We're just over six weeks away from the Sundance Film Festival, and it's shaping up to be a fun fest. I love film festivals, and thankfully, haven't yet gotten so jaded that I don't get excited when fest lineups are announced (seriously, if I ever get to the point that I'm not excited about the possibility of finding a wonderful film or two a fest, someone please just shoot me and put me out of my misery). We've already told you about the competition films and the Midnight offerings, which Scott Weinberg will be covering extensively for us at Sundance, once he recovers from his deep disappointment at the lack of horror there this year.

Now it's time to unwrap the big, shiny packages labled "Premiere", "Spectrum" and "New Frontier" and take a peek at what's inside ...

It was previously announced that doc Chicago 10, about the 1968 anti-war protest and trials, will open the fest. Today we've learned the Gala opener will be Sarah Polley's Away from Her, which played to positive buzz at Toronto (I'm glad to hear this, because this is one of the films I wanted to see at TIFF and missed). Closer will be HBO Films' Life Support, starring Queen Latifah as a crack-addict-turned-AIDS-activist. In general, there are quite a few comedies/dramadies in the line-up -- perhaps the response to Little Miss Sunshine last year is going to help bring us a fest with a little less gloom, doom and shoegazing than usual. Here's a rundown of a few of the films I'm particularly interested in:


PREMIERE FILMS - This is the category that brings the stars to Sundance. Fortunately, it looks like many of them are doing different things than we've seen before.

An American Crime -- True-crime story about the worst torture-murder case in Indiana history (at least, it was in 1965), about a teenage girl held captive in a basement and beaten and tortured to death by a pack of adolescents led by the woman who was supposed to be boarding the girl and her sister. Stars Ellen Page (Hard Candy) and Catherine Keener.

Black Snake Moan -- Christina Ricci (pictured, above) stars as the "white trash sexual target" (that's directly from the Sundance press release, kids) who's taken in by a blues singer (Samuel L. Jackson) after she's beaten and left for dead.

The Good Night -- Jake Paltrow (aka brother of Gwyneth Paltrow) wrote and directed this film about a man who falls in love with a woman in his dreams. Stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Danny DeVito and Penelope Cruz.

King of California
-- Okay, I admit it. I like Michael Douglas, especially when he plays roles where he gets to be slightly crazy (Wonder Boys, War of the Roses, Wall Street, Falling Down). In King of California, he plays a mentally unstable dad just released from an institution, who tries to convince his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) that there's Spanish gold buried under suburbia. This one sounds just out there enough that it could either really rock, or be really bad. Either way, I'm interested.

Resurrecting the Champ
-- We're gonna see a lot of Samuel L. Jackson around Park City. This film has him starring as a homeless man who turns out to be a boxing champ long thought to be dead. Josh Hartnett is a sports reporter who seeks redemption in his career and personal life, and hopes to find it by scoring this story. It's a bit concerning that the film has four -- count 'em, four -- screenwriters, but it sounds somewhat intriguing nonetheless.

The Savages -- Just based on the description -- two adult siblings have to care for their ailing father, who never cared for them -- I'm not sure this would be on my radar. But toss in Laura Linney, who is one of my favorite actresses, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and add writer/director Tamara Jenkins (Slums of Beverly Hills), and suddenly, my interest is piqued.

Trade -- Thirteen-year-old Ariana is kidnapped from Mexico City for the sex trade, and her brother Jorge must find her and rescue her, while dodging immigration officers and other obstacles. It stars Kevin Kline, and the screenwriter, Jose Rivera, scripted The Motorcycle Diaries.

SPECTRUM - The Spectrum category offers a nice mix -- docs, features, Americans and foreigns -- and is my favorite category, because there are typically some gems of truly indie films to be found there. There are 24 films in the Spectrum category. Those that have caught my eye thus far:

Angel-A -- Directed by Luc Besson, this film is fairy tale about what happens after a man saves a mysterious beauty from suicide. Cool. Besson wrote and directed one of my fave films ever, the very excellent Léon, and anything he brings to Sundance is on my must-see list, period.

Dedication -- Another comedy/drama in this year's lineup, this one features Billy Crudup as a misogynistic kiddie-lit author who is forced to work with a female (oh, the humanity!) played by Mandy Moore after he loses his long-time illustrator and only friend (Tom Wilkinson). I really liked Moore in Saved!, and the film also has Amy Sedaris, Dianne Weist, Bob Balaban, and Bobby Cannavale -- all good reasons to check it out.

The Devil Came on Horseback -- Documentary about the genocide in Sudan. Probably horribly depressing, but sounds good nonetheless.

The Go-Getter -- A teenager takes a road-trip in a stolen car after his mother dies, to find his long-lost brother. Stars Lou Taylor Pucci and Zooey Deschanel

Interview -- Steve Buscemi directed and stars in this film about a political journalist (Buscemi) who has a falling-out with his editor and is forced to interview a popular soap star (Sienna Miller).

La Misma Luna -- When a young Mexican boy's grandmother dies, he decides to make the journey to Los Angeles alone, to reunite with his mother, who is working to make a better life for her family.

Save Me -- A sex and drug addicted young man is forced into a Christian-run ministry, where comes to terms with the truth about himself when they try to save him from his "gay affliction".

Tuli -- A young girl in a remote village in the Phillipines is forced into an arranged marriage by her abusive father; she rejects her role in her village and creates a new life for herself.

Waitress -- Adrienne Shelly's last film, which is reason enough to see it.


NEW FRONTIER -- Experimental film. Good or bad, weird or fascinating, but almost always interesting. Not my favorite category, but there are a couple I'm interested in:

Artist Spotlight: Pierre Huyghe -- I know almost nothing about this French filmmaker, whose work has rarely been screened outside of museums and art galleries, which intrigues me enough to want to see and learn more about him.

Phantom Love
-- Surreal drama about a woman trapped in a enmeshed family, and her gradual liberation. Combines fairy tale elements with harsh black-and-white photography -- could be interesting.

There's also a New Frontier on Main this year, which offers media installations, media-based performances, and panel discussions. Hopefully I'll have some time to check that out as well.

That's it for my first-glance picks. Take a look at the full lineup of non-competition films yourself and let us know what you're particularly interested in us covering at Sundance!