The 2013 Sundance Film Festival kicks off this weekend with several buzz-worthy film premieres taking place during the annual festival's 10-day run from Jan. 17-27 in Park City, Utah.
Here's a list of buzz-worthy films screening at this year's festival according to Sundance Channel's Nina Hammerling Smith (along with a couple of my own selections at the bottom):
TOP OF THE LAKE directors: Jane Campion and Garth Davis, Premieres
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: This Sundance original series from Oscar-winning director Jane Campion follows the eerie tale of a pregnant girl who goes missing from a small New Zealand town.
WHY IT’S BUZZ-WORTHY: Top of the Lake -- which will air on Sundance Channel -- marks the first time a seven-part series has screened at the festival. The extraordinary cast, led by Mad Men star Elisabeth Moss, features Holly Hunter, Lucy Lawless and David Wenham.
jOBS director: Joshua Michael Stern, Premieres
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Ashton Kutcher plays the late, great Apple visionary Steve Jobs over 30 years of his remarkable life.
WHY IT’S BUZZ-WORTHY: Did we mention the fact that Ashton Kutcher, a.k.a. goofy airhead Kelso on That ’70s Show, the ex-Mr. Demi Moore, the mastermind behind Punk’d... is playing actual mastermind Steve Jobs?! All indications point to a fascinating portrayal, one that any fan of the Apple mystique will surely have to see, especially since parts of the movie were filmed in Jobs’ childhood home and the actual garage where the first Apple was born.
SOUND CITY director: Dave Grohl, Doc Premieres
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl steps behind the camera to direct this documentary on the legendary Sound City Studios, whose doors closed in 2011 after more than 40 years.
WHY IT’S BUZZ-WORTHY: In paying tribute to the studio’s remarkable legacy -- albums recorded there include Nirvana’s Nevermind, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and Rage Against the Machine -- Grohl acknowledges a way of life that’s all but forgotten, an analog artistry that many music fans miss. The movie features an album’s worth of original music and appearances by Paul McCartney, Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty, Trent Reznor and Grohl’s old bandmate Krist Novoselic, among others.
AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS director: David Lowery, U.S. Dramatic
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck star in this outlaw-love story as a couple torn apart by an act of violence yet with an undeniable, complex connection that transcends time and incarceration.
WHY IT’S BUZZ-WORTHY: Along with nine other Sundance selections, AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS will screen in indie theaters around the nation on January 31, just a few days after the festival’s close. So if you live near Boston, Brooklyn, San Francisco or Chicago -- among other cities -- watch for it.
DON JON'S ADDICTION director: Joesph Gordon-Levitt, Premieres
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a smarmy Don Juan type named Jon (get it?) who tries to find deeper satisfaction than an endless parade of hot, meaningless flings.
WHY IT’S BUZZ-WORTHY: Any fan of independent film has got to be psyched to see bona fide indie superstar -- and Sundance Award host -- Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s first outing as a director-scriptwriter. Plus, the movie costars perennial hotties Julianne Moore and Scarlett Johanssan.
WE STEAL SECRETS: THE STORY OF WIKILEAKS director: Alex Gibney, Doc Premieres
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: This documentary explores how the definition of privacy and public right to knowledge have fundamentally shifted, thanks in no small part to WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange.
WHY IT’S BUZZ-WORTHY: One of several upcoming features and documentaries on whistleblower Julian Assange and the WikiLeaks saga, WE STEAL SECRETS is produced and directed by Oscar winner Alex Gibney, who shines an unswerving light into the story of the man, his mission, his legal woes and their ongoing impact.
MAGIC MAGIC director: Sebastian Silva, Park City at Midnight
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Tortured by insomnia, a girl finds herself on a waking-nightmare trip through rural Chile.
WHY IT’S BUZZ-WORTHY: How do you break out of the most-adorkable-geek-boy-in-America mold? For Michael Cera, the answer was this movie, which has him playing against type as the dark and mysterious Brink. Costarring Juno Temple and Emily Browning.
AUSTENLAND director: Jerusha Hess, U.S. Dramatic
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: An obsession with the world of Jane Austen leads a thirtysomething to visit Austenland, an immersive experience where she can live out her fantasy.
WHY IT’S BUZZ-WORTHY: Produced by Stephenie Meyer -- yes, that Stephenie Meyer, of the Twilight series -- AUSTENLAND has a squee’able cast, including Keri Russell, Flight of the Conchords’ Bret McKenzie, Georgia King and Jennifer Coolidge.
WHO IS DAYANI CRISTAL? director: Marc Silver, World Documentary
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: The identity of an anonymous dead body, found by border police in the Arizona desert, is explored in this hybrid documentary featuring Gael García Bernal.
WHY IT’S BUZZ-WORTHY: By focusing on one man, WHO IS DAYANI CRISTAL? makes the question of illegal immigration more than an issue of politics: It puts a compassionate, human spin on a hot-button topic.
BEFORE MIDNIGHT director: Richard Linklater, Premieres
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: The continuing romance between Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) deepens as we see them as fortysomethings in Greece.
WHY IT’S BUZZ-WORTHY: The latest installment in the Richard Linklater-directed series that includes BEFORE SUNRISE and BEFORE SUNSET is a must see.
TOUCHY FEELY director: Lynn Shelton, U.S. Dramatic
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: A massage therapist (Rosemarie DeWitt) suddenly finds herself with an intense aversion to any physical contact, and the fallout has unexpected consequences for her and her family.
WHY IT’S BUZZ-WORTHY: Lynn Shelton reunites with YOUR SISTER’S SISTER star Rosemarie DeWitt, a winning combination. Also starring Ellen Page, Allison Janney, Ron Livingston and Scoot McNairy.
C.O.G director: Kyle Patrick Alvarez, U.S. Dramatic
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Based on an essay by David Sedaris, C.O.G tells the story of a young man spending the summer at an Oregon apple-picking farm with a colorful assemblage of coworkers.
WHY IT’S BUZZ-WORTHY: Sedaris, a fan favorite for his quirky humor books and radio appearances, had adamantly opposed film adaptations of his work until director-screenwriter Kyle Patrick Alvarez managed to persuade him.
PRINCE AVALANCHE director: David Gordon Green, Premieres
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: This oddball-friendship story starring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch is an adaptation of the Icelandic movie EITHER WAY.
WHY IT’S BUZZ-WORTHY: Director-screenwriter David Gordon Green, whose ALL THE REAL GIRLS won two jury prizes at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival, returns to his indie roots with the relationship-centered PRINCE AVALANCHE after making PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, YOUR HIGHNESS and THE SITTER.
MANHUNT director: Greg Barker, U.S. Documentary
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: The pursuit and eventual execution of Osama bin Laden -- from the perspective of the “Sisterhood,” a mostly-female subset of the CIA that tracked him for years before 9/11.
WHY IT’S BUZZ-WORTHY: It’s a story we’re clearly ready to explore, as evidenced by ZERO DARK THIRTY and SEAL TEAM SIX, among other bin Laden-related films. This documentary explores the moral ambiguity of the “hunt” –- and demands that we ask ourselves some difficult questions.
KILL YOUR DARLINGS director: John Krokidas, U.S. Dramatic
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: A young Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and William Burroughs (Ben Foster) are drawn together at Columbia University by their shared passions -- and a murder mystery.
WHY IT’S BUZZ-WORTHY: Harry Potter, this ain’t. As Ginsberg, Radcliffe gets to explore a very different role than what we’ve seen before.
LINSANITY director: Evan Jackson Leong, U.S. Documentary
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Asian American basketball player Jeremy Lin's rise from Harvard graduate to NBA benchwarmer to starting point guard for the New York Knicks.
WHY IT’S BUZZ-WORTHY: Lin's success during his run with the Knicks spawned the phrase "Linsanity" which turned the previously unknown Lin into a world-wide phenomenon.
WHAT THEY DON'T TALK ABOUT WHEN THEY TALK ABOUT LOVE director: Mouly Surya, World Dramatic
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Students at a high school for the visually impaired in Jakarta, Indonesia find ways to communicate and collaborate, enabling them to connect-with each other and to the outside world.
WHY IT’S BUZZ-WORTHY: Writer/director Mouly Surya elegantly employs the language of cinema to evoke the sensory experience of her protagonists through deliberate silences, languid tracking shots down corridors, and highly choreographed movement. With gentle humor, playfulness, and heightened realism, the film draws out the poetry in its characters, highlighting the magic in their lives and respecting who they are.
THE WAY, WAY BACK director: Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, Premieres
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: The film tells the story of 14-year-old Duncan’s awkward, funny, and sometimes painful summer vacation with his mother, Pam, her overbearing boyfriend, Trent, and his daughter, Steph. Although Duncan has a tough time fitting in and finding his place, he does find an unlikely ally and mentor in Owen, a carefree employee at the local water park where Duncan gets a job. Over the course of the summer, as his mother drifts further away, Duncan—with encouragement from Owen—begins to open up and come into his own.
WHY IT’S BUZZ-WORTHY: Co-writer-directors Jim Rash and Nat Faxon are the Academy Award–winning writers of "The Descendants," for which they received the Academy Award for the best adapted screenplay in 2011 along with the film’s director, Alexander Payne.
UPSTREAM COLOR director: Shane Carruth, Premieres
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: The film is described as the story of "a man and woman drawn together, entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism with identity becoming an illusion as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of their wrecked lives."
WHY IT’S BUZZ-WORTHY: Reclusive writer-director Shane Carruth burst onto the independent film scene with his sci-fi drama thriller "Primer" about a group of engineers who accidentally discover a means of time travel. Shot for only $7,000, "Primer" won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, beating out "Napoleon Dynamite" and "Garden State." After garnering praise for "Primer," Carruth seemingly vanished from the independent film world until now.