Over the past few years the Sundance Film Festival has produced a number of strong Oscar contenders such as Winter's Bone, Little Miss Sunshine and The Kids Are All Right. As a result many major studios have now started paying more attention to the annual event (currently running from January 17th to January 27th) in hopes of scouting future award hopefuls and beating their rivals to the punch. For actors though, the festival also serves as a way for them to hone their craft and breakout from some of today's mainstream clutter. This year, Sundance has produced a array of strong films featuring strong performances from actors looking to go back to their pre-blockbuster roots.
The Way, Way Back (Premiere)
Starring: Steve Carell
Directed by: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Steve Carell is no stranger to art-house fare as the actor best known for The Office, has also had great success with movies such as the aforementioned Little Miss Sunshine and Dan In Real Life. The Way, Way Back follows a 14 year old boy named Duncan (Liam James) who develops a friendship with Owen (Sam Rockwell), a older laid back co-worker at a local waterpark while on summer vacation with his mother Pam (Toni Collette) and her overbearing obnoxious boyfriend Trent, played by Carell. Even with a stacked cast, the movie's biggest pedigree may actually be its creators as writers/directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash are two of the thirds of the trio who walked with Oscars in 2012 for writing the Alexander Payne directed drama The Descendants starring George Clooney. Of course, as with Carell, TV fans may know them better as Ben Fox from Fox's Ben and Kate and Dean Pelton from NBC's Community. With this amount of talent in front of and behind the camera it's no wonder this was quickly snatched by a studio.
Touchy Feely (US Dramatic)
Starring: Ellen Page
Directed by: Lynn Shelton
Ellen Page broke through into movies courtesy of Juno, a movie that is the very definition of art house. However with Touchy Feely, Page takes a little more of a backseat to Rosemarie DeWitt and Josh Pais who shoulder more of the plot. Page plays Jenny, the emotionally stunted daughter of Paul, a dentist going through the motions at his fledging practice. However suddenly things begin to change when strange transformations start to occur and Paul seems to have a "healing touch" that revives his practice, while his free-spirited massage therapist sister Abby suddenly develops a fear of touching people, which severely impacts her career and love life. Together the movie showcases what happens when a family's delicate psychic balance suddenly unravels.
Prince Avalanche (Premiere)
Starring: Paul Rudd
Directed by: David Gordon Green
Somewhere along the way Paul Rudd went from the reliable best friend to leading man and the transition happened almost effortlessly. With Prince Avalanche, Rudd joins Into The Wild star Emile Hirsch as two friends who take the summer off from their city lives. Rudd plains Alvin, who joins his girlfriend's brother Lance in enjoying the country solitude while repainting traffic lines down the center of a country highway ravaged by wildfire. This unique character study hinges on the performances of its two leads and both actors have shown they are more than capable of handling the load, especially Rudd who has a made a career out of playing mostly comic roles infused with dramatic elements.
Don Jon's Addiction (Premiere)
Starring: Scarlett Johansson
Directed by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Joseph Gordon-Levitt had a breakout 2012 thanks to high profile roles in The Dark Knight Rises and Looper. This year he'll make his directorial debut as Jon "Don Jon" Martello, a Don Juan type character who can pick up any woman he wants, but ultimately feels the most satisfied watching computer pornography. However Jon's life becomes more complicated when his latest girlfriend (played by Scarlett Johansson) tries to help him have a more traditional relationship. Even though Johansson was a part of last summer's super hero bonanza (aka The Avengers), she cut her teeth on these type of roles including the Oscar nominated Lost In Translation and the underappreciated In Good Company. Johansson may be able to command a mainstream paycheck, but she doesn't ever forget her indie roots and her fans love her for it!
Starring: Ashton Kutcher
Directed by: Joshua Michael Stern
While Aaron Sorkin's Steve Jobs bio-pic got the lion share of the attention when it was first announced, this version may end up telling more of the story behind the life of the Apple visionary. jOBS is set to show more of the journey undertaken by Jobs, versus the adaptation of the popular Walter Isaacson biography which Sorkin has said just takes on selected moments. As Jobs, Ashton Kutcher shows he can do more than straight comedy and seems driven to capture the essence of a man who changed the way society functions. With a supporting cast including Dermot Mulroney, Josh Gad, Lukas Haas, J. K. Simmons and Matthew Modine, jOBS is shaping up to be a movie to keep an eye on in 2013.
Starring: Amy Poehler
Directed by: Stuart Zicherman
While the entire cast of A.C.O.D. are big name stars, when they first started out that wasn't the case and this is exactly the type of film they could have started out with! The movie stars Parks and Recreation's Adam Scott as a man determined to negotiate a truce with his two warring divorced parents no matter what the costs, even after learning he grew up as the unknowing subject of a study about children of divorce. What's interesting though is that joining him as his step mom is his Parks and Recreation co-star Amy Poehler, who with this film takes on her first high profile live-action role since her NBC series began in 2009.
Kill Your Darlings (US Dramatic)
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe
Directed by: John Krokidas
You have to give to credit to Daniel Radcliffe as it would have been just as easy for the Harry Potter star to fall into a common trap among young actors and be forever typecast. Instead Radcliffe made the gutsy decision to bare all on stage in Eqqus and show the world he was serious about his craft and his image. Now Radcliffe continues his journey into the world of actual drama portraying iconic poet Allen Ginsberg in Kill Your Darlings, the true story a bond that not only created a movement but also led to a highly publicized murder that involved fellow Beat Generation leaders William Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Jack Kerouac (Jack Houston).
The Lifeguard (US Dramatic)
Starring: Kristen Bell
Directed by: Liz W. Garcia
Before Kristen Bell was the unforgettable Sarah Marshall or the voice of Gossip Girl, she was Veronica Mars, a character who's spunk and determination could have come straight out of a Sundance movie. This year Bell is front and center at the annual event with The Lifeguard in which she plays Leigh, a soon to be 30 year old year who leaves her big city life behind to return to the lifeguard job she had growing up. However as Leigh begins to emotionally regress even further she starts up an dangerous affair with a troubled teenager that quickly sends her life spiraling even more out of control.
Starring: Matthew McConaughey
Directed by: Jeff Nichols
Matthew McConaughey got his big break in the film adaptation of John Grisham's A Time To Kill and while the box office road has been rocky at times for the actor, his on screen charisma makes him a consistent fan favorite. Coming off a string of critical hits including Bernie, Killer Joe and yes even Magic Mike, McConaughey's stock is at an all-time high. In Mud, he plays the title character, an outlaw evading capture who is found by two young boys that agree to help him avoid the bounty hunters on his tail while at the same time tracking down his one true love.
Lovelace (US Dramatic)
Starring: Amanda Seyfried
Directed by: Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman
As the star of Dear John, Mama Mia and Les Miserables, Amanda Seyfried has long proven she can hold her own on screen with anyone from Hugh Jackman to Meryl Streep. In Lovelace though, she takes on her most mature role yet as porn star Linda Lovelace, who became an adult film phenomenon in the 1970's. Following her role in Deep Throat, Lovelace shot to fame and became a poster child for sex and hedonism, yet underneath the facade was the victim of an abusive husband who eventually was able to put her life back together. Originally set to star Lindsay Lohan, Seyfried eventually stepped in when Lohan's legal troubles became too much for filmmakers to bear and they knew they had to make a casting move to ensure the project got made.