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Hot picks for this year's Sundance Film Festival

If this year's Oscar nominations are any indication, talk of the Sundance Film Festival's waning relevance is shockingly premature. Two films that stood out in Park City last year — "Boyhood" and "Whiplash" — are two of the stronger Academy Award front-runners this year. So with a whole new crop of hopeful Sundance darlings ready to premiere, here's a look at some of the titles we're most excited about.

It's honestly surprising it's taken this long for this story — about one of the most infamous psychological studies in history — to make it to the screen. Kyle Patrick Alvarez ("C.O.G.") directs an impressive cast including Ezra Miller, Billy Crudup, Tye Sheridan, James Wolk and Michael Angarano.

If you see only one James Franco movie at Sundance this year — and, as usual, there are multiple — see this one. Franco stars in director Justin Kelly's real-life drama as Michael Glatze, a gay activist who becomes an ex-gay Christian pastor.

The Sundance's first sale of the year has already happened, even before the festival started. Kodi Smit-McPhee ("The Road") stars alongside Michael Fassbender and Ben Mendelsohn in this 19th century frontier drama about a young man searching for the woman he loves with some interesting company along for the ride.

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"Compliance" director Craig Zobel follows up that lightning rod of a film with the story of a love triangle — that just so happens to involve the three last people on earth in a post-apocalyptic future. Oh, and those three people happen to be Chiwetel Ejiofor, Chris Pine and Margot Robbie. Humanity could do worse.

There are plenty of examples this year of comic performers turning to Sundance films for a chance to stretch — including two by festival regular Kristen Wiig, plus Sarah Silverman in "I Smile Back" — but the most intriguing is "Flight of the Conchords" star Jemaine Clement taking on the role of a widower with two young daughters.

Since the list of things Ewan McGregor hasn't done yet in his eclectic acting career apparently included playing Jesus Christ and the Devil, he decided to knock them both out with one movie, chronicling Christ's 40-day exile and temptation. Yes, it's ground that been covered on film before, but it's intriguing nonetheless.

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Noah Baumbach and his girlfriend/star/co-writer/muse, Greta Gerwig look to recapture some of that "Frances Ha" magic with another story of young women in New York. Sounds like a plan.

Director James Ponsoldt follows up "The Spectacular Now" with this retelling of the five-day-long interview between David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) and Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg). This could be catnip for the NPR crowd.

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It kind of seems like cheating for festival founder Robert Redford to appear in a film at Sundance, but it's probably best to not ignore him. Redford and Nick Nolte co-star as ageing pals hiking the Appalachian Trail in this film, which kicks off the festival as the opening night gala.

There are also a ton of interesting documentaries, but if you only have time for one, make it Alex Gibney's already controversial Scientology take-down, featuring eight not-so-happy former Church members.

Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter: @nedrick

 
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