Pretend You Were There: Sundance 2011, Pt. 1

You know what’s better than going to a world-renowned film festival, waiting in lines for hours and crossing your fingers to get a first look at some of the brightest and most original new films? Pretending you did all that.

As a film blogger with no money to go to such festivals, I’ve been trying to figure out how to “cover” them for the year and a half that Movie Muse has been on the Internets. I’ve finally found a satisfying way.

My solution? Read all about them from various news sources and blogs and report back to you, the person with no time for such things, but who would really like to know which films among the piles of them are worth knowing about and just how much the festival’s actual attendees are buzzing about them.

The first major portion of Sundance concluded around Monday or so with announcements about some of the festival’s most enjoyed films thus far getting picked up for distribution. I’ve assembled a few highlights that cover what that talk of Park City, Utah has been all about the past five or so days.

Kevin Smith’s much-anticipated new horror film, “Red State,” debuts

You read that right: a Kevin Smith horror film. “Red State” stars John Goodman, Melissa Leo and Michael Angarano in a film about “a group of teens receive an online invitation for sex, though they soon encounter fundamentalists with a much more sinister agenda.”

Reviews, like much of Smith’s work of late, have been mixed. Smith’s dialogue-heavy style doesn’t seem to be a natural fit whatsoever with horror (shocker), but by and large most attendees have been entertained.

The bigger news comes in the form of Smith’s plans to distribute the film — he’ll do it himself. This entails renting out theaters for showings, a somewhat antiquated method called “four-walling.” What this means is Smith is tired of being tied to studios with their own agendas who often manipulate the marketing of films and cause headaches, all of which Smith has experienced. You can imagine a film about right-wing zealots terrorizing teens would make any studio set up caution tape.

Elizabeth Olsen is the breakout star of the festival. That would be Mary Kate and Ashley’s sister.

You also read that right. There’s another Olsen? She acts? She’s good? She’s not addicted to cocaine? Checks on all those, as far as I know. Olsen starred in two films that premiered over the weekend, one a horror film called “Silent House” that appears as if it was shot in one continuous take. The other is a psychological drama about  cultism called “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” which despite an obnoxious title, has been getting excellent reviews. It co-stars Hugh Dancy, Sarah Paulson and recently named Oscar nominee John Hawkes (“Winter’s Bone).

Okay, back to Olsen. There’s a chance that she’s merely good and the family name is lighting her up, but she’s just signed on to be in a relatively high-profile project. Some have gone so far as to declare here this year’s Jennifer Lawrence, the teenage star who just received an Oscar nomination for her role in “Winter’s Bone,” which was making headlines exactly a year ago in Park City. Since, Lawrence landed the role of the young Mystique in “X-Men: First Class.”

“Silent House” was bought by a small distributor but “Martha Marcy” was purchased by Fox Searchlight, a very good sign. Searchlight has two Best Picture nominees this year in “Black Swan” and “127 Hours.” Both were high-profile films to begin with, but that doesn’t diminish the achievement for T. Sean Durkin and his film, nor for its star, who can proudly say the last film she did is no longer the short film “The Case of the Mystery Cruise” back in 1995.

The romance “Like Crazy” has been the biggest hit of the festival

The romantic drama “Like Crazy” from filmmaker Drake Doremus (“Douchebag”) made serious waves in Park City over the weekend. The film stars Anton Yelchin (“Star Trek”) and Felicity Jones (“The Tempest”) and is about “A British college student who falls for an American student, only to be separated from him when she’s banned from the U.S. after overstaying her visa.” I wouldn’t worry too much that this is “Going the Distance” all over again. Interestingly, it seems Jennifer Lawrence continues this year as the darling and/or lucky charm of Sundance, as she co-stars in the film.

The film chooses an interesting narrative path from what I gather, which must keep this love story fresh and emotional. Jones is a relative newcomer (not for long, it seems), but Yelchin has always been a really likable actor, just one who needs to a starring role to his name. Paramount has picked up the film for distribution, a tremendous sign that the film will be ripe for viewing by people across the country (and no doubt the UK).

“Win Win” is being considered as such — one of the funnier films of the festival

Thomas McCarthy should probably be getting a bit of love by this point as a filmmaker. A small-role actor in many films you’ve seen, he did some fine work on “The Station Agent” and “The Visitor,” a film that earned Richard Jenkins an Oscar nomination a couple years ago. In “Win Win,” he gets Paul Giamatti as an attorney/high school wrestling coach. Here’s the summary:

Disheartened attorney Mike Flaherty (Giamatti), who moonlights as a high school wrestling coach, stumbles across a star athlete through some questionable business dealings while trying to support his family. Just as it looks like he will get a double payday, the boy’s mother shows up fresh from rehab and flat broke, threatening to derail everything.

The still underrated yet Oscar-nominated Amy Ryan plays Giamatti’s wife. Melanie Lynskey (“Two and a Half Men”) and Jeffrey Tambor also co-star. Almost certainly, we’re looking at another lovable quirky every-man movie. McCarthy has shown adeptness at character-driven filmmaking, so could “Win Win” be the film that puts him on the map?

Sundance 2011 goes through the entire weekend, so look for a Part 2 assuming that some new buzz arises.


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