Here’s the key to surviving Sundance: Always pack a bottle of water, an apple and a bagel, because sit-down meals can be a luxury during the 11-day film festival (Jan. 19-29). During my time in snowy Park City, Utah, I watched movies from 8:30 a.m. until near midnight, with only enough time to munch an apple and check my BlackBerry while riding one of the free shuttle buses to the next venue.
Here’s a rundown on the movies that impressed me the most:
Friends with Money: Jennifer Aniston, Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand and Joan Cusack star as four friends in contemporary L.A. Aniston plays a teacher turned housecleaner whose pals are more financially comfortable. Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, Money is amusing and wise, but not as affecting as her previous film, Lovely and Amazing.
Little Miss Sunshine: This hilarious comedy about a dysfunctional family’s road trip is getting all the ink, mostly because Fox Searchlight bought it for a reported $10 million. The company plans to release the movie, which stars Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette and Steve Carell, this summer.
Wristcutters: A Love Story: A young man (Patrick Fugit of Almost Famous) commits suicide after his girlfriend dumps him and finds himself in a sort of purgatory that’s like the living world, only drabber. The offbeat comedy by Croatian writer-director Goran Dukic is packed with gentle surprises and sly humor.
The Science of Sleep. The latest from director Michael Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) is a wildly inventive goof about a young man (Gael Garcia Bernal) in Paris who, unhappy with his job, retreats into his dreams. This is a head film with heart.
Also notable this year were the number of actresses in meaty roles:
• Ashley Judd is sensational in Come Early Morning as a hard-partying thirtysomething in small-town Arkansas. When a potential beau asks, “When was the last time you kissed somebody sober?” she realizes it’s time to re-evaluate her life.
• Maggie Gyllenhaal is heartbreaking in Sherrybaby, a drama about a former drug addict struggling to rebuild her life after getting out of jail.
• Amber Tamblyn (TV’s Joan of Arcadia) and Tilda Swinton both give emotionally complex performances in Stephanie Daley, about a teenager (Tamblyn) accused of killing her baby after secretly giving birth. Swinton plays the pregnant criminal psychologist assigned to interview the girl.
Jan. 24: Little Miss Hit
At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, 194 films are unspooling – and the first hit has already emerged from Park City, Utah. The hilarious road movie Little Miss Sunshine has been snapped up by Fox Searchlight for a reported $10 million.
The Friday screening of the film, which stars Toni Collette, Steve Carell and Greg Kinnear as a dysfunctional family traveling to a children’s beauty pageant, was interrupted repeatedly by applause and finally drew a standing ovation. Expect this gem to turn up in multiplexes this summer.
On the festival’s opening night (Jan. 19), the Jennifer Aniston film Friends with Money – also starring Catherine Keener, Joan Cusack and Frances McDormand – received a warm reception from audiences and critics. The ingratiating comedy about four longtime pals, written and directed by Nicole Holofcener (Lovely and Amazing), is slated to hit theaters in April.
But you don’t need to go to an exclusive party to spot a celeb in Park City. Expectant mom Gwyneth Paltrow went to the Eccles Theater on Sunday night for the world premiere of The Science of Sleep by writer-director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). And Robert Downey Jr., a black knit ski cap pulled down over his forehead, showed for the first screening of his new film, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, at the Racquet Club Theater.
• When the cast and crew of Off the Black, an affecting little drama about an umpire (Nick Nolte) who befriends a high school baseball player, introduced themselves, Nolte joked: “I was a grip.”
• Jessica Biel, who rode horseback while playing a 19th-century Hungarian countess in The Illusionist, said she let a stunt person take over in scenes with speedy galloping: “I didn’t want to break my neck,” she said.
• Paul Giamatti, who is also in The Illusionist, said he took his role as a Viennese police inspector because “I got to smoke a pipe and wear a cool hat.”