During the hours spent waiting for American Airlines to get their aircraft off the ground at Salt Lake City I was chatting with a US producer regarding the aftermath of Sundance. The latest film he'd worked on, Low Down, about drug-addicted '70s behop pianist Joe Albany, hadn't gone down well. It was deemed too dark like so many of this year's films. Low Down nonetheless featured some of the best performances of the festival, from John Hawkes (The Sessions, Martha Marcy May Marlene) as Albany, Glenn Close as his working class mum and Elle Fanning as his daughter Amy Jo Albany, on whose memoir the film is based. Now as I sit in Paris, I feel sure the film will resonate more in France, the country where Albany was so appreciated when he was alive. Watch out for the film at festivals.
The following Sundance world premieres are some of the lucky ones that will make it to Australian cinemas.
Hopscotch acquired Song One before the festival. This directing debut of Kate Barker-Froyland, the daughter of Mike Barker, the co-president and co-founder of Sony Pictures Classics, stars Anne Hathaway who is also a producer on the film together with her husband, Adam Shulman. They had a say in casting charismatic British folk singer Johnny Flynn, a perfect fit as he also has classical acting training.
The Brooklyn-set musical dramedy is an emotional ride as Hathaway deals with her long-time estrangement from her folk singer brother who lies in a coma following an accident. He idolises Flynn's folk singer, who Hathaway seeks out to try and stun her brother back to life.
Despite her Oscar win for Les Miserables, Hathaway doesn't really sing here, a decision that could harm the film's box office prospects. Composed by American duo, Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice, the music is superb, though if you don't like folk music, this movie might not be for you.
The festival's big prizewinner is also musically oriented though transcends the musical genre as a battle of the wills between J.K. Simmons (channelling his former mean guy from Oz) and talented newcomer Miles Teller, who was recently in The Spectacular Now and is coming soon in the dating movie That Awkward Moment alongside Zac Efron, as well as the next would-be Hunger Games, Divergent. Appealing to audiences of all demographics, the film was picked up by Sony for worldwide release and was by far the most popular film of the festival.
The One I Love
The most discussed film to screen later in the program was The One I Love, which has been picked up by The Weinstein's Radius banner for Australian distribution. USA Today calls the film “a mind-bending hit” and while the plot is complex with some comparing it to Shane Carruth's Upstream Colour, it is far more commercial. First-time director Charlie McDowell even had trouble describing it. Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass make good sparring partners, lovers and run the full gamut of emotions on screen.
After coming to Sundance without any in-house productions, Fox Searchlight has picked up worldwide rights to I Origins. The second film by Mike Cahill, it was a critics' favourite and won the Alfred P. Sloan Award for science-themed movies. Michael Pitt effectively carries the film with his portrayal of a molecular biologist and Brit Marling (from Cahill's Another Earth, the Special Jury Prize winner in 2011) is his new researcher who stumbles across a spectacular discovery. Set in the near future in New York, Idaho and India, the adventurous low effects film asks existential question about what happens after we die while touching on everything from love and marriage to life and death to evolution and reincarnation and the afterlife.
The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy notes that Cahill is “one of those shrewd filmmakers who finds a way to address even unusual personal interests and themes within a viably commercial context. For now, he is distinctive for his demonstrable urge to explore life's deepest mysteries—a shared trait of scientists and artists—and his hunch that these mysteries might, sooner rather than later, be revealed by human endeavour… A smart distributor will be charged with finding a way to connect this special film with the discerning specialised audience that would enthusiastically embrace it.”
How Australian director Jennifer Kent and actress Essie Davis and Kent worked with the adorable, feisty six-year-old Noah Wiseman, by making a game of the whole proceedings to protect him from the horror, is nothing short of amazing. Umbrella Entertainment displayed foresight in acquiring the film before Sundance. Horror haters should not be put off as it riffs more on Polanski's Rosemary's Baby and Repulsion. This film is for almost everyone. It has the suspense of a thriller, a superb performance from Essie Davis, giving Cate Blanchett a run for her money, and one very cute kid, six year-old Noah Wiseman, who will win over any naysayers.
Cold in July
Umbrella also has Cold in July, Jim Mickle's adaptation of Joe R. Lansdale's bristly thriller Southern-fried mystery deemed “as muggy, oppressive, and hard to shake as an east Texas summer”. It stars Michael C. Hall, Don Johnson and Sam Shepard who form a triangle of violence. Not for the faint-hearted.
John Michael McDonagh's Calvary, releasing through Transmission, represents a more serious collaboration between the director and Brendan Gleeson after their hit The Guard. Gleeson wanted to show the good side or Irish priests. Australian Hollywood Reporter critic David Rooney writes, “Gleeson's performance as a man of profound integrity suffering for the sins of others is the lynchpin of this immensely powerful drama, enriched by spiky black comedy but also by its resonant contemplation of faith and forgiveness. Representing a considerable leap in thematic scope and craft for McDonagh, Calvary deserves to reach the widest possible audience.”
God Help the Girl
Transmission had pre-bought the British competition entry, God Help the Girl, which was awarded a Special Prize in the world dramatic section. The directing debut of Belle and Sebastian frontman, Stuart Murdoch, stars a luminous Emily Browning as a young woman with mental issues who seeks a remedy through music. Surprisingly light given its subject material, it should do well.
Love is Strange
Ira Sach's Love is Strange, starring Alfred Molina and John Lithgow, was acquired by Rialto prior to the festival. It tells the bittersweet story of a gay couple, who on the verge of marriage after 39 years together, are suddenly forced to live apart.
Madman as always has more than other distributors, like the following:
The Raid 2
Since its Sundance screening, Gareth Evans' The Raid 2 has gone viral. There was no reaction like this to a film in Sundance—well, for a certain crowd. The film had to be stopped during its world premiere as a young guy had an attack of some sort. Evans, while expressing his concern that the guy who walked out drinking much-needed water, was fine, joked that he might have been from the MPAA.
Irish director Lenny Abrahamson's Frank (pictured) tells of a young would-be musician (Domhnall Gleeson) joining a band led by a musical genius who never removes his large cartoon-faced head. We follow the ill-fated band's attempt to record a new album and travel from Ireland to Austin to appear at South By Southwest. The Irish flocked to this film in Sundance. I met everyone from priests to young degenerates who fell for its charm. Still not everyone in Australia will appreciate its quirky lyricism or the fact that we don't see Michael Fassbender's gorgeous head. We don't really find out what makes Frank tick though he's clearly harbouring psychological problems, perhaps schizophrenia.
The Trip to Italy
Australians will be salivating as they watch Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon indulge in Italian gastronomic delights of the Amalfi coast. Coogan's increasing rise to popularity following the success of Philomena should ensure this film's success. Here he's in more cheerful mode with his friend and frequent collaborator, Michael Winterbottom, who can turn his hand to anything and admits he had fun too. The film is the springboard for a series for the BBC, who foots the hefty restaurant bills. Not a bad gig if you can get it. Though Brydon says he watched his calories more than four years go, when they ate their way around the Lakes District for The Trip.
20,000 Days on Earth
The British Nick Cave documentary 20,000 Days on Earth, which won the festival's directing and editing awards in the world cinema documentary section, was directed by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, who have worked collaboratively as visual artists since the mid-'90. According to David Rooney, Cave “invites us to get acquainted with a self-mythologising heightened version of who he is, a character in his own fully inhabited fiction.”
Danish director Berit Madsen's uplifting feature debut, follows a provincial teenage girl who dreams of becoming an astronomer but is thwarted by her traditional family and her failure to secure a university scholarship. This may only screen at festivals.
The Green Prince
Nadav Shirman's documentary thriller The Green Prince (Germany, UK, Israel) tells the story of the Israeli-Palestinian friction seen through the eyes of one of Israel's prized intelligence sources, militant turned Israeli informant Mosab Hassan Yousef. The film, which is based on his book Son of Hamas, won the Audience Award for World Cinema Documentary.
In the inventive documentary Dinosaur 13, Douglas Miller tells the bittersweet tale of the team that discovered the remains of the world's most complete T. Rex. “Engaging characters and the persistent appeal of dinosaurs benefit the doc, whose Byzantine legal content might otherwise be off-putting,” notes The Hollywood Reporter.