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Sundance 2009: Can a Squeezed Economy Squeeze Out Movies That Won't Play It the Hollywood Way?

POSTED:

It begins again. Here I am in Park Cty, Utah, where Robert Redford's Sundance Film Festival celebrates its 25th anniversary by trying to bust through the gloom of a nation's economic crisis and the growing pissy impatience among audiences for any movies that don't have cute dogs or horror scenes in 3D. What does that mean for indie films of mind and heart? That's yet to be determined. All I know as I begin my trek through Sundance's movie menu, not to mention the parties and the temptations to chuck it all and go skiing in Deer Valley when the films suck, is that a really good movie -- even a despairing one -- can lift your spirits. So here are five of the movies I'm most looking forward to seeing as I begin my '09 Sundance journey:"

Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, adapted from the book by the late, great David Foster Wallace by John Krasinski -- yes, the funny guy from The Office -- has to be the ballsiest movie in the dramatic competition since Wallace is considered famously unadaptable. But Krasinski as screenwriter, director and actor, has taken on the job of staying faithful to Wallace's word wizardry about carnal knowledge and the men who expose their carnal ignorance with his own attempt to find new ways of telling stories. I am so there.

Big Fan stars comic Patton Oswalt as a football fanatic -- his day job is garage attendant -- whose obsession with the New York Giants and the team's star linebacker goes over the top when they meet at a Manhattan strip club. Robert Siegel, making his directing debut, wrote the script. And since Siegel worked wonders scripting The Wrestler and worked the editorial side of The Onion, I'm expecting the unexpected.

Tyson is director James Toback's documentary about the troubled boxing champ based totally on Mike Tyson speaking for himself about every triumph and fuckup in his life. Since Toback persuaded Tyson to act in his his 2000 film Black and White, this ought to be something. Just think back on the scene in which Robert Downey, Jr makes a play for Iron Man Tyson and the champ calls him a cum guzzler" and starts choking him, and you'll know what I mean.

I Love You Phillip Morris reps a chance for Jim Carrey to prove what he is -- a solid actor trapped by his Yes Man sensibility to Hollywood's box-office mentality. In this fact-based story, Carrey plays a married Texas cop turned con man who goes to prison and falls hard for his gay cellmate (Ewan McGregor). If it takes Sundance to get Carrey pushing the envelope again, so be it.

Paper Heart is one of those Sundance movies everyone's being real quiet about. Is this love story starring Michael Cera and comic Charlyne Yi really a docudrama about their own true-life romance or are they both screwing with us? Either way, I'll be there when the film get its first showing on Saturday night.

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Peter Travers

Rolling Stone senior writer Peter Travers has reviewed movies for the magazine for more than 20 years. Send your comments and questions to him here.

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