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Sundance Film Festival: This year's must-see (noncompetition) movies

December 3, 2009 |  1:14 pm

Sundance-street1 Sundance organizers have just announced their out-of-competition features, and it’s a diverse list, with movies that offer plenty of promise, particularly on the countercultural front. Here are a few of the notables.

“The Company Men”: The man who gave us “ER” hands us a story about wounds of a different sort. Six-time Emmy winner John Wells makes his feature directorial debut with “The Company Men,” the cuttingly relevant tale about a group of men coping with the emotional and financial effects of losing their jobs. Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones and Kevin Costner star in one of the most anticipated movies in Park City, Utah. The question is, with all the real-life stories we read and see every day, will the subject matter feel resonant or redundant?

“The Runaways”: Punk rock was never the same after Joan Jett and her young band of musical misfits got through with it in the 1970s. Whether the same can be said of musical biopics after the teenage female stars of today — Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning — do the same in their dramatization of the influential band remains to be seen. At the very least, the film will offer the chance to see Stewart vamp around the screen with a guitar and her dyed-black chop job.

“Nowhere Boy”: A different kind of musical trailblazer gets the feature treatment in this coming-of-age story, which might just as easily be titled “Portrait of a Beatle as a Young Man.” John Lennon’s difficult teenage years are chronicled in Sam Taylor Wood’s portrayal of life in 1950s Liverpool, before the world changed for young John, and before young John changed the world.

“The Killer Inside Me”: With Jim Thompson’s acclaimed book as its source material, and Silver Bear winner Michael Winterbottom as its director, this nihilistic story of a sheriff who’s also a serial killer almost feels as though it could be a Berlin or Cannes premiere. As it is, its appearance in Park City will give a taste of international auteurism, while the starring presence of Jessica Alba will offer the prospect of, perhaps, national droolism.

“Untitled Duplass Bros. Project”: You probably won’t find a more perfect embodiment of Sundance than Mark and Jay Duplass. Five years ago, the writing-directing duo landed with one of the biggest cult hits in the festival’s history, the offbeat romantic comedy “The Puffy Chair,” which centered on a twentysomething man, his girlfriend and his brother on a quixotic road trip. This year they come with the story of a different triangle: a fortysomething man, the woman he’s dating and her jealous son. They’re working with a bigger budget, more stars (Mark and his girlfriend, Kathryn Aselton, starred in “Chair”; Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei and John C. Reilly star here) and the backing of specialty division powerhouse Fox Searchlight. But expect the same mix of high jinks both hilarious and insightful.

“Winning Times: Reggie Miller vs. the Knicks”: Of all the influential documentaries that have premiered at Sundance over the years, few have been as entertainingly off-the-wall as “Crazy Love,” the story of a man who blinded an ex-girlfriend only to end up in a 30-year marriage with her (after he was released from prison). The director of that film, documentarian Dan Klores, returns to Sundance with a sports picture about the fateful 1995 playoff series between the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks. The series offered the spectacle of Pacers star Reggie Miller and filmmaker Spike Lee taunting each other. Similarly colorful drama from this assured filmmaker is likely in store here.

“Splice”: Every few years, a genre movie breaks out in the festival’s after-midnight section, a time when most of the adults have long gone to bed, or are out at parties. This year, one of the lead contenders is “Splice,” Vincenzo Natali’s bio-thriller about scientists who, after creating a new animal species, try engineering creatures with human DNA. Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley up the intrigue factor.

“Please Give”: With indie stalwarts like “Walking and Talking” and “Friends With Money,” director Nicole Holofcener has elevated female-relationship tales to an art form. Now, she’s turned her eye toward the marital dynamic -- and thrown real estate into the mix for good measure. This New York-set story about a couple waiting for their elderly neighbor to die so they can claim her apartment promises the mix of comedy and pathos that Holofcener is known for. And it will offer the chance to see Catherine Keener in what official estimates have as her 367th Sundance film.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

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