Hope, like heat, tends to rise from the bottom to the top. This is a fitting metaphor for the process that will be played out later this week with the start of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival as filmmaker hopefuls, jaded industry execs, progressive programmers and exhausted publicists make their way up the mountain to Park City, Utah. Perhaps it is a reflection of the continued economic malaise or the still tectonic shifts that have occurred in the indie film business that significantly reduced the number of high flying distribution companies playing the field, but Sundance 2012 is far less starry-eyed than in previous sessions, with fewer films harboring big name directors and acting talents. This, of course, shifts things to where there should be (in my humble opinion) to the original concept of the Festival as a field of discovery rather than a proving ground (there are plenty of other film festivals that do just that). However, even while the emphasis is on the newly minted talents who will emerge from this year’s event (call it the Sundance alchemy effect), there are a number of films with names both in front and behind the camera that are worth noting. Most are centered in the Festival’s Premiere section.
However, even with their previous pedigrees, most of the films are coming to Sundance without distribution deals in place. This quite a departure from previous years and points to the difficulties that even established directors have in mounting more “serious” fare for discriminating audiences. Among the filmmakers who are also placing their bets on that Sundance alchemy are such icons as Spike Lee and Stephen Frears, and such respected filmmakers such as Julie Delpy and Josh Radnor. Stellar names (and red carpet eye candy) in the mix of films include Chris Rock, Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Bruce Willis, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Irons, Dennis Quaid, Kirsten Dunst, James Marsden, Robert Carlyle, Elijah Wood, David Duchovny, Vera Farmiga, Parker Posey, Frank Langella, Clive Owen, Cillian Murphy, Sigourney Weaver, and some guy named Robert De Niro. Of course, these are the kinds of names that turn heads and get attention going, but that Sundance alchemy can turn gold into bronze as often as it does the reverse. A negative reception here can hurt the chances of even a starry-eyed hopeful. But on the eve of the Festival, all hope springs eternal and rises to the mountaintop where it faces its inevitable fate.
Herewith, a list of films in the Premieres section (all world premieres) that showcase some of the most highly anticipated dramatic films of the coming year from new and established directors. Descriptions are provided by the Festival. For more information, visit the Festival’s online Film Guide: http://filmguide.sundance.org/
2 DAYS IN NEW YORK (USA/France, director: Julie Delpy)
Marion has broken up with Jack and now lives in New York with their child. A visit from her family, the different cultural background of her new boyfriend, an ex-boyfriend who her sister is now dating, and her upcoming photo exhibition make for an explosive mix. Cast: Julie Delpy, Chris Rock, Albert Delpy, Alexia Landeau, Alex Nahon.
ARBITRAGE (USA, Nicholas Jarecki)
A hedge-fund magnate is in over his head, desperately trying to complete the sale of his trading empire before the depths of his fraud are revealed. An unexpected, bloody error forces him to turn to the most unlikely corner for help. Cast: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, Brit Marling, Nate Parker.
BACHELORETTE (USA, Leslye Headland)
Ten years after high school, three women reunite on the eve of their friend’s New York City wedding. A bachelorette party unfolds into a wild night of drugs, alcohol, men, and strippers that threatens to destroy the wedding and sends the girls on a comedic odyssey to fix the damage. Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, Lizzy Caplan, James Marsden, Adam Scott.
CALIFORNIA SOLO (USA, Marshall Lewy)
A former Britpop rocker has long settled for an unfettered life working on a farm outside of L.A. When he’s caught driving drunk and faces deportation, he must confront past and current demons in his life to stay in the country. Cast: Robert Carlyle, Alexia Rasmussen, Kathleen Wilhoite, A Martinez, Danny Masterson.
CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER (USA, Lee Toland Krieger)
Celeste and Jesse met in high school, married young, and at 30, decide to get divorced but remain best friends while pursuing other relationships. Cast: Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Ari Graynor, Chris Messina, Elijah Wood, Emma Roberts.
FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL…(USA, Jamie Travis)
Lauren and Katie move in together after a loss of a relationship and a loss of a rent controlled home, respectively. When Lauren learns what Katie does for a living the two enter into a wildly unconventional business venture. Cast: Ari Graynor, Lauren Anne Miller, Justin Long, Mark Webber, James Wolk.
GOATS (USA, Christopher Neil)
Ellis leaves his unconventional desert home to attend the disciplined and structured Gates Academy. There, he re-connects with his estranged father and for the first time questions the family dynamics. Cast: David Duchovny, Vera Farmiga, Justin Kirk, Ty Burrell.
LAY THE FAVORITE (USA, Stephen Frears)
An adventurous young woman gets involved with a group of geeky older men who have found a way to work the sportsbook system in Las Vegas to their advantage. Cast: Bruce Willis, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Rebecca Hall.
LIBERAL ARTS (USA, Josh Radnor)
Bookish and newly single Jesse Fisher returns to his alma mater for his favorite professor’s retirement dinner. A chance meeting with Zibby – a precocious classical music-loving sophomore – awakens in him long-dormant feelings of possibility and connection. Cast: Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney, Elizabeth Reaser.
PRICE CHECK (USA, Michael Walker)
Pete is having trouble resolving a happy marriage and family life with rising debt and a job he hates. When his new boss pulls him into the maelstrom that is her life, money and opportunities come his way, but at what price? Cast: Parker Posey, Eric Mabius, Annie Parisse, Josh Pais, Cheyenne Jackson.
RED HOOK SUMMER (USA, Spike Lee)
A young Atlanta boy spends his summer in Brooklyn with his grandfather, who he’s never seen before. Cast: Clarke Peters, Jules Brown, Toni Lysaith, James Ransone, Thomas Jefferson Byrd.
RED LIGHTS (USA/Spain, Rodrigo Cortés)
Psychologist Margaret Matheson and her assistant study paranormal activity, which leads them to investigate a world-renowned psychic. Cast: Cillian Murphy, Sigourney Weaver, Robert De Niro, Elizabeth Olsen, Toby Jones.
ROBOT AND FRANK (USA, Jake Schreier)
A curmudgeonly older dad’s grown kids install a robot as his caretaker. Cast: Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, James Marsden, Liv Tyler.
SHADOW DANCER (United Kingdom, James Marsh)
When a widowed mother is arrested in an aborted bomb plot she must make hard choices to protect her son in this heart-wrenching thriller. Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Aidan Gillen, Domhnall Gleeson, Gillian Anderson, Clive Owen.
THE WORDS (USA, Brian Klugman & Lee Sternthal)
A layered and haunting tale about a celebrated novelist who must learn to live with the consequences of his undeserved success, and the inescapable consequences of stealing another man’s life and work. Cast: Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Irons, Dennis Quaid, Olivia Wilde, Zoe Saldana.