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Sundance: Buzz Central

by Anne Thompson
January 20, 2009 2:53 AM
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1639363611-17012009231557Well, as of Sunday enough people have seen enough movies so that a critical mass of buzz is building around certain films. Word moves like electricity after each screening. Even though some of these pics (more than usual) were screened before the fest, cautious buyers waited to see how they played and were received by critics. Now they have some idea.

Bids are flying on films for sale, following Senator's surprise multi-million buy of Antoine Fuqua's cop movie Brooklyn's Finest. The weekend's hot pick-up titles: Lone Scherfig's An Education, written by Nick Hornby, starring this fest's breakout star Carey Mulligan (The Greatest) and Peter Sarsgaard, and the much smaller New York-set Mexican-American competition entry Don't Let Me Drown, from director Cruz Angeles, which some folks compare favorably to such popular Mexican flicks as La Misma Luna (bought here in 2007 by Fox Searchlight) and this year's Rudo y Cursi (Sony Pictures Classics) and Sin Nombre (Focus Features).

Fox Searchlight already made a modest bid on An Education, but so far the two sides haven't come to terms on money. Other movies in play include Lynn Shelton's sex comedy Humpday, Shana Feste's controlled tearjerker The Greatest, producer-star Ashton Kutcher's commercial gigolo movie Spread, and the unique Push: Based on a Novel by Sapphire, which elicited this John Anderson rave:


An urban nightmare with a surfeit of soul, "Push: Based on a Novel by Sapphire" is like a diamond -- clear, bright, but oh so hard. To simply call it harrowing or unsparing doesn't quite cut it; "Push" is also courageous and uncompromising, a shaken cocktail of debasement and elation, despair and hope. Everyone involved deserves major credit for creating a movie so dangerous, problematic and ultimately elevating. Marketing will be a problem, because the shorthand description is so unpalatable. But this is, for all its scorched-earth emotion, a film to be loved.

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Rookie writer-director Shana Feste's The Greatest played great and will sell, not to Fox Searchlight, but to another distrib willing to nurture it. Going in, Feste had to wrangle actors such as Susan Sarandon and Pierce Brosnan and decided not to pretend to be anything but a neophyte. She was intimidated and admitted it, she told me, instead of hiding her sensitivity and playing it tough. The actors helped her out. The movie displays unusual control and finesse for one so young, and the audience at the Eccles was in tears. Besides Mulligan, who handled an American accent well but admitted it was "tricky," the other discovery is Brit Aaron Johnson, who's playing John Lennon in Nowhere Boy. (Another movie about the loss of a child, Boy Interrupted, while well-received here, has been described as so intense--it's shot by the filmmaker parents of a bi-polar kid who killed himself--that I can't bring myself to see it.)

Debates are flying on the theatrical possibilities for two popular music docs: Spike Lee's film version of the Broadway musical Passing Strange and Tom DeCillo's doc on The Doors, When You're Strange. Also playing well is Sony Pictures Classics' Toronto pick-up, Davis Guggenheim's It Might Get Loud, featuring guitar greats Jack White, Edge and Jimmy Page.

The Anna Wintour doc The September Issue is also generating theatrical interest. The thriller The Cove, about trying to shoot video of illegal dolphin fishing, got a standing ovation today. The use of digital video to reveal wrongdoing is also the subject of Burma VJ, which was acquired by HBO but is an unlikely theatrical candidate. Its images of protest in the streets of Rangoon against the military dictatorship that has the country completely locked down are bone-chilling and inspiring. Unfortunately, the brief uprising that video guerillas recorded and leaked out of the country to air all over the world via CNN and BBC was short-lived. Yet again, the government shut down its people by killing and brutalizing them--and shot one Japanese cameraman in cold blood.

[Originally appeared on Variety.com]

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