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The 30 Most Anticipated Films Of The 2014 Sundance Film Festival

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist January 15, 2014 at 1:00PM

So yes, tomorrow brings the Oscar nominations (and you can take a look at our predictions one last time here). But if there were ever any doubt, there's a double reason that tomorrow might be the biggest day of the year in the movie calendar, because in a piece of scheduling that's somewhat infuriating to those of us who like sleeping occasionally, Thursday also marks the start of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Thirty years on from its founding, Robert Redford's little Utah get-together remains the premier venue for American independent film, and while the quality of the line-up remains... inconsistent, it also invariably sees the arrival of a whole host of movies that will be talked about for the twelve months that follow.
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Low Down

Low Down
Synopsis: Based on a true story, the film is set in 1970s Hollywood and follows Amy, the daughter of jazz pianist and deteriorating heroin addict Joe Albany, as she struggles to negotiate her own way in the world after an unconventional upbringing by her beloved father.  
What You Need To Know: Director Jeff Preiss is an experimental filmmaker and cinematographer (on the Oscar-nominated Chet Baker doc “Let’s Get Lost,” among others), and has here assembled a hugely promising central duo for his cast: Elle Fanning, who we’ve been tipping as a tremendous talent for some time now, and John Hawkes, who needs no introduction or pre-sell to Sundance audiences, having dazzled everyone in “Winter’s Bone,” “Martha Marcy May Marlene” and “The Sessions” in successive years.
What Are Its Sundance Prospects? Kind of off the charts. Preiss may be relied on to the keep period authentic, with his documentary background, and we can expect it all to look great too. It also may possibly boast a somewhat unconventional approach to the storytelling. Meanwhile Elle Fanning is proving a fantastically capable young actress, and John Hawkes is pretty much unassailable indie royalty now, particularly at this festival. Add to that the Sundance staple of a coming-of-age story, along with a period setting, a true story and a dash of social commentary, and you have what looks like a very strong package for the U.S. Dramatic Competition.

the voices

The Voices
Synopsis: The unpredictable tale of an ordinary guy who is tasked with organizing his company picnic and meets a girl he likes in the process, then goes home to tell his pets about her and they (a dog and a cat) answer him.
What You Need To Know: From the brilliantly off-kilter mind of Marjane Satrapi, whose live-action “Persepolis” followup “Chicken With Plums” we found a little thin, and whose “The Band of the Jotas” we really liked but were among the only three people to see it, comes another live-action film that seemingly again marries elements of fantasy and whimsy into a decidedly offbeat whole. But this is Satrapi’s starriest cast by far, with Anna Kendrick, Gemma Arterton and Jacki Weaver all appearing alongside star Ryan Reynolds.
What Are Its Sundance Prospects? On cast alone, this should get ‘em in the door, and we have high hopes it sees Satrapi find a slightly more accessible way to bring her unique sensibility to the wider audience it deserves. Certainly, the logline is surreal enough that if it works, it could be buzzy. 

Life After Beth, Aubrey Plaza

"Life After Beth"
Synopsis: A young man is devastated by the death of his girlfriend, but when she returns as a zombie, he tries to start the relationship anew.
What You Need To Know: Another zombie movie, yes, but aside from its great title, "Life After Beth" hopefully it has something new to add to the genre, even beyond similar undead-romances like last year's "Warm Bodies." For one, it marks the feature directorial debut of Jeff Baena, who co-wrote David O. Russell's "I Heart Huckabees," so it's unlikely to be generic in the least. And he's assembled an absolutely superb cast, with rising stars Dane DeHaan and Aubrey Plaza in the leads and Anna Kendrick, John C. Reilly, Cheryl Hines, Molly Shannon, Paul Reiser, Alia Shawkat and Matthew Gray Gubler in back-up. Hopefully, this'll be a rom-zom-com with both heart and, wait for it, BRAAAAAINSS.
Sundance Prospects: Unless it stinks, this is likely to be the source of some fairly major bidding wars, as it seems to have more crossover potential than most.

The Trip To Italy

“The Trip to Italy”
Synopsis: Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon reprise the meta version of their anti-friendship from the original, Britain-bound “The Trip” and this time journey to six different restaurants dotted around Italy, no doubt exchanging similar thoughts on life, celebrity and aging (and surprisingly little about actual food) along the way, and hopefully competing some more in their impersonations of Roger MooreMichael Caine et al. 
What You Need To Know: Michael Winterbottom’s original “The Trip” aired as an episodic TV show in Britain while in the U.S. it was abridged into feature film format. It looks like the same formula is going to be followed here, with the film version coming to Sundance and the show airing later. The first iteration is a great favorite 'round here; a hilarious, off-kilter, weird hybrid of road movie, gastronomic tour and entertainingly bitter skewering of the clashing egos of the two men at its heart. And we can assume the further-from-home Italian setting will only work to throw Brydon and Coogan more uncomfortably close together, this time in spectacular, sun-dappled locations.
What Are Its Sundance Prospects: Somewhat murky—Winterbottom’s last film to premiere here was the brutal “The Killer Inside Me” which got picked up by IFC but went on to be critically divisive (though we were impressed) and made a substantial loss. And even with our ongoing affinity for Winterbottom’s polyglot tendencies, we have to say his recent films, especially “Trishna” and “The Look of Love,” have disappointed. And as far as comedy breakouts go, Sundance tends to favor things a little more broadly quirky and not quite so melancholic and, well British. Still, “The Trip” is fantastic and has presumably seen its fanbase widen in the intervening years, so however it does at the festival, it’s one of our 100 Most Anticipated Films of the year. 

Whiplash

Whiplash
Synopsis: A young drummer at a competitively cutthroat music academy is driven to ever more insane levels of perfectionism by a new teacher and also by his own mortal fear of mediocrity.
What You Need To Know: Sounding a little like a riff on “Black Swan” only with drums, this film stars the slowly-exploding Miles Teller as the tortured young musician, and the absolutely-awesome-in-everything-he-does J.K. Simmons as his torturer/teacher. The feature debut from writer/director Damien Chazelle, it sounds like a truly fascinating story, that apparently goes to some very dark places. To be honest, we’d be there to see J.K. Simmons, more often cast recently in kindly, avuncular roles, get back to “Oz”-level viciousness.
What Are Its Sundance Prospects? This is the feature version of director Damien Chazelle’s short of the same name, which one a Short Film Jury prize at last year’s Sundance. So you know, even without the extremely promising cast and description, the festival has a vested interest in this one, and even if it doesn’t scoop a prize in the U.S. Dramatic competition, it seems poised to make a breakout up-and-comer out of its director, and to continue Teller’s quiet domination of the young-indie-actor scene. 

This article is related to: Features, Feature, Most Anticipated 2014, Sundance Film Festival, Calvary, Frank, Boyhood, A Most Wanted Man, Laggies, God Help The Girl, The Raid 2: Berandal, They Came Together, The Trip To Italy


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