Sundance 2009 - Six Movies to Look For

Even if you didn't have to eat or sleep or go to parties, it would be impossible to see even half of the 117 new feature films screening at the Sundance Film Festival from Jan. 15-25. That's why you have to choose wisely to avoid wasting a slot on something terrible -- and you can't go by the official festival program guide either, since every movie is written up as if it were the greatest film ever to grace the hallowed streets of Park City. (I'll never forget the blurb for the rancid comedy Dirty Love that compared Jenny McCarthy to Lucille Ball.)

After some careful browsing, researching, and napping, we've narrowed down the Sundance roster to these six films that we're most looking forward to. We can't guarantee they're actually good -- we haven't seen them yet, duh -- but we think they show the most promise based on who's in 'em and who's makin' 'em.

Big Fan. Patton Oswalt, one of our favorite comedians, stars as a hardcore New York Giants fan who runs into the team's star quarterback at a strip club, whereupon misunderstandings and violence ensue. The film was written and directed by Robert Siegel, a former Onion writer who also penned one of 2008's best films, The Wrestler. The Sundance blurb says the film "will make you laugh and wince at the same time," which is one of our favorite things to do.

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. It's the directorial debut of John Krasinski, whom you know and love as Jim Halpert on The Office. He also adapted the screenplay from the novel by David Foster Wallace, which is a daunting task in and of itself. The whole thing -- about a spurned woman who sets out to discover why men are such bastards -- is so fraught with peril that it will either be one of the best films of the festival, or one of the most horrific disasters. Either way, we can't wait!

Adventureland. It's a comedy set in the summer of 1987 about a recent college grad forced to take an awful job at a local amusement park. What piques our interest is that it's written and directed by Greg Mottola, who directed 2007's Superbad. That film's writers (Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg) and producer (Judd Apatow) got all the attention, but Mottola's work as director -- he also did episodes of Arrested Development and Undeclared -- is impressive, too.

Brooklyn's Finest. There is no shortage of gritty cop movies in the world of cinema; gritty cop movies that are actually GOOD are another matter. This one, starring Richard Gere, Don Cheadle and Ethan Hawke as three very different cops who converge on the same housing project one fateful day, was directed by Antoine Fuqua, whose Training Day was a minor classic. Fuqua has gone astray since then (King Arthur? Shooter?), but perhaps Brooklyn's Finest will be a return to form.

Manure. This campy 1960s-set comedy about corporate backstabbing within a fertilizer company was written and directed by twins Michael and Mark Polish, whose first movie, the lovely Twin Falls Idaho, was one of the very first Sundance films we ever saw. Their projects since then have been hit or miss, but they always have a unique point of view and a distinct style that fascinates us. Why not try a screwball comedy?

Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire. Yep, that's the title. The novel in question was a highly acclaimed work of fiction about a poor black teenager who's pregnant by her own father (for the second time!) and coping with a hellish life at home and at school. Can the movie possibly capture the raw, fierce energy of the book's protagonist? Can it tell a harrowing story without being exploitative? One of the best things about film festivals is that you get to discover these gems -- or, as the case may be, these train wrecks -- before anyone else.

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Eric D. Snider (website) will be attending Sundance for the 10th time this year. That means he gets the next one free!