Buzz builds for Sundance selections

via flickr

The 2014 Sundance Film Festival showcased new films expected to please audiences in the coming year. For the past 30 years, the festival has provided an oasis for new and niche filmmakers to premiere their films and has become one of the most important independent film festivals in the United States.

This year’s festival saw many directors returning with new films. Zach Braff reappeared at Sundance after a decade with “Wish I Was Here.” Critics say the film deals with similar themes as his previous film, “Garden State,” such as father issues, oddball friends and unfulfilled goals. After “The Guard” hit Sundance in 2011, writer-director John Michael McDonagh returned with a completely different starring vehicle for Brendan Gleeson in “Calvary,” wherein Gleeson plays a melancholy priest whose life is threatened during a confession. Writer-director Gregg Araki is a regular at Sundance, having premiered nine films there in his career, and this year he showcased yet another strange coming-of-age story — “White Bird in a Blizzard,” featuring Shailene Woodley and Eva Green.

Some of the feature films premiered at Sundance stemmed from shorts played at the festival in years prior. The festival’s opening film “Whiplash” started as a short from writer-director Damien Chazelle. The story involves a young, aspiring drummer (Miles Teller) who receives Sgt. Hartman-esque training from a music instructor (J.K. Simmons) to prepare the boy for his school’s showcase competitive band. Chazelle’s film won this year’s U.S. Dramatic Competition and Audience Awards. Kat Candler’s “Hellion” also started as a short at Sundance in 2012. The feature stars Aaron Paul as a broken father of two children alongside Sundance breakout Josh Wiggins.

Many A-list actors at Sundance this year are starring in atypical fare. “Frank,” based on the real life enigmatic English comedian-turned-musician Chris Sievey, features Michael Fassbender wearing a papier-mâché head for the majority of the film that showcases Fassbender’s finesse with body language and delivery in a musical dramedy. “Camp X-Ray” features Kristen Stewart as a guard at Guantanamo Bay who develops a relationship with one of the prisoners. While the film itself has received mixed reception, critics have been lauding Stewart’s performance.

“Saturday Night Live” comedians Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig took more serious roles in “The Skeleton Twins,” the story of twins who reconnect after faking their deaths to escape their boring lives. “The Voices,” a horror-comedy from Marjane Satrapi, stars Ryan Reynolds as a factory worker who seeks advice from his talking pets.

Nevertheless, of all these entries Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” has garnered the most prestige. Linklater has filmed scenes for a few weeks every year since 2002 in order to capture the real-life growth of a child to a young adult. Featuring Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette and newcomer Ellar Coltrane, the film tells the story of a boy growing up as his parents’ relationship disintegrates. An innovative and remarkable feat in storytelling, critics expect “Boyhood” to make an impact in theaters.

So far, only festival attendees have seen the films, but distributors large and small have already picked up many of them. Moviegoers should look out for these titles in theaters throughout the year.

Zack Grullon is a contributing writer. Email him at film@nyunews.com.

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