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Film Feature: 10 Movies to Watch For From Sundance 2014

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The Sundance Film Festival kicks off this Thursday night, January 16, 2014 and history tells us that one of your favorite films will premiere there. Last year, we covered the Sundance premieres of “Before Midnight,” “Upstream Color,” “The Way Way Back,” “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” “We Are What We Are,” and many more. And Chicago Critics Film Festival hits “Stories We Tell,” “The Spectacular Now,” and “The Kings of Summer” premiered in Park City in 2013.

What will make waves this year? What films will cinephiles be talking about for the next ten days? There are dozens of films that have piqued our interest and that we’ll be covering here in daily diaries starting on Friday but here are ten, alphabetically, that already have people buzzing. And the amazing thing is how easy it would have been to choose a completely different ten. (Synopses courtesy of Sundance.)

Boyhood
Boyhood
Photo credit: Sundance

“Boyhood”
Writer/Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltran, and Lorelai Linklater

Last one in, first one to really make those not going to Sundance regret their decision. Before the Sundance 2014 schedule was announced, most who knew about the existence of Richard Linklater’s latest drama and the rumors that it was complete were hoping it would be on the schedule. It was held back until this week but “Boyhood” will premiere at Sundance this year after a dozen years in production. Yes, a dozen. For 12 years, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, and Richard Linklater have been getting together sporadically to film segments of a film that will capture the growth of a father-son relationship with actors who will actually age without the aid of makeup. Linklater is one of our best living filmmakers, the concept sounds incredibly promising dramatically, and both Hawke & Linklater are coming off a victory lap from the response given to “Before Midnight” last year. I know I said most of these (and ones not even on this list) were relatively equal but this is #1. Don’t tell the other movies.

Synopsis:
Filmed over short periods from 2002 to 2013, Boyhood is a groundbreaking cinematic experience covering 12 years in the life of a family. At the center is Mason, who with his sister Samantha, are taken on an emotional and transcendent journey through the years, from childhood to adulthood.

Calvary
Calvary
Photo credit: Sundance

“Calvary”
Writer/Director: John Michael McDonagh
Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Aidan Gillen, Dylan Moran, and Marie-Josee Croze

When it comes to Sundance predicting, so little is known about the quality of the final product that it can be incredibly difficult to predict what’s going to work and what is not. No one saw “Beasts of the Southern Wild” or “Winter’s Bone” coming. And so lists like these are more often based on pedigree. Which brings us to “Calvary.” This one is real simple: The last time that John Michael McDonagh and Brendan Gleeson worked together, the result was “The Guard,” a confident piece of filmmaking and a showcase for the great actor. They’re working together again? Count me in.

Synopsis:
Father James is a good priest, driven by spiritual integrity. One day in confession, an unseen man tells James that he’s going to kill him precisely because he’s done nothing wrong. Given a week to make his peace with God, James ministers to sundry lost souls—visits that double as a guided tour of suspects. His preparation for death is further complicated by the arrival of his daughter, who has recently attempted suicide.

Cold in July
Cold in July
Photo credit: Sundance

Cold in July
Writers: Jim Mickle & Nick Damici
Director: Jim Mickle
Starring: Michael C. Hall, Don Johnson, Sam Shepard, Vinessa Shaw, Nick Damici, and Wyatt Russell

Again, it’s about track record. Writer/director Jim Mickle really elevated himself to the class of the best working horror filmmakers with last year’s Sundance hit and Cannes smash, “We Are What We Are.” eOne didn’t get that film to a wide enough audience (it’s new to Blu-ray, DVD, and On Demand, and you should definitely see it) but Mickle is back in Park City and this time he’s in competition with a thriller starring Michael C. Hall, Vinessa Shaw, Don Johnson, and more. Mickle and I spoke about this film last year and he was truly excited to get started on it. The Sundance producers must have been excited by it as well to take a horror director and place him in the coveted U.S. Dramatic Competition.

Synopsis:
How can a split-second decision change your life? While investigating noises in his house one balmy Texas night in 1989, Richard Dane puts a bullet in the brain of low-life burglar Freddy Russell. Although he’s hailed as a small-town hero, Dane soon finds himself fearing for his family’s safety when Freddy’s ex-con father, Ben, rolls into town, hell-bent on revenge.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Photo credit: Sundance

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Writer/Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Starring: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Dominic Rains, Marshall Manesh, Mozhan Marnó, and Milad Eghbali

No pedigree here but the imagery available and very concept are too fascinating to pass up. Sure, movies with Philip Seymour Hoffman or directed by Richard Linklater are to Sundance as catnip is to cats. However, there’s some logic in trying to dig deeper, find the movies that might never play outside of Park City. As much as I’m dying to see “The Raid 2,” it opens in two months. So I’m going to wait on that one and try and seek out unique prospects like cinema’s first Iranian vampire western. It’s definitely going to be original. Even without Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Synopsis:
Strange things are afoot in Bad City. The Iranian ghost town, home to prostitutes, junkies, pimps and other sordid souls, is a bastion of depravity and hopelessness where a lonely vampire stalks its most unsavory inhabitants. But when boy meets girl, an unusual love story begins to blossom… blood red.

God's Pocket
God’s Pocket
Photo credit: Sundance

God’s Pocket
Writers: John Slattery & Alex Metcalf
Director: John Slattery
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Richard Jenkins, Christina Hendricks, John Turturro, and Eddie Marsan

The first of two PSH movies to get buzz going into the Sundance fest also marks the directorial debut of John Slattery of “Mad Men.” With an incredibly talented cast and intriguing synopsis, this is a pick based largely on star power and the fact that Slattery is the kind of actor who one can easily see transitioning to a successful career behind the camera. He’s accustomed to large ensembles like those he worked with on “Mad Men” (which he directed five times) and has experience in indie films like “Bluebird,” which played at this year’s CIFF. And, although I hate to be biased, I’m not missing a Philip Seymour Hoffman performance at Sundance. Ever.

Synopsis:
In the gritty, blue-collar neighborhood of God’s Pocket, Mickey Scarpato’s crazy stepson, Leon, is killed in a construction “accident,” and Mickey quickly tries to bury the bad news with the body. But when a local columnist comes sniffing around for the truth, things go from bad to worse. Mickey finds himself stuck in a life-and-death struggle compounded by a body he can’t bury, a wife he can’t please, and a debt he can’t pay.

quint's picture

ill watch anything with

ill watch anything with christina hendricks in it.

Rich Dad's picture

Sundance

Great pics and great critique Brian. I cant wait for the full reviews.

Slattery, PSH, Iranian vampires? Yikes! Rich

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