Sundance 2011: What will be the next 'Blue Valentine' or 'Precious'?
The critical darlings "Winter's Bone" and "Blue Valentine" both emerged from the 2010 Sundance Film Festival's U.S. dramatic competition lineup. (The same lineup also gave the world "Sympathy for Delicious" and "Howl," but we won't talk about those.)
The festival on Wednesday announced the films for the 2011 section, as well as those in other competition categories. (High-profile premieres and other categories are scheduled to be announced in the coming days.) Breakouts are hard to gauge from this distance, but judging by names alone, Vera Farmiga's "Higher Ground" jumps out as one title to watch. The film, which Farmiga directs and stars in, tells of a young mother looking for religious answers. Farmiga has been at Sundance before, but after her well-received turn in "Up in the Air" (which wasn't at the festival) pretty much anything she does is going to attract notice. (The full list of Sundance titles can be seen at our sister blog, Awards Tracker.)
In terms of hard-core drama in the vein of "Winter's Bone" or "Blue Valentine" -- or 2009's Sundance gem "Precious: Based on the novel 'Push' by Sapphire" -- one's eye goes to "Pariah," which features a cast of mostly unknowns in a story about a Bronx teenager. Independent-film insiders also pointed to the Armenian-American friendship drama "Here," the Arctic teenage mystery "On the Ice" and the principal-student drama "Terri" as movies from lesser-known directors that have been generating early buzz.
Also jumping out, if mostly for the star power, is a movie called "The Loved Ones," with Demi Moore, Thomas Haden Church ad Kate Bosworth starring. (The festival described it as a film about "a pair of reckless siblings dragged into a chaotic family wedding by their overwrought mother.")
Overall, though, it's notable how few star-driven movies are in the section compared with last year, when Joseph Gordon Levitt, James Franco, Mark Ruffalo, Katie Holmes, Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart each had a movie there.
Although the 2010 U.S. documentary competition featured a number of standout offerings from nonfiction filmmakers -- "The Tillman Story," "Waiting for Superman," "Restrepo" and "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" all premiered there -- the documentary competition for 2011 will be lower-profile, with some of the bigger-named directors having been moved to a new section of as yet unannounced films, Documentary Premieres. But the subject matter for this year's competition slate still shows promise: hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest, the "Sesame Street" character Elmo, the New York Times and Oregon right-to-die cases are all examined.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Mo'Nique in "Precious." Credit: Lionsgate