25 Sundance Films We're Looking Forward To

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The 2012 Sundance Film Fest begins tomorrow, and Paste film editor Michael Dunaway will be on hand to separate the wheat from the chaff. Here’s what already has him excited to be in Park City, Utah.

11. LUV
The Category: U.S. Dramatic Competition
The Sundance Synopsis: “Woody, an adorable 11-year-old boy awaiting the return of his missing mother, lives with his grandmother and Uncle Vincent, who is fresh off an eight-year prison stint. For Woody, the confident, charismatic Vincent is a titan among men. When Vincent notices that Woody could learn a thing or two about becoming a man, he brings him along as he ventures forth to open his own business. But when legit life fails to support Vincent’s vision, and his old Baltimore crime boss, Mr. Fish, haunts him, the pace of little Woody’s manhood lesson accelerates.”
The Key Players: Director Sheldon Canis; Common, Dennis Haysbert, Danny Glover, Michael Kenneth Williams
The Draw: This film may prove to be a turning point in Common’s career; he has such an odd combination of gravitas, intelligence and vague menace that filmmakers have struggled in the past to find the right spot for him. But this role seems tailor made. Thoughtful inner-city dramas that don’t bathe in pathos or sink to stereotype are pretty rare, too. Plus—Omar!


The Category: U.S. Dramatic Competition
The Sundance Synopsis: “Martine, a 23-year-old artist from New York, arrives in Los Angeles to stay in the pool house of a family living in the hip and hilly community of Silver Lake. Peter, the father, has agreed to help Martine complete sound design on her art film as a favor to his wife. Martine innocently enters the seemingly idyllic life of this open-minded family with two kids and a relaxed Southern California vibe. Like a bolt of lightning, her arrival sparks a surge of energy that awakens suppressed impulses in everyone and forces them to confront their own fears and desires.”
The Key Players: Director Ry Russo-Young; John Krasinski, Olivia Thirlby, Rosemarie DeWitt, Dylan McDermott
The Draw: Ry Russo-Young is one of the most fascinating young filmmakers on the scene. In the wrong hands this plot could be the source of at least five different kinds of terrible Hollywood films, but I have great trust in her and in this cast. At first glance, Lena Dunham (Tiny Furniture) seems a strange fit for the subject matter, but I’m equally excited to see a more intense side of her. I’m expecting to walk out of this theater needing a shoulder massage. My pick for the most promising film in the U.S. Dramatic Competition.


The Category: U.S. Documentary Competition
The Sundance Synopsis: “In 1992, the United States sent the Dream Team to the Olympic Games in Barcelona. Considered the greatest basketball team ever assembled, these players were expected to dominate and win the gold—and that’s exactly what they did. Meanwhile, on another court, a basketball team from the newly independent nation of Lithuania was chasing a different kind of dream. A tiny country of three million people, Lithuania won the bronze medal, beating Russia, its former oppressor.”
The Key Players: Director Marius Markevicius
The Draw: What can I say? I’m a sucker for the “Yeah, but did you realize…” form of sports documentary. Plus, we get to root for Lithuania!


The Category: Premieres
The Sundance Synopsis: “When his mom deposits him at the Red Hook housing project in Brooklyn to spend the summer with the grandfather he’s never met, young Flik may as well have landed on Mars. Fresh from his cushy life in Atlanta, he’s bored and friendless, and his strict grandfather, Enoch, a firebrand preacher, is bent on getting him to accept Jesus Christ as his personal savior. Only Chazz, the feisty girl from church, provides a diversion from the drudgery. As hot summer simmers and Sunday mornings brim with Enoch’s operatic sermons, things turn anything but dull as people’s conflicting agendas collide.”
The Key Players: Director Spike Lee; Clarke Peters
The Draw: A master returns, and this time he’s bringing Clarke Peters with him. I didn’t even have to read the description before putting it on the list. But after reading the description, it’s even more promising.


The Category: Premieres
The Sundance Synopsis: “Two investigators of paranormal hoaxes, the veteran Dr. Margaret Matheson and her young assistant, Tom Buckley, study the most varied metaphysical phenomena with the aim of proving their fraudulent origins. Simon Silver, a legendary blind psychic, reappears after an enigmatic absence of 30 years to become the greatest international challenge to both orthodox science and professional sceptics. Tom starts to develop an intense obsession with Silver, whose magnetism becomes stronger with each new manifestation of inexplicable events. As Tom gets closer to Silver, tension mounts, and his worldview is threatened to its core.”
The Key Players: Director Rodrigo Cortes; Robert DeNiro, Sigourney Weaver, Cillian Murphy, Elizabeth Olsen
The Draw: Gather around children, and let grandpa tell you about the old days, when there were actually movies about the paranormal that weren’t faux-found-footage snoozefests. And when you could build an entire trailer around an actor like Robert DeNiro scaring the beejeezus out of you by basically just turning around (unsurprising that the director who can pull that off is the same one who built an entire movie around Ryan Reynolds being trapped in a box). Everyone wants to claim the “thinking-person’s thriller” title these days, but this looks to be the real deal.


The Category: Premieres
The Sundance Synopsis: “Growing up in a Republican family in 1970s Belfast, Collette McVeigh’s childhood is shattered, and her family radicalized, when her brother is killed. Twenty years later—a single mother with her own young son—Collette is active in the IRA, along with her two surviving brothers. During an aborted bomb attempt in London, Collette falls into the hands of an MI5 officer, Mac, who offers her a deal: Turn informant or go to prison. Fearing for her son’s welfare, she returns to Belfast where—betraying family and beliefs—she becomes a reluctant mole for British intelligence. As suspicion of Collette mounts and Mac takes increasing risks to protect her, both feel the net closing in.”
The Key Players: Director James Marsh; Clive Owen, Gilliann Anderson
The Draw: Another one that would have made the list purely on the strength of the director’s name. While many filmgoers know Marsh primarily as the Oscar-winning director of documentaries like Man on Wire and Project Nim, he’s a celebrated narrative filmmaker as well. Great cast, and films about Northern Ireland in the Seventies always seem to have a certain tragic existential majesty to them.


The Category: Premieres
The Sundance Synopsis: “Sam Pollard performs a remarkable act of historical reclamation in this documentary, recounting the many ways in which American slavery persisted as a practice many decades after its supposed abolition. It’s a story impressive in its sweep and alarming in the way that its larger theme—an American moral failure—has been obscured in history.”
The Key Players: Director Sam Pollard
The Draw: So good it’s already been bought—it airs on PBS in February. Plus, it tells a much-ignored and much-misunderstood chapter in the long, sad history of American race relations. Films like this can help nations heal.


The Category: Premieres
The Sundance Synopsis: “The quest for love appears insurmountable when a man confined to an iron lung determines, at age 38, to lose his virginity. Based on the autobiographical writings of Berkeley, California-based journalist and poet Mark O’Brien, The Surrogate chronicles his attempt to transcend the limbo between childhood and adulthood, in which he is literally trapped. With the blessing of an unusual priest and support from enlightened caregivers, the poignantly optimistic and always droll O’Brien swallows his fear and hires a sex surrogate. What transpires over a handful of sessions transforms them both.”
The Key Players: Director Ben Lewin; John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy 
The Draw: Two years ago, John Hawkes’ Sundance film was Winter’s Bone. Last year, he starred in Higher Ground and Martha Marcy May Marlene. I think it’s time we all realized that every Sundance film he’s in is a must-see.


The Category: Midnight
The Sundance Synopsis: “With the release of their debut album in 2005, New York City’s LCD Soundsystem changed the face of dance music, combining equal parts punk, soul and disco. Their devoted fan base steadily grew, bolstered by Grammy nominations and recognition as one of the best live bands in the world. In early 2011, touring to support their first Billboard Top 10 debut, LCD Soundsystem announced its largest gig to date—Madison Square Garden—and that the concert would be their last ever.”
The Key Players: Directors Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace; James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, Chuck Klosterman
The Draw: Paste favorites LCD Soundsystem and Chuck Klosterman? Together? In one film? Sign us up.


The Category: Documentary Premieres
The Sundance Synopsis: “Visually luscious and drenched with the big beats of classic cuts and freestyle rhyming by some of the masters of the music, Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap is a performance documentary about the runaway juggernaut that is hip-hop. At the wheel of this unstoppable beast is Ice-T. The practitioner/filmmaker, with codirector Andy Baybutt, takes us on a personal journey into the asphalt roots of the music that saved his life.”
The Key Players: Director Ice-T; Chuck D, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, KRS-One, Afrika Babmbaata, Nas, Mos Def, Run-DMC.
The Draw: For all the excellent documentaries about hip-hop, the actual creation process has been surprisingly underexplored. Ice-T has a bit of credibility, you might say, in becoming the one to further that exploration. And if Chuck D is on board, I am too. That’s just how I roll.


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