Five weeks ago I did a short little riff on six Sundance ’14 standouts. But the more I sift through the programs, the less excited I am. I’m not down on anything — just even-toned. The usual 25 or so films will be seen and the usual five or six (at most) will emerge as genuine standouts. The first order of business is always to decide which films look dicey, and in that effort my heartfelt thanks to the team at Total Film — experience has taught me that almost everything these guys are excited about and hoping to like, I’m probably going to find irksome or dislikable or worse. Here, in any event, are a few pre-festival spitballs — instinct, off the top, “what do I know?”
Damien Chazelle‘s Whiplash appears to have heat, granted, but Miles Teller irritates me for what I freely admit are unfair and unwarranted reasons. (That “driving and not looking” scene in The Spectacular Now is one of them.) Steve James‘ Life Itself, the Roger Ebert doc, will be poignant and moving and very well crafted, I’m sure, but I wonder how nakedly honest — the more reverent the portrayal, the less interesting the subject becomes. Gareth Evans‘ The Raid 2: Bernandal is an instant must-to-avoid because (a) I hated The Raid (thanks once again to James Rocchi for recommending it two or three Torontos ago) and (b) I am, as always, fiercely committed to avoiding all Asian-based or Asian-produced action films for the rest of my life. The deadly obnoxious conceit of Michael Fassbender wearing a ceramic mask over his head throughout the entire length of Frank (according to plot descriptions) is obviously a potential catastrophe. The One I Love with Mark Duplass and Elizabeth Moss has to be at least decent. And the generic description of William H. Macy‘s Rudderless — “a musical drama about the power of a parent’s love” — has me scared shitless.
I’ll probably be irritated by Life After Beth because of the zombie jizz whizz “girlfriend back from the dead” material. I fully expect David Wain‘s They Came Together to blow megaplex chunks but you never know. I have absolutely no interest in The Voices (i.e., Ryan Reynolds talking to his pet cat and dog). My instinct tells me Jake Paltrow‘s Young Ones is probably a no-go. Gregg Araki‘s White Bird in a Blizzard…maybe, looks iffy, you know Araki. Zach Braff‘s Wish I Was Here deserves its day in court without anyone mentioning the Kickstarter campaign. I’m somewhere between 97% and 98% certain that John Michael McDonagh‘s Calvary will deliver and then some. Lynn Shelton‘s Laggies is being described mostly as a kind of lethargic mood piece — I hope it’s much more than that. I’m completely neutral about Camp X-Ray, the Kristen Stewart-as-a-Gunantanamo-prison-guard piece. The descriptions of Michael C. Hall‘s Cold in July are at least mildly encouraging. The imaginative underpinnings of Mike Cahill‘s I Origins suggest it will probably be a keeper and certainly a conversation piece. Ira Sachs‘ Love Is Strange…yeah, maybe.
I’m very much looking forward to Michael Winterbottom‘s The Trip To Italy, a reteaming of The Trip‘s Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Jeremiah Zagar‘s Captivated, a doc about Pamela Smart, will almost certainly be worth the effort. If David Cross‘s Hits turns out to be more than what it seems I’ll be flabbergasted. John Slattery‘s God’s Pocket comes well recommended. We all know going in what Joe Swanberg‘s Happy Christmas (Anna Kendrick, Lena Dunham) is going to be like, and that we’ll all probably offer effusive praise when it’s over. The title of Maya Forbes‘ Infinitely Polar Bear would give anyone concern. Everyone’s heard that The Skeleton Twins is a hot ticket and that it plays, etc. Song One, the music-inflected Anne Hathaway romantic drama, might…I don’t want to say anything.
What am I missing? Yes, of course — Richard Linklater‘s just-added Boyhood and Anton Corbijn‘s A Most Wanted Man.
Posted on 12.6.13: “I’m way, way behind on Sundance 2014 assessments, but at least I spoke to a buyer this morning about the Dramatic Competition slate. He’s most excited about the following, he says: (1) John Slattery‘s God’s Pocket, an adaptation of a mid ’90s Pete Dexter novel, about the cover-up of the particulars that led to the death of an arrogant hell-bent type. South Philly-flavored, possibly Mystic River-ish. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Christina Hendricks, Richard Jenkins and John Turturro costar; (2) Damien Chazelle‘s Whiplash, adapted from Chazelle’s same-titled short and described as a kind of ‘Full Metal Jacket at Julliard as applied to drumming,’ costarring J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller; (3) Jeff Preiss‘s Low Down — a portrait of legendary jazz pianist Joe Albany (John Hawkes) by way of a father-daughter saga, produced by Nebraska‘s Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa, written by Topper Lilien and Amy Albany, and set in the L.A. jazz scene of the late ’60s and early ’70s (period trappings are expensive!); (4) Kate Barker-Froyland‘s Song One, an Anne Hathaway-starrer said to be a ‘nice, gentle, woman-friendly emotional drama’ about a dreamy (shoe-gazey?) relationship within the Brooklyn music scene; (5) Craig Johnson‘s The Skeleton Twins, a kind of indie Beetlejuice-sounding deal costarring Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig and Luke Wilson; and (6) Kat Candler‘s Hellion, which is supposed to be ‘very good,’ the guy says.”