Thanks to Richard Gere and the financial crisis, the Sundance Film Festival is returning to its indie roots this year.
The festival, which starts Thursday, has long served as a launching pad for smaller movies, as it did last year in catapulting “Beasts of the Southern Wild” to four Oscar nominations. However, as the festival has grown in stature, it also has craved big-ticket movies with brand-name stars, from John Wells' "The Company Men" (Ben Affleck and a reported $15 million budget) to Antoine Fuqua's "Brooklyn's Finest" (Richard Gere and a $17 million budget).
“At previous Sundances, there was a real effort to try and have very high-profile mainstream films,” Jessica Lacy, head of ICM's international and independent film department, told TheWrap.
But this new crop, she said, "all feel like unique, independent films. The distribution landscape lends itself to making and having more kinds of these films, and there are more opportunities for them to be distributed.”
Indeed, two recent Sundance premieres -- “Margin Call,” a drama about the early stages of the financial crisis, and “Arbitrage,” Nicholas Jarecki’s film about an unscrupulous hedge-fund manager -- validated the increasingly popular strategy of simultaneously releasing films in theaters and on video by demand or other platforms.
Now, more buyers are trying new approaches, actors, directors -- and even stars are more willing to make the small movies.
"Spectacular Now" brings back actress Shailene Woodley.
Do two Sundance darlings add up to a third? James Ponsoldt, whose “Smashed” charmed the festival in 2012, directed this adolescent romantic comedy written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, whose “(500) Days of Summer” debuted in 2009.
The film hits many of the same notes -- youth, romance, adventure, alcoholism and two people with very different perspectives on how to live. It also stars a pair of up-and-coming actors, Miles Teller of “Project X" and Shailene Woodley of “The Descendants.”
"Anita" is a must-see documentary.
It’s been more than 20 years since Anita Hill came into the public spotlight during the nomination hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, where she accused him of sexual harassment. But there has never been a better time for this documentary -- just months after an election year that featured a “war on women” and two candidates who came out with outrageous statements about rape.
Hill helped pave the way for new conversations about sexual harassment. Freida Lee Mock, who won an Academy Award in 1995 for her documentary "Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision," combines archival footage and present-day interviews to examine the politics of sexism, then and now.
"Prince Avalanche" features a bromance between Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch.
David Gordon Green made some good movies in the last decade, including “George Washington,” a coming-of-age tale set in North Carolina, and “Pineapple Express,” a stoner comedy-action movie.
“Pineapple Express" marked the beginning of the end for Green, as his indie sensibility fell into the studio system with couple of forgettable comedies -- “Your Highness” and “The Sitter.”
Now he’s back in his comfort zone, writing and directing an adaptation of an Icelandic movie featuring the male bonding of Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch.
Think Judd Apatow meets rural America.
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