At the Movies

12 Sundance Film Festival Picks: Indie ‘Bachelorette,’ Docs, More (PHOTOS)

Will this year s festival debut another Precious? From the indie Bridesmaids featuring Kirsten Dunst to several poignant documentaries, Marlow Stern on the films audiences and potential buyers should get excited about in Park City this week.

The annual mecca of indie film runs Jan. 19–29 in Park City, Utah, and features 200 films whittled down from about 9,000 submissions. Since 1984, some of the best independent films have made their debut at the festival, including sex, lies and videotape, Clerks, Memento, Half Nelson, Precious, and Winter’s Bone, as well as some of cinema’s finest filmmakers, from Darren Aronofsky and the Coen brothers to Christopher Nolan. High-priced bidding wars and a bevy of future awards bait films are an annual event, and this year will be no exception. From the indie Bachelorette featuring Kirsten Dunst and Isla Fisher to several poignant documentaries, here are the films audiences and potential buyers should get excited about at Sundance 2012. By Marlow Stern.

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<em>Bachelorette</em>

Dir. Leslye Headland, Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, Lizzy Caplan, James Marsden

Will this be the indie Mean Girls? Fresh off her brilliant comeback role in Melancholia, Kirsten Dunst stars as the once-popular Regan. She and her two partners in crime, the boozy, slutty Gina (Lizzy Caplan) and ditzy Katie (Isla Fisher), are asked to be bridesmaids at the wedding of a girl they all called Pig Face back in high school. The sassy trio, complemented by a steady stream of cocaine and booze, embarks on a wild night that includes ex-boyfriend run-ins, bodily fluids, and heavy partying. Produced by Will Ferrell, this film is like a cross between the cattiness of Mean Girls and the witty, bitchy vengefulness of Young Adult.

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<em>Liberal Arts</em>

Dir. Josh Radnor, Starring: Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Zac Efron, Richard Jenkins

Last year's it girl, Martha Marcy May Marlene star Elizabeth Olsen, is poised to conquer Sundance once again with not one but two films premiering at the festival. The first comes from the star of CBS’s How I Met Your Mother, Josh Radnor, whose debut feature, happythankyoumoreplease, won the Audience Award at Sundance in 2010. Radnor stars as Jesse, a 30-something guy who is drawn back to his college campus to give a speech. There, he falls for Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), a beautiful, precious 19-year-old college student, and is soon drawn back into the college world of dorm rooms and late-night parties. The romantic comedy also boasts a stellar supporting cast, including Richard Jenkins, Zac Efron, and Allison Janney.

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<em>The House I Live In</em>

Dir. Eugene Jarecki

Acclaimed political documentary filmmaker Eugene Jarecki’s 2005 film Why We Fight, a searing polemic about American foreign policy’s reliance on militarism, won that year’s Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary. In The House I Live In, Jarecki casts his critical lens on America’s war on drugs, a clandestine operation that has resulted in 45 million arrests, transformed America into the world’s largest jailer, and led to the destruction of countless communities. Despite all the deaths and arrests, drugs are still cheaper and more readily available than ever, so what can be done to stop them? This is one of those potentially powerful films that might influence policy and inspire change.

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<em>Shadow Dancer</em>

Dir. James Marsh, Starring: Clive Owen, Andrea Riseborough, Gillian Anderson

Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker James Marsh (Man on Wire), whose poignant film Project Nim is looking like the frontrunner for this year’s Best Documentary Oscar, returns to feature filmmaking with this 1990s-set IRA drama in Belfast, Ireland, centered on an IRA member named Colette (Andrea Riseborough), who is turned into an informant by Mac (Clive Owen), an MI5 officer. Director Marsh is an expert at weaving the political and the personal, as well as crafting edge-of-your-seat suspense, and he shouldn t disappoint here in what appears to be Owen s meatiest role since the 2009 spy farce Duplicity.

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<em>Red Lights</em>

Dir. Rodrigo Cortes, Starring: Cillian Murphy, Elizabeth Olsen, Robert De Niro, Sigourney Weaver

Filmmaker Rodrigo Cortes’s last movie, Buried, featuring Ryan Reynolds buried alive, caused quite a stir at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, and Red Lights should cause quite a bit of its own buzz. The film centers on a pair of psychologists, Dr. Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and her assistant, Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy), who investigate reports of paranormal activity, hoping to prove that they’re mostly frauds. During his research, Tom comes across Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), a legendary blind psychic whose existence poses a threat to those attempting to debunk metaphysical phenomena, and Tom soon becomes obsessed with Silver. The psychological thriller also stars the fetching Elizabeth Olsen, Toby Jones, and Joely Richardson.

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<em>Oslo, August 31st </em>

Dir. Joachim Trier, Starring: Anders Danielsen Lie, Malin Crépin, Aksel M. Thanke,

Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Trier’s debut feature, 2008’s Reprise, an energetic film that recalled the French New Wave about a pair of young writers and their relationships, appeared on many critics’ top 10 lists of that year and was named the best Norwegian film of the decade by the Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang. His highly anticipated follow-up, Oslo, August 31st, centers on Anders, a talented recovering drug addict who is given a day off from rehab to return to Oslo to visit his family and friends, and have a job interview. Soon he’s forced to choose between maturity and his youth, which tempts him at every corner.

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<em>Your Sister’s Sister</em>

Dir. Lynn Shelton, Starring: Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt, Rosemarie Dewitt

Filmmaker Lynn Shelton’s largely improvised mumblecore comedy Humpday, centered on two lifelong straight friends who find themselves locked in a mutual dare to shoot a gay porn film with each other, was one of the funniest movies of 2009. Shelton’s follow-up, Your Sister’s Sister, follows Jack (Humpday’s Mark Duplass), who is still grieving over his brother’s death. His friend Iris, played by Emily Blunt, invites him to stay at her parents’ empty cabin, failing to realize that her best friend, Hannah (Rosemarie Dewitt), fresh off a seven-year relationship, is there. Jack and Hannah soon hit it off, and when Iris arrives on the scene, things get, well, complicated.

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<em>½ Revolution</em>

Dir. Omar Shargawi, Karim El Hakim

Earlier this year the Arab Spring led by Egypt’s example captivated the world, giving a voice to the disenfranchised Middle Eastern youth who are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. Set in January 2011, a close-knit group of young activists struggles to stay alive amid the increasingly frenzied protests in their neighborhood near Tahrir Square. Filmmakers Omar Shargawi and Karim El Hakim, armed with handheld cameras, went out to capture the first few days of Egypt’s historic revolution, including violent clashes with the police, armed gangs terrorizing the neighborhood, and more, placing viewers directly in the middle of the chaos.

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<em>Keep the Lights On</em>

Dir. Ira Sachs, Starring: Thure Lindhardt, Zachary Booth, Julianne Nicholson

Acclaimed indie filmmaker Ira Sachs’s 2005 film, Forty Shades of Blue, which featured a career best performance from veteran actor Rip Torn, won the coveted Grand Jury Prize at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. His latest, set in late-’90s New York City, follows a young, risk-taking couple, documentary filmmaker Erik and closeted lawyer Paul, who fall in love. Sachs’s deeply personal film then tracks their tumultuous, decade-long relationship fueled by drugs and sex as Erik struggles to maintain the necessary balance in his life. Like a cross between last year’s brilliant gay love story Weekend and the Oscar-winning Brokeback Mountain, Sachs’s film is one to look out for this year.

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<em>The Invisible War</em>

Dir. Kirby Dick

Acclaimed and controversial documentary filmmaker Kirby Dick is an institution at Sundance, having premiered most of his documentaries there, including 2005’s Twist of Faith, about a man’s sexual abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest, which eventually won the Oscar for Best Documentary, and This Film Is Not Yet Rated, a scathing critique of the Motion Picture Association of America’s ratings system. In The Invisible War, Dick explores the rape epidemic in the American armed forces. With an estimated 30 percent of servicewomen and at least 1 percent of servicemen sexually assaulted, usually by their fellow soldiers during their service in the military, Dick exposes the dark underbelly of the armed forces that’s been largely covered up by the military legal system.

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<em>Shut Up and Play the Hits</em>

Dirs. Dylan Southern, Will Lovelace

Ever since LCD Soundsystem’s self-titled debut album hit shelves in 2005, the New York City–based dance-punk outfit has wowed critics and audiences alike, with songs like “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House,” “All My Friends,” and “Drunk Girls.” On Feb. 5, 2011, at the height of its popularity, the band announced via its website that it was quitting, following a farewell concert on April 2 at Madison Square Garden. Directors Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace were granted unprecedented access, documenting the final 48 hours of one of the most cherished bands in electronic music. Narrated by LCD front man James Murphy and writer Chuck Klosterman, Shut Up and Play the Hits should be a fun, visceral, and, most of all, danceable ride.

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<em>John Dies at the End</em>

Dir. Don Coscarelli, Starring: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti, Doug Jones

Every film festival needs a kooky sci-fi film, and John Dies at the End appears to be just that. From Don Coscarelli, the director of the 2002 cult hit Bubba Ho-Tep, the film concerns soy sauce, a paranormal, psychoactive drug that promises its laundry list of users unique out-of-body experiences. However, those who take it seem to come back as something else entirely. College dropouts Dave (Chase Williamson) and John (Rob Mayes) are unwillingly thrown in the middle of the battle between mankind and an evil from another planet. The film also stars the great Paul Giamatti and character actor Doug Jones (Hellboy).