By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist January 10, 2012 at 12:20PM
"Jack and Diane"
Synopsis: A pair of teenage girls fall in love, only for one to reveal that she's a werewolf.
What You Need To Know: Originally intended to reteam "Juno" stars Ellen Page and Olivia Thirlby, it's taken some time for "Jack and Diane," director Bradley Rust Gray's follow-up to 2009's "The Exploding Girl," to get going. But the film finally mounted last year, with rising stars Juno Temple and Riley Keough ("The Runaways") in the leads, and while it might sound like some kind of titillating "Twilight" knock-off on the surface, we're hopeful that it's something much more. Gray has proven a talent to watch so far, and the film will feature animated sequences from stop-motion legends the Brothers Quay, and an interestingly diverse supporting cast, including Dane DeHaan, Jena Malone, Lou Taylor Pucci, Cara Seymour and pop legend Kylie Minogue, as a tattooed lesbian. Early days yet, obviously, but there's a lot of potential here.
When? Magnolia has set the film for a June 1st release date, which means it's very likely to get a simultaneous or earlier VoD bow. Could show up at SXSW as well.
"A Late Quartet"
Synopsis: The ties between the four members of a world-famous string quartet start to come undone when their leader is diagnosed with a terminal illness.
What You Need To Know: Classical music hasn't exactly been a draw since, what, "Shine" fifteen years ago, but there's a number of films hoping to break the streak this year. First up is "A Late Quartet," which marks the feature debut of Yaron Zilberman, who was behind the acclaimed documentary "Watermarks" in 2004. And he's assembled a pretty mean cast, with Christopher Walken as the Parkinson's-afflicted musican, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener and Ukranian actor Mark Ivanir ("Schindler's List") as the rest of his quartet, plus Imogen Poots as the daughter of Hoffman and Keener's characters. It could end up being a nondescript middlebrow drama, but with actors like that, one has to pay a little attention.
When? Didn't make it to Sundance, so Toronto seems like a good bet.
Synopsis: An uninspired, drifting thirtysomething goes back to his college to bid farewell to a famous professor, only to meet, and fall for, a precocious young sophomore.
What You Need To Know: As the star of hit sitcom "How I Met Your Mother," Josh Radnor was always going to have the shadow of Zach Braff and "Garden State" hanging over his directorial debut "happythankyoumoreplease." While that film had its share of issues, he's already beaten Braff by getting his second film under his belt only two years after the first. And Radnor's been smart enough to cast last year's Sundance breakout Elizabeth Olsen opposite himself (well, wouldn't you?) in what seems to be a more focused picture than his uneven debut, something that bodes well. Plus, alongside Olsen, he's assembled an intriguing supporting cast, including "Young Adult"'s Elizabeth Reaser, an indie debut from Zac Efron, and, as professors, Allison Janney and Richard Jenkins, two actors scientifically proven to make any film they're in 20% better. Each. We're a little wary of this being an ego-trip, but it seems like it'll be worth seeing purely for the cast.
When? Sundance - 22nd & 23rd (Park City), 27th (Ogden), 28th (SLC).
Synopsis: Just after the end of the Second World War, the daughter of an SS commander tries to take her four siblings across the country to their grandparents in Hamburg.
What You Need To Know: It's eight whole years since Cate Shortland turned heads with her film "Somersault" (launching the careers of Abbie Cornish and Sam Worthington in the process), but the wait for a follow-up will finally come to an end in 2012 with "Lore." And the director's not one for resting on her laurels, as the project, an adaptation of the novella by German-Australian-British author Rachel Seiffert, was shot entirely in German, with a cast of relative unknowns, and focuses on the children of an unrepentant Nazi. It's potentially powerful stuff, and while seemingly very different from "Somersault," that film was strong enough to suggest she'll be able to pull it off.
When? Shortland's last picture debuted at Cannes, in the Un Certain Regard section, so that's certainly a possibility.
"The Man With The Iron Fists"
Synopsis: A blacksmith helps a feudal Chinese village defend itself when it comes under attack.
What You Need To Know: Not strictly speaking an independent film -- Universal has backed the project to the tune of $20 million -- this film feels quite independent in spirit, and also, we forgot to include it on any of our other lists, so here it is. Marking the directorial debut of Wu-Tang Clan member RZA, a man who knows the kung-fu genre better than most alive, and co-written and produced by Eli Roth, this looks to scratch the grindhouse/exploitation itch more than most. RZA, who takes the title role as well, has always been a fun screen presence, and he's got an oddball cast backing him up, including Pam Grier, Lucy Liu, professional fighters Dave Bautista and Cung Le, and as the villain, the rapper/actor's pal Russell Crowe, a part that we're sure that the Aussie actor will have a lot of fun with. RZA's been working away on the project for years, so plenty of time has gone into it; hopefully, the proof will be in the ass-kicking.
When? Rumors abound of an October release, but Universal hasn't announced anything officially yet.
Synopsis: Joe Fulton, a jack-of-all-trades fixer, is followed over the course of his day, as he continue to over-achieve without ever really making any progress.
What You Need To Know: Hal Hartley hasn't been away as long as fellow 90s indie stalwart Whit Stillman, but with seven years passing since the former's last film, "Fay Grim," it's curiously fitting that 2012 will see both directors release new films. Originally intended as the pilot for a TV series, but now being self-released by Hartley (with completion funding via Kickstarter), the one-hour mini feature (along the lines of "Surviving Desire" and "The Book of Life") stars Hartley favorite D.J. Mendel, and has already released a fairly amusing trailer, that suggests that... well, it's a Hal Hartley film.
When? Likely to bypass theaters because of its length, Hartley says on Kickstarter to expect delivery of DVDs by February. But we wouldn't rule out a festival bow somewhere around that time.
Synopsis: Three environmentalists plot to blow up a dam.
What You Need To Know: After a brief stint playing in the old west for the hypnotic "Meek's Cutoff," Kelly Reichardt will return to contemporary times with Peter Sarsgaard and Paul Dano for what is expected to be another slow-burning human tale. A plot like this is tricky as it can easily veer off into preachy territory but her generally subtle, quiet way of filmmaking should keep it away from any sermonizing. There's still some casting to be done, including for the one female eco-terrorist. An offer was put out to Rooney Mara, but considering her busy future (and the fact that we haven't heard a confirmation for months), don't bet too much on her actually being involved. Might we suggest Zoe Kazan?
When? "Night Moves" will be looking for a co-financier at the International Film Festival Rotterdam's CineMart, but if everything comes together quickly we might see a late festival screening. A 2013 festival bow is more likely, however.