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2013 Sundance Preview: 29 Exciting Movies!

The Sundance Film Festival begins Thursday, and we will be there. Will one of these movies be the next Beasts of the Southern Wild? Here's a preview of the festival's best, both narrative and documentary, and in and out of competition.

"After Tiller" (Documentary)

Directed by: Martha Shane and Lana Wilson

What it's about: There are only four doctors left in the United States who perform third trimester abortions. One of their predecessors, Dr. George Tiller, was murdered in 2009; these four have persisted, at great sacrifice, and have opened up their lives and work for the film. Shane and Wilson are first-time feature directors.

"Afternoon Delight"

Directed by: Jill Soloway

Cast: Kathryn Hahn, Juno Temple, Josh Radnor, Jane Lynch

What it's about: Hahn plays a hipster Silver Lake mom who meets a stripper (Temple) and hires her as…her nanny. Yes, please. It's written and directed by Soloway, a prolific TV writer who's worked on everything from Six Feet Under to United States of Tara (and is, disclosure alert, a friend of mine).

"Ain't Them Bodies Saints"

Directed by: David Lowery

Cast: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Nate Parker, Keith Carradine

What it's about: Mara and Affleck play criminals on a spree who get caught — four years later, Affleck's character escapes from prison. Everything about this movie screams Badlands-inspired Western, which honestly…is not my favorite. But all the film nerds are excited about this movie, and the Sundance programmers seem to love it.

"Anita" (Documentary)

Directed by: Freida Mock

What it's about: In October 1991, Anita Hill testified against Clarence Thomas at the hearings held to vet him for the Supreme Court — she said he had sexually harassed her. It was some of the most riveting and disturbing television I've ever seen; the way she was treated by the Senate Judiciary Committee, led by then-Senator Joe Biden, was like a horror film. Though she was eminently believable, Thomas was, as we know, confirmed. I both dread and can't wait to relive this terrible moment in history. Filmmaker Mock won an Academy Award for Maya Lin: A Strong Vision in 1995.


Directed by: Jerusha Hess

Cast: Keri Russell, JJ Feild, Bret McKenzie, Jennifer Coolidge, Georgia King, James Callis

What it's about: Hess, who usually partners with her husband, Jared (they of Napoleon Dynamite), makes her directorial debut, adapting the Shannon Hale novel about a woman obsessed with Mr. Darcy. (Not just any Mr. Darcy — the Colin Firth portrayal. Please.) The movie has a great cast — thank god Russell is back in general — and seems sweet.

"Before Midnight"

Directed by: Richard Linklater

Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Xenia Kalogeropoulou, Ariane Labed, Athina Rachel Tsangari, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick

What it's about: The third movie in what may or may not be a trilogy. Who would have thought Before Sunrise, which I found annoying at the time, but grew to like after Before Sunset, would spur such an interesting, occasional film experiment? Let's check in with these guys and see what they've been up to.

"Blackfish" (Documentary)

Directed by: Gabriela Cowperthwaite

What it's about: You guys, I don't know if I can see this movie even though it seems like it could be amazing. By focusing on Tilikum, the performing orca — we're not supposed to say "killer whale" anymore, which I'm OK with — who has killed several people at SeaWorld, director Cowperthwaite exposes how these animals are treated in captivity.

"Breathe In"

Directed by: Drake Doremus

Cast: Guy Pearce, Felicity Jones, Amy Ryan, Mackenzie Davis

What it's about: Two years ago, Doremus' Like Crazy, which also starred Jones playing a foreign exchange student, made a big splash at Sundance and won the dramatic Grand Jury Prize. Ultimately, I found that movie, which was largely improvised, to be a bummer, but I'm interested in what Doremus (and even more, Jones) do next anyway. Pearce plays a cellist-turned-music-teacher at midlife and with regrets.

"Citizen Koch" (Documentary)

Directed by: Carl Deal and Tia Lessin

What it's about: The Oscar-nominated Trouble the Water documentarians look at the real-life repercussions of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. They examine the heavily funded Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker — and what has happened in the state since he was elected — as well as former Louisiana governor Buddy Roemer, who tried to run for president by not accepting any donations that were more than $100.

"The Crash Reel” (Documentary)

Directed by: Lucy Walker

What it's about: Walker tells the story of snowboarder Kevin Pearce, who suffered a traumatic brain injury while training to compete against Shaun White in the 2010 Winter Olympics. Pearce has permanent brain damage — so what happens when he wants to come back? Music by Chemical Brothers, Underworld, M83, Jose Gonzalez, Moby, Sigur Ros, and Lykke Li.

"Don Jon's Addiction"

Directed by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Glenne Headly, Rob Brown

What it's about: Directed by JG-L! What else do you need? (He's playing a dog who tries to change his ways.)

"The East"

Directed by: Zal Batmanglij

Cast: Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page, Toby Kebbell, Shiloh Fernandez, Patricia Clarkson

What it's about: These weirdos — I'm referring to Batmanglij and Marling, who co-wrote The East — make good movies. I was a fan of both Another Earth, which they wrote, and Sound of My Voice, which they wrote and Batmanglij directed. There's an original ominousness to their films, and The East's premise promises the same: When an anarchist collective begins attacking CEOs, an ex-FBI agent goes undercover to try to nail them, but begins to agree with them instead.


Directed by: Ryan Coogler

Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz, Ahna O'Reilly, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray

What it's about: Based on a true story. Michael B. Jordan, the charismatic actor from Friday Night Lights, Parenthood, and last year's surprise sci-fi hit Chronicle, plays Oscar Grant, a young Oakland man who was fatally shot on the BART by a police officer. The shooting, which was filmed by several witnesses, has become a famous civil rights case. Tears will shed at this movie, I imagine. (Mine.)

"In a World…"

Directed by: Lake Bell

Cast: Lake Bell, Demetri Martin, Rob Corddry, Michaela Watkins, Ken Marino, Fred Melamed

What it's about: Bell is so funny on Twitter. I wouldn't say she's found her perfect comedy vehicle, unless you count the unintentionally hilarious 2005 NBC drama Surface, which was about giant sea creatures — she did her best there, but wow (I think I watched every episode in its short life). Anyway. The point is, she's now decided to make her own movie; she plays an aspiring voice-over artist whose dad is the most celebrated of film-trailer voice-over stars. Thus the title.

"Kill Your Darlings"

Directed by: John Krokidas

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Ben Foster, Michael C. Hall, Jack Huston, Elizabeth Olsen

What it's about: There's lots of buzz behind this movie, in which Radcliffe & co. play the young Beats — Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and Lucien Carr. It takes place during Ginsberg's time at Columbia in the mid-1940s and includes a murder.

"The Lifeguard"

Directed by: Liz W. Garcia

Cast: Kristen Bell, Mamie Gummer, Martin Starr, Alex Shaffer, Amy Madigan, Joshua Harto, David Lambert

What it's about: Kristen Bell plays a cool young adult in New York whose life falls apart, so she moves back in with her parents in Connecticut. Hi. Yes, please.


Directed by: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman

Cast: Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, Hank Azaria, Adam Brody, James Franco, Sharon Stone

What it's about: This movie has already gotten a lot of attention, including a big New York Times story by Dave Itzkoff in February of last year. The story of Linda Lovelace is so sad and harrowing — here's hoping for the best for Seyfried and the rest of the cast.

"Manhunt" (Documentary)

Directed by: Greg Barker

What it's about: The real-life hunt for Osama bin Laden would be interesting anytime; now we can see how it stacks up against Zero Dark Thirty's fictional version.


Directed by: Jeff Nichols

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shepard

What it's about: The McConaughey transformation from rom-com dumbass to serious actor continues —here, he plays an outlaw on the run who enlists two boys to help him. Nichols was the writer/director of the much-praised Take Shelter.

"The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman"

Directed by: Fredrik Bond

Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Evan Rachel Wood, Mads Mikkelsen, Til Schweiger, Rupert Grint, James Buckley

What it's about: This movie has taken awhile to get to us. First, LaBeouf was in it; then he dropped out and was replaced by Zac Efron. Then LaBeouf took back the part. It's a thriller, and Wood costars. That's enough for me.

"Narco Cultura" (Documentary)

Directed by: Shaul Schwarz

What it's about: An exploration of drugs and violence resulting from Mexican-U.S. drug trafficking. This documentary sounds like a nightmare because the situation is a nightmare. I bet this one is big.

“The Spectacular Now”

Directed by: James Ponsoldt

Cast: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kyle Chandler

What it's about: What a great cast. I've decided the most exciting part is Woodley's first big movie role post-Descendants. Ponsoldt directed Smashed, which did well at Sundance last year.


Directed by: Park Chan-Wook

Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Dermot Mulroney, Jacki Weaver, Nicole Kidman

What it's about: I've been following this movie for quite awhile. It's the English-language debut of Park Chan-Wook, the brilliant Korean director of The Vengeance Trilogy; the plot sounds like an American Gothic Shadow of a Doubt; it stars Wasikowska; and it was written by Wentworth Miller, the lead from Prison Break. What!

"The Summit" (Documentary)

Directed by: Nick Ryan

What it's about: Show me a man who doesn't like a mountain-climbing disaster documentary and I will show you…well, I bet some people don't like them. But I don't want to meet those people. The Summit is about an attempt to climb K2 that left 11 people dead.

"Two Mothers"

Directed by: Anne Fontaine

Cast: Naomi Watts, Robin Wright, Xavier Samuel, James Frechevile

What it's about: Wright's and Watts' characters are close friends who fall in love with each other's sons. This movie is based on a Doris Lessing novel and was adapted by Christopher Hampton.

"Very Good Girls"

Directed by: Naomi Foner

Cast: Dakota Fanning, Elizabeth Olsen, Boyd Holbrook, Demi Moore, Richard Dreyfuss, Ellen Barkin

What it's about: Every year, there's a Sundance "It girl," which I'm sure those "girls" hate being called. Olsen was that person for Martha Marcy May Marlene, and now she is back — costarring with Dakota Fanning. They play friends in Brooklyn during the summer before college.

"The Way, Way Back"

Directed by: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash

Cast: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, Liam James

What it's about: I haven't heard that much about this movie, which is strange, because Faxon and Rash won an Oscar last year for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Descendants. (They are also recognizable actors themselves: Faxon is on Ben and Kate, and Rash is on Community.) Since I know little about the film, I will call it a potential sleeper, and if this movie takes off, just remember those words.

"We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks" (Documentary)

Directed by: Alex Gibney

What it's about: Has anyone ever wondered how Gibney directs so many movies? Some people spend years directing just one; he is a productive man. Wikileaks is his latest subject.

"Which Way Is the Front Line from Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington" (Documentary)

Directed by: Sebastian Junger

What it's about: Hetherington and Junger won the 2010 Grand Jury Prize for Restrepo, which was about the war in Afghanistan. Hetherington was killed by a mortar attack in Libya in 2011; Junger has made this movie about his life and work.

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