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Sundance Film Festival 2013: 15 Must-See Movies

From Dave Grohl’s Sound City doc to a Beat Generation drama, Steve Jobs biopic and more

sundance film festival preview

Perhaps lost amid the snow, the schmoozing and the star-gazing of the Sundance Film Festival is the fact that it really is about movies – movies made far from the Hollywood sausage factories, movies that no studio executive would greenlight (but which several will be clamoring to buy, now that someone else had the courage to make them). Sure, the chase for the next Little Miss Sunshine, The Kids Are All Right or Beasts of the Southern Wild may lead to a windfall for some and Oscars for others, but for you, the moviegoer, it's just about getting to see something different that, if not for the Sundance seal of approval, might never reach your art-house theater, DVD player or streaming screen.

This year's slate of movies, unspooling at the Park City, Utah gala from January 17th-27th, seems especially focused on sex, laughs and rock & roll. Many of the films are based in comedy, romance and tortured relationships; others unearth unseen, unheard moments in rock history. Here are 15 of the Sundance 2013 films we're most looking forward to. Cross your fingers that they'll soon be coming to a screen near you.

By Gary Susman

Austenland

Ed Miller

‘Austenland’

In this romantic comedy, Keri Russell plays a lovelorn woman obsessed with the novels of Jane Austen who travels to England in search of her own Mr. Darcy to fulfill her fantasy of a 19th-century romance. Jerusha Hess, who co-wrote Napoleon Dynamite, makes her solo debut as director here. Co-stars include such funny folk as Bret McKenzie (Flight of the Conchords), Jennifer Coolidge and Georgia King (The New Normal). Twilight author Stephenie Meyer is a producer of this adaptation of Shannon Hale's novel; make of that what you will.

The Spectacular Now

Wilford Harewood

‘The Spectacular Now’

Here's a high-school romance between a hard-partying dude (Footloose's Miles Teller) and a shy nerd (The Descendants' Shailene Woodley). Overly familiar, maybe, but we like the pedigree. The director is James Ponsoldt, who made a splash at last year's festival with Smashed, and the screenwriters (adapting Tim Tharp's novel) are Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who wrote (500) Days of Summer.

History of the Eagles Part One

Sundance Institute

‘History of the Eagles Part One’

Welcome (back) to the Hotel California. Director Allison Ellwood (who directed the Ken Kesey documentary Magic Trip) traces the history of the legendary country-rock quintet through new interviews with all the band's current and former members, as well as never-before-seen home movies and archival footage. The documentary is expected to offer an intimate history of the band and an assessment of its musical legacy.

The Lifeguard

John Peters

‘The Lifeguard’

Hard to believe, but former teen sleuth Kristen Bell is now old enough to play a cougar. She stars in this drama as a failed New York journalist who slinks back to her childhood home in Connecticut, gets a job watching over a local swimming pool, and embarks on a relationship with a troubled local teenage boy. Martin Starr (Freaks and Geeks alert!), Mamie Gummer and Amy Madigan co-star.

Lovelace

Dale Robinette

‘Lovelace’

Who knows if the usually squeaky-clean Amanda Seyfried can plumb the sordid depths of the life of Linda Lovelace, the Deep Throat star-turned-anti-porn activist? Not us, but we're gutter-minded enough to be curious about how she fares in this account by bio-film masters Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. Our prurient curiosity is further aroused by the presence of an all-star ensemble, including Hank Azaria, Wes Bentley, Adam Brody, Bobby Cannavale, James Franco, Sarah Jessica Parker, Peter Sarsgaard, Chloe Sevigny, Sharon Stone and Juno Temple.

Muscle Shoals aretha franklin

Jennifer Baer

‘Muscle Shoals’

The Alabama town that gave a home to the legendary FAME recording studio – famously given a shout-out in Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" – gets its due in this documentary (watch an exclusive sneak peek here). Director Greg "Freddy" Camalier traces the history of the Muscle Shoals sound, which brought white and black musicians together in soulful harmony at the height of Civil Rights-era turmoil. Such luminaries as Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, the late Etta James, Alicia Keys and Bono testify to Muscle Shoals' lasting legacy.

Touchy Feely

John Jeffcoat

‘Touchy Feely’

Director Lynn Shelton wowed Sundance audiences in recent years with such oddball romances as Humpday and Your Sister's Sister. This one reunites her with Sister star Rosemarie DeWitt as a massage therapist who suddenly can't stand physical contact with people. Meanwhile, her brother, a dentist (Sundance regular Josh Pais), becomes popular as he touts his own healing touch. Ron Livingston and Ellen Page co-star.

don jon's addiction

Thomas Kloss

‘Don Jon’s Addiction’

Sundance mainstay Joseph Gordon-Levitt graduates to the director's chair in this tale of a modern-day Don Juan, one whose womanizing ways involve encounters with such sirens as Scarlett Johansson and Brie Larson. We're not sure we'll buy the ever-boyish (500) Days of Summer star as a Lothario, but he always makes interesting choices. Including the one to take Tony Danza out of mothballs for a supporting role.

The Way Way Back

Claire Folger

‘The Way Way Back’

Sundance veterans looking for the next Little Miss Sunshine will no doubt pay attention to this one, which reunites Sunshine co-stars Toni Collette and Steve Carell as a mom and her blowhard boyfriend. The movie is a coming-of-age comedy about Collette's 14-year-old son, who's spending the summer with the mismatched couple. The writers are the Oscar-winning The Descendants team of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. The filmmakers have suggested the movie is less like Sunshine than Adventureland, since it involves the boy getting a job at a water-slide park.

Jobs ashton kutcher

Glen Wilson

‘jOBS’

Real-life Internet venture capitalist Ashton Kutcher's last two seasons playing a shaggy web mogul on Two and a Half Men seem to have been a dry run for this biopic about Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. At the very least, it should get us to, um, think different about the Punk'd prankster. Joshua Michael Stern (Swing Vote) directs a cast that includes Dermot Mulroney, Josh Gad, Matthew Modine and James Woods.

Pussy Riot - A Punk Prayer

Roast Beef Productions

‘Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer’

Directors Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin trace the story of the all-female Russian rock trio put on trial on charges of religious hatred over their guerrilla performance-art stunt inside Russia's main cathedral. The film explores the background of the three women, whose penchant for media spectacle onstage, in the church and in the courtroom aimed to start a worldwide political movement.

Ass Backwards

Courtesy of Prominent Pictures

‘Ass Backwards’

Casey Wilson brings the comic fearlessness that's made her a star on ABC's Happy Endings to the big screen with this feature. Wilson and June Diane Raphael co-wrote and co-star in this farce about two women who return to their hometown in search of the beauty pageant glory that evaded them as girls. The supporting cast includes Jon Cryer, Alicia Silverstone and Vincent D'Onofrio. This one's expected to be a highlight of Sundance's Midnight Movie slate.

Before Midnight

Despina Spyrou

‘Before Midnight’

In what is becoming the 56Up of romance movies, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) are back for another installment of their once-a-decade European hook-ups. In this newest sequel (directed, like Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, by Richard Linklater), Jesse and Celine meet again, this time in Greece. At this point, seeing them fight and make up should be something like a fond reunion with those college pals you backpacked through Europe with.

kill your darlings

Reed Morano

‘Kill Your Darlings’

Hogwarts graduate Daniel Radcliffe is going to college – Columbia University, in the 1940s. In this dawn-of-the-Beats bio-drama, he's the young poet Allen Ginsberg, soon to meet the young Jack Kerouac (Boardwalk Empire's Jack Huston) and the young William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster). Jon Krokidas' feature traces the earliest days of their fateful friendship, which involved both a murder and the birth of a literary revolution.

sound city

Sami Ansari

‘Sound City’

Dave Grohl reveals another of his many talents. The drummer and Foo Fighters frontman makes his directing debut with this documentary about the Van Nuys studio whose famous recordings include Nirvana's Nevermind. Such classic rockers as Tom Petty and Mick Fleetwood pay tribute to the old-school analog studio. In typical Grohl fashion, he's promoting the film by forming a supergroup of Sound City all-stars including Stevie Nicks, John Fogerty and Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen. (And perhaps new Grohl pal Paul McCartney).