A Literary Cheat Sheet for Sundance 2013

Last month we sliced and diced the films debuting in the Premieres section of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival (which kicks off in Park City tomorrow), in a piece  highlighting the surest bets in what appears to be one of the most promising programs in many years.

And though the Sundance Premieres tend to offer higher production values and a more polished cinematic experience; the U.S. and World Competitions provide an unvarnished picture of the bold innovation that defines the true spirit of independent filmmaking. This year’s competition selections feature fewer recognizable names than in the past, which may bode well for festivalgoers in search of a more intimate and, perhaps, authentic experience. However, as any Sundance vet has found out the hard way, banking on the unknown carries a higher risk factor: One false move and suddenly you’re leaving the theater wishing for nothing more than to reclaim those two hours and rededicate them to the elusive and often futile search for a cheap good meal and stiff drink in Park City.

So whether you’re headed to Utah or just handicapping the festival from afar, we’ve got you covered with an insider’s guide to the standouts vying for the honor of slapping “Sundance Film Festival Award Winner” on any and all future trailers and publicity materials for perpetuity. We’ve plowed through the program and separated our selections into three piles, focusing on the literary-inspired narratives and those most likely to leave you in the theater pondering the magic of moviemaking until the last credit disappears from the screen.

This clever low-concept comedy marks the Sundance return of Jerusha Hess, one half of the writing-directing husband-and-wife duo who made an explosive debut at the 2004 festival with “Napoleon Dynamite.” The idea animating this film is so keenly familiar, it’s almost hard to believe no one has made the movie yet. A terminally single BBC producer’s dating life founders due to her unhealthy obsession with Pride and Prejudice, and her elusive quest to meet a modern version of Mr. Darcy. She attempts to excise her infatuation at a fantasy camp for Austen geeks.

This wry participant-observer yarn follows an urban know-it-all who hits the road and takes a job on an apple farm, where his city slicker notions of superiority are quickly dismantled. Produced by David Sedaris and directed by “Girls” writer, Kyle Patrick Alvarez, this hipster-out-of-water tale sounds like a “This American Life” segment writ large.

Kill Your Darlings
Even if it feels like Hollywood has been beating us over the head with romanticized portraits of the Beats, it might be worth reserving your judgment and enduring one last Beat down, if only for its brilliant title. The premise of this debut feature from writer-director John Krokidas features an intriguing premise that combines elements of the game of Clue and “LA Confidential”: Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William Burroughs intersect around a mysterious murder.

The Spectacular Now
Based on Tim Tharp’s exuberant stream-of-consciousness coming-of-age novel, this journey into the tense nerve center of high school angst and ecstasy unites a hard-partying Big Man on Campus with an introverted outlier. Far from a garden-variety nerd-makes-good YA romance, Tharp’s characters evolve in the most unexpected ways. Even more promising: Filmmaker James Ponsoldt directed our favorite film of Sundance 2012: “Smashed.”

The Future
In her English-language feature debut, Chilean writer-director Alicia Scherson dove straight into the deep end, with this adaptation of an untranslated novel by the reigning literary giant of her native country, Roberto Bolano. The dark allegory follows two teenage orphaned teens who revel in the illicit pleasures and freedoms their new lives as street urchins affords them until one of them decides to take shelter with a creepy former Mr. Universe.

Other non-literary titles for your files: "In a World," "May in the Summer," "Touchy Feely," "Toy’s House," "Upstream Color," "Afternoon Delight."

Docs of note: "After Tiller," "Blood Brother," "Cutie and the Boxer," "Dirty Wars," "Gideon’s Army," "Twenty Feet from Stardom," "Valentine Road," "Narco Cultura"

Heading to Sundance this year? Check out these five Park City hot spots.