Picking the right Sundance film requires knowing something about the films. But it also requires knowing something about yourself. What kind of story do you think you’re looking for? And how far “out there” are you prepared to be taken once you sit down in your theater seat?
Since Sundance no longer allows film critics to preview its films prior to the festival, most of our recommendations involve speculation and educated guesswork. Based on industry knowledge and early buzz, our two seasoned Sundance reviewers have created this guide to help tailor your Sundance experience.
City Weekly has broken down six broad genre areas into three levels: Level 1 movie-goers are those who prefer straightforward storytelling unlikely to freak them out. Those in Level 2 are more OK with being pushed just a little bit outside their comfort zones. Level 3 is the avant-garde soul for whom the better question is, “What comfort zone?”
Ashton Kutcher plays the role of Apple entrepreneur Steve Jobs, covering 30 years of his personal and professional life. Director Joshua Michael Stern’s previous film was the 2008 mainstream political comedy Swing Vote with Kevin Costner, suggesting a fairly straight-ahead, uncomplicated approach to the subject matter, without too many off-the-wall twists.
Kill Your Darlings (U.S. Dramatic)
First-time feature director John Krokidas tells the story of a real-life 1944 murder case involving three “Beat Generation” literary giants: Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and William Burroughs (Ben Foster). A story involving the legendarily envelope-pushing Beatniks seems likely to explore potentially gritty areas, leaving aside that the plot actually does involve a murder. And erstwhile Harry Potter Radcliffe has certainly shown himself willing to court controversy, as his starring role onstage in Equus indicates.
The behind-the-scenes story of perhaps the world’s first “porn star”—Linda Lovelace (Amanda Seyfried), the star of the 1972 breakthrough hit Deep Throat—includes her later biographical revelations of abuse and manipulation by those close to her. Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman took an unconventional angle on film biography in their previous Sundance entry, 2010’s Allen Ginsberg profile Howl. That, combined with the definitely edgy subject matter, suggests that viewers should go in not expecting a light-hearted romp.
Before Midnight (Premieres)
Director Richard Linklater and stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy once again revisit the lives of Jesse and Celine, nine years after their reunion in Before Sunset showed how their one night together in Before Sunrise changed them forever. Before Sunset may be one of the most brilliantly realized sequels in film history, and few films in the festival offer more promise than one that shows us how Jesse and Celine have evolved over the course of nearly another decade. Could be blissful, could be heartbreaking, but almost certain to be worthwhile.
The pun title hints at the kind of comedy to expect: First-time feature director Shaka King follows the stoner love story between “a Brooklyn repo man and his globetrotting girlfriend” (quoting the film guide). The description—and the film’s presence in the micro-budget NEXT category—suggests something that will take a down & dirty approach to its love story, something more darkly comic than straight-ahead rom-com.
The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman (Premieres)
The titular American abroad (Shia LaBeouf) becomes fascinated with a young Romanian woman named Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood) and falls hard for her—which is something of a problem, considering that her possessive ex is a violent gangster. We’re taking a wild stab based on the title that things don’t end merrily for young Charlie, but it could be a fascinating (if bloody) ride along the way, plus the presence of an eclectic supporting cast including Mads Mikkelsen and Rupert Grint.
WAR & PEACE
Manhunt: The Search for Osama bin Laden (U.S. Documentary)
Director Greg Barker profiles some of the intelligence analysts who were engaged in the process of finding the infamous leader of al-Qaida even before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. What sounds like a documentary companion piece to the current theatrical feature Zero Dark Thirty looks more likely to deal with behind-the-scenes stories and compelling background material than the gruesome nuts & bolts of warfare.
The Square (Al Midan) (World Documentary)
The “Arab Spring”—and the ongoing battles for democracy and human rights in Arab nations—get specific human faces in this documentary from Egyptian-born documentary filmmaker Jehane Noujaim (Startup.com, Control Room) that tells the stories of five revolutionaries in Egypt. Revolution is likely to be messy and frightening, but Noujaim’s track record suggests a crisply edited, engrossing character study about people pursuing what they’re most committed to.
Which Way to the Front Line From Here? (Documentary Premieres)
Sebastian Junger looks at the life—and death while on the job in Libya—of Tim Hetherington, the gifted photojournalist with whom Junger co-directed the Sundance documentary Restrepo. Hetherington’s focus on chronicling the world’s battlefields is likely to mean the presence of some potentially disturbing images.