"Like Crazy," "Take Shelter," "Martha Marcy May Marlene," "Pariah." What do these films all have in common? They all premiered at last year's Sundance Film Festival. To say that the bar was raised for this year's edition to deliver the indie goods is an understatement.
We're glad to report that 2012 is shaping up to be another great year for the world's most important independent film festival. Just take a look at some of the talent included on the lineup: Kirsten Dunst, Andy Samberg, Elizabeth Olsen, Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Kate Bosworth and director Spike Lee. Now that's enough reason to get excited.
We've worked our way through the massive lineup to bring you our picks for the top 15 films we're most excited for.
On paper this might sound like "Bridesmaids" part 2, but we don't have a problem with that. If this dark comedy is even half as hilarious as that runaway hit, then we're in for a treat. Kirsten Dunst stars as Regan, a popular girl who is horrified to learn that the girl everyone called Pig Face in high school is getting married before she does. Isla Fisher and Lizzy Caplan ("Cloverfield") costar as Regan's two single friends entrusted with bridesmaids duties. Did we mention that "Bridemaids" breakout Rebel Wilson (who, as Kristen Wiig's roommate, made us look at tequila tattoos in a whole new way) plays the bride?
2. 'Black Rock'
We love us a thriller with a twist, and this one from actress/director Katie Aselton ("The Freebie") looks to be one of the highest order. In this mind-bender, Aselton, Kate Bosworth and Lake Bell ("No Strings Attached") play three friends who venture off to remote island in Maine to catch up and bond. We're not sure exactly what goes down on the island among the three ladies, but rumor has it that it ain't peachy.
3. 'Celeste and Jesse Forever'
Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg starring as a couple is something we can get behind. If only life were more like the movies. In this dramedy, the two star as high school sweethearts who got married young. They seem perfect for each other and destined to be together for the long haul, so their friends are understandably thrown for a loop when the two announce they're getting a divorce, but want to remain friends. Good luck with that.
4. 'For Ellen'
Paul Dano has been racking up his fair share of great performances in films as varied as "There Will Be Blood" and "Little Miss Sunshine," but the 27-year-old rarely gets the chance to play someone his own age. In "For Ellen" he finally does by playing Joby, a wayward musician who's never really been there for his young daughter, Ellen. "For Ellen" tracks Joby's struggle to become a better father to his child and a better person overall.
5. 'Liberal Arts'
Last year's big breakout Elizabeth Olsen ("Martha Marcy May Marlene") is back in Park City with this romantic comedy from (and starring) "How I Met Your Mother" star Josh Radnor. Olsen stars as a classical-music loving sophomore who catches the eye of a freshly single older man. Olsen is the real deal, so we can't wait to see how she fares in a film infinitely lighter than the one that made her famous.
6. 'Nobody Walks'
From indie "It girls" Lena Dunham ("Tiny Furniture") and Ry Russo-Young ("You Won't Miss Me") comes this potentially shocking meditation on the impact of acting on dangerous urges. "Juno" star Olivia Thirlby plays a young artist from New York who ventures out to the hip Los Angeles community of Silver Lake to stay with a family. Her arrival stars out innocently enough, but soon devolves into something that threatens to break the family apart. Josh Krasinsky and Rosemarie DeWitt ("Rachel Getting Married") costar.
7. 'Lay the Favorite'
We're a sucker for a great cast, so it's only natural we're looking forward to the latest from acclaimed director Stephen Frears ("The Queen"). Here, he's sought out the formidable talents of Rebecca Hall ("The Town"), Bruce Willis, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Joshua Jackson to play out this promising romantic comedy about a woman who gets close to her boss, a professional sports bettor. When his wife starts to get jealous, things take a turn for the ugly.
8. 'The Words'
Bradley Cooper and Zoe Saldana are both on a roll in mainstream fare, so we're eager to see why they chose to take a break from the blockbusters and lend their A-list pedigree to this indie drama that's closing the festival. In the directorial debut from Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, Cooper plays a struggling writer who passes the work of another off as his own, only to suffer the consequences. Sounds a lot like "Limitless" to us, but considering we liked that flick, we're psyched to see this one.
9. 'Safety Not Guaranteed'
Fans of Aubrey Plaza's deadpan sense of humor know who they are, and they're no doubt eager to see the "Parks and Recreation" player take the lead in this indie comedy alongside Mark Duplass ("Humpday"). The two comedians star as magazine employees sent out to investigate a man who says he can time travel. This sure-to-be-deranged road comedy has us curious for all the right reasons.
10. 'The First Time'
We're a sucker for a great teen flick, and this one, from director-screenwriter Jonathan Kasdan ("In the Land of Women") looks like it has the makings of one. The film concerns Dave ("Teen Wolf" star Dylan O'Brien), a high school senior pining over a girl he can't have, and Aubrey (the gorgeous Britt Robertson), a junior at a different school with a boyfriend who doesn't get her. When the two meet outside a party, it's love at first sight. Will "The First Time" be this year's answer to "Like Crazy"? Only time will tell.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead ("The Thing") has long been one of our favorite young actresses, but up until now she's never really been given the chance to show what we knew she had all along -- real acting chops. That all looks to change with her reportedly harrowing turn in "Smashed," an intense drama in which she stars as Kate, a hard partying elementary schoolteacher forced to get her life on track. Winstead is the reason we're psyched to see this, but the film also boasts a solid supporting cast that includes Aaron Paul ("Breaking Bad"), Octavia Spencer ("The Help") and "Will and Grace" funny-lady Megan Mullaly.
12. '2 Days in New York'
It's hard not to love Julie Delpy. The French actress -- who became a star in North America thanks to her endearing performance in "Before Sunset" alongside Ethan Hawke (and its stellar sequel "Before Sunrise") -- is gorgeous, yes, but she also seems down to earth and cool in that French kind of way. She's also a talented director with a number of films already under her belt. Her latest, "2 Days in New York," sees her pair up on-screen with Chris Rock as a cozy couple who are put to the ultimate test when Delpy's character gets a visit from her racist family.
13. 'Red Hook Summer'
When Spike Lee makes a film in Brooklyn, chances are it's going to be great. Just have a look at the films he's set there: "She's Gotta Have It," "Do the Right Thing," "Crooklyn," "Clockers" and "He Got Game." The latest of his Brooklyn-based films, "Red Hot Summer," follows Flik, a young guy from Atlanta, transplanted to the Red Hook housing project in Brooklyn to spend a summer with the grandfather he's never met. To make matters worse for Flik, his grandfather -- a preacher -- is hell bent on getting him to accept Jesus Christ as his personal savior.
14. 'Filly Brown'
Remember when the rap drama "Hustle & Flow" stormed Sundance a few years back, making Terrence Howard a bonafide star overnight? This year, the hip-hop drama "Filly Brown" looks to do the same for its young star Gina Rodriguez. The talented unknown stars as "Majo" Tonorio, aka Filly Brown, a raw Los Angeles rapper with a heart of gold, who is faced with a life-altering decision when a sleazy record producer offers her the chance of stardom. With a mother in jail and her family in turmoil, the deal sounds too good to be true ... and it is.
15. '28 Hotel Rooms'
Indies are known to be boundary pushers, so we can't wait to see how far actors Chris Messina ("Six Feet Under") and Marin Ireland go in this titillating romp that sees the two frolicking in bed together for a good long while. The catch? They're both seeing someone else. The film marks the directorial debut of character actor Matt Ross ("American Horror Story"). Given his talent as a performer (he studied at Julliard), we're sure this will be an actors' showcase worth seeing.