Every year, the MTV Movies team starts out with the same resolution: See more films. And once again, we’ll be getting off to a good start by invading Park City, Utah, next week for Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival, the best place to sneak a peek at the movies you’ll be watching tomorrow.
Maybe we’ll find another Sundance gem like “Napoleon Dynamite,” “Clerks” or “Little Miss Sunshine” this year (and stay tuned, because when we do you’ll hear about it here first), or maybe we’ll uncover talents like Jake Gyllenhaal, Owen and Luke Wilson or Bryan Singer, all of whom had their coming-out parties in Sundance films. This year, 3,287 movies were submitted and 125 were selected by Sundance, so to make things simpler before the snow begins to fall and the celluloid begins to roll, we’ve whittled it down further to a hit list of the 10 films we’ve absolutely gotta see:
10. “Finishing the Game”
What a cool concept: A comedy set in the ’70s about the real-life search for a fake Bruce Lee. One-time Sundance phenom Justin Lin (“Better Luck Tomorrow”) is coming home to premiere “Game,” a cameo-packed indie featuring such random stars as James Franco, George Takei and MC Hammer.
Why we’re intrigued: The tale of Lee’s “Game of Death,” which was completed by greedy filmmakers after their star’s untimely demise, is one of Hollywood’s most fascinating (see “Bruce Lee Back On The Big Screen In ’Tokyo Drift’ Director’s Comedy” ). Also, the casting of Franco as a Shatner-esque ’70s over-actor shows that the tone is right.
Why we’re afraid: Lin’s a whiz when it comes to action scenes, but he’s never done a comedy before.
9. “King of California”
As anyone who’s seen “Falling Down” knows, Michael Douglas does mentally unhinged very, very well. Now he’s mixed in a few comedic ingredients to create Charlie, a recently institutionalized eccentric determined to reunite with his teenage daughter, played by Evan Rachel Wood — and dig up a buried treasure underneath their neighborhood Costco. The first trailer, which has been making the rounds on the Internet lately, looks like “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” meets “Matchstick Men.” Not a bad mix.
Why we’re intrigued: “Thirteen” star Wood, now 19 years old, seems ready to take things to the next level. The film is produced by “Sideways” filmmaker Alexander Payne, and word on the street is that the role could earn Douglas his first Oscar since “Wall Street.”
Why we’re afraid: Payne is a pro at balancing the humor and drama in a story like “King,” but the trailer’s overly “inspirational” note at the end could indicate that debut director Mike Cahill will succumb to “K-Pax”-like sentimentalism.
8. “Black Snake Moan”
Justin Timberlake getting gritty? Samuel L. Jackson as a motherf—-in’ blues-guitar player? Scantily clad Christina Ricci chained to a radiator? How could any film fan not be eager to see “Moan,” writer/director Craig Brewer’s incendiary follow-up to “Hustle & Flow”? Similarly sweaty and set in the South, “Moan” tells the story of another Sam Jackson righteous man, this time determined to make Ricci repentant for her carnal indiscretions. And just wait until you see what happens when Timberlake tries to give Sam a d— in a box (see ” ’SNL’ Star Behind Timberlake’s Raunchy Hit Hopes To ’Box’ Up Full LP” ).
Why we’re intrigued: We’ve never seen a movie like this before.
Why we’re afraid: Rumor has it that “Moan” is one of those movies you’ll either love or hate.
After trying his fans’ patience with junk like “Underclassman,” Nick Cannon seems determined to prove himself as a real actor. He could open some eyes with this “Crash”-like ensemble film, detailing a small American town under siege by youth-related killings that are not nearly as random as they appear. Putting himself in the hands of 27-year-old filmmaking maverick Adam Bhala Lough, Cannon might just be on the verge of transforming himself, à la Ludacris.
Why we’re intrigued: Cannon showed in “Bobby” that he’s got a lot of soul behind his considerable charisma, and “Weapons” also stars “Little Miss Sunshine” scene-stealer Paul Dano (a.k.a. the quiet kid).
Why we’re afraid: Lough’s 2002 breakthrough “Bomb the System” was as badass as it was … well … just plain bad.
6. “The Nines”
Ryan Reynolds and Hope Davis star in this “Magnolia”-like drama, praised by some Hollywood insiders as the best script to make the rounds in years. All indications are that the less an audience knows, the better, so all we’ll say is the plot revolves around a video-game designer, a down-and-out actor and a TV maven whose lives become eerily intertwined.
Why we’re intrigued: Reynolds could be up for a big year, with “Smokin’ Aces” establishing him as a leading man and “Nines” arriving to display his dramatic chops. After memorable work in so many comedies, it’ll be interesting to see if he can pull off a Bill Murray-like transformation.
Why we’re afraid: The title is instantly forgettable, and way too easily confused with …
5. “The Ten”
Yep, believe it or not, this film will also be debuting at Sundance — and it’ll be worth catching a screening just to see how many people slink out after they don’t see Ryan Reynolds’ name in the opening credits. Those who do stick around will instead see a star-packed comedy featuring different skits inspired by the Ten Commandments. Jessica Alba, Adam Brody, Paul Rudd, Rob Corddry and a dozen other fan favorites show up for writer/director David Wain’s follow-up to the cult classic “Wet Hot American Summer,” plus “Reno 911!” star Ben “Deputy Junior” Garant is credited as “Naked dude on the porch.” What more do you need?
Why we’re intrigued: After “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Borat” and “Talladega Nights,” audiences are much more accepting of improv comedies than they were when “Summer” came out. And as anybody who saw last year’s MTV Movie Awards will remember, Alba has some impressive comedic chops.
Why we’re afraid: This movie will inevitably be hyped up as a reunion of cult-comedy troupe the State; it might be hard to recapture all that manic insanity from more than a decade ago.
4. “Resurrecting the Champ”
Samuel L. Jackson’s second entry on our list casts him as a homeless man discovered by a sports reporter (Josh Hartnett) desperate for a big story. The reporter is convinced he’s found a former heavyweight champion long believed to be dead; the homeless man isn’t so sure his new friend can handle all the secrets he has to share. It’s directed by Rod Lurie (“The Contender,” “The Last Castle”), so we can be assured of passion if not perfection.
Why we’re intrigued: Hartnett is long overdue to finally hit a home run, and imagining Jackson as a world-weary ex-boxer (à la Morgan Freeman in “Million Dollar Baby”) has us longing for a ticket.
Why we’re afraid: Samuel L. Jackson as a homeless man? Can anyone say “The Caveman’s Valentine”?
3. “Chapter 27”
Lindsay Lohan might not remember any of the assassination tragedies that irreparably altered American existence over the past few decades, but it might soon be hard to remember them without thinking of her. Following on the heels of Lohan’s most adult role yet in “Bobby,” Lindsay takes a shot at another high-profile murder with “Chapter 27,” dramatizing the days before Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon (see “Lindsay Lohan, Jared Leto Teaming Up For John Lennon Film” ). Co-starring 30 Seconds to Mars frontman Jared Leto as the Salinger-obsessed assassin, the controversial film can already list Yoko Ono among those wishing that “Chapter” would just respect Lennon enough to leave the book closed.
Why we’re intrigued: Whether you agree with Lennon’s widow or not, December 8, 1980, was a turning point in American history. It’s only human nature to want to remember the tragedy and search for a reason why.
Why we’re afraid: Examine that day all you want, you’re unlikely to ever find a satisfying explanation for how the world’s most peaceful soul could die so violently. Good luck to Lohan and Leto.
2. “Smiley Face”
It has all the ingredients for the next great cult film, so we’ll be keeping a close eye on this strange little movie about a slacker (Anna Faris) who accidentally eats her roommates’ marijuana-laced baked goodies and spends the rest of the day encountering strange characters. Imagine filling a blender with “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle,” “After Hours,” “Dude, Where’s My Car?” and “I Love You, Alice B. Toklas” and hitting the purée button, and you begin to get an idea of what “Smiley” is aiming for. With a cast that also includes Adam Brody, John Cho, Danny Masterson from “That ’70s Show” and John Krasinski from “The Office,” it’s the flick most likely to become this year’s “Napoleon Dynamite.”
Why we’re intrigued: Most people only know her from the “Scary Movie” flicks, but Faris has recently turned in some hilarious moments in little-seen flicks like “Just Friends,” “Waiting …” and “My Super Ex-Girlfriend.” There’s no doubt she’s on a roll; hopefully, she’s finally selected a script as funny as she is.
Why we’re afraid: “Smiley Face” director Gregg Araki has made so many unwatchable movies (“The Doom Generation,” “Nowhere”) that he makes Joel Schumacher look like Kubrick.
It might become an instant Oscar front-runner once it screens at Sundance, or it could be exposed as another fake-controversy film like “Manderlay” or “Death of a President,” but this much we know: Everyone will be talking about this movie. The title is currently up in the air to the point where the festival is calling it “The Untitled Dakota Fanning Project, a.k.a. Hounddog,” so let’s just call it what everybody else is: “The Dakota Fanning Rape Movie.” That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, America’s 12-year-old sweetheart has taken on a role that the word “adult” doesn’t even begin to describe, playing the central character in a film about a little girl in the ’60s whose love of Elvis Presley’s music helps her through some very difficult days. Feel free to now express your outrage over and/or appreciation for Fanning’s brave career move.
Why we’re intrigued: This is a long way from “The Cat in the Hat.”
Why we’re afraid: If ever there was a film that needs to handle its subject matter carefully, this would be it.
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