co-directed Interior. Leather Bar, which imagined a scene that was cut from the 1980 movie Cruising, and is one of the producers of Kink, a true story about the bondage-porn industry. The most interesting one in the bunch, though—and the one most likely to eventually end up at your neighborhood cineplex—is Lovelace. The feature, premiering at Sundance, is about the history of Deep Throat and its star, Linda Lovelace, played by Amanda Seyfried. Lovelace was a symbol of open sexuality, but the movie explores the darkness in her personal life that brought her to that place. It also stars Peter Sarsgaard, Hank Azaria, Adam Brody, Sharon Stone and—naturally—James Franco.
If you want to see some conceptually interesting cinema, an interesting film—in the “New Frontier” category at Sundance—may be Charlie Victor Romeo, the dialogue for which is taken directly from transcripts of “black box” recordings from airplane emergencies. And speaking of black box, it’s also a film of a stage play.
The full schedule of dozens of other films that will screen at Sundance can be found online at the festival’s website.