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‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ Wins Sundance

‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ Wins Sundance Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

War on drugs documentary also gets award.

Beasts of the Southern Wild, an apocalyptic film starring an 8-year-old girl, won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah Saturday night. The film was directed and co-written by 29-year-old first-time filmmaker Benh Zeitlin, who shot the film on location in Louisiana. The House I Live In, a documentary about the war on drugs, won the top honor in its category.

Read it at The Sundance Channel

Watch the Throne

The Queen of the Indies’ Triumphant Return

She ruled Sundance in the ’90s. Now Parker Posey makes her triumphant return as a crazy boss in ‘Price Check.’

Parker Posey is exhausted. We’re inside a condo besieged by faux-rustic detail off Main Street in Park City, Utah, and she’s slumped over atop a stone fireplace in front of a roaring blaze—like a Sundance throne of sorts for the “Queen of the Indies,” as she was dubbed in 1996. Her black boots dangle over a tiger-striped rug draped over the wooden floor. Despite appearing in more than 30 independent films in the ‘90s, and having more than a dozen movies premiere at Sundance, its been five years since she’s had a movie screen at the mecca of indie cinema. But Posey is back in the mountains to promote her new film, Price Check, boasting one of her juiciest roles in years.

And that’s not all she’s doing here. Posey popped up as the guest of honor during Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s much-ballyhooed hitRECord: A Night at the Movies event during Sundance. Sauntering onstage, she grabbed a microphone and gave her royal seal of approval: “This is very independent, I approve,” before engaging in a quasi-philosophical discussion with the host over what makes an indie film—(500) Days of Summer does not make the cut, according to Posey—and participating in a reading of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, along with Gordon-Levitt and Brady Corbet. She was also set to host Sundance’s awards ceremony but had to back out at the last minute due to a sudden illness.

According to Posey, the Sundance Film Festival has changed a great deal over the years since the heyday of indie cinema—the ‘90s. Now the strange mélange of indie zest and corporate interests resembles, she says, an episode of The Twilight Zone.

“You do these photographs in these [gifting suites], and someone came up to me and said, ‘Hello. Can I give you this leather bag?’” Posey says. “I said, ‘No, I don’t need a bag. I already have one.’ It was a room as big as a hotel room but there was a lemonade stand, a Chex Mix, a martini bar, mints, and then this bag. I move along, and then the guy behind the bar says, ‘Hi. Can I take a picture of you shaking a vodka martini?’ Again, I said, ‘No.’ It’s so weird.”

THE SUNDANCE CHANNEL

James Marsh Rips Best Doc Oscar Nominations

James Marsh tells Marlow Stern about returning to scripted drama and why the Oscar snub of 'The Interrupters' was a "disgrace."

The opening salvo was fired on Nov. 18. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released its short list of 15 films for the Best Documentary Oscar, and many in the industry were up in arms. Where was The Interrupters? No Senna? Then, the actual nominees for the Academy Award for Best Documentary were announced on Jan. 24, and people were appropriately outraged.

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Read it at The Sundance Channel

INCEPTION

Joseph Gordon-Levitt on 'The Dark Knight Rises'

Joseph Gordon-Levitt on 'The Dark Knight Rises' George Pimentel / Getty Images

Opens up about hitRECord and Batman's Occupy Wall Street vibe.

It’s more than an hour till show time and the ticketholder tent outside the 1,270-seat Eccles Theatre, the Grand Théâtre Lumière of Sundance, is bursting at the seams for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s hitRECord: A Night at the Movies. Thus, the less punctual attendees are forced to brave the heavy snow and form a long line wrapping around the theater. Judging by the high volume of beanies, as well as girls dragging their boyfriends around like disgruntled parents, the crowd is skewing very young—save a handful of older men who look like Julian Schnabel.

Read it at The Sundance Channel

The Sundance Channel

A Fascinating Expose on the (Racist) War on Drugs

New film 'The House I Live In.'

The War on Drugs is placed under the microscope in Eugene Jarecki’s (WHY WE FIGHT, ’05) comprehensive documentary, THE HOUSE I LIVE IN. Tracing the history of the drug war from the birth of the narc—and drug usage as a fringe, countercultural phenomenon—to the crack cocaine epidemic of the ‘80s and ‘90s (and subsequent racist practices in the enforcement of drug laws), Jarecki’s damning critique leaves no stone unturned. It even contains plenty of valuable insight from former Baltimore beat reporter-cum-creator of HBO’s THE WIRE, David Simon.

“You’re watching poor, uneducated people fed into a machine like meat to make sausage,” says investigative reporter Charles Bowden in the film.

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Read it at The Sundance Channel

Porn-Indie Queen

Traci Lords on ‘Excision’ and Her Porn Past

Porn icon Traci Lords does a stunning about-face, playing a strict, religious mother in the controversial Sundance horror movie ‘Excision’—the grossest film at the festival. Lords tells Marlow Stern how being raped changed her, about her iconic porn past, and why condoms are a necessarily evil.

Bloody tampons. Decapitated talking heads. Disembowelment. Tongue removal. Wanton sex bathed in menstrual blood. An aborted fetus. Such are the joys of Excision, Richard Bates Jr.’s midnight movie making its world premiere at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. The film’s various grotesque sequences prompted scores of press and industry folk—nearly half the audience in total—to hurry out of one afternoon P&I screening at the fest.

Excision

Traci Lords plays a pious mother in "Excision." (Courtesy of Sundance Festival)

Pauline, played by 90210 star AnnaLynne McCord, has a few issues. Sporting hunched posture, acne, and bushy eyebrows, 18-year-old high-school senior looks like the cousin of one of the GEICO cavemen. She’s hated by her classmates and teachers alike, and further terrorized by her hyperreligious, controlling mother, Phyllis (Traci Lords), who makes Pauline attend weekly therapy sessions with a quirky reverend, played—in a cheeky bit of casting—by John Waters. As if things couldn’t get any worse for the awkward teen, she’s prone to cold sores thanks to a herpes infection she contracted from her father when he performed CPR on her as a young child, and her little sister, Grace (Ariel Winter), has a bad case of cystic fibrosis.

Since reality is such a nightmare, Pauline often finds herself drifting off into her own fantasy world where she harbors bizarre delusions of being a body-altering surgeon. These beautifully photographed dream sequences depict her as a glamorous vixen—like the McCord we’ve come to know on 90210 and Nip/Tuck—dry-humping a host of cadavers, removing the tongue of a woman, performing an abortion, and cleansing herself in a bathtub filled with blood. Oh, and Pauline also wishes to lose her virginity to the most popular boy in school (Jeremy Sumpter) … while she’s on her period.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

2012 Sundance Trends

Women behaving badly, star-studded bombs, and physical handicaps

Now that we’ve reached the home stretch of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, it’s time to take a long, hard look at some of the major trends of this year’s fest…

WOMEN BEHAVING BADLY

It doesn’t get much meaner than Regan, the lead character played with icy deliciousness by Kirsten Dunst in BACHELORETTE. She blows loads of cocaine, has sloppy bathroom sex with douchebags, and talks down to even her best friends. Melissa Leo’s neurotic, drug-addicted mom, Penny, in PREDISPOSED is no picnic, either.

Read it at The Sundance Channel

‘Red Hook Summer’

Spike Lee Flips the Script on Hollywood Racism

Rather than deal with clueless white studio execs’ comments, Spike Lee decided to make Red Hook Summer, the latest movie in the Brooklyn Chronicles, himself. Chris Lee talks to the acclaimed director.

Spike Lee arrived in Park City with both guns blazing.

red-hook-summer-spike-lee-movie-still

Red Hook Summer (2012) (Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival)

On Sunday night, at the Sundance premiere of his faith-based drama Red Hook Summer, the notoriously outspoken writer-director wanted to make a few things abundantly clear:

1) The film follows Flik (Jules Brown), a 13-year-old Atlanta boy with a “fro-hawk” and a ubiquitous iPad 2, who is transplanted to Brooklyn’s Red Hook housing projects to live with his fire-and-brimstone-spouting preacher grandfather for the summer—and potentially find a place for accepting Jesus Christ into his life. Lee said he financed Red Hook Summer himself because he feels the studio system would never let him make “a multidimensional portrait of a young African-American.”

The Sundance Channel

Julie Delpy, Chris Rock Talk ‘Two Days in New York’

Sequel to ‘Two Days in Paris.’

Oscar-nominated actress-cum-filmmaker Julie Delpy’s filmmaking debut 2 DAYS IN PARIS centered on Marion (Delpy), a photographer struggling in her relationship with her neurotic, American boyfriend, Jack (Adam Goldberg). The film went on to become a huge indie hit, grossing nearly $20 million worldwide.

The French-American filmmaker has returned with a sequel of sorts, and enlisted comedian Chris Rock to play Mingus, her new boyfriend. The couple lives together in New York with a child from Marion’s previous relationship with Jack and things are going smoothly—that is, until her family, including father Jeannot (Albert Delpy, her real-life Dad) and sister, Rose (Alexia Landeau), decides to pay the couple a visit following the death of Marion’s mother. Rose’s new boyfriend, who just happens to be one of Marion’s exes, ratchets up the awkwardness, attempting to impress Mingus by quoting Salt-n-Pepa and buying weed in plain sight. Adding to her anxiety, Marion has an upcoming make-or-break photo exhibition.

The role of Mingus is an interesting departure for stand-up comedian-turned-actor Rock, and he delivers one of his most impressive roles to date as arguably the only sane, composed character in the picture.

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Read it at The Sundance Channel

The Sundance Channel

The Wackiest Sci-Fi Flick at Sundance

Paul Giamatti and filmmaker Don Coscarelli on 'John Dies at the End.'

JOHN DIES AT THE END, the latest bizarro sci-fi flick from genre filmmaker Don Coscarelli (of BUBBA HO-TEP fame), opens with a bang.

A designer drug called “soy sauce” grants users a paranormal, out-of-body experience, but also transforms them into disgusting, insect-filled zombie creatures. John (Rob Mayes) is frantic. He calls his best friend—and fellow slacker—Dave (Chase Williamson), who rushes over to his house. They soon encounter a cute, unassuming girl with a scar on her face. Before the two guys can say “soy sauce,” she explodes into hundreds of snakes that bite and tear at the two pals. John runs up the stairs to try and escape, but the door handle turns into a penis, which he refuses to turn. Then, various meats from the basement freezer—sausages, steaks, chickens, etc.—begin shooting across the floor, forming a “meat monster” with a turkey for a head who addresses the boys in a demonic voice.

With the world, unbeknownst to its people, in shambles, Dave enlists the help of a skeptical journalist, played by Paul Giamatti, in order to blow the lid off this crazy story.

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Read it at The Sundance Channel

Miss Sundance

The Education of Elizabeth Olsen

For the second year in a row, the Sundance Film Festival is buzzing about the other Olsen sister, who stars as a quirky 19-year-old romancing an older man in Josh Radnor’s college-based romantic comedy ‘Liberal Arts.’ The actress opens up to Marlow Stern about her crazy year, aversion to child stardom, and her own college experience at NYU—creepy guys included.

The stars turned out for the Museum of Modern Art’s Tribute to Pedro Almodóvar in mid-November. Sarah Jessica Parker and Blake Lively shoot the breeze with fashion mavens Anna Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld. A stunning, doe-eyed blonde emerges, posing for photographs before a Raúl Àvila–designed wall of 25,000 crimson roses. Donning a black Chanel fall 2009 couture dress accented by a red waistband, she resembles a softer, younger Michelle Pfeiffer; a paragon of glamour and sophistication at just 22 years of age.

“Elizabeth Olsen, I saw your movie!” a man exclaims. It’s the guest of honor, Almodóvar. The Chanel-clad ingénue is in a state of shock. “Oh my god!” she shouts, “I wrote a paper about you when I was in high school!”

Almodovar MoMA Film Benefit

Actress Elizabeth Olsen attends the Museum of Modern Art Film Benefit tribute to Pedro Almodóvar in New York, Nov. 15, 2011 (Evan Agostini / AP Photo)

Back at the college dorms, the same gal, a bookish theater major, is studying when she’s interrupted by a knock at the door.

LIBERAL ARTS

‘How I Met Your Mother’ Star Goes Back to School

Josh Radnor talks his award-winning ‘Liberal Arts.’

Two years ago, a tiny movie from a first-time filmmaker about a group of young, attractive New Yorkers struggling to balance their various romantic entanglements and impending adulthood, surprised festivalgoers by winning the coveted Audience Award at Sundance. Written and directed by Josh Radnor, best known as the lead on How I Met Your Mother, the hit CBS sitcom, HappyThankYouMorePlease won over audiences in Park City, Utah. And his sophomore feature, Liberal Arts, elicited a standing ovation at the press and industry screening I attended.

Based in part on Radnor’s time as an undergrad at Kenyon College, and shot on location at the Ohio school, Liberal Arts tells the story of Jesse (Radnor), a 35-year-old college-admissions counselor who’s trapped in a state of arrested development. When his second favorite college professor, Prof. Hoberg (Richard Jenkins), asks him to return to college for his retirement ceremony, Jesse finds himself on a journey of self-discovery involving an enchanting young sophomore, Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), who harbors a crush on him; a hippie with some sagelike advice, played by Zac Efron; and his fiery former British romantic literature professor (Allison Janney).

Sundance Channel sat down with Josh Radnor to chat about Liberal Arts, his own college experiences—first at Kenyon College, and then at NYU—if he’s ever romanced a much younger woman, and how much longer How I Met Your Mother will last.

Read it at The Sundance Channel

MEGA-CONCERT

James Murphy Says ‘Shut Up and Play the Hits’

Talks retiring his band LCD Soundsystem and new documentary.

“It’s better to burn out than to fade away,” Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain wrote in his suicide letter. The New York-based, electro-dance band LCD Soundsystem, which formed in 2001 and released three critically-acclaimed albums, took Cobain’s—by way of Neil Young’s—advice, choosing to abruptly retire at the height of their fame.

On Feb. 5, 2011, a letter was posted on the band’s website, saying, good people of earth: lcd soundsystem are playing madison square garden on april 2nd, and it will be our last show ever. we are retiring from the game. gettin’ out. movin’on. but for just one more night, we will be playing with friends and family for nearly 3 hours–playing stuff we’ve never played before and going out with a bang. and we’d like you to be there.

British filmmakers Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern, who filmed the 2010 documentary NO DISTANCE LEFT TO RUN about the band Blur, decided to chronicle the mega-concert in the documentary SHUT UP AND PLAY THE HITS, which made its world premiere at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.

Read it at The Sundance Channel

NOTES FROM SUNDANCE

Sundance Dealmaking Kicks Into Overdrive

Fox Searchlight broke out as the festival’s leading dealmaker, snapping up rights to the hottest title of the year, ‘The Surrogate,’ and winning a bidding war for the magic-realistic ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild.’

Although a series of blizzards has battered the festival, dumping several feet of snow throughout this winter-sport wonderland at the base of the Wasatch Mountains and making the schlep from screening to swag suite to open bar tricky to navigate, Sundance dealmaking heated up Tuesday with Sony Pictures Classics and Focus Features acquiring the distribution rights to festival entries. And Fox Searchlight has emerged as most purchase-happy of studio suitors so far, picking up two movies here in Park City, Utah.

the-surrogate-sundance-film-festival.jpg

Helen Hunt and John Hawkes in a scene from 'The Surrogate' (Courtesy of Sundance FIlm Festival)

On Monday, Searchlight paid $6 million for the North American distribution rights to what has arguably broken out as Sundance’s hottest title this year: The Surrogate, an uplifting drama about a middle-aged man (Oscar-nominated John Hawkes of Winter’s Bone fame) confined to his bed by an iron lung who hires a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) to finally relieve him of his virginity.

Then on Tuesday, Searchlight prevailed in a bidding war for Beasts of the Southern Wild, a dreamlike drama starring a cast of nonprofessional actors that juxtaposes gritty scenes of bayou poverty with nature-based magical realism to tell the story of a 6-year-old girl trying to find her way in the world. Although Beasts’ Friday premiere was greeted by rapturous audience and critical response that had acquisitions agents reaching for their checkbooks, no dollar-amount announcement was made concerning how much the studio paid for the movie.

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