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Sundance Picks & More: The Playlist's Most Anticipated Indie Films Of 2012

by Oliver Lyttelton
January 10, 2012 12:20 PM
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Synopsis: A well-meaning Scoutmaster kidnaps his Sudanese nephew to take him to discover the wilderness, but soon puts his entire troop in peril.
What You Need To Know: David Gordon Green, who executive produced "Scoutmasters," has veered from delicate, observational indie dramas to gory, batshit crazy comedies. His old pal Todd Rohal ("The Catechism Cataclysm") seems to make both those kinds of films simultaneously, and in doing so has won a cult following, although admittedly a tiny one. His third film looks to widen that cult a little, thanks to the presence of comedy names like Patton Oswalt, Johnny Knoxville, Rob Riggle, Maura Tierney, Darrel Hammond and, in his last screen appearance, the late Patrice O'Neal. Whether the material is more accessible this time around remains to be seen, but we're sure we won't see anything else remotely like it all year.  
When? The film shot last summer; SXSW could be a good bet.

Shadow Dancers

"Shadow Dancer"
Synopsis: A single mother in the IRA is captured by MI5, and forced to turn informant against her terrorist colleagues.
What You Need To Know: While they were among the favorite villains of Hollywood in the 1990s in the likes of "Patriot Games" and "The Devil's Own," the relative peace in Northern Ireland during the last fifteen years has seen few films focusing on the IRA. But this "Donnie Brasco"-style thriller looks to change that, and it has a few aces up its sleeve, first and foremost the presence of director James Marsh. Best known for his documentary work like the Oscar-winning "Man On Wire" and "Project Nim," his fictional features "The King" and "Red Riding: 1980" are also strong, if underrated. And so the film, an adaptation of Tom Bradby's novel, is in good hands, especially as Marsh has assembled a good cast, with Andrea Riseborough (who replaced the originally cast Rebecca Hall) and Clive Owen in the leads, and Gillian Anderson, Aidan Gillen and Domnhall Gleeson in support. The plot might sound a little generic, but hopefully Marsh can bring something new to it, and given the cast, we're expecting this to be one of the pricier sales of the festival.
When? Sundance - 24th, 25th, 28th (Park City), 26th (SLC)

"Shut Up and Play the Hits"
"Shut Up and Play the Hits"

"Shut Up And Play The Hits"
Synopsis: Concert doc focusing on the Madison Square Garden farewell show of James Murphy's dance-punk band LCD Soundsystem.   
What You Need To Know: It's probably just us, but we can't help thinking of LCD Soundsystem as perhaps the seminal band of the last decade; James Murphy's lyrics summed up the noughties with wit and verve, and the band's music was danceable, versatile and endlessly surprising. As such, while it was a heartbreaker for Murphy to disband the group while they were on top, we're at least glad that filmmakers Dylan Souther and Will Lovelace ("Blur: No Distance Left To Run") were on hand to document the band's already legendary final gig last spring. Blending performances, fly-on-the-wall backstage footage and a conversation between Murphy and lauded rock critic Chuck Klosterman, this seems like it could be a concert movie to treasure.    
When? Sundance - 22nd, 25th, 27th (Park City), 23rd, 28th (SLC)

Simon Killer

"Simon Killer"
Synopsis: After breaking up with his girlfriend, a college grad heads to Paris, and falls in love with a prostitute.  
What You Need To Know: Last year's it-film in Sundance was "Martha Marcy May Marlene," the tremendous, unsettling psychological thriller that marked the debut of Sean Durkin. But it wasn't Durkin's first time in the industry; he previously produced Antonio Campos' equally good, but less well-known "Afterschool," which premiered at Cannes in 2008. Nearly four years on, Campos is back (with Durkin again producing), with 'Martha Marcy' alumnus Brady Corbet, a favorite of Lars Von Trier and Gregg Araki, in the lead role. Little is known beyond that, other than that the film was partially shot in Paris, but hopefully the attention that 'MMMM' received will help the critics and audiences who ignored "Afterschool" take notice this time around.
When? Sundance - 20th, 21st, 25th, 27th (Park City), 22nd (SLC)

Small Apartments

"Small Apartments"
Synopsis: An overweight man, Franklin Franklin, lives in an apartment complex and dreams of Switzerland, but finds his neighbors leaking into his life.   
What You Need To Know: On the "randomly assembled cast" meter, only one film in 2012 is able to compete with "Battleship" -- "Small Apartments." The latest film from music video veteran Jonas Akerlund, it features among its ensemble James Caan, Billy Crystal, Johnny Knoxville, Rosie Perez and Dolph Lundgren. Based on Canadian writer Chris Millis' award-winning novel, British comedian Matt Lucas ("Bridesmaids," "Alice in Wonderland") toplines this quirky dark comedy, compared by some to "A Confederacy of Dunces," with Juno Temple, Amanda Plummer, Saffron Burrows, DJ Qualls, Rebel Wilson, Peter Stormare and David Koechner also along for the ride. Akerlund's hyperactive style did no favors to his near-unwatchable "Spun" or "Horsemen," but this seems like enough of an oddity that we're intrigued to see more. Also intriguing to note, ex-Roxette frontman Per Gessle is scoring the film.
When? Slated for Sundance, but absent from the line-up, we're sure it'll do the festival route later in the year.


Synopsis: Kate & Charlie, a hard-partying, borderline alcoholic married couple, have their relationship tested when Kate decides to get sober.
What You Need To Know: On the surface, "Smashed" seems to have a fairly similar premise to Playlist favorite short film "Successful Alcoholics," but where that film ended with one of the central couple giving up the bottle, that seems to be the starting point for its feature-length cousin, which comes from James Ponsoldt, who directed Nick Nolte-starrer "Off The Black," and co-writer Susan Burke ("Important Things With Demetri Martin"). And they've certainly assembled an enticing cast, with imminent Oscar-nominee Octavia Spencer, Megan Mullally, Nick Offerman (aka RON FUCKING SWANSON), and, in the leads, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul. It's the latter two who have us particularly intrigued; Winstead's someone who we feel doesn't work enough, and could have a real breakout here, while "Breaking Bad" Emmy-winner Aaron Paul gets his first real big-screen role since coming to fame as Jesse Pinkman. The tone will be crucial here, but we're certainly interested in how it turns out.      
When? Sundance
- 22nd, 25th, 25th, 27th (Park City), 23rd (SLC)

Something From Nothing

"Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap "
Synopsis: A documentary about the history of hip-hop, from one of its most controversial stars, Ice-T.
What You Need To Know: The hip-hop documentary came of age last year with Michael Rapaport's "Beats, Rhymes & Life," and this year brings another promising look at the medium, this time from one of its key artists: Ice-T. The days of "Cop Killer" long behind him (he's now probably best known for his TV role on "Law & Order"), T's film, co-directed with Andy Baybutt ("The Band Aid Story"), promises to be a sober, in-depth look at the craft of rhyming, with interviews from some of the biggest stars in rap, including Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Caz, Nas, Mos Def, Eminem, Chuck D, KRS-One, Run-DMC, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg (though, unsurprisingly, not LL Cool J, who famously feuded with T).
When? Sundance - 21st, 22nd, (Park City), 23rd (SLC), 27th, 28th (Sundance Resort), and it'll air on the BBC later in the year.

Song For Marion

"Song For Marion"
Synopsis: When his wife becomes critically ill, an elderly man agrees to join the amateur choir that she adores.  
What You Need To Know: You can't have a better vote of confidence for an independent film than being picked up by The Weinstein Company before you've even locked your print down, and that's exactly what happened to "Song For Marion" late last year. The fourth film from Paul Andrew Williams, who made a killer debut with "London to Brighton" a half-decade ago, it's a sweet, moving little script, one that's a little rawer than obvious comparison points like "Calendar Girls," and it provides real showcase roles for stars Terence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave (who lead a cast also including Gemma Arterton and Christopher Eccleston); we're sure the awards potential is what led the Weinsteins to snap the film up. The question is, will the film be more than a canvas for the performances?
When? We suspect the Weinsteins may want to go the same Telluride/Toronto route they did with "The King's Speech" and "The Artist."

Free Indie Movies and Documentaries    


  • Arthur | January 30, 2012 7:08 AMReply

    Just a note: the wonderful Melanie Lynskey can be seen in a LEADING role in a wonderful indie film called "Helena From The Wedding." It's on Netflix.

  • JoJo | January 30, 2012 7:37 AM

    If by "wonderful," you actually mean "incredibly boring and filled with lackluster performances," then I completely agree with you.

  • Graham | January 25, 2012 1:20 PMReply

    i'm a bit late, but exciting list. although disappointing that gondry seems to be the only one interested in any significant non-white casting.

  • Uncle Titt | January 17, 2012 8:28 PMReply

    No. You're not the only group of people who loved LCD Soundsystem and thought of them as the seminal band of 00's. In fact, there was an entire arena of people chronicled in the documentary that are likely to agree with you.

  • Travis Hopson | January 15, 2012 4:02 PMReply

    I won't get to Sundance until Monday so I'm praying it's in time to see Liberal Arts. Fingers crossed!

  • Pierre | January 11, 2012 9:33 PMReply

    Wow that's a great list already sans all the World Cinema that should be oncoming. I don't think 2012 will disappoint.

  • Jake | January 11, 2012 1:42 PMReply

    if you're interested in TRUE indies coming this year check out "There Are No Goodbyes".

  • Albert | January 11, 2012 12:42 AMReply

    Yeah, just a word of caution everybody, try not to take a shit, throw it in to a bag, pour some barium liquid on it, light it on fire and throw it in to the nearest beard-and-glasses stricken trust-fund rented apartment brownstone, it might just explode in to the Sundance Film Festival.

  • FILM INDUSTRY INSIDER | January 10, 2012 7:13 PMReply

    Saw two cuts of Safety Not Guaranteed. Jake Johnson is a show stealer. But the film isn't that good. Guess if you're in the Sundance 'club' though you can get in!

  • Rod Blackhurst | January 10, 2012 7:12 PMReply

    Great list of films!

  • aaaa | January 10, 2012 3:08 PMReply

    hard to buy the "anticipated" part since this, plus the other list pieces, are pretty much trying to list every single movie with an announced release in 2012

  • Rachel | January 10, 2012 5:53 PM

    Are you knew here? They do this every year and it's great exposure for a lot of movies.

  • Edward Davis | January 10, 2012 2:09 PMReply

    Nice work Oli and Chris! This piece rules.

  • HombreGato | January 10, 2012 1:43 PMReply

    This will probably be the most useful list of anything I find this year. 2012 is stacked with films by iconic directors but on top of all of that you know the indies are gonna stealth their way to acclaim.

  • James | January 10, 2012 1:17 PMReply

    Colin Firth's "The Railway Man" isn't a dark little indie. We're talking mainstream tearjerker a la 'The King's Speech'.

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