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Sundance 2014 Preview

I can’t believe it, but from January 16th to the 25th, I’ll be back at the Sundance Film Festival for my fifth year in a row! I really can’t explain how fortunate I feel to be sent back to cover my favorite film festival, and I’m so eager to step into the press-filled Holiday Village cinemas in Park City that I doubt I’ll sleep much over the next week leading up to the fest. The 2014 edition is extra special in that it marks the fest’s thirtieth anniversary. The lineup looks tremendous. Could we be about to discover the next RESERVOIR DOGS, CLERKS, 500 DAYS OF SUMMER or LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE? Stay tuned!

1. The Raid 2

I caught THE RAID: REDEMPTION at Sundance two years ago and hot damn was I ever blown away by Gareth Evans’ bone-crunching martial-arts extravaganza. I think it’s safe to say that the original RAID was one of the very best action movies to come along in many a year, and star Iko Uwais is back in Evans’ bigger and (hopefully) better second installment, which looks to set much of the action in a state-of-the-art prison complex. The early trailers suggest a very ambitious actioner, and this year it’s my number one priority for the fest.

2. Cold in July

Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard and the great Don Johnson co-star in the southern-fried vigilante thriller. Adapted from BUBBA HO-TEP author Joe Lansdale’s acclaimed novel, COLD IN JULY is the latest from STAKE LAND and WE ARE WHAT WE ARE director Jim Mickle. With this cast and a cool premise that sees Hall kill Shepard’s son while defending his home from a burglar, JULY sounds like my idea of a seedy good time.

3. A Most Wanted Man

CONTROL director Anton Corbijn returns with this John le Carré adaptation starring Rachel McAdams and Philip Seymour Hoffman, among others. Le Carré adaptations have been more hit that miss lately with THE CONSTANT GARDENER and TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY, so here’s hoping Corbijn’s film measures up to those. I’m very eager to see what he has in store. As a visual stylist, he’s tough to beat. Heck, I even liked THE AMERICAN.

4. Wish I Was Here

Zach Braff took a lot of heat from bloggers last year when he used Kickstarter to finance his latest film, WISH I WAS HERE. The long-awaited follow-up to GARDEN STATE (can you believe it’s been nine years???) this one starts Braff as an under-employed actor (shades of GARDEN STATE) who finds himself by home-schooling his kids. Kate Hudson, Jim Parsons and Mandy Patinkin co-star. Weird that I’m almost more excited for the soundtrack than the actual film, although I’m pulling for Braff.

5. They Came Together

David Wain returns to his WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER indie roots in this long-awaited rom-com. Paul Rudd stars as a corporate stooge looking to shut down a knick-knack store run by Amy Poehler, but natch- they fall in love. If it all sounds a little too YOU GOT MAIL, don’t be fooled. If this is 1/10th as nuts as WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER we have a crazy cult hit on our hands. And check out this supporting cast: Ken Marino, Ed Helms, Cobie Smulders, Christopher Meloni, and none other than Michael Shannon. Yup- Michael Shannon. In a comedy.

6. Life Itself

The late Roger Ebert is profiled in the long-awaited doc LIFE ITSELF. Based on his best-selling autobiography, and appropriately directed by a guy Ebert long-admired, Steve James (HOOP DREAMS), this should be one of the most bittersweet entries of the festival, as I have fond memories of sitting by Ebert at a few-screenings here and there in past festivals, before his tragic passing. His is a life that deserves to be celebrated.

7. Calvary

I was a major fan of director John Michael McDonagh’s last film, THE GUARD, and it’s great to see him reunite with star Brendan Gleeson, for what promises to be another unique, jet-black comedy, starring Gleeson as a priest who finds the forces of darkness invading his parish. Knowing McDonagh, this will be darkly funny and thought provoking. Chris O’Dowd and Kelly Reilly co-star.

8. Life After Beth

Beth (Aubrey Plaza) and Zach (Dane DeHaan) are young and in love. What could be better? Well, there’s a hitch, Beth is dead and now that she’s joined the ranks of the undead she’s hungry for the sweet taste of human flesh. I know, I know- another zombie movie. Hopefully this zom-com will stand out from the pack, but having Plaza, DeHaan and the great John C. Reilly involved is a great start.

9. Cooties

COOTIES stars Elijah Wood as a young teacher who becomes an unlikely hero when the pint-sized students of his elementary school are turned into a feral pack of monsters. Sounds like WHO COULD KILL A CHILD, but- ya know- funny. With Rainn Wilson and Jorge Garcia and Jack McBrayer co-starring, it likely will be.

10. The Trip to Italy

Michael Winterbottom’s THE TRIP is a movie I can’t help but watch whenever it’s on cable. Who knew that two guys chit-chatting while driving through the countryside or eating at restaurants could be so brilliant? MY DINNER WITH ANDRE this is not. What makes Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon such a fun pair to watch- other than the fact that they’re two of the funniest men alive- is their love-hate relationship. In the UK, the two have had a long rivalry, and watching them go at each other is brilliant. If THE TRIP TO ITALY has anything nearly as brilliant as their dueling Michael Caine impressions, we’re in for a great time.

11. What We Do in the Shadows

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS is a movie that was in danger of flying under my radar. Vampires? Ho-hum. Vamps from New Zealand? I’m listening. Written and directed by Jermaine Clement of FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS??? Hell yes, I’m in. I love Clement, so I’m reasonably sure this will be a funny as f*ck horror romp. I can’t bloody wait.

12. I Origins

I ORIGINS is another sci-fi outing by director Mike Cahill, who- a couple of years ago- hit the fest with his ingenious ANOTHER EARTH. Hopefully lightening will strike twice for his ambitious follow-up which stars former BOARDWALK EMPIRE-star Michael Pitt as a molecular biologist who, as per the imdb “uncovers evidence which may fundamentally change society as we know it.” Co-starring Cahil muse Brit Marling, as well as WALKING DEAD star Steven Yeun.

13. Frank

FRANK stars Michael Fassbender- but with a hitch. In it, he plays Frank Sidebottom- the real-life alter-ego of musician Chris Sievey who fronted a punk-rock band while wearing a fake cherubic head. So ladies, don’t expect to see Fassbender’s handsome face. That said, it sounds absolutely mad, and as I like absolutely mad things, you better bet this is one of my must-see flicks.

14. The Guest

Adam Wingard is back, fresh off the indie breakout success of his slasher flick YOU’RE NEXT. This one seems to be a little more of a hard-edged actioner, starring DOWNTON ABBEY heartthrob Dan Stevens in a major departure as a wounded war vet who moves in with a platoon mate’s former family, only for them to discover that he’s hiding a deadly secret. Stevens is a unique choice for the part, and Wingard is nothing if not interesting, so consider my interest piqued.

15. Nick Offerman: American Ham

Man-god Nick Offerman hits Sundance with the filmed version of his one-man show, AMERICAN HAM. Offerman is a prince among men, a legend in a business full of them, and the most hirsute model for manhood since Burt Reynolds in his prime. My only fear is that I may not in fact be man enough to gain entry to any of the screenings, as Offerman’s testosterone takes no prisoners.

16. Young Ones

Michael Shannon stars in this post-apocalyptic semi-western about a future where water is scarce and is the most valuable commodity. Otherwise, not much is known about this flick, which also stars Nicholas Hoult, THE ROAD’s Kodi Smit McPhee and SUPER 8’s Elle Fanning. Shannon’s involvement along makes it a must-see. Jake Paltrow directs.

17. Love is Strange

Alfred Molina and John Lithgow star as a long-term couple who are forced apart by age and circumstance. Reading the Sundance capsule, I can’t help but think this sounds a bit like the classic weepie MAKE ROOM FOR TOMORROW, with a gay twist, which is intriguing. Ira Sachs, director of Sundance hit KEEP THE LIGHTS ON is at the helm.

18. White Bird in a Blizzard

Greg Araki makes his Sundance comeback with this eighties-set coming-of-age comedy starring breakout Shailene Woodley (fresh off THE SPECTACULAR NOW, and about to appear in DIVERGENT) as a young woman plunged into darkness after the disappearance of her mother. Araki is certainly an acquired taste, but MYSTERIOUS SKIN is a film I’ll never get tired of defending, so I’m curious to see what he has in store for us here.

19. God's Pocket

MAD MEN’s John Slattery moves behind the camera to direct this Pete Dexter (THE PAPERBOY, PARIS TROUT) adaptation starring his MAD MEN co-star Christina Hendricks and Philip Seymour Hoffman. That’s just about all I know about the movie but really, do you need more than Hendricks and Hoffman being involved to make this a must-see? This will no doubt be one of the hot-ticket movies at the fest.

20. Locke

Steven Knight’s Jason Statham vehicle, REDEMPTION (aka HUMMINGBIRD) was an intriguing if not altogether successful change-of-pace for its star. Knight is back with another story of a lost man, this one starring none other than Tom Hardy. Apparently, the entire film is set in Hardy’s car as he drives from Birmingham to London. Usually I’m not a huge fan of this contained-thrillers, but this played to raves at the Venice Film Festival, so is definitely worth getting in line for.

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