Sundance lineup presents fresh films from experienced filmmakers

The Academy Awards might be almost two months away, but that is not stopping the film industry from diving head first into trying to find the best independent films to vie for the prize next year.

Now in its 36th year, the Sundance Film Festival, currently held in Park City, Utah, is the U.S.’s most notable film festival for celebrating independent film. The festival is responsible for launching the careers of well-known filmmakers such as Kevin Smith, Steven Soderbergh and Quentin Tarantino.

Last year’s festival hosted the premieres of several high-profile films that eventually made their way to multiplexes, including the award-winning “Fruitvale Station” and “Before Midnight,” as well as audience favorites “The Spectacular Now” and “Don Jon.”

This year’s festival, running through Jan. 26, is already looking to offer a stellar array of independent films suited to the tastes of any filmgoer. Here are just a few of the most exciting world premieres, many of which will be playing in a theater near you later this year.

“Boyhood”
Written and directed by Richard Linklater
Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke

Richard Linklater, best known for directing “Dazed and Confused” and “The School of Rock,” has embarked on his most ambitious film yet, as well as one of the most conceptually interesting films in recent memory. “Boyhood” has been in production since 2002, with filming commencing for a few weeks every year since. Few filmmakers have ever tried to tell a story that spans years by actually showing the characters’ age in real time, making this a fascinating experiment not to be missed.

“The Skeleton Twins”
Directed by Craig Johnson
Written by Mark Heyman, Craig Johnson
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Ty Burrell, Luke Wilson

Starring Saturday Night Live alums Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, “The Skeleton Twins” centers around twins Maggie and Milo who are brought back into each other’s lives after years of estrangement after they both flirt with suicide on the same day. Reviews coming out of the festival indicate that both Wiig and Hader give career-best performances, with particular notice to the duo’s chemistry.

“They Came Together”
Directed by David Wain
Written by Michael Showalter, David Wain
Starring: Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Cobie Smulders, Ed Helms, Michael Shannon

A parody of the romantic comedy from the duo behind the cult classic comedy “Wet Hot American Summer,” “They Came Together” exaggerates the quirks of the genre just a little in order to bask in its inherent absurdity. Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler star as facsimiles of every character Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan have played in romcoms, playing their roles as broadly as humanly possible for laughs. The closing night centerpiece for the festival, “They Came Together” must be seen to be understood.

“White Bird in a Blizzard”
Written and directed by Gregg Araki
Based on the novel by Laura Kasischke
Starring Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Christopher Meloni, Angela Bassett, Thomas Jane, Gabourey Sidibe

From incendiary and severely underrated director Gregg Araki, “White Bird in a Blizzard” is a dive into more serious material for the creator of equally artful and tacky masterpieces like “The Doom Generation” and “Kaboom.” Based on the 1999 novel of the same name, “White Bird in a Blizzard” centers on Katrina (Shailene Woodley) growing into her own as a woman around the time her erratic mother disappears. Araki has delved into serious material before with the extremely effective and heartbreaking “Mysterious Skin.”

“Wish I Was Here”
Directed by Zach Braff
Written by Zach Braff, Adam Braff
Starring Zach Braff, Kate Hudson, Mandy Patinkin, Josh Gad, Ashley Greene

The most talked about film of the festival, Zach Braff’s follow up to “Garden State” is preceded by its reputation as the first major film to have part of its budget raised on Kickstarter. While that campaign has proven to be controversial, the film itself is said to be a highly effective follow-up to one of the most popular films to ever come out of the Sundance Film Festival.

“A Most Wanted Man”
Directed by Anton Corbijn
Written by Andrew Bovell
Based on the novel by John le Carré
Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, Daniel Bruhl, Willem Dafoe

From the director of the incredible biopic “Control,” this espionage drama set right after the 9/11 terrorist attack features an A-list cast of Oscar winners and an icy demeanor suited perfectly for a John le Carré adaptation. The first big-screen adaptation of a le Carré novel since “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” the film is receiving very favorable reviews early in the fest.

Reach the reporter at zheltzel@asu.edu