Sundance Announces Competition Films


This is one of my favorite posts of the year - I take the list of Sundance films, and give my snap judgement on each of them...here goes:


U.S. DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
This year’s 16 films were selected from 862 submissions. Each film is a world premiere.
Bhutto(Directors: Jessica Hernandez and Johnny O'Hara; Screenwriter: Johnny O'Hara)—A riveting journey through the life and work of recently assassinated Benazir Bhutto, former Pakistani prime minister and a polarizing figure in the Muslim world. World Premiere
Important to understand what's happening in this flashpoint nation.
CASINO JACK & The United States of Money(Director: Alex Gibney)—A probing investigation into the lies, greed and corruption surrounding D.C. super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his cronies. World Premiere
From the guy who directed "ENRON: The Smartest Guys in the Room" another analysis of capitalism gone bad.
Family Affair (Director: Chico Colvard)—An uncompromising documentary that examines resilience, survival and the capacity to accommodate a parent's past crimes in order to satisfy the longing for family. World Premiere
Freedom Riders(Director: Stanley Nelson)—The story behind a courageous band of civil rights activists called the Freedom Riders who in 1961 creatively challenged segregation in the American South. World Premiere
Interesting followup from the director of last year's "Wounded Knee"
GasLand(Director: Josh Fox)—A cross-country odyssey uncovers toxic streams, dying livestock, flammable sinks and weakening health among rural citizens on the front lines of the natural gas drilling craze. World Premiere
Why "Drill baby drill" might not be the best plan.

I’m Pat _______ Tillman(Director: Amir Bar-Lev)—The story of professional football star and decorated U.S. soldier Pat Tillman, whose family takes on the U.S. government when their beloved son dies in a "friendly fire" incident in Afghanistan in 2004. World Premiere
First you have Jon Krakauer's book, now here's the movie from the director of "My Kid Could Paint That"

Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child(Director: Tamra Davis)—The story of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose work defined, electrified and challenged an era, and whose untimely death at age 27 has made him a cultural icon.World Premiere
The director of Britney Spears' "Crossroads" takes on a real artist.

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (Directors: Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg)—A rare, brutally honest glimpse into the comedic process and private dramas of legendary comedian and pop icon Joan Rivers as she fights tooth and nail to keep her American dream alive. World Premiere
More Sundance vets ("The Trials of Darryl Hunt," "The Devil Came on Horseback") go to a lighter subject with the iconic comic.

Lucky (Director: Jeffrey Blitz)—The story of what happens when ordinary people hit the lottery jackpot.
World Premiere
I would love to be the subject of this film.

My Perestroika (Director:Robin Hessman)—Intimately tracking the lives of five Muscovites who came of age just as the USSR collapsed and are adjusting to their post-Soviet reality, My Perestroika maps the contours of a nation in profound transition. World Premiere
I'm a history major, so this sounds interesting to me. General audiences, we'll have to see.

The Oath (Director: Laura Poitras)— Filmed in Yemen, The Oath tells the story of two men whose fateful encounter in 1996 set them on a course of events that led them to Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden, 9/11, Guantanamo, and the U.S. Supreme Court. World Premiere
Politics never takes a holiday at Sundance.

Restrepo (Directors: Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington)—Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington's year dug in with the Second Platoon in one of Afghanistan's most strategically crucial valleys reveals extraordinary insight into the surreal combination of back breaking labor, deadly firefights, and camaraderie as the soldiers painfully push back the Taliban. World Premiere
Junger wrote the book "A Perfect Storm" and is an excellent storyteller. Should be an interesting companion to the Pat Tillman movie.
A Small Act(Director:Jennifer Arnold)—A young Kenyan’s life changes dramatically when his education is sponsored by a Swedish stranger. Years later, he founds his own scholarship program to replicate the kindness he once received.World Premiere
Could be this year's "God Grew Tired of Us"

Smash His Camera(Director: Leon Gast)—Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis sued him, and Marlon Brando broke his jaw. The story of notorious, reviled paparazzo Ron Galella opens a Pandora's Box of issues from right to privacy, freedom of the press and the ever-growing vortex of celebrity worship. World Premiere
A couple of years ago there were two dramatic films dealing with paparazzi, now a doc comes.

12th & Delaware(Directors: Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing)—The abortion battle continues to rage in unexpected ways on an unassuming corner in America. World Premiere
WAITING FOR SUPERMAN (Director: Davis Guggenheim)—Waiting for Superman examines the crisis of public education in the United States through multiple interlocking stories—from a handful of students and their families whose futures hang in the balance, to the educators and reformers trying to find real and lasting solutions within a dysfunctional system. World Premiere
Director of the rock doc "It Might Get Loud" - always a timely subject, esp. in the state with the lowest per pupil spending in the nation.

U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION
This year’s 16 films were selected from 1,058 submissions. Each film is a world premiere.
Blue Valentine(Director: Derek Cianfrance; Screenwriters: Derek Cianfrance, Cami Delavigne and Joey Curtis) —A complex portrait of an American marriage, Blue Valentine charts the evolution of a relationship over time. Cast: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, Mike Vogel, John Doman. World Premiere
Gotta have one of these "relationship" films every year.
Douchebag (Director: Drake Doremus; Screenwriters: Lindsay Stidham, Drake Doremus, Jonathan Schwartz and Andrew Dickler) —On the verge of getting married, Sam Nussbaum insists he escort his younger brother, Tom, on a wild goose chase of a journey to find Tom's fifth grade girlfriend. Cast: Andrew Dickler, Ben York Jones, Marguerite Moreau, Nicole Vicius, Amy Ferguson, Wendi McClendon-Covey. World Premiere
The indie version of "The Hangover"?

The Dry Land(Director and screenwriter: Ryan Piers Williams)—A U.S. soldier returning home from war struggles to reconcile his experiences abroad with the life and family he left in Texas. Cast: America Ferrera, Wilmer Valderrama, Ethan Suplee, June Diane Raphael, Melissa Leo. World Premiere
Great cast, but the returning soldier movie has been done before.

happythankyoumoreplease (Director and screenwriter: Josh Radnor)—Six New Yorkers negotiate love, friendship, and gratitude at a time when they're too old to be precocious and not ready to be adults. Cast: Malin Akerman, Josh Radnor, Kate Mara, Zoe Kazan, Tony Hale, Pablo Schreiber, Michael Algieri. World Premiere
Could this be the new "Metropolitan" or just more mumblecore?

Hesher(Director: Spencer Susser; Screenwriters: Spencer Susser and David Michod; Story by Brian Charles Frank)—A mysterious, anarchical trickster descends on the lives of a family struggling to deal with a painful loss. Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Natalie Portman, Rainn Wilson, Devin Brochu, Piper Laurie, John Carroll Lynch. World Premiere
Hmmm...comedy or drama? Who cares, NATALIE PORTMAN!

Holy Rollers (Director: Kevin Tyler Asch; Screenwriter: Antonio Macia)—A young Hasidic man, seduced by money, power and opportunity, becomes an international Ecstasy smuggler. Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Bartha, Danny A. Abeckaser, Ari Graynor, Jason Fuchs. World Premiere
This should play well with the New York crowd. :-)

Howl
(Directors and screenwriters: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman)—A nonfiction drama about the young Allen Ginsberg finding his voice, the creation of his groundbreaking poem HOWL, and the landmark obscenity trial that followed. Cast: James Franco, David Strathairn, Jon Hamm, Mary-Louise Parker, Jeff Daniels. World Premiere
With a cast like that, it should be some powerful stuff.

The Imperialists are still Alive! (Director and screenwriter: Zeina Durra)—Juggling the sudden abduction of her childhood sweetheart as well as a blooming love affair, a French Manhattanite makes her way as an artist in an indifferent, sometimes hostile world. Cast: Élodie Bouchez, José María de Tavira, Karim Saleh Karolina Muller, Marianna Kulukundis, Rita Ackerman. World Premiere
Lovers of Hate (Director and screenwriter: Bryan Poyser)—The shaky reunion of estranged brothers takes a turn for the worse when the woman they both love chooses one over the other. Cast: Chris Doubek, Heather Kafka, Alex Karpovsky, Zach Green. World Premiere
Oooh, love triangle coupled with family drama. How could the festival resist?

Night Catches Us (Director and screenwriter: Tanya Hamilton)—In 1978, complex political and emotional forces are set in motion when a young man returns to the race-torn Philadelphia neighborhood where he came of age during the Black Power movement. Cast: Anthony Mackie, Kerry Washington, Jamie Hector, Wendell Pierce, Jamara Griffin. World Premiere
Philly is still dealing with racial tensions brought about in the '70s.
Obselidia (Director and screenwriter: Diane Bell)—A lonely librarian believes love is obsolete until a road trip to Death Valley with a beguiling cinema projectionist teaches him otherwise. Cast: Gaynor Howe, Michael Piccirilli, Frank Hoyt Taylor. World Premiere
Expect lots of dramatic desert shots and long stretches without dialogue.

Skateland (Director: Anthony Burns; Screenwriters: Anthony Burns, Brandon Freeman, Heath Freeman)—In the early 1980s, in small-town Texas, dramatic events force a 19-year-old skating rink manager to look at his life in a very new way. Cast: Shiloh Fernandez, A.J. Buckley, Ashley Greene, Brett Cullen, Ellen Hollman, Heath Freeman. World Premiere
Expect photogs to flock to the premiere for shots of the "Twilight" star, and I expect a killer soundtrack.

Sympathy for Delicious (Director: Mark Ruffalo; Screenwriter: Christopher Thornton)—A newly paralyzed DJ gets more than he bargained for when he seeks out the world of faith healing. Cast: Orlando Bloom, Mark Ruffalo, Juliette Lewis, Laura Linney, John Carroll Lynch. World Premiere
Ruffalo and Linney team up again in Ruffalo's directorial debut.

3 Backyards (Director and screenwriter: Eric Mendelsohn)—A quiet suburban town becomes an intense emotional terrain for three residents over the course of one curious autumn day. Cast: Embeth Davidtz, Edie Falco, Elias Koteas, Rachel Resheff, Kathryn Erbe, Danai Gurira. World Premiere
Suburban family drama's are as much a part of the festival as people wearing black.

Welcome to the Rileys (Director: Jake Scott)—On a business trip to New Orleans, a damaged man seeks salvation by caring for a wayward young woman. Cast: James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart, Melissa Leo. World Premiere
Are we starting to see Katrina dramas now?

Winter’s Bone (Director: Debra Granik; Screenwriters: Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini)—An unflinching Ozark Mountain girl hacks through dangerous social terrain as she hunts down her drug-dealing father while trying to keep her family intact. Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Dale Dickey, Garret Dillahunt, Kevin Breznahan. World Premiere
Apparently, Granik likes making movies about the drug culture.
WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
This year’s 12 films were selected from 782 international documentary submissions.
A Film Unfinished / Germany, Israel (Director: Yael Hersonski)—Film reels uncovered in Nazi archives reveal the mechanisms used to stage Warsaw Ghetto life--images which have shaped our view of history. World Premiere
A different kind of Holocaust film.

Enemies of the People / Cambodia, United Kingdom(Directors: Rob Lemkin and Thet Sambath)—A young journalist whose family was killed by the Khmer Rouge befriends the perpetrators of the Killing Fields genocide, evoking shocking revelations. U.S. Premiere
Starting to see more of these 2nd generation Vietnam/Cambodia/Laos films. Sounds interesting.

Fix ME / France, Palestinian Territories, Switzerland(Director: Raed Andoni)—When Palestinian filmmaker Raed Andoni gets a headache that won't quit, he seeks out help and insight in different forms in his hometown of Ramallah.International Premiere
His & Hers / Ireland (Director: Ken Wardrop)—Seventy Irish women offer moving insights into the relationships between women and men. North American Premiere
Kick in Iran / Gemany (Director: Fatima Geza Abdollahyan)—The first female professional Taekwondo fighter from Iran to qualify for the Olympic Games struggles for recognition in a society where women still play a subordinate role. World Premiere
Last Train Home / Canada (Director: Lixin Fan)—Getting a train ticket in China proves a towering ordeal as a migrant worker family embarks on a journey, along with 200 million other peasants, to reunite with their distant family. U.S. Premiere
The Red Chapel (Det Røde Kapel) / Denmark (Director: Mads Brügger)—A journalist with no scruples, a self-proclaimed spastic, and a comedian travel to North Korea under the guise of a cultural exchange visit to challenge one of the world’s most notorious regimes. U.S. Premiere
Just the description sounds like a bad joke, but you never know.

Russian Lessons / Georgia, Germany, Norway (Directors: Olga Konskaya and Andrei Nekrasov)—An investigation into Russian actions during the 2008 war in Georgia, revealing the little known story of the ethnic cleansing in the region since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. World Premiere

Secrets of the Tribe / Brazil (Director: José Padilha)—Is the academic Anthropology community capable of generating real knowledge about mankind? The scandals and the infighting regarding the representation of indigenous Indians in the Amazon Basin seems to indicate that the answer may be a resounding no. World Premiere
Interesting topic, but sounds a bit dry.
Sins of My Father / Argentina, Colombia (Director: Nicolas Entel)—The life and times of notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar are recounted through the eyes of his son, who fled Colombia to move beyond his father's legacy. North American Premiere
Last year was the year for films about parents, but you know this one is going to be high on everyone's lists. Scarface from the inside.

Space Tourists / Switzerland (Director: Christian Frei)—A humorous and laconic view of the way billionaires depart our planet earth to travel into outer space for fun. North American Premiere
Again, I wish I could be one of the subjects here.

Waste Land / United Kingdom (Director: Lucy Walker)—Lives are transformed when international art star Vik Muniz collaborates with garbage pickers in the world's largest landfill in Rio de Janeiro. World Premiere
WORLD CINEMA NARRATIVE COMPETITION
This year’s 14 films were selected from 1,022 international narrative feature submissions.
All that I Love / Poland (Director and screenwriter: Jacek Borcuch)—In 1981, during the growing Polish Solidarity movement, four small-town teenagers form a punk rock band with the hope of playing at a local festival. Cast: Mateusz Kościukiewicz, Jakub Gierszał, Mateusz Banasiuk, Olga Frycz, Igor Obłoza. North American Premiere
Hard to believe this is the first music film on the list!
Animal Kingdom / Australia (Director and screenwriter: David Michôd)—After the death of his mother, a seventeen year-old boy is thrust precariously between an explosive criminal family and a detective who thinks he can save him.Cast: Guy Pearce, Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Luke Ford, Jacki Weaver, James Frecheville. World Premiere
Boy / New Zealand (Director and screenwriter: Taika Waititi)—When his father returns home after many years away, 11-year-old Boy and his little brother Rocky must reconcile reality with the fantasy dad they created in their imagination.Cast: Taika Waititi, James Rolleston, Te Aho Eketone. World Premiere
Taika is another Sundance vet ("Eagle vs. Shark") so you know this will have some humor behind the pain.

Contracorriente (Undertow) / Colombia, France, Germany, Peru (Director and screenwriter: Javier Fuentes-Leon)—An unusual ghost story set on the Peruvian seaside, a married fisherman struggles to reconcile his devotion to his male lover within his town's rigid traditions. Cast: Cristian Mercado, Manolo Cardona, Tatiana Astengo. North American Premiere
Four Lions / UK (Director: Chris Morris and screenwriters: Chris Morris, Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain)—A comedy tour de force about a bunch of self styled British jihadis. Cast: Riz Ahmed, Arsher Ali, Nigel Lindsay, Kayvan Novak.World Premiere
Comedy tour de force? We'll be the judge of that!

Grown Up Movie Star / Canada(Director and screenwriter: Adriana Maggs)—After her mother runs away, a teenage girl, determined to grow up fast, is left to care for her hopelessly rural father. Cast: Shawn Doyle, Tatiana Maslany, Jonny Harris, Mark O'Brien, Andy Jones, Julia Kennedy. U.S. Premiere
The Man Next Door (El Hombre de al Lado) / Argentina (Directors and screenwriters: Mariano Cohn and Gastón; Screenwriter: Andres Duprat)— A small incident over two neighbors common wall sparks a conflict which affects the intimacy of the view over the chimney; the protagonist sparks a conflict and with paranoiac obsession destroys everyday life. Cast: Rafael Spregelburd, Daniel Aráoz, Eugenia Alonso, Inés Budassi, Lorenza Acuña. International Premiere
Me Too (Yo, También) / Spain(Directors and screenwriters: Álvaro Pastor and Antonio Naharro)—A 34-year-old college-educated man with Down syndrome and his free-spirited co-worker forge an unconventional relationship. Cast:Pablo Pineda, Lola Dueñas, Antonio Naharro, Isabel Garcia Lorca, Pedro Alvarez Ossorio. International Premiere
Nuummioq / Greenland (Directors: Otto Rosing and Torben Bech; Screenwriter: Torben Bech)—A young man's journey through the exquisite natural landscape of Greenland allows him to piece together elements of his past and move on with his life. Cast: Lars Rosing, Angunnguaq Larsen, Julie Berthelsen, Morten Rose, Makka Kleist, Mariu Olsen. World Premiere
Peepli Live / India (Director and screenwriter: Anusha Rizvi)—A satirical look at the predicament of a poor farmer who creates a media frenzy when, beset with debt, he announces that he will commits suicide so his family can receive government compensation. Cast: Omkar Das, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Raghubir Yadav, Shalini Vatsa, Farukh Jaffer World Premiere
Son of Babylon / Iraq (Director: Mohamed Al Daradji; Screenwriters: Mohamed Al-Daradji, Jennifer Norridge, MithalGhazi) In the days after the fall of Saddam Hussein, a young Kurdish boy and his grandmother venture through Iraq on a quest to find the remains of their missing father/son. Cast: Yasser Talib, Shazda Hussein, Bashir Al-Majid. International Premiere
I'm a sucker for alternate looks at a story Americans are familiar with.

Southern District (Zona Sur) / Bolivia (Director and screenwriter: Juan Carlos Valdivia)—In La Paz, Bolivia, in a villa surrounded by beautiful gardens, an upper-class family experiences final halcyon days of luxury as social change penetrates their bubble. Cast: Ninón del Castillo, Pascual Loayza, Nicolás Fernández, Juan Pablo Koria, Mariana Vargas. North American Premiere
The Temptation of St. Tony / Estonia (Director and screenwriter: Veiko Õunpuu)—A mid-level manager who develops an aversion to being “good” finds himself confronting the mysteries of middle-age and morality as he loses grasp of what was once his quiet life. Cast: Taavi Eelmaa, Rain Tolk, Tiina Tauraite, Katariina Lauk, Raivo E. Tamm. World Premiere
Vegetarian (Chaesikjueuija) / South Korea (Director and screenwriter: Lim Woo-seong)—A young housewife, finds herself having strange dreams that make her disgusted by meat, leading to trouble with her meat-loving husband and attention from her artist brother in law. Cast: CHEA Min-Seo, KIM Hyun-Sung, KIM Yeo-Jin, KIM Young-Jae.International Premiere