During the last week of January, Hollywood power players pause in the heat of their Oscar campaigns to make a pilgrimage to the cold mountain town of Park City, Utah. The Sundance Film Festival —which officially opens today — has become a magnet for both A-list and up-and-coming filmmakers, and a launching pad for both careers and Oscar contenders.
Yahoo Movies will be on the ground at the festival, bringing you news about the big-name movies and those diamonds in the rough, along with a bounty of interviews and other features. To set the table for this coming smorgasbord of hot movie content, here’s a list of some of the movies we’re most excited to see at this year’s festival.
Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel in The End of the Tour
The End of the Tour
Jason Segel as David Foster Wallace? Sure, why not! The actor best known for hanging out with Muppets is now playing one of the most acclaimed —and ultimately tragic — writers of the late 20th century. Tour is based on a memoir by the writer David Lipsky (played by Jesse Eisenberg), who once spent five days traveling the country with Wallace, but never published his Rolling Stone-commissioned interview.
McGregor in Last Days in the Desert
Last Days in the Desert
Ewan McGregor plays both Jesus and the Devil in this Rodrigo García-directed drama, which promises to introduce new dimensions to the most famous man in world history. We have no idea how McGregor will play both roles, but we do know that he’ll look good doing it thanks to Oscar winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki.
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
Oscar winning documentarian Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) returns with his most anticipated and potentially explosive film about the Church of Scientology. As mentioned in a recent Hollywood Reporter story, the film, which promises deep reporting and thorough interviews with former members of the controversial religion, has been vetted by 160 different lawyers.
Sarah Silverman and Josh Charles in I Smile Back
I Smile Back
It’s always a treat when Sarah Silverman, one of the best comedians of the last 20 years, goes dramatic. In this adaptation of Amy Koppelman’s hit novel, Silverman runs from suburban bliss into a world of dangerous compulsions that could destroy her family. We’re definitely on board for that ride.
Cobie Smulders and Guy Pearce in Results
Mumblecore pioneer Andrew Bujalski returned to the indie spotlight with 2013’s nerd tribute Computer Chess, which boasted nary a name actor in its cast. This year, This off-beat indie comedy about Austin fitness gurus is packed with famous faces, including Colbie Smulders, Giovanni Ribisi, Guy Pearce, Brooklyn Decker, and Anthony Michael Hall (who plays a Russian kettle bell trainer, of all things). Another reason to be optimistic: Magnolia Pictures bought the worldwide rights for the film before it even premiered.
Another Sundance vet, writer-director Patrick Brice returns with his follow-up to last year’s horror-comedy Creep, in which he acted alongside co-writer Mark Duplass. His sophomore effort also takes place over a single day, and this time, he’s tackling the painful awkwardness of parenthood and playdates, with a cast featuring Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling, Jason Schwartzman, and Judith Godrèche.
Chris Pine, Margot Robbie, and Chiwetel Ejiofor in Z for Zachariah
Z for Zachariah
Craig Zobel caused quite a stir when he premiered his ridiculously tense sophomore feature, Compliance, at Sundance back in 2012. This time around, he’s made a film not about the dystopia we live in today, but a future Earth that is even further corroded. With a cast of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Margot Robbie and Chris Pine, at least he’s got a beautiful trio of faces to ease the pain of the end of the world.
In the mind of this reporter, Ryan Reynolds is not in a career slump, because — though it failed at the box office — R.I.P.D. is one of the most underrated movies of the last half-decade. That said, the rest of the actor’s more recent moves have backfired, including his big budget flicks (Green Lantern) and artistic fare (Atom Egoyan’s The Captive). His comeback could start at Sundance with this gritty gambling film, from Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the directors of the Ryan Gosling drama Half-Nelson.
Johnny Knoxville produced this documentary about his hero, legendary daredevil Evel Knievel, a man who helped encourage the growth of extreme sports and inspire millions of little kids to break their bones in the ’70s and ’80s. The inside story of the godfather of physical recklessness will be told in all its glory.
Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
Like Selma, this documentary about the past also reflects the tumultuous times in which we live now. To tell the story of the rise of the Black Panthers and the Black Power movement of the 1960s, director Stanley Nelson weaves together archival footage and interviews with the people who both made history and witnessed it.
Jonah Hill and James Franco in True Story
The James Franco films
No festival would be complete without an appearance by James Franco, and this Sundance will have two different Franco joints. And though his indie output can be uneven, he’s bringing two very intriguing-sounding films with him this time.
First, True Story, is a real-life drama in which he plays a man accused of murdering his family, who is, for some odd reason, using the name of a disgraced New York Times reporter. The reporter, played by Jonah Hill, heads out to prison to interview him and figure out what the heck is going on.
The other Franco film, I Am Michael, is also based on a true story, and features the actor as a gay activist who renounces his homosexuality and becomes a Christian pastor.
The Jemaine Clement films
Still best-known for his delightful two seasons on HBO’s Flight of the Conchords, Clement has been working to diversify his resume. He’s got the very droll and very funny vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows on the way next month, and he stars in two movies at Sundance.
One, People, Places, Things, seems like a potentially funny (if conventional) indie comedy about a newly single dad trying to get his life together. The other, Don Verdean, sees him team up with the reliable Sam Rockwell in a bizarro comedy about Biblical artifact salesmen who stray from the righteous path for a juicy business opportunity.
Image credit: All Photos - Courtesy of Sundance Institute