Know Your Extremely Important Sundance 2014 Movie Synopsis Buzzwords

By  · Published on December 10th, 2013

Every film festival has its own identity, tastes, and most favored talents and – you know what? – the Sundance Film Festival is no different. The Park City, Utah-set film festival kicks off every January in high style (read: lots of flannel), the kind that includes lots of recognizable stars, brand new talents, and more than a handful of films that sound almost perfectly “Sundance-y.” While the overarching themes of each Sundance tend to make themselves crystal clear during the festival itself (we still fondly remember 2011, the year of the cults), we can at least mine each film’s official synopsis for some clues as to what we can expect to experience come 2014. Here’s a safe bet – as always, there will be plenty of “unlikely friendships.”

With yesterday’s announcement of the Premiere and Documentary Premiere titles, we’re just about done finding out what we can expect to find in Park City’s various theater come next month (we say “just about,” because there are always a few titles that trickle in over the coming weeks). These glitzy picks join the already-announced in-competition titles (dramatic and doc, U.S. and world), along with Spotlight, Park City at Midnight, Sundance Kids, and Next picks, proving that sometimes a section title is just that, because damn if we can’t already draw some connections in this admirably deep selection.

The Unexpected and The Unlikely

Bring your heart pills, people, and get ready to spend Sundance with your eyes just straight up popping out of your head, because the 2014 slate is simply crammed with the “unexpected” and the “unlikely.”

Lynn Shelton’s Laggies features “an unexpected marriage proposal,” Craig Johnson’s The Skeleton Twins goes for “an unexpected reunion,” and Peter Sattler’s Camp X-Ray just goes all in on “an unlikely friendship.”

Elsewhere, Kate Barker-Froyland’s Song One includes “an unexpected relationship,” Berit Madsen needs “an unexpected someone” in her SEPIDEH – Reaching for the Stars, Natalia Smirnoff’s Lock Charmer includes “an unlikely assistant,” and the animated Ernest and Celestine centers on “an unlikely bond.” Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion require “an unlikely hero” in their Cooties.

Jeff Baena goes a bit darker with his Life After Beth, which comes with an “unexpected death.” Similarly, Mona Fastvold’s The Sleepwalker features some “unexpected guests” that don’t sound so fun. Jesse Moss’ doc The Overnighters comes complete with “unexpected consequences.” Ben Cotner and Ryan White chronicle an “unlikely team” in The Case Against 8.

Accidents and Disappearances

If you somehow make it through all those unlikely and unexpected occurrences, perhaps you’ll still fall prey to “accidents” and “disappearances.” Spooky!

John Slattery’s directorial debut, God’s Pocket, centers on an “accident” (yes, this one is literally put into quotes, so we’re doubting it’s a real accident). Kate Barker-Froyland’s Song One doesn’t just have the unexpected to drive it (and, seriously, buckle up, because this feature will pop up a lot in this buzzword examination – it may be the most “2014 Sundance” film of this batch), it also has “an accident.” Elsewhere, Sara Colangelo’s Little Accidents chronicles both a “mining accident” and “the disappearance of a teenage boy.”

In Gregg Araki’s White Bird in a Blizzard, a mother is the victim of a “sudden disappearance,” three college students straight up “disappear” in William Eubank’s The Signal, and Sterlin Harjo’s This May Be the Last Time searches for a grandfather who “disappeared mysteriously.”

New York City (Especially Brooklyn)

Is New York City the only place to set your Sundance film? Probably, if this year is to be believed.

Films set in New York include: The Foxy Merkins, Listen Up Philip, Love Is Strange, Nick Offerman: American Ham, and They Came Together (though the film pokes some serious fun at this trope). Bonus points to outer borough dwellers, because Brooklyn is particularly hot right now, with films like Song One (yes, Song One, again), Appropriate Behavior, and Obvious Child all taking place there.

Hat tip to David Cross’ Hits, which is set in upstate New York.

The Internet

You’re reading this post on the Internet right now (right? If not, what? How are you reading this?), and it will likely be only one of many things you read on the Internet today.

Turns out, you can take that Internet adoration to Sundance, though three offerings centered on the web might scare you off. Films like Brian Knappenberger’s The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, Valerie Veatch’s Love Child, and Shosh Shlam and Hilla Medalia’s Web Junkie all center on the Internet in some form, and

at least two of those films center on “Internet addiction.” Put the iPhone down, pal.


It seems like Sundance has mommy issues to spare come 2014, with no less than seven features centering on mothers making their debut at the fest. And no, most of these moms are not of the “no wire hangers!!” variety, plenty of them appear to go to extraordinary lengths for their kids. Get out tissues now.

In need of mom’s warm embrace? Try out White Bird in a Blizzard, White Shadow, Viktoria, The Babadook, 52 Tuesdays, Lilting, and God’s Pocket.

Music and Musicians

Sundance has long been interested in exploring other means of culture with their films, and music has recently emerged as the darling of the festival. If you need some jams, try out the Nick Cave-starring 20,000 Days on Earth, Under the Electric Sky (EDC 2013), Stuart Murdoch’s God Help the Girl, and Alex Gibney’s Finding Fela.

Going for something a bit darker with your tunes? Turn to Tim Sutton’s Memphis, Chelsea McMullan’s My Prairie Home, Michael Rossato-Bennett’s doc Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory, Jim Jarmusch’s vampire love story Only Lovers Left Alive (Tom Hiddleston plays a vampire music snob!), Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank, and William H. Macy’s dramatic Rudderless.

And, finally, Kate Barker-Froyland’s Song One again delivers on the buzzwords, as the Anne Hathaway-starring film also includes music and a musician to go along with its accident, its Brooklyn setting, and its unexpected relationship. Is this the most Sundance film of the year? We can’t even hear the competition over its buzz.

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You can check out the full list of Sundance titles at the festival’s office site – right here.

The Sundance Film Festival runs from January 16th to January 26th in Park City, Utah. We’ll be there and stuff.

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