This month, Hollywood A-listers and independent filmmakers alike will zip up the parkas and head to snowy Utah for the annual Sundance Film Festival, 2010 edition. But with hundreds of films slated to screen -- including narrative features, documentaries, and shorts from well-established filmmakers, first-timers, and international artists alike -- just wrapping your head around this year's vast and eclectic film program can be a challenge. (To wit: the lineup includes three movies starring Twilight cast members, a new Joel Schumacher film, Oscar-caliber documentaries, an experimental Animal Collective film, and the directorial debut of Philip Seymour Hoffman. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.)
To give you a better idea, we've highlighted some of the most notable and buzz-worthy selections slated to screen at Sundance 2010. Whether you'll be one of the few braving the cold to take a movie-watching trip to Park City or simply living vicariously through the festival reports (and seeing which celebs show for those awkward swag-suite photo ops), here's a taste of what to expect from this year's crop of Sundance submissions.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU
Film festivals come chockablock with character studies and stories about people learning surprising things about other people. This year, those films include a period comedy starring Robert Duvall as a 1930s-era curmudgeon with one heckuva beard (Get Low), a dark drama with Joseph-Gordon Levitt as a greasy, tattooed loner (Hesher), and one of two Michael Winterbottom entries, a crime thriller about a lawman-serial killer that also marks the first time Kate "Bride Wars" Hudson has dared to take on a festival film in the better part of a decade (The Killer Inside Me).
LOVE HURTS/SUCKS/SOMETIMES TURNS OUT OK
As in real life, love stories in the movies are often complicated or sad and sometimes don't end very well. Especially when romantic triangles are involved (The Romantics, directed by novelist Galt Niederhoffer based on her 2008 book). Or when pretty young things are not quite ready to grow up and be adults (happythankyoumoreplease). Or when a married couple tries desperately to resuscitate their marriage (Blue Valentine). Or when budding relationships are threatened by betrayal (Jack Goes Boating, by first-time director Philip Seymour Hoffman).
RICH PEOPLE PROBLEMS
Oh, the problems of being wealthy -- you either need wealth and status, want it, or have too much to truly be happy. In all seriousness, these Sundance stories about the woes of the moneyed hold a lot of promise, from Luca Guadagnino's I Am Love, a drama starring Tilda Swinton that's drawn comparison to Visconti's The Leopard, to John Wells' The Company Men, a film about job loss that seems to continue the socio-economic commentary Jason Reitman touched on in 2009's Up in the Air.
Over in New York City, the Upper East Side comedy The Extra Man notably marks Katie Holmes' second film in 2010's Sundance lineup, while Please Give sees the return of indie darling Nicole Holofcener, who debuted Walking & Talking and Friends with Money in previous years.
FATHERS (AND MOTHERS) & SONS (AND DAUGHTERS)
The territory of familial strife is always ripe for mining, and these Sundance entries run a variety of angles on the subject. Sundance familiar Lisa Cholodenko brings her last-minute addition, The Kids Are All Right, about Los Angeleno teens searching for their biological father. Rodrigo Garcia (the filmmaker son of Gabriel Garcia Marquez) explores the terrain of adoption and parenthood in Mother & Child, starring Naomi Watts and Annette Bening. Gurinder Chadha puts a Punjabi spin on John Waters' Serial Mom with a comedy about a mother willing to do anything to see her daughter find the right husband (It's a Wonderful Afterlife).
Meanwhile, John C. Reilly tries to date single mom Marisa Tomei despite one major obstacle -- her grown son (Jonah Hill) -- in the Duplass brothers' biggest film, a Fox Searchlight project that officially launches the mumblecore veterans into legit studio business (Cyrus). Last but not least, Oscar-nominated New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi offers his follow-up to 2007's Eagle vs. Shark, a 1984-set coming-of-age tale about a young boy and the father he never knew (Boy).
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT. ON SECOND THOUGHT, MAYBE THEY'RE NOT.
Ah, to be a teenager working a dying roller rink in 1980s Texas in Skateland, a spot-on-looking period pic starring Twilight's Ashley Greene. At least it beats what Greene's fellow vampire franchise starlet Kristen Stewart's going through in Welcome to the Rileys as a teenage hooker saved by the platonic friendship of James Gandolfini's older man. In the documentary Teenage Paparazzo, actor Adrian Grenier ponders what it means to have a 13-year-old photog feeding the tabloid machine, while Joel Schumacher directs Gossip Girl's Chace Crawford as a privileged Manhattan teen-turned-drug dealer in Twelve, based on the novel by Nick McDonell.
The drug tales abound as Jesse Eisenberg's Hasidic Jew smuggles Ecstasy into New York City (Holy Rollers) and, on a decidedly lighter note, a high school valedictorian (Matt Bush) who's just smoked weed for the first and only time must get the entire school high to avoid being expelled (HIGH School, also starring Adrien Brody, Michael Chiklis, and Colin Hanks).
ARTISTS AND THEIR ART
Filmmakers love to put their fellow artists front and center. We get especially excited when said artists are legends like Allen Ginsberg (Howl, starring James Franco as the young Beat poet), John Lennon (the buzzed-about Nowhere Boy, directed by Sam Taylor Wood), or Joan Jett (played with attitude by Kristen Stewart, with Scout Taylor-Compton, Stella Maeve, Alia Shawkat, and Stewart's New Moon co-star Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie filling out The Runaways).
For more highbrow explorations, director Tamra Davis pays homage to Jean-Michel Basquiat in the documentary Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, and comedian Louis C.K. directs himself, sorta, in his own stand-up comedy concert Louis C.K.: Hilarious.
SCARY STUFF AT MIDNIGHT
Sundance's midnight programming includes a batch of horror pics you should put on your radar for the coming year. In Buried, Spanish director Rodrigo Cortes places hunky Ryan Reynolds in a familiar nightmare: buried alive in a coffin with only a lighter and a cell phone to help him escape. His innovative twist? Reynolds is an American contractor in Iraq.
Cube director Vincenzo Natali offers the highly anticipated creature feature Splice, in which scientists Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody play God with human and animal DNA, resulting in a new kind of horrifying monster.
On the flip side, it's the sinister, slow-building horrors of peril and desperation that catch up to three college kids (Emma Bell, Shawn Ashmore, and Kevin Zegers) in Adam Green's Frozen, who find out what they're made of when they're trapped on a ski lift together in zero-degree weather for a week.
Lastly, we can't wait for Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, a tongue-in-cheek, spiritual cousin to Shaun of the Dead about two textbook hillbillies (Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk) who, through a series of misunderstandings with coeds in the woods, are mistaken for psycho killers. (Naturally, hilarity ensues.)
Jen Yamato will be Sundance-watching from the warmth of sunny LA. Send her your Park City updates on Twitter.