The top ten highest-grossing films of 2011 were all sequels/franchises, and two superheroes (Thor and Captain America). I don’t see that trend changing too much in 2012, but I do think that this is (mostly) our fault. People complained so much about a lack of quality at the cinema in 2011 and then the top ten backs up the idea that there’s nothing original or interesting happening in filmmaking, but neither of those things are true. Movies are a consumer-driven business. As long as we’re feeding the franchise beast, we’ll keep getting more franchises. Ditto for superheroes. But if we go out and start supporting the labors of love, the little movies that often go unseen and under-appreciated, I guarantee we’d get more of that kind of movie.

Last year Sundance featured a film by Tom McCarthy starring Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan called Win Win. It was one of the best movies of 2011, and practically no one saw it. And I’m complicit in this, too—I remember Win Win being at the theater and not going to see it. That’s why this year my New Year’s resolution was to make more of an effort to support smaller films. In that vein, for my Sundance preview this year I’ve focused on finding movies that not only sound interesting and worthwhile, but have a shot at being seen. You’re going to see a lot of famous actors’ names on this list. I’m not looking for the best films of Sundance, but the most marketable.


Starring Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon and last year’s Sundance darling Brit Marling, Arbitrage has strong chances of hitting theaters in some form (I can see it following Margin Call’s VOD/theatrical release program). It’s about a hedge fund guy trying to sell off the fund before his malfeasance is discovered. (Lainey: but they need to do something about that title, non?)


Not to be confused with the 2010 Black Listed script Your Bridesmaid is a Bitch, Bachelorette is going to benefit from a post-Melancholia Kirsten Dunst and a post-Bridesmaids movie market. Also starring Lizzy Caplan, Isla Fisher and James Marsden, Bachelorette is about a group of girls who are asked to be bridesmaids by a woman they used to torment in high school.

Celeste and Jesse Forever

Co-written by and starring Rashida Jones, as well as Andy Samberg, Elijah Wood and Emma Roberts, Celeste and Jesse Forever looks poised to take the “obligatory Sundance movie about a bittersweet romance” title for 2012. A couple in the middle of divorcing are trying to be friends while dating other people, you see. I can imagine the montages set to sad indie music already.

For Ellen

On paper, Paul Dano should have a big year. He’s got Being Flynn with Robert DeNiro, and also this, from writer/director So Yong Kim. For Ellen, though it has a more tender story than Hesher—a struggling musician tries to get custody of his daughter—looks like it could be for Dano what Hesher was for Joseph Gordon-Levitt. That is, the lesser-seen true acting showcase opposite a bigger, flashier movie. Something tells me that For Ellen will be more worthwhile than Being Flynn.

Filly Brown

Hustle and Flow premiered at Sundance and launched the careers of star Terrence Howard and director Craig Brewer (and made Three Six Mafia a one-hit wonder). Filly Brown is drawing a lot of Hustle and Flow comparisons, as it’s about a would-be rap star. This time it’s a young girl in LA who has to choose between the people who help her get a leg up and the execs who would make her a star. There’s already buzz growing for the star, Gina Rodriguez. This will be hard to resist for buyers looking for award bait.


This one sells itself. Jesse Eisenberg and Melissa Leo star in this dramedy about a music prodigy who’s trying to get his mom into rehab and ends up the hostage of her drug dealer. Tracy Morgan also stars, as the dealer, no doubt.

Safety Not Guaranteed

Taken from the classic Craigslist ad about a guy looking for a time-travel companion, Safety Not Guaranteed is the kind of cool kids’ comedy that usually sells fast at Sundance. Starring Kristen Bell, Parks & Rec’s Aubrey Plaza and New Girl’s Jake Johnson, this is the kind of movie that could play well in April or August.;

Save the Date

Another movie that will benefit from a market striving to reproduce the success of Bridesmaids, Save the Date is another feature for Lizzy Caplan. This time she’s joined by Community’s Alison Brie and Caplan’s fellow Party Down alum Martin Starr (who should work WAY more than he does). Save the Date is about a pair of sisters, one involved in an intense fling after breaking up with her boyfriend, the other planning a wedding to a nervous groom.


Potentially the most depressing “comedy” ever, Smashed is about an alcoholic couple that is tested when one partner decides to get sober. It’s most notable as the first major film role for Aaron Paul since he broke out on Breaking Bad. The lure of his TV audience plus the presence of “going to break out any time now” Mary Elizabeth Winstead should help this movie get picked up.

The Surrogate

John Hawkes has played some scary dudes lately, including the cult leader in last year’s Sundance hit Martha Marcy May Marlene and his Oscar-nominated turn in Winter’s Bone, but this year he comes with a softer story—that of Mark O’Brien, a polio-inflicted writer who contracts a sex surrogate to relieve him of his virginity. It’s a character piece for sure, but it also looks award-baity and Helen Hunt’s return won’t go unnoticed.

Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie

Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim have found cult success with their TV show, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! Their feature film debut—which looks insane, and is NSFW—already has a distribution deal through Magnolia/Magnet. It premieres at Sundance on the 20th, will be available on demand on the 27th and will hit theaters on March 2nd. This model—VOD first, limited theatrical release second—has been very successful for Magnolia and is probably the future of film in general.

Wish You Were Here

In 2010, Animal Kingdom resulted in a surprise Oscar nomination for Jackie Weaver. The same group of filmmakers reunite for Wish You Were Here. This year, everyone will know this is award bait and those buyers will be interested, especially as Joel Edgerton, who’s right on the brink and has Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby this year as well, stars.

The Words

It’s Bradley Cooper. Not only is someone sure to snap it up, but it’ll get one of the bigger releases of the Sundance lot, given his status as reigning SMA and the surprising spring success of Limitless last year. And you know what? This is likely BCoop’s first appearance at a festival in 2012, as he still has Derek Cianfrance’s follow up to Blue Valentine later this year, and The Silver Linings Playbook, which is David O. Russell’s first movie after The Fighter. Damn. Bradley Cooper is turning into a real actor and everything. (Lainey: The Words also stars his real-life maybe gf Zoe Saldana. So, you know, total photo op.)

Wuthering Heights

Oscilloscope is already set to release this, though they haven’t yet set a date. It’ll likely come in spring, though, undoubtedly hoping to reproduce the art house success of Jane Eyre last year. This adaptation comes from Andrea Arnold, who gifted the world with The Fassbender in Fish Tank. This time she’s looking to launch the unknown James Howson. Kaya Scodelario also stars. I hate this story. Miserable, awful people all around, and responsible for generations of misguided romances, including Twilight.

So here are some titles to look out for over the course of the year, and not a franchise or superhero in sight. Whether it’s a film from Sundance or another out-of-the way gem that catches your interest, let’s promise one another that this year we’ll make more of an effort to support the smaller films in the market. We can’t let another Win Win slip us by.