PARK CITY, UTAH - Every year Robert Redford's legendary Sundance Film Festival showcases more and more indi-films that are top-heavy with A-list talent. Each of which seems ultra-anxious to make more than just the usual splash, as they collectively hit the sometimes slippery slopes of critical opinion. And, by doing so, insure that they'll get a quality, hipper than thou seal of approval, head start on all the other soon to be film fare about to follow, throughout the upcoming year.
Meanwhile, 2011's crop of cinematic hopefuls certainly appears up to the task of rating extra high on the WOW Now meter. And, with that in mind, the first wave of the best of the bunch, more or less, is as follows:
MS. CHARPA'S OPUS
An altogether captivating, sweet natured look at a down home Texas gal's knockabout attempts to teach the whole world to sing along to her impressive string of politically oriented song parodies.
Talk about turning the world on with a smile - after seeing Holly Hunter repeatedly step up to the mic to belt out what she's done to the Beatles, Byrds, Kinks, Steely Dan, and Prince songbook, you'll be among the legion of faithful followers ready to sing along and/or show off some karaoke chops like it's anything but 1999.
With Jason Alexander, Jennifer Coolidge, Amanda Plummer, and Meg Tilly each getting more than ample opportunity to sing up a storm, and Sam Elliot nailing it like only he can as the Wise Sage of the Pecos, the film's oh so charming on-screen narrator.
Needless to say director Richard Linklater hasn't been this indirectly brilliant since "Slacker."
"THE PRIME OF MS. LADY G." (aka "Being Gordon Ramsay")
The wild and untamed adventures of a Canadian-based, British born, hot mama teacher, who's substitute fantasy life as an otherwise anonymous chat room contributor is given a major boost when she discovers a portal into the empty, yet totally full of it, swelled-up head of an infamous celebrity TV chef. All of which turns her into an online/front burner superstar and, along the way, rather unceremoniously, leaves her oblivious family and roomful of disinterested students with no one to otherwise either dismiss and/or steadfastly ignore on a daily basis.
Who knew that David O. Russell still had this kind of fun still kicking around inside his now always so cool soul, of sorts? Meanwhile, Kristin Scott Thomas has the time of her life as Lady G. While, rounding out the impressive cast are Andrea Martin, Tim Robbins, Martin Short, Alan Arkin, Lily Tomlin, and, in a surprising bit of extended CGI whodat magic, Malcolm McDowell as Gordon Ramsay from the neck down.
An altogether, anything but nostalgic, look back at a totally kook-filled, hot-wired time in not exactly recent Northern New Jersey history, when Newark was ablaze, and racial unrest was all the rage in and around the ever-popular empty pockets of both Essex and Union counties. And, nowhere more so than in beautiful downtown Patterson, the setting of William Carlos Williams' landmark epic poem. All of which becomes the personal playground and anything but nonsensical backdrop, in this never give an inch film that takes a candid look at what sort of muck and mire a returning Vietnam vet finds himself up to the seat of his pants in after he sets up shop at the city desk of a daily area newspaper that's owned by the mob, run by the elite, and staffed wall to wall with perhaps the biggest collection Garden State riff-raff, not otherwise legally detained for questioning by any number of up and running grand juries from Paramus to Perth Amboy.
Ray Liotta gives a (what else?) an intense read of an otherwise clear-thinking man caught dead on in between a rock and a soon to be sinking in the meadowlands place. Also appearing are Whitney Houston, Danny De Vito, Don Cheadle, 50 Cent, Alan Alda, Tony Sirico, Willem Dafoe, and Rosie Perez. Leave it Abel Ferrara to make you feel that a shower is definitely your next destination after being taken to the mat for ten long rounds (and left for dead) with this one.
HAVE TROUT, WILL MASK REPLICA
Things go from cool to way cooler when a well educated man hiding out for reasons unknown (not for long) way up in the North of England hooks up as the emergency fill-in lead singer and total lick your decals off, baby, trombone player for a Captain Beefheart & The Magical Band tribute-like consortium, already in the process of a total search and destroy mission tour of the United Kingdom, that all leads to a major wing ding blow out in Brussels, that indeed takes no prisoners. All of which ultimately sets in motion a full-on, in your about face confrontation with a similar minded high wire musical outfit from Serbia that, well, is a little rough about the edges, but apparently nothing that this brainy, all guts, English dude can't handle when the truth is in the mood (and up to the down beat) to be properly told.
Clive Owen is downright scary as the hip Brit in full possession of his senses, and, more importantly a most titanic reaction when push comes to shove, but so what else is new? Mike Leigh shows that there's more than just kitchen sink trauma in his always impressive cinematic kit bag. Then again, it sure helps when you got a cast that also includes: Simon Pegg, Sally Hawkins, Bill Nighy, Rufus Sewell, Jane Horrocks, Stephen Rea, and Alison Steadman.
All in all, just a tip of what certainly appears to be an altogether first rate collection of soon to be appearing everywhere film-like goodies.
(PART 2: Comedies, dramas, and adventures, oh my.)