5 Sundance Films (Hopefully) Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

By the time Movieline's Sundance HQ clears out tomorrow, your editors will likely have seen a combined total of more than 50 selections from this year's festival. Among those, maybe half to two-thirds will make it to movie theaters. And among those maybe an even smaller fraction will be worth catching up with when they hit your town. Of course, we might disgree on which titles those are, but beyond the peerless Animal Kingdom, the solid The Company Men and horrifying Buried, read on for a lightning-round of underdogs I can only hope land soon on movie screens outside Park City.

· The Imperialists Are Still Alive!

Writer-director Zeina Durra's strange genre hybrid (is it a love story? Political thriller? Class comedy?) begins with a dramatic, full-body shot of star Elodie Bouchez as Asya, a conceptual artist wearing nothing but a burqa concealing her face, posing for her latest piece in a series pairing Muslim ideolgy with Western-style feminism. Later, out on the town in mid-winter Manhattan, she learns the CIA has kidnapped her friend. Paranoia sets in -- as does romance with a Mexican academic, a stint at a Korean gambling den, doomed cross-cultural family gatherings, and more set pieces that underscore the pathos, romance and humor of radicalism in the long shadow of 9/11. Durra's choice of 16mm film give Imperialists a marvelously vintage feel, showcasing both the pulchritude and peril of New York's ethnic underground. Revelatory and top notch from the bottom up, this is everything a Sundance film should be.

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· Winter's Bone

What is it with Debra Granik and her surprise stars of Sundance? Six years ago the filmmaker gave Vera Farmiga her award-winning breakthrough in Down to the Bone; this year it's young Jennifer Lawrence as Ree, a teen who traverses the Ozarks in search of her ex-con father. He's skipped bail, and unless he's found, Ree, her younger siblings and vaguely catatonic mother must forfeit their property. The ensuing detective work bounces one backwoods clan off another in a drab, dire setting that could be best described as medieval Americana. Granik gives Lawrence plenty of room to breathe, adroitly balancing Ree's determination with a deep vulnerability, and John Hawkes anchors the drama in a sort of guilt-riddled,mug-shot incognito. Part social parable, part Ozark noir, and all exquisite American drama.

· The Red Chapel

To hear director Mads Brügger tell it, his riveting comic documentary exploring North Korea came about when the infamously secretive country accepted his offer of "cultural outreach" from the Danish people. Of course, Brügger and his Danish-Korean colleagues aren't just any Danes; they are a performance-art troupe called The Red Chapel, and their exploits in Pyongyang fearlessly introduce postmodernism and irony to a nation that has no notion of either property. From Brügger's self-described "spastic" (i.e. cerebral palsy) partner's meltdown to their climatic march in a North Korean "Peace Day" demonstration against the U.S., Red Chapel is as much an anthropological masterwork as it is a subversive non-fiction narrative. And in any case, it's something you've never seen -- and likely never will again.

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· The Freebie

Katie Aselton's virtually homemade romantic dramedy is the microbudget obverse of the appalling Blue Valentine: Aselton and Dax Shepard play Annie and Darren, a married couple who can't remember the last time they had sex and for whom competitive crossword-puzzling is their idea of a hot night in bed. A burst of dinner-party candor leads them to a plan for one night off from their marriage -- the open-relationship "freebie" that they hope will reignite their sexuality together. This simple concept is bolstered by creative editing and improv that builds to a wrenching final act prompting more questions than answers. Forget the high-volume mugging and shouting of Sundance's more visible, talked-about couples dramas; this impromptu alchemy of hope, humor and despair is how a relationship movie really gets under a viewer's skin.

· The Extra Man

Katie Holmes's wooden performance notwithstanding, The Extra Man feels like just the thing its principals needed, at just the right time and with just the right touch. Paul Dano portrays Louis, a Fitzgerald devotee and latent cross-dresser who strikes off for the writer's life in Manhattan. There, he rents a room from the eccentric playwright Henry Harrison (a hilarious Kevin Kline), who lives upstairs from his building's hulking, hirsute superintendent (John C. Reilly) and moonlights as an escort to elderly socialites. Louis and Henry transcend the roles of roommates, mentor and pupil, and even father and son, depicting instead the stratified striving on which New York society teeters daily. Adapting Jonathan Ames's novel (which they reputedly received by accident after requesting something else from a producer), directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini make a sweet, funny and valiant comeback from The Nanny Diaries. Everyone wins. Except Katie, but hey.



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