James Canellos ’17/ Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
While the Sundance Film Festival may not carry the prestige of the Cannes or Berlin festivals, it has given up-and-coming filmmakers the chance to show the world what they can do. Here are some of this year’s entries, most of which are either in the middle of bidding wars from highly acclaimed studios or are still reaching out for investors.
Director: Damien Chazelle
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Damien Chazelle adapts his own award-winning short film about a young drummer (Miles Teller) trying to make it big under the instruction of a sadistic instructor (J.K. Simmons). J.K. Simmons reprises his role from the original short and is receiving excellent reviews along with Teller, who broke out of the festival last year for his portrayal of a hard partying high school senior in The Spectacular Now. Whiplash as a whole has been the talk of the town and has been highly praised by critics and audiences. The film opened the Sundance Film Festival last week and has been picked up by Sony Pictures right after its release. If that’s not impressive enough, the film took home the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance awards ceremony.
The Skeleton Twins
Director: Craig Johnson
Distributor: Roadside Attractions (theatrical) & Lionsgate (DVD)
Estranged twins Milo and Maggie (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig) reunite after ten years of separation when they both find out they each survived a near death experience. Despite the comedic talent that the two leads are known for, they both show off a surprising dramatic side. Hader especially shines, and is said to deliver a career changing performance. The film has been acquired by Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions.
Director: Steve James
Distributor: CNN Films
From director Steve James, who debuted at Sundance in 1994 with his classic documentary Hoop Dreams, comes an in-depth look at the life of famous film critic Roger Ebert. Martin Scorsese also executive-produced the film that is being considered an unbiased tribute to the man who made his thumb a trademark and fought for great films to be seen. Despite the friendship Ebert had with James and Scorsese, the filmmakers refused to shy away from the critic’s frailties. CNN Films has picked up the television rights.
Wish I Was Here
Director: Zach Braff
Distributor: Focus Features
One of the most buzzed about films of this year’s festival is Zach Braff’s sophomore film that famously received all its funding from a Kickstarter campaign. Wish I Was Here is about a struggling actor (Braff) who tries to homeschool his two children when his family can no longer afford to send the children to private school. The film has received only mixed reviews at best, but was still recently picked up by Focus Features.
Director: Kat Candler
When thirteen year-old Jacob’s (Josh Wiggins) reckless behavior forces Child Protective Services to place his little brother in the care of his aunt, Jacob and his absent father (Aaron Paul) put aside their differences to try to get the boy back. The film is small in stature, but packs an emotional punch with an excellent post-Breaking Bad performance from Paul and a career-making turn from first-time actor Wiggins. The film has yet to be picked up from any major studio.
Director: Steven Knight
One of the more under-the-radar films that could garner a cult following centers on a British construction engineer (Tom Hardy) who is driving to a destination in the midst of a personal dilemma. Through a series of phone calls, the audience will be able to piece together what is going on with this character and where he’s going, as the story is told through real time and never leaves the vehicle. Hardy has proven that he can draw cult followings through his performances in Bronson and Warrior, but this will surely be his greatest challenge yet as an actor. The film is expected to be released this April.
Life After Beth
Director: Jeff Baena
With all the zombie films out nowadays about people trying to survive, find a cure or engage in a fight to the death with the flesh-eaters, first time director Jeff Baena has taken a different approach. His comedy follows Zach (Dane DeHaan), the loyal boyfriend of recently deceased Beth (Aubrey Plaza) who has now come back to life as a zombie. Zach uses this opportunity to keep her alive and perhaps gain the closure he needed. The film’s funny concept will hopefully help it attain a distributor.
Nymophomaniac: Volume I
Director: Lars von Trier
Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Audiences were shocked when Lars Von Trier secretly screened the first part of his upcoming duo of sex-filled films. Trier’s film follows a nymphomaniac, Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) as she recounts her erotic experiences to a man who saved her life. The film also stars Stellan Skarsgard, Shia LaBeouf, Uma Thurman, Jamie Bell and Willem Dafoe. The first part has already been seen worldwide, being well received by critics in the process, and will make its way to American theaters sometime in March. Nymphomaniac: Volume II is planned to be released in April.