Punk saviors? Crazed cars? Spotting Sundance trends

What are the top trends emerging from the Sundance Film Festival this year? That really depends on whom you ask.

Los Angeles Times film critic Betsy Sharkey thinks it’s punk saviors. “If there is a collective vision emerging out of the films in the Sundance dramatic competition it is this: The punks will save you,” she writes, citing WELCOME TO THE RILEYS, the debut film of director Jake Scott (son of Ridley); actor Mark Ruffalo’s directing debut SYMPATHY FOR DELICIOUS, in which he also stars; and Spencer Susser’s HESHER.

“Profane, tattooed, with dark eyes and darker lives, all a little crazy, in some cases a lot crazy, living on society’s margins,” the rebels in these three films “come into the lives of ordinary folks and proceed to turn things upside down in ways that heal whatever ails them,” Sharkey writes, noting that, “since Sundance has a way of picking up on new creative thought streams bubbling up in the film world before they become widespread,” we could be seeing a lot more of the punk-savior storyline in the coming months.

“The message running through all three films is the same,” she writes, “that the rebels, the misfits, the outcasts will be the ones to save a desperately floundering mainstream America. It feels like the surface-scratching beginnings of a significant conversation, still raw and evolving, but a beginning, one we’re likely to look back on years from now and say it all started at Sundance 2010.”

USA Today’s Anthony Breznican finds the festival’s theme in the word “Rebel!” a word featured in the animated intros that play before the movies. “In the gift shop, you can even find a baby onesie emblazoned with the motto,” he writes, contending that this year’s festival presents “a chance for actors to take a risk: Kristen Stewart ditching her mournful good-girl image from the TWILIGHT films to play a foul-mouthed, angry prostitute in WELCOME TO THE RILEYS, or Joseph Gordon-Levitt losing the clean-cut (500) DAYS OF SUMMER look to play a long-haired, homemade-tattoo-wearing pyromaniac rabblerouser in HESHER.”

New York magazine also notes the ubiquity of the word “Rebel” at the Festival, finding in it not a challenge for actors, but a nod to the current “spirit of economic populism.” (Take, for example, John Wells’ layoff saga THE COMPANY MEN.)

What’s more, New York has dubbed this year’s lineup “The Revenge of the Documentaries.” And by that New York writer Bilge Ebiri means not just “really good” docs getting more than even after last year’s “less-than-explosive” documentary roster. He means those films are taking names and making enemies. Davis Guggenheim’s look at America’s troubled public school system, WAITING FOR SUPERMAN (which was picked up on Thursday by Paramount Vantage), is “sure to piss off some important people: Not content to simply toe the liberal line, Guggenheim actually takes direct aim at America’s teachers’ unions for being the prime obstacles to change,” writes Ebiri. Also potentially anger-inducing in certain circles: Leon Gast’s portrait of veteran paparazzo Ron Gallela, SMASH HIS CAMERA, and Amir Bar-Lev’s provocative take on Pat Tillman, the NFL star who enlisted after 9/11 and died by friendly fire, THE TILLMAN STORY.

Hollywood Reporter blogger Jay A. Fernandez has also observed a couple of trends emerging from this year’s Sundance offerings: “1) Smoking; particularly in garages –… When characters are really struggling to process tragedy, they head to the garage with a pack of filtereds …” and “2) Cars are our gravest enemies.” Listing characters in several Festival films who have run-ins with cars, Fernandez quips, “It’s like the Cannonball Run Sundance.”

The spotting of quirky and random-sounding Sundance trends? Let’s hope it’s a trend!