For movie buffs, reading the concise descriptions of the films in advance of the opening of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival is like spring training for baseball fans: anything is possible. We tend to be optimistic around these parts; we're hoping that every film will be a home run and make it into theaters. That's not realistic, though, and so we've carefully read, reflected, and held our finger up to the wind to hone the list of films down to the 10 most likely to hit theaters this year.
Notes and Disclaimers: This list is highly subjective, based on reading the official film guide (from which we've quoted below), noting the filmmakers and cast members, and taking into account the story. We haven't seen the films yet, so once screenings start, expectations will change accordingly (sometimes drastically). Movies that may not sound appealing on paper often blossom into visibility, based on great word of mouth; expect films that are not currently on our radar to suddenly leap to the top.
Cinematical will be covering as many films as humanly possible, so look for a flood of reviews to begin as soon as the festival opens this Thursday, January 20. We'll also be maintaining a list of films that have secured distribution deals, which includes several that have been made ahead of the festival.
What tops our list of "most likely"?
10 Films Most Likely to Hit Theaters in '11
1. 'Red State'
Horror. With Michael Parks. Directed by Kevin Smith. (Pictured at top.) Three high school boys with "libidinal urges" instead confront a "terrifying 'holy' force with a fatal agenda." Smith's films have always turned a profit, if not in theatrical than in home video; if he delivers, 'Red State' will attract horror fans in addition to his devoted fan base. 'The Blair Witch Project' and 'Saw' both launched from Sundance, which has been friendly to horror fare.
2. 'My Idiot Brother'
Comedy. With Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer. Directed by Jesse Peretz. Hapless Ned (Rudd) is "passed from sister to sister while he gets back on his feet. Ned's best intentions produce hilariously disastrous results." Rudd got lost in James L. Brooks' 'How Do You Know,' but put him front and center in an indie comedy and it could be box office silver, if not gold. Peretz and Rudd previously teamed in 2001's 'The Chateau.'
3. 'The Convincer'
Comedy. With Greg Kinnear, Alan Arkin, Billy Crudup, Lea Thompson. Directed by Jill Sprecher. An insurance agent tries to con a retired farmer out of a valuable violin. Re-teaming 'Little Miss Sunshine' stars Kinnear and Arkin sounds combustible, especially with Kinnear as a duplicitous salesman and Arkin as a wily man of the earth. Sprecher previously directed Arkin in 2001's '13 Conversations About One Thing.'
4. 'Another Happy Day'
Drama. With Ellen Barkin, Kate Bosworth, Demi Moore, Ellen Burstyn, Thomas Haden Church, George Kennedy. Directed by Sam Levinson. A woman attends the wedding of her estranged son at her parents' palatial estate, sparking a family feud of words. The all-star cast should attract attention, even though the "dysfunctional family at a wedding" theme sounds very familiar.
5. 'Margin Call'
Drama/Thriller. With Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettaney, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci. Directed by J. C. Chandor. The film covers 24 "perilous" hours at an investment firm "in the early stages of the 2008 financial crisis." This fictional thriller might play better than Spacey's recent turn in 'Casino Jack' and the cast is sure to draw attention.
6. 'Like Crazy'
Romance. With Anton Yelchin, Felicity Jones, Jennifer Lawrence. Directed by Drake Doremus. A couple deals with a long-distance relationship over an 8-year period. Yelchin and Lawrence ('Winter's Bone') have displayed their skills in other films; Jones didn't make much of a splash in Julie Taymor's recent 'The Tempest,' but this could be her breakthrough. Doremus made 'Douchebag,' which debuted at Sundance last year and gained distribution.
Drama. With Freddie Highmore, Emma Roberts, Michael Angarano, Elizabeth Reaser, Rita Wilson, Blair Underwood. Directed by Gavin Wiesen. A smart loner befriends the school beauty in a high school coming-of-age tale. An attractive cast could make 'Homework' stand out from other ho-hum coming-of-age dramas that have debuted at Sundance.
8. 'The Ledge'
Thriller. With Charlie Hunnam, Liv Tyler, Patrick Wilson, Terrence Howard. Directed by Matthew Chapman. "A battle of philosophies between a fundamentalist Christian and a non-believer escalates into a lethal battle of wills," with the believer eventually coaxing the non-believer onto the ledge of a high-rise building. A provocative premise in a thrilling setting sounds exciting.
9. 'Little Birds'
Drama. With Juno Temple, Kay Panabaker, Leslie Mann, Kate Bosworth, Kyle Gallner. Directed by Elgin James. Two 15-year-old girls follow three street kids to Los Angeles, where they are "thrust into a world of excitement and danger." This could be a tough sell: little-known leads, debut director, dodgy subject matter. But check out indieWIRE's article on James, in which he talks about the movie in his own words, and you'll see why we think this story will end up in theaters.
10. 'Page One: A Year in the Life of the New York Times'
Documentary. Directed by Andrew Rossi. The filmmakers were granted "unprecedented access" to the inner workings of the New York Times newsroom for one year. This may only have a limited audience, but that audience will include every film-literate person in NYC with an interest in the future of journalism. Rossi previously made 'La Cirque: A Table in Heaven.'
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11. 'Project Nim'
Documentary. A chimp learns sign language, from director of tightrope-walking 'Man on Wire.' (Pictured, right.)
12. 'Silent House'
Thriller. With Elizabeth Olsen. Psychological horror, from directors of shark-infested 'Open Water.'
13. 'The Son Of No One'
Drama/Thriller. Channing Tatum, Al Pacino, Katie Holmes and Ray Liotta star in this cop drama about a young officer whose life is threatened by a secret that pops up once he's assigned to a precinct in a working-class neighborhood.
14. 'Becoming Chaz'
Documentary. Sonny and Cher's daughter becomes a man. From directors of 'Inside Deep Throat.'
15. 'The Guard'
Comedy. With Brendan Gleason, Don Cheadle, Mark Strong. An Irish village cop helps an FBI catch drug smugglers.
Comedy. High school wrestler bonds with vice principal, played by John C. Reilly. (Pictured, left.) Directed by Azazel Jacobs ('Momma's Man').
17. 'Magic Trip'
Documentary. Ken Kesey and His Merry Pranksters drop acid across the 60s. Co-directed by Alex Gibney ('Taxi to the Dark Side').
18. 'The Green Wave'
Documentary. Iranian political rebellion, mixing animation with live action.
19. 'The Cinema Hold Up'
Drama. Bored and broke Mexican teens hold up a movie theater.
20. 'Higher Ground'
Drama. Vera Farmiga makes her directorial debut and stars as a woman on a spiritual journey.