New movies from independent helmers Lynn Shelton and Anton Corbijn as well as acting hyphenates David Cross and William H. Macy are among those making their debut in the upcoming Sundance Film Festival’s premieres section, organizers announced Monday.
Documentary premieres, meanwhile, include the latest from veterans Alex Gibney, Joe Berlinger, Amir Bar-Lev and Rory Kennedy -- as well as Steve James’ look at the late film critic Roger Ebert.
Playing out of competition, Sundance’s premieres section often highlights movies that will be released to some notice in the months ahead; in recent years Richard Linklater’s “Before Midnight” and Tom McCarthy’s “Win Win” both debuted in the section.
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This year, Corbijn, the music maven who took a turn in a thriller direction with “The American” several years ago, adapts John Le Carre’s “A Most Wanted Man," the author's 2008 novel about extraordinary rendition. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Rachel McAdams star.
Shelton, who scored with mumblecore hit “Humpday” at the festival several years ago, comes this year with “Laggies,” her story of a 28-year-old underachiever.
Cross both wrote and directed “Hits,” about a small upstate New York town where “fame, delusion, earnestness, and recklessness meet, shake hands, and disrupt the lives around them,” according to a festival announcement. Also on the comedy front, David Wain (“Wet Hot American Summer”) goes for a spoof of sorts of the romcom with “They Came Together,” starring Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd.
In what will serve as the closing-night film, “Rudderless" is Macy's story about a man who discovers the music of his late son and decides to form a band based on said tunes. The film sports one of the more eclectic casts one will find at the festival, with Billy Crudup, Anton Yelchin and Selena Gomez joining Macy and Felicity Huffman.
Big stars will also make their presence felt elsewhere, as Ryan Reynolds stars in “The Voices,” Marjane Satrapi's look at “a lovable but disturbed factory worker who yearns for attention from a woman in accounting,” according to a festival description. Fellow superhero Michael Fassbender anchors the Irish music pic “Frank,” Lenny Abrahamson’s fictional look at a mysterious pop star.
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Additionally, the premieres section includes “Another Earth” helmer Mike Cahill, who returns with another science-fiction-inflected story, “I Origins,” that reunites him with “Earth” star Brit Marling.
The return of filmmakers such as Shelton, Wain and Cahill -- all of whom had earned the "indie wunderkind" label at past festivals-- offers a next chapter of sorts: Sundance Film Festival director John Cooper noted in a news release that the section “feature[s] new work from many established independent filmmakers who began their careers at our festival years ago, which allows us to reflect on the impact, legacy and growth of the independent film movement over the past 30 years.”
Sequels and follow-ups also mark this year’s premieres slate in other ways, with Gareth Evans bringing “The Raid 2,” the Welsh director’s latest Indonesia-set action pic, while Michael Winterbottom and Steve Coogan team up again for “The Trip to Italy,” a follow of sorts to their 2010 ambulatory comedy “The Trip.”
Documentaries at this year’s festival showcase a particularly wide range of subjects. Berlinger (“Paradise Lost”) takes on perhaps the country’s most infamous contemporary mobster in “Whitey: United States of America v. James Bulger,” while Bar-Lev (“The Tillman Story”) examines one of our most notorious sex scandals in “Happy Valley,” about Jerry Sandusky and the Penn State abuse crisis. The protean Gibney tackles Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti in “Finding Fela.”
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Kennedy, who last looked back to the 1960s with a documentary about her mother, Ethel Kennedy, now examines the closing chapter of one of the 20th century’s most notorious military conflicts in “Last Days in Vietnam.”
On a somewhat less serious note, Jennifer Kroot, who once made a documentary about underground film called “It Came From Kumar,” this year looks at a Star Trek fixture in “To Be Takei.”
James (“Hoop Dreams”) had taken to crowdfunding sites to finance “Life Itself,” his story about Ebert; the festival synopsis describes the movie as covering the critic's “early days as a freewheeling bachelor and Pulitzer Prize winner, his famously contentious partnership with Gene Siskel, his life-altering marriage, and his brave and transcendent battle with cancer.”
Entering the narrative premieres section with something of a documentary and genre-bending pedigree (and perhaps the bending of a few other things as well) is “Nick Offerman: American Ham,” directed by last year’s competition director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (“The Kings of Summer”). According to a description sent by the festival, “Nick Offerman” is based on a taping of his one-man show at New York’s Town Hall and “features a collection of anecdotes, songs, and woodworking/oral sex techniques.”
The Sundance Film Festival is scheduled to kick off Jan. 16 in Park City, Utah.