Every year the Sundance Film Festival launches some of the most important indie films and documentaries into the cinematic world. Last year unveiled future Oscar nominees “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “The Sessions” and “Searching for Sugarman” among others (plus indie crowd-pleasers like “Safety Not Guaranteed” and “The Queen of Versailles”).
Here are 10 highlights from Sundance 2013:
“The Spectacular Now”
What it is: A naturalistic teen drama starring the amazing Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley (who shared a special jury prize for their performances) as a high school couple coping with personal issues. Ideal for fans of TV’s “Friday Night Lights,” the James Ponsoldt-directed film also stars Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Bob Odenkirk, Brie Larson and Kyle Chandler (in a very anti-Coach Taylor role).
Where you can see it: Acquired by up-and-coming distributor A24, which plans a summer theatrical release.
What it is: An indescribably trippy sci-fi romance that’s as rich as it is emotional. Told in a highly abstract fashion, filmmaker Shane Carruth’s follow-up to “Primer” charts the bizarre incident that happens to a young woman (Amy Seimetz) and the salvation she finds in a subsequent relationship with a fellow victim (Carruth).
Where you can see it: Carruth is self-distributing in April with limited theatrical engagements supplemented by a video on demand release in May.
“Don Jon’s Addiction”
What it is: Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut is an engaging comedy about a musclebound New Jersey playboy (Gordon-Levitt) addicted to Internet porn and the two different women (Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore) who challenge his notions about relationships.
Where you can see it: Acquired by Relativity for a reported $4 million, Gordon-Levitt told Sundance audiences a wide release is planned.
What it is: Part “American Family,” part “Hoop Dreams,” part an expanded take on the family segments of “Waiting for Superman,” this insightful verite documentary from Joe Brewster and Mich�le Stephenson is a triumph of dedication. Two black boys from Brooklyn attend a largely-white private school, and cameras chart their progress at regular intervals from kindergarten all the way through high school graduation. How did they do it? One of the subjects is the filmmakers’ own son.
Where you can see it: Although a theatrical release should be in the works to at least qualify it for Oscar consideration, the film will air as a part of PBS’ “POV” series later this year.
What it is: “Pineapple Express” director David Gordon Green returns to the indie realm with a playful comedy of road workers (Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch) laboring in a remote Texas area who spar and bond in equal measure. Especially transporting in its combination of great cinematography by Tim Orr and score by David Wingo and Explosions in the Sky.
Where you can see it: Magnolia picked up the film at Sundance and is planning a summer release.
What it is: An incredibly sensitive, illuminating and even-keeled documentary about the only four doctors in the U.S. who perform third-trimester abortions. Clearing up misconceptions without taking a dogmatic stand on a contentious issue, this is a major achievement for first-time filmmakers Martha Shane and Lana Wilson.
Where you can see it: With controversial subject matter and guaranteed protests no matter what happens to it, it will take a brave distributor to bring this to an audience — but there is an audience.
What it is: A speculative account of the motivations and methodology of the 2002 Beltway snipers (chillingly played by Isaiah Washington of “Grey’s Anatomy” and Tequan Richmond of “Everybody Hates Chris”), this is a startling debut from French director Alexandre Moors and a haunting inquiry into the nature of evil.
Where you can see it: Well-received at Sundance but still seeking U.S. distribution, the film is likely to receive a modest arthouse release dependent on strong reviews and coverage from thoughtful entertainment news outlets.
What it is: An unsettling look at Mexico’s drug war and its disturbing representations in pop culture (especially a subgenre of music known as narcocorridos, which makes gangster rap sound tame), this is an exceptional breakout documentary for war-photographer-turned-filmmaker Shaul Schwarz.
Where you can see it: Like “After Tiller,” this won’t be an easy sell (and arguably has less of a base to rally behind it). But most Sundance docs find their way into theaters in at least some small way, and “Narco” deserves to qualify for next year’s Oscar documentary race.
What it is: The first feature adaptation of David Sedaris’ writing expands upon an essay from his memoir “Naked.” Jonathan Groff (“Glee”) plays a self-absorbed young wanderer whose encounters with a series of strangers rebuke his, and our, preconceived notions. Denis O’Hare and Corey Stoll are particularly great in the sophomore feature from writer-director Kyle Patrick Alvarez (“Easier with Practice”).
Where you can see it: It wasn’t acquired during the festival, but given Sedaris’ name and following it’s a certainty that some indie distributor will snatch this up for release.
“We Are What We Are”
What it is: A chilling and extremely gory horror movie offering a peek inside the ritualistic lives of a family of cannibals in the backwoods of the Catskills. Well-acted and beautifully shot, the story takes its inspiration from a 2010 Mexican horror film
of the same name, but writer-director Jim Mickle leaves an indelible mark on the material.
Where you can see it: Distributor eOne acquired the film during the festival and plans a theatrical release for later this year.
More titles to remember: Nigerian immigrant drama “Mother of George” starring Danai Gurira (“The Walking Dead”); Daniel Radcliffe has a bold star turn in Beat generation murder tale “Kill Your Darlings”; Juno Temple brilliantly plays an American unravelling overseas in the psychological thriller “Magic Magic”; found footage horror sequel “S-VHS” ups the crazy in round two; Robin Weigert (“Deadwood”) plays a lesbian in midlife crisis mode in “Concussion.”