Sundance Film Festival 2011: Five Must-See Films

The Sundance Film Festival is renowned for finding and promoting some of the year’s best films, from 1994’s Clerks to 2010’s Oscar-nominated Winter’s Bone.

While the 2011 festival will not end until Jan. 30, there are already a few films that are garnering a lot of attention—and ones you will want to look for at your local theater.

Like Crazy: Some critics are already calling Like Crazy the film of the festival, comparing it to the festival’s 2009 hit (500) Days of Summer. Like Crazy follows Jacob, an American student, and Anna, a British student studying abroad, as they fall in love and maintain their relationship once she goes back home. Co-written and directed by Drake Doremus, the co-writer and director of last year’s Sundance film Douchebag, Like Crazy was bought by Paramount Pictures for $4 million after an all-night bidding war. Like Crazy stars Anton Yelchin (Star Trek) and Felicity Jones (Chéri) as the young couple, alongside Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) and Chris Messina (Julie & Julia).

Martha Marcy May Marlene: Despite the four names that make up its title, Martha Marcy May Marlene is getting recognition at Sundance for a completely different moniker: Elizabeth Olsen. The younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley has received good reviews for her turn in the film as a woman who tries to resume a normal life after escaping from an abusive cult. Some critics are even calling Olsen the Sundance It-Girl of 2011, along the lines of Carey Mulligan in 2009 and Jennifer Lawrence in 2010. Director Sean Durkin’s film has been bought by Fox Searchlight, and it co-stars John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone,) Sarah Paulson (Serenity) and Hugh Dancy (Adam).

Red State: Director and writer Kevin Smith is no stranger to Sundance or Hollywood, having premiered his first feature, Clerks, at Sundance in 1994 and made numerous films since. This year, Smith debuted his much-hyped film, Red State, to mixed reviews and a lot of controversy. Red State centers on three teens who encounter a church congregation with less-than holy intentions after going to meet a woman who sent them an online invitation for sex. The congregation’s intense and violent leader is based on Westboro Baptist Church pastor Fred Phelps. Believe it or not, the story onscreen may not be as interesting as it is off: Smith bought his own film for $20 and will release it through his production company, SModcast, using only his Twitter account, comedy podcast, multi-city tour and word of mouth to advertise the film. Red State will officially be released on Oct. 19, but Smith is taking the film to 13 cities for advanced screenings in March and April. To see if your hometown will be hosting an advanced screening of Red State, look here. Red State stars John Goodman (The Big Lebowski,) Melissa Leo (The Fighter) and Michael Parks (Kill Bill).

My Idiot Brother: Who could not like Paul Rudd? Apparently, Emily Mortimer, Elizabeth Banks and Zooey Deschanel could not—at least, not in director Jesse Peretz’s My Idiot Brother. In My Idiot Brother, Rudd plays Ned, an idealist who needs to find a place to stay after getting out of jail for selling pot to an undercover officer. So, he stays with each of his three sisters (Mortimer, Banks and Deschanel) and unintentionally causes havoc in their lives. While the film was reportedly only warmly received, the cast makes My Idiot Brother a must-see movie. The Weinstein Co. bought My Idiot Brother for almost $7 million and will release it within this year. My Idiot Brother co-stars Rashida Jones (Parks and Recreation) and Steve Coogan (Hamlet 2).

Project Nim: 2008’s Man on Wire was one of the best documentaries to come along in the last decade, so it is no surprise that fans were eagerly anticipating director James Marsh’s next documentary. That documentary, Project Nim, tells the story of Nim, a chimpanzee who was taken from his mother when he was a newborn and taught sign language through a Columbia University research study called “Project Nim.” Nim was passed from home to home during and after the study, even spending part of his life at a medical lab for tuberculosis studies. Using similar narrative techniques that he used in Man on Wire, such as reenactments and previously- recorded footage, Marsh has most likely created another documentary for the ages. HBO has acquired all domestic rights to Project Nim.

What Sundance films are you most looking forward to, Bloginity readers? Are there any movies I am leaving out? Were you born without the ability to like Paul Rudd (but, let us be honest, that is pretty much no one)? Let us know in the comments section below!

You can find films from past Sundance festivals as well as a Sundance guide right here.