The Sundance Film Festival serves as an alarm clock, of sorts, a wake-up call for moviegoers lulled to sleep by the endless Oscar season and the mundane multiplex movies of the year's first months.
The annual Utah fest offers the first substantial look ahead at the promising independent fare of the new movie year.
Beginning Thursday night and running through Jan. 27, the confab is set to premiere scores of intriguing films that will shape the cinematic landscape in 2013, much as Sundance debuts like "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and "The Sessions" did in 2012.
And who knows? If the multiple Academy Award-nominated "Beasts" is any indication, we could be getting a mini preview of next year's Oscar race as well.
It's hard to guess what movies will leave a mark, because few people have seen them, but we think it's never too early to get these premieres on your radar. Most of them don't have release dates yet, but they're sure to get them soon.
'Don Jon's Addiction'
Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes his directorial debut with this story of a porn-addicted womanizer. He wrote the script and stars alongside Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore and ... Tony Danza in an "Angels in the Outfield" reunion of sorts. This might seem like a tough sell, but we give JGL credit for going to a taboo place in his first time behind the camera.
Apple comes to the big screen as Ashton Kutcher plays the young Steve Jobs in this flick about the early days of the tech giant. Original "Book of Mormon" star Josh Gad co-stars as the company's co-founder Steve Wozniak. It's the closing-night feature at the festival, which typically hasn't been a great sign in terms of quality, and this basic terrain was covered in the TV movie "Pirates of Silicon Valley." But we're intrigued.
'The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete'
There's something about summertime in Brooklyn that lends itself to great movies, "Do the Right Thing" being the most obvious example. "Mister and Pete" picks up that mantle, telling the story of a 14-year-old and a 9-year-old fending for themselves in the projects. Cast members include Anthony Mackie, Jennifer Hudson and Jeffrey Wright, with a score by Alicia Keys. This has crowd-pleaser written all over it.
David Gordon Green, the one-time indie sensation who has lately transitioned to low-rent big studio comedies (though we enjoyed "Pineapple Express"), returns to his roots with this small-scale film starring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch as a man and his girlfriend's brother working an odd job on a country highway. Will "Prince Avalanche" mark the return of the Green who wowed critics with "George Washington" and "All the Real Girls?" We'll see.
Shane Carruth's low-budget sci-fi flick "Primer" has become a cult hit after winning multiple Sundance prizes in 2004. His new movie is one of the most eagerly anticipated at this year's festival. The plot seems to defy concise description, but the program guide calls it an "entirely original, mythic, romantic thriller," which is just the sort of work the fest is supposed to be about. It'll hit New York theaters in April.