Sundance Checklist: US Narrative Competition

What's a film festival without prizes? Getting a Sundance Film Festival award may not get quite the attention of the Oscars or even the Golden Globes with network TV broadcasts and such but that accolade usually marks the beginning of a film's march towards good reviews, distribution, and a career marker for directors, producers cast and crew. While even the selection (and that laurel leaf sticker) here is usually enough for the filmmakers to get their films into other festivals and, eventually cable TV, getting the actual prize will guarantee it.

This year’s 16 films were selected from 1,058 (!) submissions. That's a lot of rejections. With a record like that, every single agent and distributor in Hollywood look at these very closely. Each film is a World Premiere, so no one has seen it other than the selection committee, the filmmakers and their friends and families.

In the past, films like Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire (2009) or American Splendor (2003) wouldn't have been able to make a profit, much less become genuine hits at the box office without this award. There’s Oscar® gold to be found here.

Of the films listed below, several seem like shoo-ins for attention and distribution. So let me throw my hat into the ring as a picker of contenders. For just seeing Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams together, Blue Valentine should marshall a buzz. Hesher is another one driven by the great cast. The idea of Holy Rollers should command attention especially from those reviewers and industry insiders from the Jewish community who are into both the mitzvot and psychedelics. As for Howl; the very idea of James Franco as Allen Ginsberg makes it a must-see. Another quick-pick is Deborah Granik's latest

The contestants are:

Blue Valentine
Director - Derek Cianfrance
Screenwriters - Derek Cianfrance, Cami Delavigne and Joey Curtis
Cast - Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, Mike Vogel, John Doman
World Premiere
Blue Valentine is the story of love found and love lost told in past and present moments in time. Flooded with romantic memories of their courtship, Dean and Cindy use one night to try and save their failing marriage. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams star in this honest portrait of a relationship on the rocks.
Director - Drake Doremus
Screenwriters - Lindsay Stidham, Drake Doremus, Jonathan Schwartz and Andrew Dickler
Cast - Andrew Dickler, Ben York Jones, Marguerite Moreau, Nicole Vicius, Amy Ferguson, Wendi McClendon-Covey
World Premiere
The week Sam Nussbaum is to be married, his fiancée questions why his only brother, Tom, isn’t coming to the wedding. Unsatisfied with his lame reply, she surprises Sam by bringing the brothers together. Sam is not happy, but he rarely is—unless he’s telling someone what to do. When it’s revealed that Tom has only been in love once—with his fifth-grade girlfriend—Sam insists they go find her. It soon becomes evident that their journey is simply an excuse for Sam to avoid his impending commitment.
The Dry Land
Director and screenwriter - Ryan Piers Williams
Cast: America Ferrera, Wilmer Valderrama, Ethan Suplee, June Diane Raphael, Melissa Leo.
World Premiere
A U.S. soldier returning home from war struggles to reconcile his experiences abroad with the life and family he left in Texas.
Director and screenwriter Josh Radnor
Cast: Malin Akerman, Josh Radnor, Kate Mara, Zoe Kazan, Tony Hale, Pablo Schreiber, Michael Algieri.
World Premiere
Six New Yorkers negotiate love, friendship, and gratitude at a time when they're too old to be precocious and not ready to be adults.

Director: Spencer Susser
Screenwriters: Spencer Susser and David Michod; Story by Brian Charles Frank
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Natalie Portman, Rainn Wilson, Devin Brochu, Piper Laurie, John Carroll Lynch.
World Premiere
A mysterious, anarchical trickster descends on the lives of a family struggling to deal with a painful loss.
Holy Rollers
Director: Kevin Tyler Asch; Screenwriter: Antonio Macia
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Bartha, Danny A. Abeckaser, Ari Graynor, Jason Fuchs
World Premiere
A young Hasidic man, seduced by money, power and opportunity, becomes an international Ecstasy smuggler.
Directors and screenwriters Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
Cast: James Franco, David Strathairn, Jon Hamm, Mary-Louise Parker, Jeff Daniels.
World Premiere
A nonfiction drama about the young Allen Ginsberg finding his voice, the creation of his groundbreaking poem HOWL, and the landmark obscenity trial that followed.

The Imperialists are still Alive!
Director and screenwriter Zeina Durra
Cast: Élodie Bouchez, José María de Tavira, Karim Saleh Karolina Muller, Marianna Kulukundis, Rita Ackerman.
World Premiere
Juggling the sudden abduction of her childhood sweetheart as well as a blooming love affair, a French Manhattanite makes her way as an artist in an indifferent, sometimes hostile world.
Lovers of Hate
Director and screenwriter Bryan Poyser
Cast: Chris Doubek, Heather Kafka, Alex Karpovsky, Zach Green.
World Premiere
In this delicious tale of deceit and sibling rivalry, two adult brothers, Rudy (Doubek) and Paul (Karpovsky), represent failure and success. Younger brother Paul is a successful author who writes Harry Potter-like fantasy novels, while Rudy, Paul’s childhood collaborator on the stories, moves from job to job, unable to get started on his own novel – the long-gestating Lovers of Hate.  The one thing they do have in common is their love for Diana (Kafka), Rudy’s soon-to-be ex-wife. When opportunistic Paul whisks Diana away to a romantic mountain retreat (in Park City, Utah, incidentally), the lovers have no idea that Rudy has made it there first.
Night Catches Us
Director and screenwriter Tanya Hamilton
Cast: Anthony Mackie, Kerry Washington, Jamie Hector, Wendell Pierce, Jamara Griffin.
World Premiere
Marcus (Mackie) returns to the Philadelphia neighborhood where he came of age during the Black Power movement, protecting a dangerous secret in a struggle against the revolution he once embraced and rediscovering a forbidden love (Washington).
Director and screenwriter Diane Bell
Cast: Gaynor Howe, Michael Piccirilli, Frank Hoyt Taylor
World Premiere
A lonely librarian believes love is obsolete until a road trip to Death Valley with a beguiling cinema projectionist teaches him otherwise.
Director Anthony Burns; Screenwriters Anthony Burns, Brandon Freeman, Heath Freeman
Cast: Shiloh Fernandez, A.J. Buckley, Ashley Greene, Brett Cullen, Ellen Hollman, Heath Freeman
World Premiere

In the early 1980s, in small-town Texas, dramatic events force a 19-year-old skating rink manager to look at his life in a very new way.
Sympathy for Delicious
Director - Mark Ruffalo; Screenwriter Christopher Thornton
Cast - Orlando Bloom, Mark Ruffalo, Juliette Lewis, Laura Linney, John Carroll Lynch.
World Premiere

A newly paralyzed DJ gets more than he bargained for when he seeks out the world of faith healing.
3 Backyards
Director and screenwriter - Eric Mendelsohn
Cast - Embeth Davidtz, Edie Falco, Elias Koteas, Rachel Resheff, Kathryn Erbe, Danai Gurira.
World Premiere
A quiet suburban town becomes an intense emotional terrain for three residents over the course of one curious autumn day.
Welcome to the Rileys
Director -  Jake Scott
Cast - James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart, Melissa Leo.
World Premiere
In  Scott's Welcome to the Rileys the lives of Doug and Lois Riley (Gandolfini and Leo) have been derailed by the loss of their daughter eight years ago. While at a business convention in New Orleans Doug encounters Mallory (Stewart), a young woman working in a strip club struggling to survive, who unexpectedly compels the Rileys to reclaim their marriage. 
Winter’s Bone
Director - Debra Granik; Screenwriters - Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini
Cast - Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Dale Dickey, Garret Dillahunt, Kevin Breznahan.
World Premiere
An unflinching Ozark Mountain girl hacks through dangerous social terrain as she hunts down her drug-dealing father while trying to keep her family intact.