Two of this year's Sundance it-girls are women of a certain age: Catherine Keener, who rocks in both Please Give and Cyrus (as John C. Reilly's ex-wife), and Melissa Leo, who stars in both The Dry Land and Welcome to the Rileys. The straight-forward Jake Scott drama is well-written by Ken Hixon (executive produced by Steve Zaillian) and executed by Kristen Stewart as a damaged stripper-prostitute and James Gandolfini as a lonely man still recovering from the teen death of his daughter. Leo is his equally wounded wife. It will be fascinating to see how distribs navigate the distance between Stewart's younger Twilight fanbase and this hard-R drama. This is also an issue for Apparition's The Runaways.
Mark and Jay Duplass did not disappoint with Fox Searchlight-backed Cyrus, a bizarre, intimate, unpredictable family drama that is believable, real and often hilarious. Jonah Hill steps up a notch in the title role as a pampered mother's boy who freaks when his mom (Marisa Tomei) brings home a new boyfriend (Reilly). The Duplasses have not betrayed their Mumblecore roots: they still employ a loose hand-held HD camera approach. They start with a script but allow their actors to take off from there, said Reilly at the party on Bing on Main, which drew the Duplasses, Tomei, Hill, David Gordon Green, Jody Hill, Danny McBride and Crazy Heart's Scott Cooper, giddy over Jeff Bridge's SAG win. "We keep shooting till we get it," Reilly said.
Mid-day I took Joseph Gordon-Levitt outside for a chilly flip-cam interview at the jammed MySpace Cafe at the Village at the Lift. The cast of Happythankyouplease was having lunch there. That's one of the acquisition titles in play, along with Howl, Andrew Jarecki-produced truth-is-stranger-than-fiction doc Catfish and Tucker & Dale vs. the Devil. The fan sites went nuts Saturday night for Ryan Reynolds Midnight vehicle Buried. Roger Ebert and LAFF's Rebecca Yeldham raved about doc A Small Act, about a holocaust survivor who changes the life of an African boy. Ebert tweeted: "What a touching doc. Some true stories are too good for fiction."
Philip Seymour Hoffman makes his directing debut with Bob Gaudini's play-into-film Jack Goes Boating, a theatrical four-hander in which the actors go to town. Hoffman plays yet another sad sack who fears a lifetime alone. His friends set him up with another depressive (Amy Ryan). It's a well-acted dark, claustrophobic drama, which Overture will release this fall with limited b.o. expectations. (If there still is an Overture this fall.)
I ran into Michael Moore at the Jack Goes Boating screening. He's programming for his Traverse City Film Festival, enjoying just going to see movies, he said. He loved the shorts program and doc The Tillman Story. (IndieWIRE critic @erickohn tweeted: "THE TILLMAN STORY is less expose than consolidation of story fragments, but compelling document of military cover-up.")
The Sundance site has a plethora of materials: photos, Mike Jone's blog, and a series of meet-the-artists videos: here Casino Jack director Alex Gibney describes his timely doc subject (given the recent Supreme Court ruling against campaign finance reform), Jack Abramoff, as "Walter Mitty on steroids." His film debuts Sunday night.