Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Sundance announces non-competition slate: Religious horrors, raccoon infestations, Ronald Reagan, plenty of Elizabeth Banks

While yesterday’s announcement of the competition slate for the 2011 Sundance Film Festival seemed slightly less-than-electrifying, sex-starved Norwegian housewives notwithstanding, today’s revelation of non-competing films brings out the stuff more likely to get most of the attention. You can check out the full list of films here.

Some highlights taken from another cursory glance at the roster of 50-plus movies screening: Kevin Smith’s long-gestating “political horror film” Red State joins the previously announced Vera Farmiga’s Higher Ground in exploring religious fundamentalism, as does George Ratliff’s Salvation Boulevard, about a charismatic mega-church leader who frames “an ex-Deadhead born-again Christian” for a crime he didn’t commit. Speaking of common festival threads, Ed Helms stars as a “a “wholesome and naïve” insurance agent traveling to the big city of Cedar Rapids in a comedy from Miguel Arteta (Youth In Revolt, Chuck And Buck) that also features John C. Reilly, Sigourney Weaver, and Anne Heche; Helms as a likable insurance agent is almost as perfect casting as Greg Kinnear playing a likable insurance agent in The Convincer.


Or that of Paul Giamatti playing a down-on-his-luck—well, anything, but specifically a struggling attorney moonlighting as a high school wrestling coach in Tom McCarthy’s Win Win. Is it as believable as Tobey Maguire and Elizabeth Banks in love? Find out in The Details, about a couple whose backyard becomes infested with raccoons, setting off an increasingly “absurd chain reaction of domestic tension, infidelity, organ donation and murder by way of bow and arrow.” (Could it be this generation’s The Money Pit?)

Banks also turns up in a more familiar milieu with My Idiot Brother, alongside fellow indie-adorables Paul Rudd, Zooey Deschanel, and Emily Mortimer, playing one of three sisters whose lives are turned upside down when her ex-con pot dealer brother moves in and helps them all learn stuff about themselves. Sort of like Thomas Jane, Jeremy Piven, Rob Lowe, and Christian McKay do in I Melt With You, where four friends who get together every year to “celebrate their friendship” find themselves questioning the course of their lives after remembering a pact they made 25 years ago—only I Melt With You is more of a dramatic thriller, one that’s been getting a lot of attention already thanks to this very bleak yet intriguing preview.

Speaking of bleak, Al Pacino and Channing Tatum star in the drama The Son Of No One, about two men forced to confront the murders they committed as children; Tracy Morgan, Katie Holmes, and Ray Liotta co-star, so hopefully the novelty of that cast will lighten things up a bit. And then there’s Ewan MacGregor in Perfect Sense, a love story set in a world where “people are slowly losing their sensory perception.” I said, are you ready to laugh?

Naturally, the documentary front isn’t exactly all giggles either: Morgan Spurlock taking on branding, product placement, and advertising in The Greatest Movie Ever Sold—a movie that was funded by branding, product placement, and advertising—is about as close as it gets. Although it’s possible that the Ronald Reagan doc Reagan will have a couple of lighthearted, Bonzo-era moments. Elsewhere, Rebirth follows five people affected by 9/11 interspersed with time-lapse footage of Ground Zero over the past 10 years, Chaz “Formerly Chastity” Bono fortunately doesn’t use the same technique to document his sex change in Becoming Chaz, elusive chess prodigy Bobby Fischer has his strange life explored in Bobby Fischer Against The World, the director of Hoop Dreams goes to the inner-city inspiration well again with The Interrupters, about ex-gang members turned community leaders, and These Amazing Shadows—which fetes the National Film Registry with “a roll call of American cinema treasures”—seems the film most likely to earn accolades from our own Scott Tobias provided it’s not entirely dull.

There’s also some interesting stuff in the Midnight Movies section—Hobo With A Shotgun, Troll Hunter—as well as the Spotlight section (including festival favorites Meek’s Cutoff and Submarine), but we’ll shut up now. Don’t forget to check back here for day-to-day coverage of the festival beginning January 20.