24 films • Big actors in dramas, big names in documentaries.
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The stars will be out in force at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.
Festival organizers announced Monday the 24 titles that will debut in the Premieres and Documentary Premieres categories which feature not only big names in front of the camera, but also familiar Sundance filmmakers behind the camera.
Directors such as John Michael McDonagh ("The Guard"), Mike Cahill ("Another Earth"), Ira Sachs ("Keep the Lights On"), Gregg Araki ("Mysterious Skin") and Michael Winterbottom ("The Road to Guantanamo") are back with new films. Actors David Cross ("Arrested Development") and William H. Macy ("Fargo") also will make their feature directing debuts.
Among the stars who will be seen: Elizabeth Banks, Willem Dafoe, Ted Danson, Michael Fassbender, Selena Gomez, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Anna Kendrick, Keira Knightley, John Lithgow, Brit Marling, Rachel McAdams, Alfred Molina, Elisabeth Moss, Nick Offerman, Amy Poehler, Ryan Reynolds, Paul Rudd, Shailene Woodley and Robin Wright.
The Documentary Premieres section features what could be one of the festival's most controversial films: "Happy Valley," which digs into the case of Jerry Sandusky, the Penn State assistant football coach convicted in 2012 of multiple counts of child sexual abuse. The film's director, Amir Bar-Lev, last came to Sundance in 2010 with "The Tillman Story," an exposé on the "friendly fire" death of football-star-turned-Army-Ranger Pat Tillman.
Other films in the Documentary Premieres section feature profiles of notable figures: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Boston gangster James "Whitey" Bulger, "Star Trek" star George Takei, Nigerian musician/activist Fela Kuti and film critic Roger Ebert.
The premiere of the Ebert movie, "Life Itself," coincides with a new Sundance Institute initiative to honor the late Chicago newspaperman, who was a regular in Park City since the festival's beginning. The Roger Ebert Scholarship for Film Criticism will bring six young film writers to cover Sundance, and pair them with mentors during and after the festival.
Sundance organizers announced 67 titles in the competition slates and the Next program last Wednesday, and the 23 titles in the Spotlilght, Park City at Midnight, Sundance Kids and New Frontier programs last Thursday. The festival will announce its short-film slate Tuesday.
The 2014 Sundance Film Festival runs Jan. 16-26 in Park City, and at venues in Salt Lake City, Ogden and the Sundance resort in Provo Canyon.
Here are the Premieres and Documentary Premieres programs, announced Monday:
"Calvary" (Director/screenwriter: John Michael McDonagh; Ireland/U.K.) • Filmmaker John Michael McDonagh ("The Guard," SFF '11) returns with this darkly comic drama about a kindly priest (Brendan Gleeson) who finds dark forces closing in on him after his life is threatened during a confession. Also starring Chris O'Dowd ("Bridesmaids") and Kelly Reilly ("Flight").
"Frank"(Director: Lenny Abrahamson; Screenwriters: Jon Ronson, Peter Straughan; Ireland/U.K.) • A young musician ("About Time's" Domhnall Gleeson) gets in over his head when he joins an avant-garde rock band whose leader (Michael Fassbender) hides himself inside a large fake head.
"Hits" (Director/screenwriter: David Cross; U.S.) • Actor-comedian David Cross ("Arrested Development") makes his directorial debut in this comedy set in a small upstate New York town whose residents have unrealistic expectations about fame in the age of YouTube.
"I Origins" (Director/screenwriter: Mike Cahill; U.S.) • A molecular biologist (Michael Pitt) and his lab partner (Brit Marling) make a discovery that could change society as we know it and causes them to question their beliefs in science and spirituality. Directed by Mike Cahill ("Another Earth," SFF '12).
"Laggies" (Director: Lynn Shelton; Screenwriter: Andrea Seigel; U.S.) • Director Lynn Shelton ("Humpday," SFF '09; "Your Sister's Sister," SFF '12; "Touchy Feely," SFF '13) returns with a story of a 28-year-old woman (Keira Knightley) in arrested adolescence, lying to her boyfriend (Mark Webber) that she's going on a business retreat while she hangs out with a new 16-year-old friend (Chloë Grace Moretz).
"Little Accidents" (Director/screenwriter: Sara Colangelo; U.S.)• When a 14-year-old boy disappears in a small coal town, three people a miner who survived a recent accident, the lonely wife of a mine executive, and a local boy are drawn together in a web of secrets. The cast includes Elizabeth Banks, Boyd Holbrook, Chloë Sevigny, Jacob Lofland and Josh Lucas.
"Love is Strange" (Director: Ira Sachs; Screenwriters: Ira Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias; U.S.) • Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) get married after 39 years together but then George loses his job teaching choir at a Catholic school, and the newly-married couple must leave their Chelsea apartment and live apart. Also starring Marisa Tomei, Darren Burrows, Charlie Tahan and Cheyenne Jackson. Sachs is a Sundance veteran ("The Delta," SFF '96; "Forty Shades of Blue," SFF '05; "Keep the Lights On," SFF '12).
"A Most Wanted Man" (Director: Anton Corbijn; Screenwriter: Andrew Bovell; Germany U.S.) • Director Anton Corbijn ("The American") adapts John le Carré's novel, about a Chechen Muslim who illegally arrives in Hamburg, Germany, where he lays claim to a fortune in a private bank attracting the notice of intelligence agents. The cast includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe and Robin Wright.
"Nick Offerman: American Ham" (Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts; Screenwriter: Nick Offerman; U.S.) • The comic actor and icon of manhood delivers his one-man show at New York's Town Hall, in which he talks about woodworking, oral sex, and his tips for living a more prosperous life. Sundance reports the movie comes with a warning label: "Minor nudity and not suitable for vegetarians." The movie reunites Offerman with director Jordan Vogt-Roberts ("The Kings of Summer," SFF '13).
"The One I Love" (Director: Charlie McDowell; Screenwriter: Justin Lader; U.S.) • A married couple (Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss) on the verge of falling apart escapes for the weekend, only to discover an unusual dilemma awaiting them. Ted Danson plays their therapist.
"The Raid 2" (Director/screenwriter: Gareth Evans; Indonesia) • This sequel to "The Raid: Redemption" (SFF '12) picks up where the violent original left off, with Rama (Iko Uwais) going undercover in a Jakarta crime syndicate to protect his family and expose corruption among his fellow cops.
"Rudderless" (Director: William H. Macy, Screenwriters: Casey Twenter, Jeff Robison, William H. Macy) • Actor William H. Macy makes his feature-film directorial debut, in this story of a grieving father (Billy Crudup) who discovers some original music written by his dead son, and decides to form a rock band. Macy also co-stars, along with Anton Yelchin, Felicity Huffman, Selena Gomez and Laurence Fishburne. This is the festival's "Closing Night Film."
"They Came Together" / U.S.A. (Director: David Wain; Screenwriters: Michael Showalter, David Wain) • Director David Wain and his writing partner Michael Showalter aim to do to the romantic comedy what their "Wet Hot American Summer" (SFF '01) did to the summer camp movie. The story centers on a shop owner (Amy Poehler) whose business is threatened by a corporate type (Paul Rudd). Also in the cast: Ed Helms, Cobie Smulders, Max Greenfield and Christopher Meloni.
"The Trip to Italy" (Director: Michael Winterbottom; Screenwriters: Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan, Michael Winterbottom; U.K.) • A sequel to "The Trip," which had friends/adversaries Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (playing variations of themselves) eating good food and trading jokes, takes them to Italy.
"The Voices" (Director: Marjane Satrapi; Screenwriter: Michael Perry; U.S./Germany) • A lonely, disturbed factory worker (Ryan Reynolds) hears advice from his cat and his dog after the death of a co-worker in this genre-bending crime drama, directed by "Persepolis" creator Marjane Satrapi. The cast includes Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick and Jacki Weaver.
"White Bird in a Blizzard" (Director/screenwriter: Gregg Araki) • Sundance mainstay Gregg Araki adapts Laura Kasischke's novel about a woman (Shailene Woodley) who must deal with the sudden disappearance of her enigmatic mother (Eva Green). Also starring Christopher Meloni, Shiloh Fernandez, Gabourey Sidibe and Thomas Jane.
"Young Ones" (Director/screenwriter: Jake Paltrow; U.S.) • A teen boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) must fight to survive in a future where water is scarce, in this science-fiction drama. The cast includes Michael Shannon, Nicholas Hoult and Elle Fanning.
"The Battered Bastards of Baseball" (Directors: Chapman Way, Maclain Way) • The rise of the Portland Mavericks, the only independent baseball team in the country, which alarmed the sport's establishment in the 1970s.
"Finding Fela" (Director: Alex Gibney; U.S.) • A profile of the life, music and political influence of musician Fela Anikulapo Kuti, who created the Afrobeat movement and used it as a forum to oppose the Nigerian dictatorship and advocate for the rights of the oppressed. Directed by Alex Gibney ("Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," SFF '05).
"Freedom Summer" (Director: Stanley Nelson; U.S.) • Filmmaker Stanley Nelson ("The Murder of Emmett Till," SFF '03) uses eyewitness accounts and never-before-seen archival material to chronicle the summer of 1964, when more than 700 students arrived in Mississippi to register voters, create schools and establish the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party defying authorities and risking their lives.
"Happy Valley" (Director: Amir Bar-Lev; U.S.) • A look behind the headlines in the case of Jerry Sandusky, the Penn State assistant football coach convicted in 2012 of child sexual abuse. Directed by Amir Bar-Lev ("My Kid Could Paint That," SFF '07; "The Tillman Story," SFF '10).
"Last Days in Vietnam" (Director: Rory Kennedy; U.S.) • Director Rory Kennedy ("Ghosts of Abu Ghraib," SFF '07; "Ethel," SFF '12) examines the chaos of the last weeks of the Vietnam War, as U.S. soldiers and diplomats deal with the moral dilemma of whether to obey White House orders and only evacuate American civilians knowing the likely fate of South Vietnamese who aided the U.S. government.
"Life Itself" (Director: Steve James; U.S.) • Director Steve James ("Hoop Dreams," SFF '94) tells the story of Roger Ebert, based on the late film critic's 2011 memoir telling of his wild young days, his Pulitzer Prize, his contentious friendship with Gene Siskel, his life-saving marriage and his battle with cancer.
"Mitt" (Director: Greg Whiteley; U.S.) • Filmmaker Greg Whiteley ("New York Doll," SFF '05) got unprecedented access to follow GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his family.
"This May Be the Last Time" (Director: Sterlin Harjo; U.S.) • Filmmaker Sterlin Harjo ("Four Sheets to the Wind," SFF '07) recounts how his grandfather mysteriously disappeared in 1962 and how the community sang songs of encouragement that had been passed down for generations in the Seminole and Creek Nations. The film explores the song's origins, and the violent history of his people.
"To Be Takei" (Director: Jennifer Kroot; U.S.) • Oh my! George Takei and his husband Brad look over the screen icon's life, from a World War II internment camp to the helm of the U.S.S. Enterprise and onward on Facebook.
"We Are the Giant" (Director: Greg Barker; U.S./U.K.) • Billed as a movie about "the stories of ordinary individuals who are transformed by the moral and personal challenges they encounter when standing up for what they believe is right." Directed by Greg Barker ("Sergio," SFF '09; "Manhunt," SFF '13).
"Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger" (Director: Joe Berlinger; U.S.) • Sundance veteran Joe Berlinger ("Brother's Keeper," SFF '92; "Under African Skies," SFF '12) looks at the trial of infamous Boston gangster James "Whitey" Bulger, and how his cozy relationship with the FBI and Department of Justice allowed him to maintain a criminal empire for decades.
Coming soon to a theater near you
To reach Salt Lake Tribune movie critic Sean P. Means' full rundown of the 24 titles announced Monday, plus the titles in the competition and other categories of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, go to www.sltrib.com/entertainment.