Notes from Sundance: What to watch in 2006

Amid more than a hundred films screened at the festival were several gems.

Seeing movies at film festivals is something like a Forrest Gumpian box of chocolates: You never know what you're going to get. Well, that's not strictly true. At festivals there is often more bad product than good. (Sundance has, however, premièred many great independent films such as "sex, lies and videotape," "Run Lola Run," and "The Squid and the Whale.") When you see upwards of five movies a day, it's inevitable that a few of them will be clunkers. In that mindset, it's easy to oversell the films that are just OK, so bear that in mind when you hear recommendations from any festival.

More than a hundred films screened this year at the Sundance Film Festival here, which closes Saturday. Needless to say, there have been plenty of movies featuring ineffectual, emotionally unavailable fathers and a few too many characters smoking a crack pipe. There have also been some standouts. Here are a few films that will likely cause a ripple in 2006.

Friends with Money

Director: Nicole Holofcener. With Jennifer Aniston, Frances McDormand, Joan Cusack, and Catherine Keener.

Logline: A single girl working as a maid (Aniston) tries to find love and happiness amid her wealthier, married friends.

Buzz: A sharp, well-observed comedy of manners that marks a triumph for Aniston.

Release Date: April 7.

Art School Confidential

Director: Terry Zwigoff. With Max Minghella, John Malkovich, Steve Buscemi, and Anjelica Huston.

Logline: A college freshman (Minghella) navigates the ins and outs, the ups and downs, and the frustrating politics of trying to become a famous artist. The screenplay was written by Daniel Clowes, the graphic novelist behind Zwigoff's "Ghost World."

Buzz: A witty if uneven satire with a breakout performance from the son of film-maker Anthony Minghella ("Cold Mountain").

Release date: April 21.

Half Nelson

Director: Ryan Fleck. With Ryan Gosling, Shareeka Epps, and Anthony Mackie.

Logline: A young history teacher (Gosling) forges a friendship with one of his students (Epps) as they each sink further into drugs - for the teacher, this means using; for the young student, dealing.

Buzz: A gritty film that establishes Gosling as one of the best actors of his generation.

Release Date: No distribution yet, but as of press time, definite interest.

Stephanie Daley

Director: Hilary Brougher. With Tilda Swinton, Amber Tamblyn, and Timothy Hutton.

Logline: A pregnant therapist (Swinton) investigates a repressed and religious young woman (Tamblyn) who may or may not have murdered her baby.

Buzz: "The most intense movie I've ever seen," says Jill Demling, an editor at "Vogue."

Release Date: No distribution yet, but as of press time, definite interest.

The Science of Sleep

Director: Michel Gondry. With Gael Garcia Bernal and Charlotte Gainsbourg.

Logline: A disaffected man (Bernal) returns to a dead-end job in Paris and falls in love with his neighbor (Gainsbourg). Much of the movie takes place while the characters are asleep, in their dreams.

Buzz: Typical Gondry ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"). Visually sumptuous with an impenetrable narrative.

Release Date: To be determined by distributor Warner Independent.

The Illusionist

Director: Neil Berger. With Edward Norton, Jessica Biel, and Paul Giamatti.

Logline: In 1900 Vienna, a magician (Norton) uses his illusions to expose corruption in the government and win over the Prince's fiancée.

Buzz: A modern period drama that retells a familiar story in a fun, entertaining way.

Release Date: No purchase yet.

Little Miss Sunshine

Directors: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Feris. With Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Greg Kinnear, and Abigail Breslin.

Logline: An eccentric family travels to a children's beauty pageant in this comedy.

Buzz: Off the charts, though one editor insisted, "It's not amazing."

Release Date: Likely this summer.

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