This edition of Sundance, America’s premier independent film showcase, is one of the queerest ever, with a mix of veteran and novice directors delivering a lineup that sizzles dramatically and erotically. If you want to gauge the talent before these films descend from Robert Redford’s ski lodge, check for scripts vetted through the Sundance writers’ lab, widely acknowledged as the place where novice filmmakers can banish pretentious beats - in other words, "kill their darlings."
"Kill Your Darlings" is getting Sundance buzz for moments where young Daniel Radcliffe, as fledgling poet Allen Ginsberg, ingests drugs, masturbates, and has sex with an older man. This is possibly the movie that finally gets the Beats in focus.
"Big Sur" Sundance has the Beats on the brain: director Michael Polish spotlights an older Jack Kerouac, overwhelmed by the hoopla surrounding the publication of On the Road and battling alcoholism, hiding in a small cabin owned by his friend Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The retreat results in a 1962 novel, Big Sur. With Jean-Marc Barr, Kate Bosworth, and Henry Thomas.
"Valentine Road" Marta Cunningham follows the story behind the classroom shooting death of California queer teen Larry King by classmate Brandon McInerney. "Brandon was 14 when he committed the crime, he was looking at 53 years to life without the chance of parole, and I thought, ’That’s not right, either.’ It’s not right to kill somebody in the middle of English class, but is it right for him to be tried as an adult?"
"Don Jon’s Addiction" Joseph Gordon-Leavitt takes a logical step in his progression from TV child star to indie actor to edgy action/drama guy, creating his own erotically tinged vehicle. Demonstrating what he’s learned from the indie world’s best directors, Gordon-Leavitt essays a Lothario whose fixation on computer porn interferes with a highly charged relationship with Scarlett Johansson.
"Jobs" This modest bio-pic promises a peek at the "Steves" Jobs and Wozniak as they crank out their first toy. Here’s a chance to see if Ashton Kutcher is ready to fill anything but Charlie Sheen’s shoes. With Josh Gad as Wozniak.
"C.O.G." Kyle Patrick Alvarez directs the first film based on a David Sedaris story, the rocky misadventures of a cocky young man (Jonathan Groff) who works a summer on an Oregon apple farm. Alvarez said, "What I liked about the story was that it took that confusion [about homosexuality] and mixed it with a religious confusion. It was funny, kind of dirty, and really cinematic."
"Concussion" As Abby, a wealthy lesbian housewife, rides home with her wife and kids in the family bus, she’s just been struck in the head at her son’s Little League game. Stacie Passon explained what she was trying to accomplish with her first feature. "The script wasn’t about this lesbian housewife who became a hooker, but about the human predicament."
"Lovelace" Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman ratchet us back to 1970s porn’s "Garden of Eden," when the hip and the horny found common congress in shabby theatres boasting a gimmick: a genuinely sexy XXX film that didn’t shun humor. Using fact-to-fiction techniques that served them well in Howl, the filmmakers show a young woman from a religious background going from porn superstar to exploited sex worker. Amanda Seyfried is Linda Boreman (Lovelace), Peter Sarsgaard is her hustler-guru-despoiler Chuck Traynor; with Adam Brody, James Franco and Sharon Stone.
"Interior. Leather Bar." For decades, even the severest critics of director William Friedkin’s 1980 leather-bar thriller "Cruising" have cited how his film documented gay nightlife in the decade before AIDS. The premise behind James Franco and Travis Mathews’ experimental narrative is to dramatize sex scenes they believe were deleted from Cruising.
"Halley" Mexican visual artist Sebastian Hofmann provides a stark new definition for the term "gym rat" with this surreal fable about a self-conscious security guard, suffering from a rare wasting disease, who envies the beautiful bodies surrounding him at work. Beto attempts to stave off his own physical decay by injecting himself with embalming fluid.
"Crystal Fairy" Sebastian Silva (The Maid) reboots the career of comic actor Michael Cera as Jamie, a self-absorbed North American kid whose Chilean road trip is complicated by drugs and a female free spirit.
"Magic Magic" Silva goes for a second bite of the apple with Cera, this time as a traveler whose girlfriend (Juno Temple) is suffering a severe bout of insomnia.
"Prince Avalanche" Two of our favorite bromance guys, Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch, are featured in this David Gordon Green-directed drama about two fellows who spend a summer doing hard physical labor and growing suspiciously closer to each other.
"Milkshake" Tyler Ross fronts a provocative drama about the slippery slope of adolescent identity in David Andalman and Mariko Munro’s film, playing the great-great grandson of Al Jolson. Making his school’s basketball team puts Jolie, in his mind at least, one step closer to the "down-low" edginess of serious gangsta status; with Shareeka Epps and Leo Fitzpatrick.
"The Spectacular Now" Athens, GA’s James Ponsoldt trains his Southern storytelling on a denizen of boozy illusions. Sutter Kelly (Miles Teller) is drowning in a very small pond when he meets a young woman with ferocious dreams (Shailene Woodley). Adapting Tim Tarp’s novel, Ponsoldt aims to recreate the authenticity of Peter Bogdanovich’s "The Last Picture Show."
"Before Midnight: Buzz has it that the third date in this trilogy of films from Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy and Richard Linklater may be the best.
"Kink Director" Christina Voros gets behind the scenes at SF’s Armory building to explore the business model of Kink.com, a producer of BDSM porn.
"Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer" Directors Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin examine the background of the Moscow trial for the members of the female punk band Pussy Riot, for supposedly giving a blasphemous performance, "Mother Mary, Banish Putin!" in a cathedral.
"Sound City" Punk rock guru Dave Grohl creates a layered tribute to an old-fashioned San Fernando Valley recording studio. Grohl revives the history of rock gems recorded on Sound City’s unique console, and summons music royalty for one more jam: Stevie Nicks, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Trent Reznor, Rick Springfield and Sir Paul McCartney.
"No Gael" Garcia Bernal heads a top Latin American cast in a tension-packed drama detailing how an ad guy helped topple a dictatorship. Used to concocting slick TV ads for soft drinks, Rene Saavedra (Bernal) determines that the best way to unseat the thugs behind the Pinochet military junta is a campaign stressing that a "No" vote equals "happiness."
"The Gatekeepers" As Israelis vote for a new centrist coalition, a frank new doc exposes some harrowing moments in the West Bank occupation. Dror Moreh sat down with six men who have run Israel’s security apparatus, the Shin Bet.
"Running from Crazy" Barbara Kopple explores the mental instability plaguing generations of the fabled Hemingway clan, focusing on my favorite Hemingway: Mariel, from Woody Allen’s Manhattan.