This year's lineup at the Sundance Film Festival didn't feature anything as revelatory as previous highlights You Can Count on Me or In The Bedroom, but it was no bust, either.
There were plenty of interesting discoveries on tap for those willing to do a little digging. Of the dozens of films that debuted here, the following five are especially likely to make an impact.
The Good Girl Jennifer Aniston goes frumpy as a melancholy retail clerk married to a shiftless pothead (John C. Reilly) deep in the heart of Texas. Justine (Aniston) seeks solace in the arms of an artsy young co-worker (Jake Gyllenhaal) who's even more depressed than she is, only to see matters get worse. Depressing? Sure, but it's also funny (thanks to a sharp script from Chuck & Buck/Orange County scribe Mike White) and a fantastic performance from Aniston, who reveals a range and depth she's seldom asked to display at her day job.
One Hour Photo The retail grind also gave Robin Williams a plum role in this tale of a photo technician at a Wal-Mart-style megastore who becomes increasingly obsessed with a family whose film he's been developing for years. The first feature from music video genius Mark Romanek, Photo may owe a good deal to other movies about tortured loners (including The Collector and Taxi Driver), but its ideas and perspective make for an uncommonly sharp critique of suburban life — and let Williams deliver a brave and terrifying performance to boot.
Run Ronnie Run! David Cross and Bob Odenkirk, the creative madmen behind the late, lamented HBO series Mr. Show, let their imaginations run wild with the story of a Georgia redneck (Cross) who becomes a reality TV superstar. As full-length features based on five-minute sketches go, this one is up there with Wayne's World and Strange Brew. The Survivor gags may already be a touch stale, but who cares when they're so darn funny? Not for the easily offended, but sure to thrill Mr. Show cultists and anyone with a taste for freewheeling extreme humor.
Secretary Maggie Gyllenhaal (sister of The Good Girl co-star Jake) is both charming and sexy in this oddball tale of a tortured young woman who discovers self-esteem by way of an extremely kinky fling with her seriously eccentric employer (James Spader). It ain't the Red Shoe Diaries segment it sounds like — imagine an R-rated Felicity directed by David Lynch and you're somewhere in the ballpark of this funny and moving film that makes S&M seem as wholesome as milk and cookies.
Tadpole This year's big buzz movie is a smart comedy about a 15-year-old brainiac (Aaron Stanford) who's hopelessly in love with his stepmother (Sigourney Weaver) but somehow winds up in bed with her best friend (Bebe Neuwirth) instead. A bittersweet Manhattan sitcom with flashes of wild hilarity, Tadpole is cut from the same cloth as the films of Whit Stillman (Metropolitan) and Wes Anderson (Rushmore), but its lapses in the originality department don't make it any less enjoyable. Purchased for a reported $5 million by Miramax Films, this $300,000 digital video feature is sure to be overhyped as the second coming of The Graduate when it hits theaters later this year. Check your expectations, gear up for a modest good time, and you won't be disappointed. Andrew Johnston is a film critic and associate editor at US WEEKLY magazine.