December 1, 2011

THE BIJOU @ SUNDANCE: Let The (Show)Buzz Commence

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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The Sundance Film Festival, like Toronto, issues its announcements about the films that will be screening in several stages.  (Sundance’s sadism about actually obtaining tickets, however, is all its own.)  Today came the first release for the January 2012 Festival, covering the US and international competition slates in Dramatic and Documentary films.  These are sort of the meat and potatoes of the festival, with directors who don’t (yet) have prominent track records and casts that are recognizable more from TV than from major movies.  (If nothing else, the line-up tells you what your favorite TV ensemble members did during their show’s hiatus last year.)  These films are also eligible for awards, unlike the more elite Premieres, and in recent years such sleepers as Like Crazy, Precious, Once and Winter’s Bone have come from these groups.
There will no doubt be plenty of chatter over the next 7 weeks about which of these titles hold (or don’t) the most promise.  At a first glance, here are some of the more intriguing possibilities:

THE END OF LOVE:  Written and directed by actor Mark Webber, this sounds like a typical Sundance storyline (a young father’s difficulties after the death of his son’s mother), but it has a strong cast that includes Michael Cera, Jason Ritter and the underrated Shannyn Sossamon.  
THE FIRST TIME:  Jonathan Kasdan, who made the interesting In The Land Of Women a few years ago, tells a young love story with Brittany Robertson (of The Secret Circle) and Dylan O’Brien.
FOR ELLEN:  So Yong Kim directed the well-regarded Korean film Treeless Mountain, and her new US-set drama features Paul Dano, Jon Heder, Jena Malone and Margarita Levieva in the story of a musician who undertakes an all-night drive to fight for custody of his daughter.
HELLO I MUST BE GOING:  Todd Louiso (better known as an actor) directed the somewhat lugubrious Love Liza; his new film sounds a little lighter, being a romance between a 35-year old woman (Melanie Lynskey) and a teen.
LUV:  Sheldon Candis’ drama sounds like it’ll be right at home at Sundance–an 11-year old boy discovers unpleasant truths about his uncle “in the streets of Baltimore”–and its cast includes Dennis Haysbert, Danny Glover and Common.
NOBODY WALKS:  Ry Russo-Young’s drama about a hip artist who disrupts the lives of a hip, liberal LA family will get some attention because of its cast, which includes John Krasinski, Olivia Thirlby, Rosemarie DeWitt and Justin Kirk.
SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED:  Here’s a premise that’s a little different:  magazine employees investigate a classified ad run by someone who’s looking for a partner for time travel.  The cast is also a promising group that includes Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass and Jake Johnson.
SAVE THE DATE:  If there’s one thing Sundance loves, it’s dysfunctional families.  But who could resist the idea of Lizzy Caplan and Alison Brie as sisters?  With a supporting cast that includes Martin Starr and (the very busy) Mark Webber.
SMASHED:  Director James Ponsoldt’s previous film was Off the Black, which featured a notably fine performance by Nick Nolte.  His new picture sounds like a reboot of Days of Wine and Roses (one spouse gets sober, the other doesn’t), and features Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Octavia Spencer, Nick Offernan and Megan Mullally.
THE SURROGATE:  Well, OK–here’s the story of a 36-year old virgin with an iron lung who enlists a therapist and a priest to help him hire a sex surrogate to solve his problem.  Ben Lewin’s film stars John Hawkes, Helen Hunt and William H. Macy, but no indication of who’s playing whom.
L:  A Greek film about a man who lives in his car and finds himself in the middle of a war between motorcycle and car drivers.
THE LAST ELVIS:  From Argentina, the story of an Elvis impersonator who’s convinced he’s actually the reincarnation of the man himself.
MY BROTHER THE DEVIL:  A British story about Arab brothers trying to get along in gangland London.
WISH YOU WERE HERE:  Four Australian friends go on a holiday, but only 3 return, with Joel Edgerton and Teresa Palmer in the cast.
WRONG:  Credited as a French film because that’s the nationality of director Quentin Dupieux, but like his very odd deconstructed thriller Rubber, it’s set in the US (who knows why this is “World Cinema” while For Ellen is “US”), here’s the story of a man searching for his lost dog who comes into contact with a “nympho pizza-delivery girl, a jogger searching for the absolute, and a mysterious righter of wrongs.”  With Jack Plotnick, Steve Little, William Fichtner and Alexis Dziena.
Not to sound flippant about what are certainly heartfelt and very likely well made documentaries, but most of their subjects are so familiar from earlier Sundances that it would be hard, based on their descriptions, to tell this year’s list from any other of the past decade:   political activism (Ai Weiwei:  Never Sorry), nuclear energy (The Atomic States of America), the effects of the collapsing economy (Detropia, The Queen of Versaillies, We’re Not Broke, Big Boys Go Bananas, Payback), the healthcare system (Escape Fire), hunger (Finding North), drugs (The House I Live In), AIDS (How To Survive A Plague), homosexuality and the church (Love Free Or Die), the Middle East (1/2 Revolution, 5 Broken Cameras, The Law In These Parts), art (The Artist is Present, Searching for Sugar Man, Gypsy Davy) and technology (Indie Game).
On Thursday, Sundance will announce the entries in their more off-the-beaten-track categories like Park City At Midnight and Frontier, and then Monday we’ll find out the high-profile Premieres that tend to yield the biggest hits–and disappointments–of the festival.  Stay tuned…

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."