Now celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, the Sundance Film Festival is a welcome event to kick off our year in cinema. It’s mostly about discovering new talents along the way: when it comes to a festival such as Sundance, much of the anticipation pertains to those unforeseen films which end up grabbing one’s attention. So, as we run through our most-anticipated titles, think of this as simply sharing what’s on our radar, and make sure to stay tuned to all of our coverage here, while following @TheFilmStage, @jpraup, @djmecca, @zaffi, and our Facebook page for instant updates from Park City.

Note that Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, Life After Beth, God’s Pocket, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, What We Do in the Shadows, The Signal, Cooties, The One I Love, and Hits are all something we’re interested in; sadly, we simply had to cut it off somewhere. Sundance also hosts a variety of films we’ve already seen, and you can check out our reviews at the following links: Only Lovers Left Alive, The Double, Stranger By the Lake, Blue Ruin and R100. Without further ado, check out our 26 (one can thank the last-minute addition of a certain title for the peculiar number) most-anticipated titles below.

26. Jamie Marks is Dead (Carter Smith)

Although its set-up was cliche, The Ruins was a fairly entertaining studio horror film, filled with inventive, frightening imagery. Now, over half-a-decade later, director Carter Smith is returning with a smaller-scale effort that will hopefully meld those touches with a worthy script. Led by Cameron Monaghan, Noah Silver, Morgan Saylor, Madisen Beaty, Judy Greer and Liv Tyler, Jamie Marks is Dead follows the ghost of a deceased teenager, as he influences the lives of those he left behind. – Jordan R.

25. Camp X-Ray (Peter Sattler)

While her Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson is off making films with David Cronenberg, Werner Herzog, James Gray, Anton Corbijn, and more, Kristen Stewart has linked up with an auteur of her own with Olivier AssayasSils Maria, but before that, she’s taken part in Sundance drama. Playing a new military recruit who finds herself as Guantanamo Bay guard, she befriends a detainee and a discussion of ethics begins. Hopefully Stewart can sell the part, which might be her most demanding yet, and graphic designer Peter Sattler makes a worthwhile debut. – Jordan R.

24. I Origins (Mike Cahill)

After Sundance served as his break-out with the sci-fi drama Another Earth, director Mike Cahill returns with Brit Marling in tow for his follow-up, I Origins. Although the film’s latter elements are shrouded in secrecy, the set-up has us curious: Michael Pitt plays Ian Gray, a molecular biology PhD student who falls in love with a model, but years later one of his discoveries contains existential implications. We certainly don’t expect another Upstream Color, but here’s hoping Cahill improves in his sophomore effort. – Jordan R.

23. Happy Christmas (Joe Swanberg)

While it was far from a large-scale effort, Joe Swanberg stepped up his game with Drinking Buddies, marking his highest profile film yet in both cast and budget, and he’s now set to follow it up with a Christmas-themed drama, one that will hopefully continue his knack for authentic characters. Starring Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Mark Webber, Lena Dunham, and Swanberg himself, the story follows a woman who moves into her brother’s house following a break-up. – Jordan R.

22. Calvary (John Michael McDonagh)

John Michael McDonagh’s The Guard is one of this decade’s better comedies — perceptive to the strangeness of rural life, fish-out-of-water humor, and action film clichés, while maintaining a consistent, pleasing visual style. A fine directorial debut, indeed, and that he seems to be expanding upon some of that film’s themes through a new lens — a Catholic priest, played by the returning Brendan Gleeson — is exciting in and of itself. Are we truly witnessing the sprouting of a new voice? Well, if not, there’s still the chance for droll humor. – Nick N.

21. Love is Strange (Ira Sachs)

After premiering the authentic relationship drama Keep the Lights On (reviewed here) back at Sundance 2012, writer-director Ira Sachs will return this year with Love is Strange. Led by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina, the project finds the actors playing a NYC-based couple who decided to wed after a 38-year-relationship. Also starring Marisa Tomei and Cheyenne Jackson, there’s no reason this won’t be another tenderly realized drama from Sachs. – Jordan R.

20. God Help the Girl (Stuart Murdoch)

He’s been leading Belle and Sebastian for nearly two decades, but Stuart Murdoch has just recently jumped behind the camera for the first time with his directorial debut, God Help the Girl. Set during a summer in Glasgow, and partially funded on Kickstarter, it’s a coming-of-age story that’s accompanied by their 2009 album. Led by Emily Browning, the film’s said to have been influenced by French New Wave, John Hughes, and more, so let’s hope Murdoch nails that balance. – Jordan R.

19. Frank (Lenny Abrahamson)

First announced back in the fall of 2012, Frank will finally get a debut at this year’s Sundance. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson (What Richard Did) the script from Jon Ronson (The Men Who Stare at Goats) and Peter Straughan (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) follows an aspiring musician (played by Domhnall Gleeson, proving he could lead a feature with About Time) who finds himself in over his head when he joins an eccentric rock band led by Michael Fassbender’s character. With Abrahamson giving Jack Reynor his break-out performance in his previous film, we can’t wait to see what he does with this ensemble, also featuring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Scoot McNairy. – Jordan R.

18. The Guest (Adam Wingard)

Although he’s been to more than a handful of festivals with his past efforts, Adam Wingard expanded his audience with his entertaining horror flick You’re Next, which finally saw a theatrical release last August. He’s now completed work on his follow-up it’s set to premiere at Sundance. The Guest follows a grieving family who takes in our lead character, a friend of their fallen soldier son, but things soon spiral out of control. With the Sundance guide referring to this one as an “action thriller,” we can’t wait to see what Wingard is up to. – Jordan R.

17. Laggies (Lynn Shelton)

Lynn Shelton has been a fixture at the last few years of film festivals, delivering the genuine bromance drama Humpday, her best film yet, Your Sister’s Sister, and last year with Touchy Feely. She’s set to return this year with Laggies, which follows Keira Knightley as a twenty-something stuck in a rut, who decides to retreat to the home of her teenage friend, played by Chloe Moretz. While her last film was a bit of a letdown, we look forward to get bouncing back here. – Jordan R.

16. Land Ho! (Martha Stephens, Aaron Katz)

Although I didn’t catch it until late last year, This is Martin Bonner turned out to be one of my favorite character dramas of 2013, partially due to a wonderful central performance by Paul Eenhoorn. The actor has now returned to the festival with this road trip comedy, which follows a duo trekking through the beautiful Iceland as they reflect on life, friendship and more. Co-directed by the talented Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens, Land Ho! might not be on everyone’s radar yet, but we imagine it will be by the festival’s end. – Jordan R.

15. The Sleepwalker (Mona Fastvold)

After leading one of my personal favorites of last year, Antonio Campos’ dark character drama Simon KillerBrady Corbet has returned to Sundance for a new project, one we’re highly anticipating. Directed by Mona Fastvold, who co-wrote the film with Corbet, The Sleepwalker follows two sets of couples under one roof and a secret that entangles them. With the film being on our radar since we saw those involved, including Girls star Christopher Abbott, Gitte Witt and Stephanie Ellis, we’re looking forward to catching it at the festival. – Jordan R.

14. The Skeleton Twins (Craig Johnson)

Judging from her recent roles in studio releases such as The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Anchorman 2, one might expect Kristin Wiig‘s next leading turn to be coming to your local multiplex; instead, she’s gladly taken on an independent drama alongside Bill Hader. Directed by Craig Johnson, The Skeleton Twins follows the duo as estranged twin siblings who reunite and reflect on their upbringing and respective present situations. Hopefully The Skeleton Twins proves to deliver substantial performances from the two ex-SNL’ers. – Jordan R.

13. Cold In July (Jim Mickle)

Following up his horror feature We Are What We AreJim Mickle recruited TV’s (former) favorite serial killer, Michael C. Hall, to play — you guessed it — a killer. Cold in July, an adaptation of Joe Lansdale‘s novel, follows a man (Hall) who kills an armed burglar in self-defense, but the burglar’s father wants justice. In his relatively short career thus far, Mickle has excelled in atmosphere and with Hall as the lead, Cold in July promises to be a visceral noir. – Jordan R.

12. Mr. leos caraX (Tessa Louise-Salomé)

One of modern France’s greatest directors — if not always the most productive or immediately available, filmography-wise — is chronicled through interviews with critics, co-workers, and the central subject, the highlight potentially deviating from a standard American Masters format with the inclusion of what’s said to be director Tessa Louise-Salomé’s “own visual poetry.” That I don’t know what this might constitute and that it isn’t clear what, exactly, has been gleaned from all these interviewees which could paint a worthwhile portrait — especially when Carax has clearly preferred to maintain his private life as private, only expressing himself through films — makes this a title to keep in our sights. – Nick N.

11. The Raid 2 (Gareth Evans)

I found Gareth Evans‘ Indonesian actioner The Raid to be a fairly intense, non-stop ballet dance of punching, kicking, and screaming, all wrapped up in just over an hour-and-a-half. When it comes to his follow-up, however, I’m a little trepidatious with a runtime of nearly two-and-a-half hours, but, on the other hand, Evans seems to have a clear vision of his intertwining trilogy; this sequel picks up just a few hours after the original ended, following Iko Uwais going undercover in the criminal underbelly, while the third film in the trilogy is reported to begin two hours before the second film ends. We’ll begin to see if it all coheres shortly, with The Raid 2 premiering on the 21st. – Jordan R.

10. They Came Together (David Wain)

After a string of hilarious features, from the hit Role Models to the overlooked Wanderlust, Wet Hot American Summer director is back with They Came Together, a feature that spoofs that tired romantic comedy genre. Led by the eternally affable Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler, the film follows them as initially opposing forces that end up falling in love. At the time of posting, the film isn’t screening until late in the festival, so we’ll have to see if we can catch it, but we’re looking forward to Wain deconstructing the genre with his hilarious wit. – Jordan R.

9. Young Ones (Jake Paltrow)

A post-apocalyptic western starring Michael Shannon. Are you aboard? As the Young Ones logline promises something along basic genre lines — a battle for land waged between men of two different generations (a younger side represented by Nicholas Hoult) — the promise of a narrative which recalls Greek tragedy, bringing “a visceral application of cinematic and theatrical shorthand,” validate anticipation as much as it actually requires validation. That photo of Shannon staring you down with a big rifle? No one said this couldn’t be a bit of fun, too. – Nick N.

8. White Bird in a Blizzard (Gregg Araki)

Last year’s Sundance gave us Shailene Woodleys finest performance yet, in James Ponsoldt‘s coming-of-age drama The Spectacular Now, and before she makes her YA debut with Divergent, she’ll return to the festival with another film. White Bird in a Blizzard, the latest from Gregg Araki (the talented director behind Mysterious Skin and Kaboom), follows a teenager whose mother (Eva Green) disappears, only to have it haunt her years later. With Araki at the helm, one never quite knows what to expect, one of the main reasons we’re looking forward to it. – Jordan R.

7. Listen Up Philip (Alex Ross Perry)

For as modest as many of its surface elements would appear — rough, black-and-white 16mm photography; a cast of mostly (if not entirely) unknown actors; and an occasional sense (keyword: sense) of having been executed on the fly, to name a few things — there was an unrepentant, unapologetic nastiness in Alex Ross Perry’s second feature, The Color Wheel, that in its move toward something different from the typical “crop” felt like a big promise for the future of independent American cinema. There are, thus, a few big expectations which come with his follow-up, an effort made all the more curious for having recognizable leads and a logline that almost sounds ordinary — the first description reads: “[a] writer faces various mistakes and miseries affecting those around him, including his girlfriend, many ex-girlfriends and enemies” — until the writer-director promises a screenplay that’s “radical” in structure and a visual style (now on Super 16mm) that might feel “unfamiliar” in presentation. Add that, and Listen Up Philip, outside our #1 selection, is the Sundance title I’m most anxious to see. – Nick N.

6. Life Itself (Steve James)

Even though we’re approaching nearly a year since the passing of Roger Ebert, with each new release — particularly the ones I’m most fond of — I’m hit with a sadness that I’ll never be able to read another review from the critic. With this documentary, based on his memoir Life Itself, hopefully some of that desire will be quelled. Directed by Steve James, the documentary master behind The Interrupters and Hoop Dreams, and produced by Schindler’s List and Moneyball scripter Steven Zaillian, as well as Martin Scorsese, I imagine the talent involved will deliver a touching, extensive portrait of the legendary icon’s life. – Jordan R.

5. The Voices (Marjane Satrapi)

Marjane Satrapi gave us one of the best animated films of the last decade with the black-and-white Persepolis; she then went on to combine those sensibilities with live-action in the sadly overlooked Chicken with Plums. The talented director is now returning with The Voices, a drama with a premise we can’t help but be attracted to, following a bathtub factory worker who is led down a fantastical path that ultimately brings him to salvation, thanks to his two talking pets. Led by Ryan Reynolds, the film marks the beginning of a much-needed resurgence in the smaller-scale arena for the actor, which will include new films by Atom Egoyan, Tarsem, and Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. – Jordan R.

4. The Trip to Italy (Michael Winterbottom)

Its predecessor played as a mostly successful series of skits more than an actual “film,” but funny is funny, and the work extolled by Michael Winterbottom, Steve Coogan, and Rob Brydon in The Trip earns that much. None of what’s been said about their sequel promises a huge divergence from the original formula — they’re still going around restuarants, this time in… well, the title should make that clear — which, we hope, means enough focus has been put on the humor to justify an endeavor. – Nick N.

3. A Most Wanted Man (Anton Corbijn)

At first glance, A Most Wanted Man is the most peculiar inclusion in the entire Sundance line-up. Headlined by major stars —Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright — and shot internationally, the high-profile John le Carré adaptation seemed like a prime premiere for Berlin Film Festival; instead, Roadside Attractions have decided to unspool it in Park City, and we aren’t complaining. Helmed by photographer-turned-director Anton Corbijn, who gave us Control and The American, the thriller follows a German spy who must track down a Chechen-Russian immigrant on the run in Hamburg. – Jordan R.

2. The Better Angels (A.J. Edwards)

If you’ve read our most-anticipated films of the year feature, then you’ll notice some discrepancy here, but after we were enthralled by the first teaser trailer, The Better Angels easily shot up to our top spot. Between his overlooked To the Wonder and highly-anticipated back-to-back dramas, Terrence Malick found time to produce the directorial debut of one of his collaborators, A.J. Edwards. An editor on the aforementioned Ben Affleck-led drama, the black-and-white historical drama tracks three years in the upbringing of Abraham Lincoln (played by newcomer Braydon Denney), and judging from the first footage, Edwards is not just aping Malick’s style, but hopefully creating something that stands on its own. Also starring Jason Clarke, Diane Kruger, Brit Marling, and Wes Bentley, The Better Angels premieres in the experimental New Frontier Film section, and we can’t wait to see what it has in store. – Jordan R.

1. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)

A day ago this spot was filled with the film you see above, but in a surprise that would have us buying a ticket to Park City had we otherwise neglected, Sundance made the last-minute addition of Boyhood to their line-up. Richard Linklater, returning to the festival after Before Midnight — a film which sustained its status as my favorite of the year throughout all of 2013 — finally completed work on the drama, which he’s been shooting on-and-off for the last 12 years. Tracking a boy’s real-time upbringing over the span of a 164-minute runtime, we expect Linklater’s exquisite knack for presenting evolving characters and relationships to be on full display here; going by the early response, our anticipation is warranted. – Jordan R.

What Sundance film are you most looking forward to?

The Sundance Film Festival kicks off on January 16th. Stay tuned to all of our coverage here, while following @TheFilmStage, @jpraup, @djmecca, @zaffi, and our Facebook page for instant updates from Park City.

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