<p>Lake Bell, Katie Aselton, and Kate Bosworth all co-star in 'Black Rock,' one of the films that will debut as part of this year's Park&nbsp;City at Midnight programming during the Sundance Film Festival</p>

Lake Bell, Katie Aselton, and Kate Bosworth all co-star in 'Black Rock,' one of the films that will debut as part of this year's Park City at Midnight programming during the Sundance Film Festival

Credit: AP Photo/Sundance Film Festival

Park City At Midnight promises a billion-dollar movie, LCD Soundsystem, and more Duplass

Throw in Irish booze monsters and a V/H/S anthology, and it sounds like a blast

If there is any section of Sundance that I can claim as my own here at HitFix, it is Park City at Midnight.  Just as Greg Ellwood is our primary guy for the Competition sections, since those are the film most likely to end up in the conversation about awards as the year progresses, it makes sense for me to cover the midnight movies because I am King Nerd of the HitFix team.

This year's line-up is immediately interesting, and it's funny how many overlaps I can already see in this year's programming, places where you'll have one person in Park City to represent several films.  Makes sense, too.  There's a momentum that starts to gather around certain people, and sometimes they're just having a moment and it seems like everything's ready at the same time.  It's not just at festivals, of course.  Steven Spielberg's having a big fat crazy December in theaters in the US, with both "The Adventures Of Tintin" and "War Horse" opening within days of one another.  But when it happens at a festival, it can create some really strange and fun echoes that link films that otherwise have nothing in common.

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<p>William H. Macy and John Hawkes are two familiar faces represented at this year's Sundance Film&nbsp;Festival in the new drama 'The Surrogate'</p>

William H. Macy and John Hawkes are two familiar faces represented at this year's Sundance Film Festival in the new drama 'The Surrogate'

Credit: AP Photo/Sundance Film Festival

We dig into Sundance 2012 with hard-hitting docs and a serious Tim and Eric

Competition titles already make it look like a great year for the festival

Even as we begin to wrap up 2011, we begin the adventure for 2012 with today's announcements of the first wave of titles for next year's Sundance Film Festival.  I'm in the middle of running down my last few films for this year, and I'm focused on just making it to December 9th, when my year is sort of officially over.  The reward for all of this work?

A blank slate, and as of today, I get to start figuring out what my January looks like.

This afternoon, the Sundance Institute released the line-ups for several of the sections of this year's festival, including the U.S. and World Cinema Dramatic and Documentary Competitions.  Our team has already published the full line-up as announced, section by section, and you can see those here and here and here.  HitFix will be in Park CIty to cover the festival of course, starting with the kickoff of January 19th, and I'm already overwhelmed just based on this early list of things.

Sundance says they've chosen 110 feature-length films from 31 countries, with 46 first-time directors in the mix.  We'll get a look at some of the more adventurous sections of the festival, like NEXT, New Frontier, and of course Park City At Midnight tomorrow, and I'm sure many of my immediate must-sees will come from those lists.  For now, though, let's look at the sections they have announced:

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<p>'John&nbsp;Carter' is ready to ride as Taylor Kitsch appears on 'Good Morning America' to premiere the new trailer for the long-awaited space opera</p>

'John Carter' is ready to ride as Taylor Kitsch appears on 'Good Morning America' to premiere the new trailer for the long-awaited space opera

Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

The film comes into focus as 'John Carter' gets a new trailer and poster

While the ads still aren't compelling, it definitely looks ambitious

It's no fun when a campaign simply isn't working for me.

Especially when the film in question comes from a director I'm very intrigued by, features a cast that has real potential, and is based on a property I've loved since childhood.  "John Carter" should be a film that has me on the hook from day one, a film I can't wait to see.  At this point in the campaign, with the film coming out in March, I should be frothing at the mouth, ready to go, dying to see how the whole thing comes together.

I'm curious, certainly, but this week's launch of the new poster and the new trailer have left me just as cautious as I've been each step of the way so far.  I think I just don't get the hook of this campaign, and that's totally removed from what I know about the film or the original Edgar Rice Burroughs books about a Civil War veteran who ends up embroiled in a new conflict on Mars or the various behind-the-scenes goings-on for this one.  Just looking at the trailers and the posters, I'm interested in a "there are aliens and spaceships so I'll be there" sort of way, but not in a specific "you've got me" sort of way yet.  Carter himself is so bland in these materials that it seems odd to have the film be named after him when he's the least dynamic thing we're seeing in the materials.

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<p>There will be blood... and bone-breaking... and detached limbs... when 'The Raid' hits theaters next year</p>

There will be blood... and bone-breaking... and detached limbs... when 'The Raid' hits theaters next year

Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Sony Pictures Classics plans to play rough with 'The Raid'

Could this be the next 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'?

It's hard to believe that "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" was eleven years ago.

If you don't remember what it was like when that film was coming out, let me take you back.  Sony Pictures Classics took Ang Lee's Chinese language masterpiece that was my favorite film of the last decade and turned it into a genuine box-office phenomenon.  A movie with subtitles.  That's supposed to be impossible.  Anyone will tell you that audiences simply don't want to read a movie, and any movie with subtitles is doomed to a certain size audience and no more than that.  But Tom Bernard and Michael Barker bet on "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," and more than that, they strategized.  They made a big play with that film, and it paid off and paid off and paid off for them.  It's still one of the biggest foreign-language releases of all time.

Barker and Bernard have been around since the dawn of man, of course, and they've been adventurous distributors longer than I've been a film fan.  I've met both of them many times over the years, and they're exactly what I would have hoped, smart and still engaged and always looking.  They really do love that moment where they get to present something exciting to the general public.

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<p>Captain America and Tony Stark get ready to... DOES&nbsp;IT&nbsp;MATTER?! That's Captain America and Tony Stark.&nbsp; In the same film.&nbsp; That's happening.&nbsp; Seriously.</p>

Captain America and Tony Stark get ready to... DOES IT MATTER?! That's Captain America and Tony Stark.  In the same film.  That's happening.  Seriously.

Credit: Marvel Studios

The Bigger Picture: Muppets, Avengers, and Life In The Age Of Fanfiction

A new column examines the idea that our pop culture truly belongs to the fans today

One of the things that happens when you write about entertainment all day every day is you tend to get caught up in minutiae, and it leads to some editorial decisions that I would call questionable.  When you're writing breathless headlines about Pez dispensers, you may be working too hard to find relevance in the irrelevant.  Getting hung up on the micro often prevents us from focusing on the macro, but I'd like to take the opportunity to take a step back from time to time in a column that we're calling "The Bigger Picture."

Right after our own Alan Sepinwall went to see "The Muppets" with his family, he hopped on iChat to share some thoughts as he was writing his review.  He said something to me that he also included in his review, and it really struck a chord with me.  "'The Muppets' is, to put it simply, the greatest work of fanfiction I've ever seen."  In that one line, he explained something that I've been struggling to articulate for a while now, and I think it explains exactly where we are in pop culture.

This is the Age of Fanfiction.

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<p>William Hurt was the star of one of Ken Russell's most famous film, 'Altered States'</p>

William Hurt was the star of one of Ken Russell's most famous film, 'Altered States'

Credit: Warner Home Video

Ken Russell, noted director of 'Women In Love,' passes away at 84

Few directors have ever pushed the envelope as far as he did

Ken Russell is dead.

And while I consider Ken Russell a giant, a genuine force to be reckoned with, a man who left a giant shit-smeared mark across the face of cinema like a moustache added to the Mona Lisa, I confess I haven't seen one thing he made in the 20 years since his film "Whore" was released.

That's crazy.  According to the IMDb, he's directed 19 things since then.  I knew he contributed to "Trapped Ashes," an anthology film that I still haven't seen, but I didn't see it.  And I've never heard of the other 18 projects.  He was just off my radar.

Again… that's crazy.  But if you're looking to sum up the cinematic output of one Henry Kenneth Alfred Russell, the word "crazy" is probably a great place to start.  His was a long sustained and beautiful madness that played out in a wildly uneven filmography, where his highs were as high as anyone's who worked in the British pop '60s and the international art house '70s, and where his lows were as low as anyone working in the Golan/Globus exploitation mills of the '80s.  He clashed famously with actors, directors, censors, rock stars and most other life forms at one point or another.

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<p>'We Bought A Zoo' features a heartbroken Matt Damon, animals, and cute kids?&nbsp; Your tear ducts don't stand a chance.</p>

'We Bought A Zoo' features a heartbroken Matt Damon, animals, and cute kids?  Your tear ducts don't stand a chance.

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Review: 'We Bought A Zoo' showcases Matt Damon at his tear-jerking best

HitFix
B+
Readers
A
It sure is nice to see Scarlett Johansson play a normal person

I am a weepy old man.

I've always had one of those filters where I am wide open to movies, and if one of them finds my spot, and I get emotionally played for two hours, I'm not going to walk out afterwards angry because I got played.  That's why I bought the ticket.  And ever since I had kids, I find that my antenna are even more attuned to it, and I am easier than ever to set off.  I could pretend to be above it, or I could strike a much more cynical and calculated pose in my writing, but if I'm being honest with you, I'm a sap.  I cop to it completely.

As a result, I did my best to run out a side door so I didn't have to make eye contact with anyone after "We Bought A Zoo" tonight at the Pacific Winnetka, just one of the thousands of theaters where 20th Century Fox held a nationwide sneak tonight.  I didn't want to see anyone because I know I was a mess.  It got so bad at one point that I started laughing at just how expertly director Cameron Crowe was punching my button.  This movie is a big fat right down the middle mainstream family movie, and I'm guessing that word of mouth is going to be very strong.

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<p>Daniel Craig appeared with director Sam Mendes and much of the cast of the new James Bond film 'Skyfall' at a recent press conference</p>

Daniel Craig appeared with director Sam Mendes and much of the cast of the new James Bond film 'Skyfall' at a recent press conference

Credit: AP Photo/Joel Ryan

Ben Whishaw will equip James Bond for 'Skyfall' as the new Q

The return of a favorite character is a good sign for the new movie

As the new James Bond 007 film, "Skyfall," starts to come into focus, we're getting some idea about what to expect just based on the casting in the film.  And by far, one of the most exciting details to emerge for old-school Bond fans is the idea that we're finally going to see the return of Q branch in this new film in the form of Ben Whishaw.

I really dug Whishaw in "Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer," and he's been interesting in things like the TV series "Nathan Barley" and the film "Stoned," where he played Keith Richards.  I'm curious to see what role or roles he has in "Cloud Atlas" next year, which sounds ambitious and bizarre, but in the meantime, just knowing that he's playing Q means we're going to see the return of what used to be one of the highlights of the entire series.

I love that they shook up the formula when Daniel Craig was hired to play the character, and I think it's important that the series took a break from having every single film with an identical structure.  They'd gotten to a point where it was sort of deadly dull to sit through the films, no matter who was playing the part of Bond, and I felt bad as a fan of the character to start actually dreading the new movies.

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<p>Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) goes for a swim as a way of drawing young Colin Clarke into her world in the new film 'My Week With Marilyn'</p>

Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) goes for a swim as a way of drawing young Colin Clarke into her world in the new film 'My Week With Marilyn'

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Review: Michelle Williams finds the bruised soul of 'My Week With Marilyn'

HitFix
B+
Readers
A-
A smart look at one of Hollywood's biggest icons digs deep and strikes gold

At this point, I'm amazed by Michelle Williams so regularly that I'm used to it. 

After all, she's been crushing it in film after film.  "Blue Valentine."  "Wendy and Lucy."  "Meek's Cutoff."  "Take This Waltz."  She has slowly but surely asserted herself as one of the most impressive young actors working, able to tap into a wellspring of pain that makes her work almost impossible to take at times while being hard to turn off.  I love it when an actor starts to really play these raw nerve types of roles, and if it is her real-life personal pain that drives her, then I am truly sorry on her behalf, but I am thankful we at least have the work to enjoy.

Playing Marilyn Monroe seems like the sort of thing that is almost too big a challenge, and one of the reasons I've never been a huge fan of biopics in general.  I think they often try to distill an entire life into two hours and often fail miserably at the task.  Human lives are complicated, and any person over the course of a life lived richly will probably be several different distinct people over the course of many decades.  We change.  We evolve.  We are rarely just one thing, but biopics are by their very nature reductive, designed to sum someone up with a few signature moments or ideas.  I hope I'm not defined that easily, and I don't believe most people are.

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<p>Amy Adams may have finally met her match in the adorable department with her felt-based co-stars in this week's joyous new release 'The Muppets'</p>

Amy Adams may have finally met her match in the adorable department with her felt-based co-stars in this week's joyous new release 'The Muppets'

Credit: HitFix

Watch: Amy Adams effuses about working with 'The Muppets' and Superman

Amelia Earhart, Lois Lane, and a musical wth the Muppets? What can't she do?

Everybody loves Amy Adams.

That's a universal truth, right?  She's one of those performers I can't imagine disliking.  Even if you don't love the movies she makes, I can't fathom how anyone would have a problem with her.  There's a reason her performance in "Junebug" got her that Oscar nomination, and it was more a case of "Oh my gosh, who is this person?" than the film itself.  She just popped off the screen in that film, and I felt the same was true of her work in Steven Spielberg's "Catch Me If You Can."

On the day we did this interview, I had both of my sons with me, and it was a big day of meeting people for them.  They got to meet Spider-Man's girlfriend, they met Walter, and Toshi interviewed Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog.  But maybe the biggest event for them, based on how much they talked about it afterwards, was meeting The Princess from "The Princess Movie."

At least, that's the title it's known by in our house.  Both of the boys are big fans of "Enchanted," and they knew Adams as Giselle from that film before they knew her as anything else.  And while they also love her in "A Night At The Museum 2," even in that film, they just refer to her as "The Princess."

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