The 29th Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, will be screening 119 features during its 11-day run through January 26. Although the chances of the indie showcase turning up another Brand New Thing like Behn Zeitlin's "Beasts of the Southern Wild” might be remote, the 50,000-odd attendees will be hoping to light upon gems of a different cut. They will do well to track the following movies, which, on paper at least, sound promising:
“The East”: Brit Marling, who co-wrote this drama with director and “Sound of My Voice” collaborator Zal Batmanglij, stars as an elite intelligence operative who safeguards the interest of blue-chip corporations. When she infiltrates an anarchist collective (partly influenced by Occupy Wall Street) and falls for the leader, she starts to question her motives.
“Valentine Road”: In February 2008, Brandon McInerney, 14, shot his openly gay eighth-grade classmate Larry King, 15, in the computer lab of their Oxnard school. Sentenced in December 2011, McInerney is now four years into his 21-year-prison sentence. Marta Cunningham’s documentary, especially resonant in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, probes the circumstances that led to the crime and the legal mess that ensued.
“Kill Your Darlings”: Here’s a possible antidote to “On the Road”’s determined giddiness. Director John Krokidas contextualizes the emergence of the Beat movement in the wake of the 1944 killing of David Kammerer, a friend of William Burroughs (Ben Foster), by Lucien Carr, who introduced Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) to Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and Kerouac to his first wife, Edie Parker (Elizabeth Olsen). Kammerer was smitten with Carr and had allegedly stalked him for years. Another Beat movie at Sundance is Michael Polish’s “Big Sur.” Based on the autobiographical novel by Kerouac (Jean-Marc Barr), it deals with the aftermath of his “On the Road” success and his battle with alcoholism.
“Before Midnight”: Eighteen years after “Before Sunrise” and nine after “Before Sunset,” Richard Linklater reunites Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) in Greece for what is probably the conclusion of their interrupted romantic odyssey.
“Mud”: Jeff Nichols’s follow-up to “Take Shelter” is a “Huckleberry Finn”-influenced drama about two teenage Mississippi boys who help a fugitive (Matthew McConaughey) escape bounty hunters and reconnect with the long-suffering woman he loves (Reese Witherspoon).
“Don Jon’s Addiction”: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, making his debut as a writer-director, plays a New Jersey Don Juan whose Internet porn addiction compromises his relationships with women. A cautionary fable for these times, presumably. Julianne Moore, Scarlett Johansson, and Brie Larson co-star.
“Stoker:” Mysterious Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) comes to stay with India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) and her unstable mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). Park Chan-wook, the director of “Oldboy,” makes his English-language debut with a psychological horror movie inspired by Hitchcock’s 1943 “Shadow of a Doubt” and supposedly infused with the Gothic spirit of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.”
“The Look of Love”: Formerly titled “The King of Soho,” Michael Winterbottom’s biopic of Paul Raymond stars Steve Coogan as the multi-millionaire real estate developer who became famous as a strip-club proprietor and publisher of a string of English soft-porn magazines in the 1970s. The fallout of Raymond’s empire was the death by heroin overdose of the daughter he was grooming to succeed him. The relentlessly eclectic Winterbottom, who directed Coogan in “24 Hour Party People” and “A Cock and Bull Story,” is said to have shot each decade that's depicted in the movie in the cinematic period style.
“After Tiller”: Martha Shane and Lana Wilson’s must-see documentary observes the lives of the four remaining American doctors who still provide third-trimester abortions following the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas in 2009. The filmmakers have said that, though targeted by the pro-life movement and beset by restrictive state laws, the doctors (two men and two women) “actually see the moral complexities involved in doing this work better than anyone.”
“Running From Crazy”: Like their father Clarence, Ernest Hemingway and his siblings Ursula and Leicester committed suicide – so, too, did Ernest’s granddaughter Margaux. In the latest documentary by the ever-reliable Barbara Kopple, Margaux’s younger sister Mariel, the model and actress, proactively explores the cycle of mental illness that has afflicted the Hemingways.
“Touchy Feely”: The estimable Lynn Shelton follows “Humpday” and “Your Sister’s Sister” with a drama about a massage therapist who develops an aversion to physical contact, even as her dentist brother finds he has a healing touch. The film gives an overdue starring part to Rosemarie DeWitt, who has shone in “Mad Men,” “Margaret” (fleetingly), and “Nobody Walks,” and was excellent as Emily Blunt’s bisexual sib in “Your Sister’s Sister.”
“Fruitvale”: Ryan Coogler’s fact-based drama recreates the last day in the life of 22-year-old Oscar Grant, a paroled drug dealer who was trying to go straught. On January 1, 2009, he was shot by a Bay Area policeman who subsequently served two years in prison for involuntary manslaughter. Michael B. Jordan plays Grant; Octavia Spencer and Chad Michael Murray co-star.