This year's slate features higher-profile actors than ever, but many of the films look like downers.
Chris Rock and Julie Delpy in 2 Days in New York (Polaris Films)
The arrival of the annual Sundance Film Festival signifies a rebirth of sorts for the film industry. It comes at the perfect time, with the Oscar contenders playing out their runs in theaters, awards season growing tedious, and January's new multiplex fare proving a typically uninspired collection of mediocre thrillers and halfhearted comedies.
The Park City fest, the world's biggest showcase of independent film, offers the first taste of a fresh batch of hard-hitting documentaries, sincere dramas, whimsical comedies, and innovative experimental works produced outside the Hollywood mainstream. As journalists, industry players and audience members descend on the Utah mountain town each year, they face a roster of movies that are without advance buzz and return with a clearer sense of what might be the next big, breakout indie success a la Little Miss Sunshine or The Blair Witch Project.
The 117 feature films premiering at the 2012 festival, which runs today through Jan. 29, offer a gauge of the current state of independent film. There are movies from established directors and first-timers, films boasting A-list casts and boundary-pushing no-budget works. Politically oriented documentaries mesh with other non-fiction movies centered on outsized personalities. Despite the unwieldy corporate intrusions on the fest (Main Street is a hellish den of gifting suites and pop-up boutiques) it has never lost its sense of the independent film industry's pulse. The buyers' market is expected to be strong, so these movies will play a major role in shaping the cinematic year ahead.