<p>Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller in &quot;The Spectacular Now&quot;</p>

Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller in "The Spectacular Now"

Credit: A24

Upstart distributor A24 adds to its 2013 slate with 'Spectacular Now' Sundance acquisition

Company already has 'The Bling Ring' and 'Spring Breakers' in tow

PARK CITY - James Pondsolt burst onto the scene a year ago with break-out Sundance hit "Smashed." The film was acquired a few months later by Sony Pictures Classics and was released during awards season, where Mary Elizabeth Winstead's performance turned a few heads but never managed to get any real traction.

He's back this year with one of the most buzzed films of the festival, "The Spectacular Now," starring Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller, with Winstead, Kyle Chandler, Brie Larson and Jennifer Jason Leigh filling out the cast. But he won't be waiting quite as long to find a home this time around, as upstart distributor A24 has announced its acquisition of the title.

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<p>Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix both won awards from the London Film Critics' Circle for &quot;The Master.&quot;</p>

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix both won awards from the London Film Critics' Circle for "The Master."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

'Amour,' 'Life of Pi,' 'The Master' win big as London critics spread the love

Daniel Day-Lewis misses a rare stop on the precursor trail

One of the few downsides of being at Sundance this year is that I missed the awards ceremony of my own critics' group, the London Film Critics' Circle. They've just been handed out at a classy gathering at London's Mayfair Hotel, and I'm pleased to see that a good half-dozen of the nominees I voted for took home awards -- not that I'm inclined to complain about any of the winners on this well-balanced list.

"Amour" was the night's top winner, taking Best Film, Screenplay and Actress for Emmanuelle Riva, but no one film was allowed to dominate too heavily. In something of a surprise, Ang Lee took the Best Director award for "Life of Pi," which took an additional technical achievement award for its visual effects.

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<p>Steve Coogan in &quot;The Look of Love.&quot;</p>

Steve Coogan in "The Look of Love."

Credit: Sundance Film Festival

Review: Coogan and Winterbottom revisit 24-hour party people in 'The Look of Love'

Biopic of London's red light district king could use another pass in the editing room

PARK CITY - Sometimes a title change -- even one necessitated by external forces -- can reveal more about a film's uncertainties than anyone involved could possibly realize. Michael Winterbottom's jazzy but scattershot biopic of London nightlife kingpin Paul Raymond, at one point declared Britain's richest man, is one such example.

Originally dubbed "The KIng of Soho," the film was made to change this straightforward title following the threat of legal action from a rival Raymond project. That's neither here nor there, but as a replacement appellation, "The Look of Love" seems so irrelevant to the subject at hand -- bar the recurring presence of the Burt Bacharach-Hal David chestnut on the soundtrack -- that one wonders whether those who chose it had any idea what the film was about.

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<p>Naomi Watts at the Sundance Film Festival.</p>

Naomi Watts at the Sundance Film Festival.

Watch: Naomi Watts and director Anne Fontaine on the surprising love story 'Two Mothers'

How Watts moved to 'a place of forgiveness' with a difficult character

PARK CITY - Since premiering on Friday evening, steamy romantic melodrama "Two Mothers" has been one of the most talked-about titles of this year's Sundance Film Festival -- even if it doesn't have all the critics on its side. At the screening, audience reactions ranged from stunned gasps to nervous laughter at the film's highly unorthodox relationship study.

Set in idyllic coastal Australia, the film stars Naomi Watts and Robin Wright as two lifelong best friends who, as they approach middle age, both find themselves sexually entangled with younger men. Well, that's burying the lede a little: the man in each case is the other woman's teenage son.

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<p>Matthew McConaughey at the 2013 Sundance Film&nbsp;Festival</p>

Matthew McConaughey at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival

Credit: Getty Images

Matthew McConaughey calls the eponymous 'Mud' an 'aristocrat of the heart'

The actor was endeared to his character's streak of romanticism

PARK CITY - In Jeff Nichols' "Mud," Matthew McConaughey tackles a truly charismatic spirit. A man of virtues, many of them at odds with themselves, the eponymous misfit is running from a dark, complex past and toward a brighter, idealized future in the film. He is a cauldron of opportunity for any actor, and McConaughey says that was very much what endeared him to Nichols' script in the first place.

In fact, Nichols had begun the project years ago in film school and had the actor in mind since day one. McConaughey smiles with pearly whites when asked about that fact. "I remember having a moment of going, 'Oh, I've been doing this acting thing for a while,'" the actor says, "'long enough where someone could have me in mind for an original script and write something. I like that.' And it was a side of me that I haven't ever really played. The guy's an adolescent. It's the dreamer side. I think we've all got it in us."

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<p>Scarlett Johansson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in &quot;Don Jon's Addiction.&quot;</p>

Scarlett Johansson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in "Don Jon's Addiction."

Credit: Sundance Film Festival

Review: Joseph Gordon-Levitt's limp sex comedy 'Don Jon's Addiction' plays like 'Shame' on Jersey Shore

Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore co-star in light-hearted tale of porn addiction

PARK CITY - Around halfway through "Don Jon's Addiction," a mildly amusing and more-than-mildly smarmy directorial debut from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, protagonist Jon (Gordon-Levitt himself) takes his newly acquired girlfriend Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) out to the movies. The film is her choice: a fictitious but unmistakably insipid-looking romantic comedy titled "Special Someone," starring Anne Hathaway and Channing Tatum. (Well, their faces, if not their names.) As the movie-within-a-movie ends with the couple driving into the sunset, wedding veil flapping in the breeze, Jon rolls his eyes while Barbara coos with pleasure. Walking out of the cinema, she dimly wonders aloud why real life can't replicate this marshmallow fantasy.

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<p>Jessica Chastain in &quot;Zero&nbsp;Dark&nbsp;Thirty&quot;</p>

Jessica Chastain in "Zero Dark Thirty"

Credit: Sony Pictures

Jessica Chastain owns the box office in 'Mama,' 'Zero Dark Thirty' during crucial Oscar window

Rare feat could be added fuel in the campaign tank

The story of today isn't quite what's happening in Park City but what's happening at multiplexes across the country. Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain is leading the charge with the top two films at the box office, Andrés Muschietti's "Mama" and Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty." That ought to put to rest any idle speculation that the former, which is decently reviewed, would somehow "Norbit" her Oscar hopes.

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<p>Dermot Mulroney in &quot;The Rambler&quot;</p>

Dermot Mulroney in "The Rambler"

Credit: Anchor Bay Films

Weinstein, Anchor Bay strike first on Sundance acquistions

'Twenty Feet From Stardom' and 'The Rambler' find homes

PARK CITY - Sundance is well under way and on opening day, acquisitions had already been announced.

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<p>The University of North Carolina School of the Arts School of Filmmaking in Winston-Salem, North Carolina</p>

The University of North Carolina School of the Arts School of Filmmaking in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Credit: UNCSA

UNCSA film school graduates out in force at Sundance 2013

Alumni across the board credit a college-born spirit of camaraderie

PARK CITY - Sometimes things dovetail nicely and come full circle. As a University of North Carolina School of the Arts alumnus, I'm always interested to see how my former classmates and fellow Fighting Pickles are finding their way in the film industry, and a quick glance at this year's Sundance line-up revealed that, across a number of disciplines, the Winston-Salem-based school's afterglow is in full force. It seemed a story was worth pursuing. So I pursued it.

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<p>Tye&nbsp;Sheridan and&nbsp;Matthew McConaughey in &quot;Mud&quot;</p>

Tye Sheridan and Matthew McConaughey in "Mud"

Credit: Roadside Attractions

Jeff Nichols goes three-for-three with masterful, meaningful 'Mud'

Director's latest has a lot on its mind with magnetic performances throughout

Director Jeff Nichols has built upon each film he's given us since his striking 2007 debut "Shotgun Stories." 2011's "Take Shelter" added deeper atmospheric considerations to an already adept handling of character relationships on screen in ways few artists this early in their careers seem to manage. "Mud," screening tonight at the Sundance Film Festival, is a masterful combination of both stews that rings a storybook note owing as much to Gary Paulsen as to Mark Twain, and with more on its mind than perhaps anything the director has offered so far.

The project's early film school seeds are a good reason for that thoughtfulness, springing from the mind of a young man stung by a failed relationship who set out to work through ideas of romance and the complexities of love so many years ago (stay tuned for an interview expanding on that later in the fest). But Nichols roots the enterprise in a world of Southern lore that speaks to an undercurrent of magical realism in his film; boats in trees, a unique community of river dwellers, it is a singular sense of place. And from the coming-of-age point of view of a young man, surely a surrogate for the director's former self, that atmosphere finds ample thematic footholds.

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