The Sundance Film Festival kicks off this Thursday in Park City, Utah!  We here at ScreenCrave are sending a band of intrepid reporters and cinephiles to bring you the news, reviews, hype, and stories from the independent film world’s premier event!  With a record number of submissions, and a festival lineup jam packed with the most promising and challenging features, shorts, and documentaries, how is one supposed to know what to be excited for?  Well, don’t worry your pretty little head, because we’re here for you.  Check out some of the films ScreenCrave is excited for, after the jump…

RED STATE – Kevin Smith returns to the festival that made him household name among indie film lovers almost twenty years ago.  His new movie, Red State, is a horror film about what happens when a radical religious group (a la the reprehensible Westboro Baptist Church) takes their beliefs to a whole new, deadly level.

Kevin Smith makes his best films when he takes risks (remember how Clerks was funded by credit card debt?), and this looks like his biggest risk in a while.  He’s stepping out of his comfort zone of buddy comedies and making a real genre film which requires a consistent tone, and calculated direction to maintain suspense.  He’s stacked the cast with real actors (John Goodman, Melissa Leo, Michael Parks, Stephen Root) instead of just buddies who make him laugh.  He’s finally taken the camera off the tripod!  Come on, people!  The guy who’s been making his bread & butter from dick jokes looks like he might have finally grown up a little!  How will this new found maturity affect those of us who have relied on him our whole lives for a specific type of movie?  Well, there’s only one way to find out…

CEDAR RAPIDS - Miguel Arteta’s comedy about insurance salesmen gone wild in the midwest stars Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, and The Wire’s Isaiah Whitlock Jr.  When this group of salesmen arrives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa for a big industry conference, they lose themselves in a world that is much bigger than the one they come from.  Think of it as The Hangover, for older, more boring guys.

That may not sound like the most exciting thing, but the film’s cast is what really sells this film.  Ed Helms helms (get it?) this cast of phenomenal character actors, all of whom really bring humanity to their comedy.  None of these guys are the types you would expect to see holding up a movie on their own, but combined, they have the makings of a great chemistry driven comedy.  Also, I’m always thrilled to see the supporting cast of The Wire break out into other good works.  Sheeeeeeeeiiiiiit.

TROLL HUNTER - A group of Norweigan film students set out to capture the mythical beasts of Scandanavia on camera with the help of a grizzly…well…Troll Hunter.  The trailer for this film is exciting, funny, and seems to offer the things that were lacking in The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield; That is to say, a good look at the monsters in question.

Judging by the trailer, it looks like this could be the kind of movie that has several different filmmaking styles in one, similar to the way District 9 begins as a documentary, seamlessly morphs into a horror film, and by the end becomes an action/adventure epic.  Here’s hoping this film can live up to what it claims to be.

FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT REVISITED - The Beastie Boys are back!  With Ad-Rock’s recent clean bill of health in his fight against cancer, the B-Boys are going back to revisit the epic party from 1987, only now we get to see the morning after.  It looks like the boys brought along all the fun people you could fit into one party themed short film:  Seth Rogen, Will Ferrell, Susan Sarandon, Elijah Wood, Danny McBride, Rashida Jones, Steve Buscemi, Jack Black, and a whole slew of others!  This could very well be the most fun film playing at the festival.

BEING ELMO - If you were a child in the last 40 years, odds are you grew up watching Sesame StreetBeing Elmo documents the performer behind the show’s most popular character: Elmo!  The documentary explores his past, as well as his current life as one of the most popular characters on television who still gets to maintain a sense of anonymity while functioning in the real world.

The Muppets are a fascinating cultural phenomenon, and in spite of how educational they’ve proven to be over the years, it seems that everyone always wants to learn more about the muppets themselves.  The process of creating and animating these puppets is always a fascinating one, and with Jason Segel’s forthcoming The Muppets, this seems like the perfect film to whet our appetites and interests in those lovable clumps of felt.

HERE – Braeden King’s feature about a map maker’s unlikely romance while surveying Armenia stars Ben Foster and Lubna Azabal.  The main draw for this film is its star, Ben Foster.  One of the best young actors working today, Foster has an intensity and depth that is often frightening (only sometimes because of his villainous roles).  However, the chance to see him bring his unique sensitivity to a romance story will hopefully show us a whole new set of skills.

Another fascinating aspect of this movie is its development through the Sundance Institute, over the course of several years.  Some may think that films in the Sundance Festival carries an air of nepotism, but the craftsmanship which comes through in the films which do so is undeniable.  After all, we wouldn’t have P.T. Anderson’s Hard Eight (and perhaps his subsequent films), if it hadn’t been for the Sundance Institute’s development of his short film, Sidney. Here will be competing in the U.S. Drama category of the festival.

HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN – This one is a little conflicting.  Torture porn, and violence for its own sake really isn’t something that should be celebrated (I’m looking at you, A Serbian Film).  Luckily, I don’t get a strong sense that this film is either.  Hobo with a Shotgun, based on a fake trailer created for Tarantino & Rodriguez’ Grindhouse, features such stylized violence which, graphic as it may be, seems almost tongue in cheek, and the film’s title card suggests a throwback to the kind of grindhouse exploitation films in which such violence was commonplace.  It looks like a mix between Mad Max and Garth Ennis’ The Punisher, in which the realistic violence is also somehow completely implausible and thus, appropriately entertaining. The final word on this movie will be based almost entirely on how seriously it takes itself.  Rutger Hauer sure seems to be…
And that’s not all!  But there are too many good looking films to go into detail on, so in no particular order, here are some other films we at screencrave are excited for:  Knuckle, Miss Representation, Project Nim, Perfect Sense, The Oregonian, Troubadours, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Margin Call, and The Redemption of General Butt Naked.