There is no better showcase for Hollywood’s emerging talent than the Sundance Film Festival — think first-time director Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station (which premiered there last year) or Carey Mulligan in 2009’s An Education. It was clear from opening night that 2014’s breakout would be Damien Chazelle, whose self-assured sophomore effort, Whiplash, starring Miles Teller as an ambitious drummer, played like gangbusters at the Eccles Theatre, setting off a bidding war. (Sony Pictures Classics snapped up theatrical rights for a reported $3 million.)
Other notable deals at the fest, which ran Jan. 16 to 26 in Park City, Utah? Lynn Shelton’s Laggies and Zach Braff’s Wish I Was Here both reportedly sold for around $2 million, to A24 and Focus Features, respectively. Fox Searchlight stayed loyal to its Another Earth filmmaker Mike Cahill, buying his equally ambitious follow-up, I Origins, starring Michael Pitt and Brit Marling.
As always, EW — a leadership sponsor of the festival — was at the heart of the action. And Sundance’s brightest talents dropped by to smile and schmooze at our photo studio.
White Bird in a Blizzard
Though it’s based on a 1999 Laura Kasischke novel, director Gregg Araki set this thriller about a woman’s disappearance — starring Mark Indelicato, Gabourey Sidibe, and Shailene Woodley — in the late ’80s. ”Music is an important part of the movie,” noted Araki, who made his young cast playlists for inspiration. ”Lots of Cocteau Twins and Nine Inch Nails,” said Woodley.
The Skeleton Twins
It stars Saturday Night Live alums Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, but this is no comedy. Director Craig Johnson called his dramatic second feature a ”non-romantic love story” about estranged siblings. Hader remarked, ”I’ve never done anything like this.”
Ryan Reynolds’ Jerry is a timid guy under court-ordered psychiatric supervision. His female co-workers think he’s adorable, but the only friends he confides in are his dog and cat, who — uh-oh — talk back. Reynolds voiced both pets, as well as two other characters. ”The table read was very exciting,” quipped Kendrick.
The darkly comedic film — directed by Lenny Abrahamson and starring Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Scoot McNairy — was inspired by the life of British musician-comedian Chris Sievey, who created the masked persona of Frank Sidebottom in the mid-1980s.
Austin Stowell, Melissa Benoist, Miles Teller, and Paul Reiser. Drumroll, please! This film — starring Teller as a promising drummer — earned the biggest Sundance buzz in years by depicting the struggle, terror, and anxiety that go into trying to be a great musician. ”Basically, I wanted to make a thriller about music,” said writer-director Damien Chazelle.
Life After Beth
The film begins with the death of Beth (Aubrey Plaza), the girlfriend of Zach (Dane DeHaan) — but she returns in a seemingly unaltered state. Just don’t expect the usual zombie tropes. ”If this is really happening, you’re not going to be ‘the scientist’ or ‘the freedom fighter,”’ said writer-director Jeff Baena. ”You’re going to be the guy in suburbia just dealing with it.”
Jake Paltrow (yes, Gwyneth’s little brother) imagines a dystopian dust bowl where water is the most precious resource. Michael Shannon plays Ernest Holm, who is hell-bent on protecting his kids (Elle Fanning and Kodi Smit-McPhee) from roving bandits and who eventually faces off against Nicholas Hoult as the vengeful Flem Lever.
A Most Wanted Man
Willem Dafoe, Rachel McAdams, and Philip Seymour Hoffman star in this twisty adaptation of a John le Carré book. McAdams plays an attorney who is seeking asylum for a client with ties to Islamic terrorists and ”sort of oversteps the line,” the actress explained.
Listen Up Philip
In Alex Ross Perry’s third feature, Jason Schwartzman plays Philip, a novelist who finds himself at loose ends. ”He’s at a miserable point of his life,” said Schwartzman, who costars with Elisabeth Moss, Jonathan Pryce, and Krysten Ritter. ”It’s a movie that examines people’s ill behavior and how it affects the people around them.”
Based on A.J. Albany’s 2003 memoir and directed by Jeff Preiss, this family drama focuses on the relationship between a young woman (Sundance regular Elle Fanning) and her jazz-pianist father (John Hawkes), who struggles with drug addiction in 1970s Hollywood. The film costars Glenn Close, Tim Daly, and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea.
This lyrical drama follows an emotionally paralyzed widower (Aaron Paul) and his neglected sons. ”We’re all struggling with the grief,” said Paul. ”[My character] lost his wife, but he’s not understanding that they lost their mother as well.”
Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion’s genre-bending debut follows a group of teachers trapped in a school after a chicken-nugget-spread virus breaks out, turning the kids into flesh-eating savages. ”It’s a horror comedy,” said star Elijah Wood.