By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist January 10, 2012 at 12:20PM
Synopsis: A Texan single mother who's lost custody of her child becomes involved in the smuggling of illegal immigrants, and is forced to look after a 9-year-old Mexican girl.
What You Need To Know: After a major breakthrough as the star of Jane Campion's "Bright Star," Australian actress Abbie Cornish had a mixed 2011 -- she appeared in sleeper hit "Limitless," albeit in a thankless role, but was otherwise stuck in arguably two of the worst films of the year, "Sucker Punch" and "W.E." But 2012 promises better things; not just Martin McDonagh's "Seven Psychopaths," but also this drama, which was originally intended to star Emily Blunt. It marks the belated return of director David Riker, who impressed with 1998 debut "La Ciudad" (as well as co-writing the cult sci-fi flick "Sleep Dealer"), and seems to give Cornish the kind of challenging lead role she hasn't been given by the studios to date. Will Patton and newcomer Santiago Maritza are in support.
When? We expected it for Sundance, but it didn't show; it should turn up at SXSW or Toronto instead.
Synopsis: A teenage boy, all but raised by a weed-growing nomad known as Goat Man, is sent away to an East Coast prep school.
What You Need To Know: The Coppola family tree has many branches, but until recently, one that hadn't received much sunshine (to stretch a metaphor), was Christopher Neil, whose father, Bill Neil, is the brother of Eleanor Coppola (Francis Ford's wife). Neil Jr. has been an acting/dialogue coach on films from "The Rainmaker" and "The Virgin Suicides" to "Revenge of the Sith" and "Hesher," as well as directing second unit on Roman Coppola's "CQ," but he's now making his directorial debut with this quirky coming-of-age tale, which seemingly satirizes New Age lifestyles and preppy private schools. If nothing else, Neil has the right kind of actors on his side: "The Good Wife" star Graham Phillips has the youthful lead, with Vera Farmiga, Ty Burrell, Keri Russell and the still-in-search-of-a-good-big-screen-showcase David Duchovny backing him up. The Coppola genes (even by marriage) haven't led us wrong yet, so hopefully Neil wil be another good addition to the lineage.
When? Sundance - 24th, 25th, 28th (Park City), 26th (SLC)
Synopsis: When a tiny island off the coast of Ireland comes under attack from aliens, the locals discover there's only one way to protect themselves from the creatures; get as drunk as humanly possible.
What You Need To Know: Like all festivals, Sundance occasionally takes a little bit of a break from heavy onscreen drama, and gets to let its hair down. And no film looks like it'll do a better job of providing that in 2012 than British/Irish horror-comedy "Grabbers." Complete with an ingenious, irresistible conceit from screenwriter Kevin Lehane (the aliens won't attack if there's booze in your blood), and with the spirit akin to "Tremors," it seems at a distance to be something of a combination of last year's sleeper hits "Attack the Block" and "The Guard." Jon Wright, who helmed the fitfully enjoyable British teen horror "Tormented," is directing, and the cast is toplined by Richard Coyle ("Prince of Persia") and Russell Tovey ("The History Boys," "Being Human"). And if there's any film it seems fair to drink your way through at the festival this year, this would surely be one...
When? Sundance - 23rd, 25th (SLC), 26th, 27th
"Hello I Must Be Going"
Synopsis: A divorced 35-year-old moves back in with her parents, only to begin a relationship with a boy close to her half her age .
What You Need To Know: The return to direction of "High Fidelity" star Todd Louiso, who was behind the undervalued "Love Liza," and the already forgotten "The Marc Pease Experience," would be enough to gain a modicum of interest, but really, there's one reason, and one reason only, why we've got our eyes locked on "Hello, I Must Be Going": a long, long overdue lead role for the great New Zealand actress Melanie Lynskey. Having made her debut aged only sixteen, opposite Kate Winslet in Peter Jackson's "Heavenly Creatures," she's been working steadily ever since, but has really wowed (quietly) in the last few years with supporting turns in "Up in the Air," "The Informant!" and "Win Win," among others; she's been ready for a breakout for a while. We can't guarantee that she'll do a Melissa Leo off the back of this, but an Olivia Colman-type jump feels about right, and hopefully the film around her will be as strong as she deserves.
When? Sundance - 19th, 20th, 24th, 27th (Park City), 21st (Sundance Resort), 22nd (SLC),
"I Used To Be Darker"
Synopsis: A pregnant Northern Irish woman runs away to relatives in Baltimore, only to discover that her aunt is on the verge of getting divorced.
What You Need To Know: Matthew Porterfield's "Putty Hill" became something of a critical hit when it premiered in Berlin two years ago, and kept it up when it was released in the U.S. last year (it placed highly on one of our writers' top ten lists). Keeping up his momentum, Porterfield got rolling on his crowd-funded follow-up late last summer, which reunites him with much of the same creative team, with musicians Ned Oldham and Kim Taylor, and newcomers Hannah Gross and Deragh Campbell leading the cast. Hopefully we can expect the same realistic, truthful approach, and the same picturesque Baltimore locations, but with a musical leaning that some have compared to "Once."
When? SXSW is probably a little early, but given his Berlin presence last time around, somewhere like Venice or San Sebastian could be possible.
Synopsis: A playwright attempts suicide to win back her ex-boyfriend, and is forced to live with her gambling addict mother
What You Need To Know: Kristin Wiig must have had a dozen offers after "Bridesmaids" went supernova, but the actress held out for this, something of a passion project, penned by relative newcomer Michelle Morgan, and directed by "American Splendor" duo Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini. It seems to be significantly darker than the comedy that made her name, and they've landed something of a coup with the presence of Annette Bening as Wiig's mother, with Matt Dillon, "Glee" star Darren Criss, Nathan Corddry and Natasha Lyonne making up the rest of the eclectic cast. We can't say we've been huge fans of most of what Berman and Pulcini have done since they broke out -- although last year's HBO movie "Cinema Verite" was the best of the bunch -- but the promise of Wiig and Bening together is certainly enough to keep us optimistic.
When? Pretty much a dead cert for Toronto, we'd imagine.
"The Invisible War"
Synopsis: Documentary investigating the epidemic of sexual assault on women in the U.S. military.
What You Need To Know: Taking as its starting point the astonishing statistic that a U.S. servicewoman is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire, Oscar-nominated Kirby Dick (director of "Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist," "Twist of Faith" and "This Film Is Not Yet Rated") examines the way in which women become targets to their colleagues, and are then left adrift by a military justice system with no interest in prosecuting the offenders (only 2% of reported military rapes result in a conviction). It seems to be an incredibly vital, necessary subject for a documentary, and Dick seems like the filmmaker to do it, if his previous work, and the film's trailer, is anything to go by -- this feels like the rare documentary that might even be able to bring about significant change in the world it depicts.
When? Sundance - 20th, 22nd, 25th, 28th (Park City), 21st (SLC)