Film Feature: Preview of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival

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CHICAGO – This Thursday marks the beginning of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, and yours truly will be in attendance to cover the fest for HollywoodChicago.com. Last year, the Park City, Utah event introduced the world to its 2014-defining sensations like “Whiplash” and “Boyhood”.

Those titles followed in the paths of indie landmarks such as “sex, lies and videotape,” “Clerks,” “Hoop Dreams,” “American Movie,” “Memento,” “Frozen River,” “Winter’s Bone,” and “Fruitvale Station,” among many others.

In pursuit of new favorite films for a new year, I’ve composed a relatively solid schedule so that I can devour as much diverse Sundance goodness as possible. Narratives, documentaries, white supremacists, nasty babies, Neil Hamburger, Chiwetel Ejiofor, stolen cop cars, and much, much more are all in play. But with hopes that everything I witness is the next “Boyhood”-like zeitgeist, I’ll be sure to report back here on what’s worth, and not worth, seeking.

What follows is a list of anticipated films in alphabetical order, their synopses ripped straight from the festival’s program (with pictures courtesy of the Sundance Institute). With much to see and never enough time to do it, here’s some titles — coasting on hunches, projections, and perhaps even wrong ideas — that I am most excited to experience at this year’s fest.

StarA Walk in the Woods

A Walk in the Woods
‘A Walk in the Woods’

Sundance Synopsis: An aging travel writer sets out to hike the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail with a long-estranged high school buddy. Along the way, the duo face off with each other, nature, and an eccentric assortment of characters. Together, they learn that some roads are better left untraveled.

Director: Ken Kwapis
Cast: Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Emma Thompson, Mary Steenburgen, Nick Offerman, Kristen Schaal

This choice is a bit personal. As in, I’m not sure I’d be welcomed back into the Allen household if I took my newbie self to Robert Redford’s festival and didn’t see the world premiere of his new film, which is nonetheless an adaptation of Bill Bryson’s work, a family favorite. Nonetheless, I’m a huge “All is Lost” advocate, the film that Redford previously made about man vs. nature. This one is directed by Ken Kwapis, you know, the Hollywood player behind titles like “Dunston Checks In” and “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.”

StarThe Amina Profile

The Amina Profile
‘The Amina Profile’

Sundance Synopsis: During the Arab revolution, a love story between two women, a Canadian and a Syrian American, turns into an international sociopolitical thriller, spotlighting media excesses and the thin line between truth and falsehood on the internet.

Director: Sophie Deraspe
Documentary

This is definitely a wild card curiosity compared to some others on the bunch. As far as I’ve looked, this one doesn’t even have an IMDb page yet. But never underestimate the temptation of something that smells like previous viral documentary breakout “Catfish.”

StarBeaver Trilogy Part IV

Beaver Trilogy Part IV
‘Beaver Trilogy Part IV

Sundance Synopsis: A chance meeting in a parking lot in 1979 between filmmaker Trent Harris and a young man from Beaver, Utah, inspired the creation of an underground film that is known as Beaver Trilogy. But the film itself is only part of the story.

Director: Brad Besser
Documentary

A brief glaze over this synopsis conjures memories of “American Movie,” one of the finest docs about the billions of filmmakers out there, the eccentric movie-lovers with cameras who don’t have the luck that leads to success in such a competitive industry. That’s all I the prep I need for this one; its goofy title is a plus.

StarThe Bronze

The Bronze
‘The Bronze’

Sundance Synopsis: In 2004, Hope Ann Gregory became an American hero after winning the bronze medal for the women’s gymnastics team. Today, she’s still living in her small hometown, washed-up and embittered. Stuck in the past, Hope must reassess her life when a promising young gymnast threatens her local celebrity status.

Director: Bryan Buckley
Cast: Melissa Rauch, Gary Cole, Thomas Middleditch, Sebastian Stan, Haley Lu Richardson, Cecily Strong

“The Big Bang Theory” star Melissa Rauch hasn’t exactly caught my critical eye with her work on that certain CBS show. But perhaps this anti-“Foxcatcher”-sounding dramedy will confirm that there is always hope, and life, outside a laugh track. It should be noted that this film is set to premiere on Opening Night of Sundance.

StarCop Car

Cop Car
‘Cop Car’

Sundance Synopsis: Two 10-year-old boys steal an abandoned cop car.

Director: Jon Watts
Cast: Kevin Bacon, James Freedson-Jackson, Hays Wellford, Shea Whigham, Camryn Manheim

It’s not so much the star power of Kevin Bacon that influenced me to make this one a top priority, but the synopsis. Two kids yank a title vehicle? Doesn’t sound that far off from the bizarre 1987 comedy “Big Shots,” which featured a duo of rebellious, horrendously stereotypical tykes who stole a car with the dead body in the trunk, all within the desire of creating a comedy that was too weird for kids AND their parents. That was a golden find on Instant Netflix one day, from many years ago, and I haven’t seen anything like it since. Until this Saturday maybe, with “Cop Car.”

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