Sundance is, like any major film festival, too many films in too little time in too confined a space. Synopsis spills upon synopsis; buzz can wind up just being onomatopoeia. But even a cursory spin through the film catalog reveals movies which, for whatever reason, you want to watch. This isn't the full list, nor does it reflect those sudden gems you stumble across or become aware of, but anyone getting ready to go to Park City next week has a list of about seven films they really want to see. And right now, those seven are, for me:
1) Black Snake Moan
Sure, it's deliberately provocative -- Christina Ricci, in the throes of nymphomania, chained to a radiator by Samuel L. Jackson's traveling bluesman? It's almost a new PJ Harvey record. But Craig Brewer's Hustle and Flow was talked-about, knock-out filmmaking that kept coming back to me after I saw it at Sundance -- with every rap song I heard the year after, with post-Katrina New Orleans and with the unlikely sight of the Three-Six Mafia winning an Oscar. Another film from him is, at the very least, going to be worth watching just to have your own opinion about.
2) Snow Angels
David Gordon Green is, pretty much, one of the best under-the-radar directors we have right now -- great, loose-but-meticulous, interested in art and the heart. So, any film from him -- George Washington, All the Real Girls, Undertow -- is worth seeing, and a new film from him is cause for excitement. Starring Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale, Snow Angels looks like another case where a basic pitch -- a separation story -- gets turned into a must-see film based solely on the name and history of the director.
Every year at Sundance, you want to see something just nuts. Just knock-down, drag-out visual, with invention and artifice and theatrical power pulsing off every frame; the kind of movie, essentially, you don't get to see on a big screen outside of Sundance. There are plenty of contenders for that spot this year -- including the return of Crispin Hellion Glover's bizarre sharp-pointed artistic intent with It is Fine. EVERYTHING IS FINE!-- but when I read that Jessica Yu's Protagonist was an exploration of classical storytelling through linked vignettes of modern men incorporating interviews, puppetry and effects? Hell, yes.
4) Finishing the Game
At Sundance, you will need a laugh somewhere in there. And not just some eh, okay, so-so film like Napoleon Dynamite and Little Miss Sunshine or Happy, Texas, but, again, something you're not likely to see anywhere else. Justin Lin --- whose Better Luck Tomorrow was incredibly impressive when I saw it at Sundance, even in a barely-heated converted yoga studio that had been transformed into a press screening room -- returns to Park City with a comedy about the search for the next Bruce Lee. That sounds like something I want to see ... and, frankly, the kind of thing where this might be your only chance.
5) The Signal
The basic pitch of this Midnight horror selection -- cell towers, TV transmitters and radio station start broadcasting 50,000 watts of K-I-L-L into everyone's cerebral cortex -- sounds a lot like Cell, the upcoming film by Eli Roth based on a novel by Stephen King. However, The Signal has two things in its favor: It is not, in fact, adapted from Stephen King's novel Cell, and it is also not directed by Eli Roth. Oh, I kid. It's a perfectly good premise to do jazz riffs on, and the last Sundance zombie-riff I saw was 28 Days Later, so that's another good omen. ...
6) Grace is Gone
I was semi on-the-fence about this film, but a Thursday San Francisco Chronicle front-page picture of President Bush with one lone tear rolling down his cheek made up my mind: I'd rather have this potentially too-sincere piece of art about the Gulf War offered by Sundance than the decidedly insincere artifice offered by the White House. John Cusack plays a father and husband whose wife dies in Iraq, and deals with what comes next. It's a plotline that, for too many, isn't a plotline.
7) Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait
Cinematical's first East Coast Editor, Martha Fischer is a film expert and sports fan -- two traits rarely found in conjunction. Martha raved about Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait when it screened in Toronto, and that's enough to make me want to see it. The coincidental-but-fortuitous coming of Beckham to America also means that soccer -- which, in America, has been "the sport of the future for about the past 30 years -- will be on people's minds, and they'll have a chance to see one of the game's greats in action.