Sundance Forecast: Snow Snow Snow + Films Films Films

Films about cane toads, “70’s rock icons Joan Jett and Cherie Currie, and the tumultuous early life of “Beat Generation” poet Allen Ginsberg highlight this year’s Sundance Film Festival kicking off Thursday.

Toss in a few Hollywood veterans like Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, James Gondolfini, John C. Reilly, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Kevin Kline who will be parading on the snow-dusted red carpets of Park City, Utah, and this year?s festival is shaping up as one both idiosyncratic cineastes and studio marketing departments can appreciate.

They’re expecting 40,000 to 50,000 visitors, including filmmakers, celebrities Hollywood insiders and media hordes, to descend on scenic Park City. The weather forecast is for “snow, snow, snow,” said Kris Parker, who works in the festival’s media office. But you can bet most people who aren’t out skiing on the slopes will be crammed into screening venues or bar-hopping along Main Street.

The chief focus will, of course, be on the state of independent films, the passion of Sundance founder Robert Redford. And this year’s line-up seems especially intriguing, given the fact that not only will there be movies featuring well-known actors, but the festival has also instituted a new category for modest-to-low budgeted films, no doubt an attempt to blunt growing criticism that Redford is selling out to the studios which come to Sundance more interested in hyping their products than discovering new talent.

Here are some films that either are receiving pre-festival buzz or just sound intriguing:

“Welcome to the Rileys” – James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart and Melissa Leo star in director Jake Scott’s debut drama about an upstanding Indiana couple torn apart by the death of their teenaged daughter.

“Howl” – James Franco, David Strathairn, John Hamm, Mary-Louise Parker and Jeff Daniels star in this recounting of the tumultuous events that led a young Allen Ginsberg to find his true voice as an artist in San Francisco circa 1957. The film was written and directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman.

“Cane Toads: The Conquest” – Could this documentary be 2010’s “March of the Penguins?” Mark Lewis explores one of Australia’s greatest environmental catastrophes as he follows the unstoppable march of the cane toad across the Australian continent.

“Get Low” – Robert Duvall, Sissey Spacek, Bill Murray and Lucas Black star in this folk tale/fable/real-life legend from director Aaron Schneider about the mysterious 1930s Tennessee hermit who famously threw his own rollicking funeral party, while he was still alive.

“3 Backyards” – Edie Falco stars in writer-director Erick Mendelsohn’s story about three residents of the same suburban town over the course of one seemingly perfect autumn day.

“To Catch a Dollar” – This documentary produced and directed by Gayle Ferraro chronicles the evolution of Nobel Prize-winning economist Muhammad Yunus, Grameen Bank, which was built on the radical notion that if you loan poor women money within the context of peer support, not only will they repay and sustain the bank, but they’ll elevate their communities in the process.

“Nowhere Boy” – Smart-yet-troubled teen John Lennon (Aaron Johnson) finds escape from his stern Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) in the new and exciting world of rock n? roll in Liverpool circa 1955.

“Night Catches Us” – Anthony Mackie plays Marcus, who returns to the Philadelphia neighborhood where he came of age during the Black Power movement, finding acceptance from his old friend (Kerry Washington) and her daughter but also finding himself at odds with the organization he once embraced.

“I’m Pat Tillman” – Director Amir Bar-Lev’s documentary on former NFL player Pat Tillman’s tenacious family’s crusade to uncover the truth about his death in Afghanistan and the U.S. military’s attempts to manipulate his tragic death.

“Restrepo” – Documentary by filmmakers Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington, who embedded themselves with the men of the Second Platoon for a year in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley.

“I Am Love” – The polished rooms of a Milanese villa ignite with anxious activity as the wealthy industrial Recchis prepare to celebrate the birthday of their patriarch in this film starring Tilda Swinton that was written and directed by Luca Guadagnino.

“Mother and Child” – Naomi Watts, Annette Bening, Kerry Washington, Jimmy Smits and Samuel L. Jackson star in Rodrigo Garcia’s study of how destiny plays a part in the lives of three women, a 50-year-old physical therapist, the daughter she gave up for adoption 35 years earlier, and a woman looking to adopt her first child.

“Jack Goes Boating” – Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Ryan, John Ortiz and Daphne Rubin-Vega star in this tale of four New Yorkers, two single people who find the courage and desire to pursue their budding relationship in contrast to the other couple who have been together a long time and are confronting unresolved issues in their marriage. Hoffman directed.

“The Killer Inside Me” – A deputy sheriff who is a pillar of the community in his small Texas town starts killing people. Directed by Michael Winterbottom, the film stars Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba, Simon Baker and Elias Koteas.

“The Runaways” – In 1970’s L.A., a tough teenager named Joan Jett connects with an eccentric producer to form an all-girl band that would launch her career and make rock history. The film by writer-director Floria Sigismondi features Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning.

“Sympathy for Delicious” – Actor Mark Ruffalos’ first foray into directing. The story revolves around an up-and-coming DJ (Christopher Thornton) on the underground music scene in L.A. When a motorcycle accident leaves him paralyzed, he abandons his turntables for a wheelchair as his once promising career disappears before his eyes.

“The Extra Man” – Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini co-direct this comedy about a young playwright who is taken under the wing of a man who escorts wealthy widows in New York’s Upper East. The cast includes John C. Reilly, Kevin Kline, Paul Dano and Katie Holmes.

“The Company Men” – Writer-director John Wells has assembled an impressive cast featuring Ben Affleck, Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper and Rosemarie DeWitt in this story of three company men attempting to survive a round of corporate downsizing.

As for Park City itself, visitors be forewarned: traffic along narrow Main Street can get as gridlocked as the 405 Freeway at rush hour. The festival advises guests to take free shuttle buses or trudge along the snow-lined sidewalks.

Park City has only one grocery store, Fresh Market (formerly Albertson’s), but there are plenty of fancy restaurants and cafes, not to mention saloons. “For a quick drink, you can purchase 3.2% beer in grocery and convenience stores,” the festival informs attendees. “Hard liquor and wine purchases require a sojourn to one of the three State Liquor Stores in Park City.”

After seeing some of the Sundance films, we may all need it.

About Robert W. Welkos

Executive Editor: Robert W. Welkos is an award-winning journalist who covered the entertainment industry for 15 years as a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times. During this span, he wrote extensively about the movie industry from turmoil in the executive suites, the Academy Awards and Golden Globes, and box office hits and bombs to visits to movie sets as well as profiles of top stars and A-list directors, cutting edge features on the newest indie films and visits to famous film festivals like Sundance and Cannes. Prior to entertainment, Welkos worked as a reporter and assistant city editor in The Times’ Metro section where he undertook major investigations for the paper as well as covering breaking news and writing in-depth features. Before joining The Times, he worked for the Associated Press in Reno, Nevada, and City News Service in Los Angeles.

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