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Sundance Film Festival: amNY's picks for the next big films

Last year’s Sundance Film Festival brought indie films including “(500) Days of Summer” and “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” out of the festival circuit and into the mainstream. This year, a new crop of movies has the same challenge. Here are the top 10 films amNewYork predicts will make a splash.       

Blue Valentine
Starring: Michelle Williams, Ryan Gosling; Directed by: Derek Cianfrance
Plot: Spouses Dean (Gosling) and Cindy (Williams) try to save their crumbling marriage.
Why we’re excited: Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, of course. The pretty-faced indie darlings are two of our favorite actors out there right now — Gosling for mastering difficult roles such as a drug-addicted teacher in “Half Nelson,” and Williams for her body of work, including (yes) TV’s “Dawson’s Creek.” We can’t wait to see what kind of on-screen magic the pair makes together. 

Starring: Ryan Reynolds; Directed by: Rodrigo Cortés
Plot: A U.S. contractor in Iraq is buried alive in a coffin with a lighter, a cell phone and no easy way out.
Why we’re excited: We’re intrigued to see how Reynolds and director Cortés spin a compelling feature out of their high-concept premise set in the ultimate claustrophobic location.

The Extra Man
Starring: Paul Dano, Kevin Kline, Katie Holmes, John C. Reilly; Directed by: Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini
Plot: A young man (Dano) moves to New York to fulfill his dream of becoming a writer. There, he rooms with an elderly social escort (Kline).
Why we’re excited: Kline is worth watching in just about anything, while the writing-directing team made “American Splendor,” one of the festival’s breakout hits during the aughts. Plus, “The Extra Man” is based on a novel by Jonathan Ames (HBO’s “Bored to Death”), who also he co-wrote the screenplay. 

Get Low
Starring: Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek; Directed by: Aaron Schneider
Plot: An elderly, small-town hermit (Duvall) invites his neighbors to a self-planned “funeral party” in anticipation of his death.
Why we’re excited: Put these three actors in any movie about anything and we’re there. Add to the mix the great early buzz surrounding Duvall’s performance (it’s never too early to drum up some Oscar talk) and the film becomes even more of a must-see.  

Starring: James Franco, Mary-Louise Parker, Jeff Daniels, Jon Hamm; Directed by: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
Plot: Allen Ginsberg (Franco) faces an obscenity trial for publishing the title poem.
Why we’re excited: With an all-star cast, still resonant subject matter and the promise of resplendent 1950s period detail, it’s hard to imagine the festival’s opening night film could be anything less than top-notch.

It’s a Wonderful Afterlife
Starring: Shabana Azmi, Gody Notay, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Sally Hawkins; Directed by: Gurinder Chadha
Plot: An Indian mother (Azmi) is obsessed with finding her aging daughter (Notay) a man in this madcap comedy set in West London.
Why we’re excited: Four words: “Bend It Like Beckham.” “Afterlife” comes from “Beckham” director Gurinder Chadha, whose charm we just can’t get enough of. 

The Killer Inside Me
Starring: Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba, Kate Hudson; Directed by: Michael Winterbottom
Plot: A small-town Texas sheriff (Affleck) becomes a suspect. Based on the novel by Jim Thompson.
Why we’re excited: It’s a highly stylized, noirish thriller — not an easy type of film to carry, yet potentially an extraordinary one if done right — and we think Casey Affleck (our favorite Affleck brother) is up for the challenge. 

The Romantics
Starring: Katie Holmes, Anna Paquin, Josh Duhamel, Malin Akerman; Directed by: Gail Niederhoffer
Plot: A group of friends gather on the night before two of them are to be married. Memories are shared, old hurts relived and a years-long love triangle is finally confronted.
Why we’re excited: It sounds like “The Big Chill” for a younger generation. The ensemble comedy-drama is one genre for which Sundance has an established record of success.

The Runaways
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning; Directed by: Floria Sigismondi
Plot: Based on the real-life story of the 1970s band The Runaways, the film chronicles the band’s formation and rise to fame.
Why we’re excited: Most of the buzz surrounding this film has been about “Twilight” star Kristen Stewart cutting her hair short for the role, but we’re itching to see how she and Fanning take on the iconic roles of Runaways members Joan Jett and Cherie Currie.  

Welcome to the Rileys
Starring: James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart, Melissa Leo; Directed by: Jake Scott
Plot: A lost man (Gandolfini) finds comfort in the friendship of a teenage prostitute (Stewart).
Why we’re excited: The plot is intriguing, as is the casting. Viewers are used to seeing the massive Gandolfini as an imposing presence (“The Sopranos,” even the Tony-winning “God of Carnage) but it seems as though “Rileys” will give him the chance to show off a different side.


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