Sundance showcases more than 125 movies. USA TODAY has found 10 that stand out.
Whom it's for: Fans of American Splendor and Dedication, also misanthropic science geeks.
The story: This comedy about a group of entrepreneurs who set out to invent a rocket belt stars Paul Giamatti (Sideways) as the surly aerospace engineer and Billy Crudup (Almost Famous) as the moneyman, out to relieve a multimillionaire of his cash in a deal that doesn't go up, up and away. "They have this kind of James Bond jet-pack, and it leads to complete mayhem as they try to steal it from each other," says Giamatti, who co-produced. "I play a fairly tightly wound guy. He's unemployed and feels he has never gotten his due as the kind of genius that he is, always screwed around by his other employees and cut out of the deal. … He slow-burns through the whole movie."
Of note: Features a real-life rocket-pack flight. "We found a guy who flies them," the actor says. "But it's incredibly dangerous."
Whom it's for: Children of the '90s, unethical psychiatrists.
The story: Set in 1994 amid the hip-hop immersion of high-school kids everywhere, Josh Peck (Nickelodeon's Drake & Josh) stars as a marijuana dealer who trades weed for therapy with his psychiatrist, Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley), before falling for the doctor's stepdaughter (Juno best friend Olivia Thirlby). "She is kind of a learning experience for him," says Thirlby. "He's really, really into her, and she's kind of not taking him quite as seriously. He learns the hard way that just because you're physically intimate doesn't mean you're going to be in love." Plus, she is weirded out by the boy's business deal with her stepdad. "She's endeared to Dr. Squires, but ultimately thinks he's kind of a joke," Thirlby says.
Of note: Mary-Kate Olsen and Method Man in cameo roles.
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh
Whom it's for: Directionless college grads, lovelorn Steelers fans.
The story: Based on the novel by Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon, this coming-of-age story chronicles the summer after college graduation for Art Bechstein (Jon Foster of The Door in the Floor). He's a confused son of a mobster who is infatuated with a stunning librarian (American Beauty's Mena Suvari) and befriends a drug-addicted thief, Cleveland (Garden State's Peter Sarsgaard), whom he must protect from his father's cronies. Meanwhile, he falls for both Cleveland and Cleveland's girlfriend, Jane (Sienna Miller). Art deals with a lot of stuff," says director Rawson Marshall Thurber, taking a somewhat serious turn from his goofy comedy Dodgeball. "Art is so enamored with Cleveland and Jane that he tumbles into these adventures with them, and it becomes dangerous."
Of note: A rare (and brief) appearance of the Steel City accent, which yinz gotta hear ta rilly buhleeve. "We have one character who does it, but it's blink and you miss it," Thurber says.
Whom it's for: Rock fans, especially those seeking a front-seat ticket for a 10th of the concert price.
The story: A three-dimensional concert film assembled from the Irish superband's worldwide Vertigo tour. Bono, Larry Mullen Jr., The Edge and Adam Clayton allow the camera to act as a kind of fifth band member prowling the stage. And animation is added to some performances. Director Catherine Owens says she told the band: "We're just about the intimacy, the relationship between the four of you and how that seeps out to the audience and what the audience gives you back."
Of note: A sequence during the song Love and Peace where Bono mimics an intimate telephone call and the empty space in front of him becomes animation: a globe emerges, a baby develops inside it and the umbilical cord becomes the line of the phone. "One of the animators reflected that piece of animation in Bono's glasses," Owens says, adding a subliminal realism. "It's a psychological experience in the back of your brain."
The Merry Gentleman
Whom it's for: Offbeat romantics, redemption-seeking hit men.
The story: Michael Keaton stars in and directs this tale of a Chicago murder-for-hire contractor who befriends a lonely, abused young woman (No Country for Old Men's Kelly Macdonald) at first to find out if she is a potentially dangerous witness to a crime. "He does it, frankly, out of making sure everything is covered," Keaton says. "He needs to make sure that she didn't see what he hopes she didn't see. And a weird relationship develops out of it from there." Meanwhile, a detective is on the killer's trail, and the crime story plays out with a mixture of tragedy and comedy. "She ends up feeling safest with probably the most dangerous guy she has ever met," Keaton says.
Of note: The star of Batman and Beetlejuice behind the camera: "The thing about directing is, boy, you're really out there."
Whom it's for: People who belong to clubs they are forbidden from talking about.
The story: Victor (Sam Rockwell) lives off the naiveté of good Samaritans: He pretends to choke in restaurants and scams the people who try to save him. It's grim comedy based on a novel by Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk. "I thought Sam Rockwell was dream casting because I pretty much see him as funny, but he's also kind of profane at the same time, and touching," Palahniuk says. "All of my books are about people accomplishing profound things but doing it in kind of profane ways, breaking the rules for noble reasons."
Of note: How closely director Clark Gregg stays to the book.
Be Kind Rewind
Whom it's for: YouTube lovers.
The story: A fantasy with Mos Def and Jack Black as friends who set out to make homemade versions of popular movies such as RoboCop, Rush Hour 2 and Driving Miss Daisy after accidentally erasing all the tapes in a video store. It's directed by Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), who imaginatively uses low-fi substitutions for big-budget special effects, such as Christmas tinsel for Ghostbusters' lasers. "It's wish-fulfillment kind of fun, remaking movies in a low-rent way," Black says. "It's the kind of crap I used to do as a kid, just horsing around pretending to be The Six Million Dollar Man."
Of note: Real-life Ghostbusters star Sigourney Weaver plays a cold-hearted studio copyright lawyer.
Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?
Whom it's for: News junkies, spelunkers.
The story: Super Size Me's Morgan Spurlock has gone from studying the effects of an all-McDonald's diet to visiting remote mountain regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan to find out why the USA hasn't yet captured or killed the al-Qaeda terrorist leader. "I'd like to think it's the funniest movie ever made about terrorism," Spurlock says. "I think if you can make people laugh about something that's really difficult, you can make people listen."
Of note: He says the movie is a travelogue of some of the world's most dangerous territory.
Whom it's for: Chick-flick fans, with dark sides.
The story: Emily Blunt (the snarky fashionista assistant in The Devil Wears Prada) and Amy Adams (the perky star of Enchanted) play struggling sisters doing the dirty work of crime-scene clean-up. "I play a sort of pothead who won't get herself out of a rut," Blunt says. "Amy is an uptight, determined mother of a young boy, and she was always the protector who had to glue the family back together. She's kind of neurotic. … You can imagine those scenes where we're confronted with guts — and each other."
Of note: Little Miss Sunshine Oscar winner Alan Arkin as their scheming, ne'er-do-well father.
The Great Buck Howard
Whom it's for: Showbiz fans, psychics with blind spots.
The story: A law-school dropout (Colin Hanks) gets a job in Hollywood as personal assistant to a semi-well-known psychic entertainer (John Malkovich) who insists he's not a magician — he's a mentalist! Mounting a comeback is easier said than done as the arrogant has-been clashes with his new hire. "He's kind of a strange man. He really lives for his public, I suppose," Malkovich says. "He's quite crabby at times. Quite fake, often — but also sort of funny, in a very childish, sort of narcissistic way."
Of note: Colin's father, Tom, in a cameo as the young man's cranky dad.