Sundance 2014: Michael Fassbender, Nick Offerman, and Roger Ebert headline Premieres

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Image Credit: Matt Garrett

The Sundance Film Festival announced the titles selected to screen in its out-of-competition Premieres and Documentary Premieres sections. Last year, the movies that were launched in these categories — which typically highlight filmmakers who’ve appeared at Sundance before — included Before Midnight, Don Jon, and The Way Way Back; this year appears to be just as promising. In Lynn Shelton’s Laggies, a young woman stuck in arrested-development (Keira Knightley) has her life upended by an unexpected marriage proposal. In David Wain’s They Came Together — surely, a naughty pun, yes? — Wet Hot American Summer alums Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd reunite for Wain’s satire of what seems to be a Woody Allen romantic-comedy. Poehler’s Parks and Recreation co-star Nick Offerman takes center stage for his own concert film, Nick Offerman: American Ham. “He’s very much a storyteller and humorist,” says Sundance’s director of programming Trevor Groth. “It actually has not just laughter, but some emotion, in terms of his views on life and love.”

But the slate isn’t just comedies. (This is Sundance after all.) Michael Shannon and Nicholas Hoult star in Jake Paltrow’s Young Ones, a genre-bender “that’s really a Western in its form and function,” says Sundance’s director John Cooper.

For those of you hoping to see Michael Fassbender in a Sundance movie, you’re in luck… aaand you’re out of luck. Fassbender plays a musical genius in Lenny Abrahamson’s movie, Frank. “His character wears a giant ceramic head the entire film, so you’ve got this [actor] who can basically take any film role out there and he takes one where he hides his face,” says Cooper. “A brave choice from someone who’s known for his brave choices.”

At least Ryan Reynolds has the good taste to be in a Sundance movie that doesn’t hide his face (or trap him in a coffin). That’s not to say his character in Marjane Satrapi’s The Voices doesn’t have some baggage. Reynolds plays a mentally unbalanced factory drone whose attempts at office romance don’t work out. When things turn unexpectedly violent, he begins to hear the voices of his pets as they advise him what to do next. “It’s a jolt,” says Groth. “[Ryan] does something really inventive. Believe me, the talking cats and dogs are the least of your problems in this movie.”

As always, some of the festivals most promising movies are documentaries. Rory Kennedy (Ethel) returns to Park City with the Last Days of Vietnam, which investigates the U.S. orders to evacuate only American personnel, leaving behind loyal South Vietnamese as Saigon fell to the Communists. Amir Bar-Lev digs deep into Happy Valley to investigate the culture that enabled Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky to abuse countless youths. Steve James, who directed Hoop Dreams, chronicles the career of the late Roger Ebert in Life Itself.

Mitt Romney will also make an appearance of sorts. The former Salt Lake City Olympics CEO and presidential candidate is the subject of a documentary from Greg Whitely, simply titled Mitt. “It gave me a whole new sort of perspective on politicians and what they have to go through,” says Cooper. “Just the rigor if it, and how the family has to be part of this process.”

One potential breakout documentary is The Battered Bastards of Baseball, the true story of the Portland Mavericks, an independent minor-league baseball team founded by actor Bing Russell in the 1970s. “He put together this team that ended up being this great David versus Goliath, Bad News Bears story of these rag-tag group of players that became winners,” says Groth. “Kurt Russell was there as a young guy following the team around and [Little Children director] Todd Field was the bat-boy. It’s just an amazing story and I think it’s going to be a real crowd-pleaser.”

Click below for Sundance’s complete listing of Premieres.

PREMIERES

Presented by Entertainment Weekly.

Calvary / Ireland, United Kingdom (Director and screenwriter: John Michael McDonagh) — Calvary is a blackly comedic drama about a priest tormented by his community. Father James is a good man intent on making the world a better place. When his life is threatened one day during confession, he finds he has to battle the dark forces closing in around him. Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Aidan Gillen, Dylan Moran, Marie-Josée Croz.

Frank / Ireland, United Kingdom (Director: Lenny Abrahamson, Screenwriters: Jon Ronson, Peter Straughan) — Frank is an offbeat comedy about a wannabe musician who finds himself out of his depth when he joins an avant garde rock band led by the enigmatic Frank — a musical genius who hides himself inside a large fake head. Cast: Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy.

Hits / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: David Cross) — A small town in upstate New York is populated by people who wallow in unrealistic expectations. There, fame, delusion, earnestness, and recklessness meet, shake hands, and disrupt the lives around them. Cast: Meredith Hagner, Matt Walsh, James Adomian, Jake Cherry Derek Waters, Wyatt Cenac.

I Origins / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Mike Cahill) — A molecular biologist and his lab partner uncover startling evidence that could fundamentally change society as we know it and cause them to question their once-certain beliefs in science and spirituality. Cast: Michael Pitt, Brit Marling, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Steven Yeun, Archie Panjabi.

Laggies / U.S.A. (Director: Lynn Shelton, Screenwriter: Andrea Seigel) — Laggies is a coming of age story about a 28-year-old woman stuck in permanent adolescence. Unable to find her career calling, still hanging out with the same friends, and living with her high school boyfriend, Megan must finally navigate her own future when an unexpected marriage proposal sends her into a panic. Cast: Keira Knightley, Sam Rockwell, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ellie Kemper, Jeff Garlin, Mark Webber.

Little Accidents / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Sara Colangelo) — In a small American coal town living in the shadow of a recent mining accident, the disappearance of a teenage boy draws three people together — a surviving miner, the lonely wife of a mine executive, and a local boy — in a web of secrets. Cast: Elizabeth Banks, Boyd Holbrook, Chloë Sevigny, Jacob Lofland, Josh Lucas.

Love is Strange / U.S.A. (Director: Ira Sachs, Screenwriters: Ira Sachs, Mauricio Zacharias) — After 39 years together, Ben and George finally tie the knot, but George loses his job as a result, and the newlyweds must sell their New York apartment and live apart, relying on friends and family to make ends meet. Cast: John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei, Darren Burrows, Charlie Tahan, Cheyenne Jackson.

A Most Wanted Man / Germany, U.S.A. (Director: Anton Corbijn, Screenwriter: Andrew Bovell) — Based on John le Carré’s bestselling book, Anton Corbijn directs this modern-day thriller with Academy Award–winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, and two-time Academy Award nominee Willem Dafoe headlining an ensemble cast. Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright.

Nick Offerman: American Ham / U.S.A. (Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts, Screenwriter: Nick Offerman) — WARNING: MINOR NUDITY AND NOT SUITABLE FOR VEGETARIANS. This live taping of Nick Offerman’s hilarious one-man show at New York’s historic Town Hall theater features a collection of anecdotes, songs, and woodworking/oral sex techniques. The routine includes Offerman’s 10 tips for living a more prosperous life, so hearken well. Cast: Nick Offerman.

The One I Love / U.S.A. (Director: Charlie McDowell, Screenwriter: Justin Lader) — Struggling with a marriage on the brink of falling apart, a couple escapes for the weekend in pursuit of their better selves, only to discover an unusual dilemma waiting for them. Cast: Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss, Ted Danson.

The Raid 2 / Indonesia (Director and screenwriter: Gareth Evans) — Picking up where the first film left off, The Raid 2 follows Rama as he goes undercover and infiltrates the ranks of a ruthless Jakarta crime syndicate in order to protect his family and expose the corruption in his own police force. Cast: Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, Arifin Putra, Oka Antara, Tio Pakusadewo, Alex Abbad.

Rudderless / U.S.A. (Director: William H. Macy, Screenwriters: Casey Twenter, Jeff Robison, William H. Macy) — When a grieving father in a downward spiral stumbles upon a box of his deceased son’s original music, he forms a rock ‘n’ roll band, which changes his life. Cast: Billy Crudup, Anton Yelchin, Felicity Huffman, Selena Gomez, Laurence Fishburne, William H. Macy. CLOSING NIGHT FILM

They Came Together / U.S.A. (Director: David Wain, Screenwriters: Michael Showalter, David Wain) — This subversion/spoof/deconstruction of the romantic comedy genre has a vaguely, but not overtly, Jewish leading man, a klutzy, but adorable, leading lady, and New York City itself as another character in the story. Cast: Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Ed Helms, Cobie Smulders, Max Greenfield, Christopher Meloni.

The Trip to Italy / United Kingdom (Director: Michael Winterbottom, Screenwriters: Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan, Michael Winterbottom) — Michael Winterbottom reunites Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon for more delectable food, some sharp-elbowed rivalry, and plenty of laughs. Cast: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon.

The Voices / U.S.A., Germany (Director: Marjane Satrapi, Screenwriter: Michael Perry) — This genre-bending tale centers around Jerry Hickfang, a lovable but disturbed factory worker who yearns for attention from a woman in accounting. When their relationship takes a sudden, murderous turn, Jerry’s evil talking cat and benevolent talking dog lead him down a fantastical path where he ultimately finds salvation. Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick, Jacki Weaver.

White Bird in a Blizzard / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Gregg Araki) — Based on the acclaimed novel by Laura Kasischke, White Bird in a Blizzard tells the story of Kat Connors, a young woman whose life is turned upside down by the sudden disappearance of her beautiful, enigmatic mother. Cast: Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Christopher Meloni, Shiloh Fernandez, Gabourey Sidibe, Thomas Jane.

Young Ones / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Jake Paltrow) — When a series of events is set into motion, altering his young life forever, Jerome is forced to make choices that no child should ever have to make. Cast: Michael Shannon, Nicholas Hoult, Elle Fanning, Kodi Smit-McPhee.

DOCUMENTARY PREMIERES

Each film is a world premiere.

The Battered Bastards of Baseball / U.S.A. (Directors: Chapman Way, Maclain Way) — Hollywood veteran Bing Russell creates the only independent baseball team in the country — alarming the baseball establishment and sparking the meteoric rise of the 1970s Portland Mavericks.

Finding Fela / U.S.A. (Director: Alex Gibney) — Fela Anikulapo Kuti created the musical movement Afrobeat and used it as a political forum to oppose the Nigerian dictatorship and advocate for the rights of oppressed people. This is the story of his life, music, and political importance.

Freedom Summer / U.S.A. (Director: Stanley Nelson) — In the summer of 1964, more than 700 students descended on violent, segregated Mississippi. Defying authorities, they registered voters, created freedom schools, and established the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Fifty years later, eyewitness accounts and never-before-seen archival material tell their story. Not all of them would make it through.

Happy Valley / U.S.A. (Director: Amir Bar-Lev) — The children of “Happy Valley” were victimized for years, by a key member of the legendary Penn State college football program. But were Jerry Sandusky’s crimes an open secret?  With rare access, director Amir Bar-Lev delves beneath the headlines to tell a modern American parable of guilt, redemption, and identity.

Last Days in Vietnam / U.S.A. (Director: Rory Kennedy) — During the chaotic final weeks of the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese Army closes in on Saigon as the panicked South Vietnamese people desperately attempt to escape. On the ground, American soldiers and diplomats confront a moral quandary: whether to obey White House orders to evacuate only U.S. citizens.

Life Itself / U.S.A. (Director: Steve James) — Life Itself recounts the surprising and entertaining life of renowned film critic and social commentator Roger Ebert. The film details his early days as a freewheeling bachelor and Pulitzer Prize winner, his famously contentious partnership with Gene Siskel, his life-altering marriage, and his brave and transcendent battle with cancer.

Mitt / U.S.A. (Director: Greg Whiteley) — A filmmaker is granted unprecedented access to a political candidate and his family as he runs for President.

We Are the Giant / U.S.A., United Kingdom (Director: Greg Barker) — Revolution tells the stories of ordinary individuals who are transformed by the moral and personal challenges they encounter when standing up for what they believe is right. Powerful and tragic, yet inspirational, their struggles for freedom echo across history and offer hope against seemingly impossible odds.

This May Be the Last Time / U.S.A. (Director: Sterlin Harjo) — Filmmaker Sterlin Harjo’s Grandfather disappeared mysteriously in 1962. The community searching for him sang songs of encouragement that were passed down for generations. Harjo explores the origins of these songs as well as the violent history of his people.

To Be Takei / U.S.A. (Director: Jennifer Kroot) — Over seven decades, actor and activist George Takei journeyed from a World War II internment camp to the helm of the Starship Enterprise, and then to the daily news feeds of five million Facebook fans. Join George and his husband, Brad, on a wacky and profound trek for life, liberty, and love.

WHITEY: United States of America v. James J. Bulger / U.S.A. (Director: Joe Berlinger) — Infamous gangster James “Whitey” Bulger’s relationship with the FBI and Department of Justice allowed him to reign over a criminal empire in Boston for decades. Joe Berlinger’s documentary chronicles Bulger’s recent sensational trial, using it as a springboard to explore allegations of corruption within the highest levels of law enforcement.

In addition to those announced today, films in the U.S. and World Competition, NEXT <=>, Spotlight, Park City at Midnight, New Frontier and Sundance Kids sections have already been announced.

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