Written by Sarah

I get so torn when writing about Sundance. On the one hand, it’s America’s top film festival, it serves an important role in promoting, encouraging and developing new talent in independent filmmaking, and it’s the last stand between film and total commercialization. Each year, dozens of movies are screened in Park City, many of which wouldn’t be seen otherwise, and a handful of them go on to have significant box office and/or awards success. Careers get launched at Sundance and it remains a touchstone for many actors and filmmakers, a way to balance their artistic impulse against commercial interests. I have acquaintances who have made films with Sundance Institute funds or shown movies at Sundance that would likely have rotted on a shelf but for the festival. I deeply appreciate what Sundance means to filmmakers.

On the other hand, Sundance sucks. It’s overcrowded and stuffed full of LA posers. (Lainey: truth!) Every wannabe pop tartlet is hanging out in Park City, hoping to be discovered and unbearable film students loiter on street corners, discussing Film and how this director or that “couldn’t direct his way out of a paper bag”, (a comment I heard a film school twat make about a director who went on to win an Oscar). The festival, despite over thirty years of experience, feels disorganized every year which results in much time spent standing in lines. Everything is expensive and far away—prices in Park City skyrocket during the festival and have no relation to how much things cost in the real world and normal people can’t afford to stay in the city proper so you’re either shuttling or driving from miles away each day, a reality most first-time attendees aren’t prepared for. The commute really eats into your movie-viewing time. And it’s really, really cold.

But hey, Lainey, have fun!

Here’s a short list of hyped films heading into the festival, and/or films that have 2012 awards potential. For a more in-depth look at Sundance, check this out.

The Details
(Written and directed by Jacob Aaron Estes)
This is getting hyped as Tobey Maguire’s “return” after a decade spent in Spider-Man movies and indies no one saw. Costarring Elizabeth Banks, Dennis Haysbert, Laura Linney and Ray Liotta, The Details is a dark, dark, DARK comedy that ought to play well to Park City audiences and baffle Middle America. If it lives up to its billing, though, it could be a sleeper hit.

The Ledge (Written and directed by Matthew Chapman)
The premise is unbearably pretentious—while debating faith, a fundamental Christian gets an atheist out on a ledge and gives him one hour to choose between his life and the life of another. But the cast is loaded—Charlie Hunnam, Patrick Wilson, Liv Tyler, Terrence Howard and nerd-crush Christopher Gorham—and some posit this will represent Chapman’s breakout after years toiling as a screenwriter.

Margin Call
(Written and directed by JC Chandor)
Another loaded cast including Kevin Spacey, Demi Moore, Zachary Quinto, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons and Stanley Tucci feature in this story revolving around a twenty-four hour period at an investment bank in the early days of the 2008 financial crisis. Like 2010’s documentary Inside Job, Margin Call benefits from timeliness and its flashy cast.

Meek’s Cutoff
(Directed by Kelly Reichardt, written by Jon Raymond)
The silent stalker. Meek’s Cutoff played at a slew of festivals last year, most notably Venice and Toronto, but never got released in North America. It bows at Sundance in advance of a limited run in April, which feels a bit like a body dump, but if this movie shows up in awards contention later this year I will not be surprised at all. Indie darling Paul Dano stars with Michelle Williams and Bruce Greenwood in an “Oregon Trail gone wrong” story about pioneers who get stranded in 1845 in the Cascade Mountains. It’s bleak and not all audiences have loved it but the talk so far has been divisive enough to promote a bit of a “you have to see it” vibe.

(Written and directed by Paddy Considine)
Everyone is freaking out over this movie, largely due to director Considine, a celebrated British actor who won a Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival and a BAFTA for his short film Dog Altogether. Tyrannosaur is his first feature-length movie and he’s pulled in a trio of top talent with Peter Mullan, Eddie Marsan and Olivia Colman. Stakes are high for Considine and everyone is watching to see if he succeeds or fails.

Be on the lookout for:

Juno Temple
– You may remember her as “Lola” in Atonement and in the last couple years she has become something of a regular on the festival circuit. She has two films at Sundance this year, Kaboom and Little Birds. Temple is about to break out.

Kevin Smith
– He scored in 1994 with Sundance standout Clerks and Smith’s career has been hit or miss ever since. The dude has simply never learned to make a visually interesting film (you can count tracking shots on one hand), but his monologues remain some of the best in American movies and he can be scathingly funny when he chooses. He brings Red State this year, and I hope it’s more Dogma than Jersey Girl.