The Sundance Film Festival kicks off this week in Park City, Utah. The venerable fest enters its 33rd year with many once again questioning the organizers' commitment to independent film. Recent incarnations have debuted underground fare from art houses like Fox Searchlight and Sony Pictures Classics, which are "independent" film divisions of billion-dollar studios.
In recent years, the festival has also exploded in size. As an attendee from 2004-2006, I can attest to the sardine-can buses, crowded parties and packed screenings. Even a press pass is no guarantee for the most popular films, especially when you're not just contending with the likes of Paris Hilton/Snoop Dogg and their entourages, but also media outlets that think it's fun to cram every one of their people into the same movie.
But I'm not going this year. If you are, good luck squeezing into any of these highly anticipated flicks.
Red State -- Kevin Smith's latest is a horror tale centered on a fundamentalist Christian group not so loosely based on Fred Phelps's Westboro Baptist Church (and stars The Fighter's Melissa Leo. It's a hot ticket for Smith who's spent recent months lashing out at critics following the overwhelmingly poor notices for Cop Out, vowing not to allow them to screen his movies in advance (and I hear he's not letting any media into the Sundance screening, which is already sold out). This could charitably be described as a disingenuous move, considering the guy owes his entire career to the positive reviews Clerks received at this very festival back in 1994.
The Greatest Movie Ever Sold -- Ever wonder why everyone in a movie has an Apple computer, a Nokia cell phone and drinks Budweiser? Morgan Spurlock follows up the success of Super Size Me (a huge fest hit in 2004) with this look at product placement in the movies, examining the cozy relationship between studios and corporate America. The catch? He obtained funding only from the sponsors he examines in the film itself.
And apparently domestic distribution rights have been secured by Sony Pictures. Maybe we'll get a coupon for a Vaio discount with each ticket.
The Idiot Brother -- A.K.A. That Movie Where Paul Rudd Grew A Beard.
Seriously, that's all anyone can talk about.
Cedar Rapids -- Frankly, this sounds a lot like Hangover 2: Flyover Country. Ed Helms is back, this time as a small-town insurance agent who goes to a convention in the modern-day Gomorrah known as...Cedar Rapids. Hijinx, as you probably guessed, ensue. I'm also taking bets on which has-been celebrity sports figure (Tonya Harding? Jeff Hostetler?) or famous Iowan (...Captain Kirk?) will make a cameo.
The Details -- Tobey Maguire and Elizabeth Banks play a couple terrorized by...raccoons. Okay, I have to admit, this one has me intrigued.
I Melt With You -- It's finally happened; my generation has officially entered the annoying navel-gazing Big Chill years. This, however, is a darker-themed drama. Of course, they still had to name it after an excruciatingly overplayed '80s pop song. When you consider the film stars Jeremy Piven and Rob Lowe, however, perhaps a better title might've been "Gone Daddy Gone."
The Future -- Ugh. I'm including this only because Miranda July's previous film, Me and You and Everyone We Know, made a big splash at Sundance '05 among the quirkier-than-thou who saw in July an annoying kindred spirit (I myself wanted to hang myself with one of her trademark wide belts), and there's no shortage of budding auteurs and smirking hipsters ready to line up for this tale of a troubled couple and their --*sigh*-- talking cat.
Flypaper -- Can director Rob Minkoff possibly top the dizzying heights of 2003's The Haunted Mansion? We doubt it, but if anyone can help make this movie about a man trying to save the teller he's secretly in love with from bank robbers work, it's a couple of actors who simply don't make bad movies: Patrick "McDreamy" Dempsey and Ashley Judd.
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Hobo with a Shotgun -- Anything I could add would be superfluous: take hobo, add shotgun. Of all the movies at this year's festival, this is the one I'm actually disappointed I won't get to see. Oh, and Rutger fucking Hauer plays the hobo.
Magic Trip -- This documentary about Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters traveling by bus from California to the World's Fair in New York in 1964 might be a complete bust, but after Taxi to the Dark Side, I'm willing to give director Alex Gibney credit. Plus, it's probably the closest thing to a movie version of Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test we're likely to get.