By Anthony Breznican
December 05, 2011 at 09:00 PM EST
Johnny Nunez/WireImage.com

Though Sundance tends to be stereotyped as the place for heavy, dour stories of shattered lives, it’s actually a great place for comedies. Think Napoleon Dynamite, Little Miss Sunshine, The Kids Are All Right, and last year ‘s Our Idiot Brother and Cedar Rapids.

This year the non-competition premieres section is heavy with comedies, most of them fueled by women, among them Kirsten Dunst, Rashida Jones, Julie Delpy, Rebecca Hall, Ari Graynor and Parker Posey.

“There are lots of big female-driven comedies of different sorts. Everything from Julie Delpy’s 2 Days in New York, to [Dunst’s] Bachelorette and [Graynor’s] For a Good Time Call,” says Sundance director John Cooper. “You don’t always get that every year.” (Full disclosure: Entertainment Weekly is a sponsor of the Sundance festival’s premieres section.)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and his hitRECord.org crowd-sourced movie studio will return to the festival on Jan. 26 with a special event, and another very notable presence in the festival is Spike Lee, who is bringing his coming-of-age drama Red Hook Summer, a sort-of sequel to his Do The Right Thing.

Read on for more details of the line-up…

2 Days in New York:

Delpy stars as Marion, a single mom whose mixed-race relationship with new boyfriend (Chris Rock) is causing chaos as her family visits her in New York just as her upcoming photo exhibition is happening.

(Co-stars: Albert Delpy, Alexia Landeau, Alex Nahon. Director: Julie Delpy, Screenwriters: Julie Delpy, Alexia Landeau)

Arbitrage:

Ripped straight from the ongoing rage toward Wall Street, Richard Gere stars as a hedge-fund manager who has built his empire on fraud and is desperate to sell before it’s uncovered. Meanwhile, his personal life is also collapsing around him.

(Co-stars: Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, Brit Marling, Laetitia Casta. Director and screenwriter: Nicholas Jarecki)

Bachelorette:

Four old high school friends unearth old rivalries and bitterness when the least popular of the bunch gets engaged to one of New York City’s wealthiest bachelors — and she twists the knife by asking her old frenemies to be her bridesmaids.

(Cast: Dunst, Isla Fisher, Lizzy Caplan, James Marsden, Adam Scott, Kyle Bornheimer. Director and screenwriter: Leslye Headland)

California Solo:

“A former Britpop rocker has long settled for an unfettered life working on a farm outside of L.A. When he’s caught driving drunk and faces deportation, he must confront past and current demons in his life to stay in the country,” according to the Sundance synopsis.

(Cast: Robert Carlyle, Alexia Rasmussen, Kathleen Wilhoite, A Martinez, Danny Masterson. Director and screenwriter: Marshall Lewy)

Celeste and Jesse Forever:

Parks and Recreation’s Rashida Jones (who co-wrote) and SNL’s Andy Samberg star as the title characters, who married soon after high school and, now in their early 30s, decide it’s time to break up and see other people. But, you know… they hope they can still be friends. That always works out just fine, right? “It’s a romantic comedy with a quirky element to it,” Cooper says. “If you know Rashida Jones’ work, it’s very her.”

(Co-starring: Ari Graynor, Chris Messina, Elijah Wood, Emma Roberts. Director: Lee Toland Krieger, Screenwriters: Rashida Jones, Will McCormack)

For A Good Time, Call… :

Ari Graynor (pictured) and Lauren Anne Miller play two women who move in together after one of them has a break-up and the other loses her rent-controlled home. To make money, they decide to open a phone-sex line. Of course they do.

(Co-stars: Justin Long, Mark Webber, James Wolk. Director: Jamie Travis, Screenwriters: Katie Anne Naylon and Miller)

Goats:

An oddball coming-of-age story about a teenage boy (Graham Phillips) who leaves behind his carefree mom (Vera Farmiga) and a best-friend goat-herder (David Duchovny) — I’m not making this up — to attend a prep school where he reconnects with his estranged father (Modern Family’s pater familias Ty Burrell). Based on the cast alone, this is intriguing. Plus, hey – goats!

(Director: Christopher Neil, Screenwriter: Mark Jude Poirier, based on his own novel)

NEXT: Bruce Willis gets ‘geeky’

Lay The Favorite:

Directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen, High Fidelity), Rebecca Hall (The Town) stars as a young woman who joins forces with what are described in the Sundance synopsis as “geeky older men who have found a way to work the sportsbook system in Las Vegas to their advantage.”

(Co-stars: Bruce Willis, Catherine Zeta-Jones. Screenplay by D.V. DeVincentis, based on the memoir by Beth Raymer)

Liberal Arts:

How I Met Your Mother’s Josh Radnor made his filmmaking debut at Sundance two years ago with HappyThankYouMorePlease, and returns as writer-director-star with this comedy-drama, about a 30-something who returns to his college alma mater and falls in love with a student (last year’s Sundance break-out actress Elizabeth Olsen, of Martha Marcy May Marlene).

(Co-stars: Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney, John Magaro, Elizabeth Reaser)

Price Check:

From the Sundance description: “Pete is having trouble resolving a happy marriage and family life with rising debt and a job he hates. When his new boss pulls him into the maelstrom that is her life, money and opportunities come his way, but at what price?”

(Cast: Parker Posey, Eric Mabius, Annie Parisse, Josh Pais, Cheyenne Jackson. Director and screenwriter: Michael Walker)

Red Hook Summer:

“A young Atlanta boy spends his summer in Brooklyn with his grandfather, whom he’s never seen before,” is the simple description provided by Sundance. This is Spike Lee’s return to his old neighborhood, both geographically and artistically.He keeps saying he’s going back to his old style,” says Cooper. “He found some very young unknown actors from his old junior high that he went to. It’s very Brooklyn.” As mentioned earlier, Lee turns up in a small role as Mookie, the character he played in Do the Right Thing. “It’s Mookie grown up,” Cooper says. “And he’s still working at the pizza place.”

(Cast: Clarke Peters, Jules Brown, Toni Lysaith, James Ransone, Thomas Jefferson Byrd. Director: Spike Lee, Screenwriters: James McBride, Spike Lee)

Red Lights:

From director Rodrigo Cortés, who brought the excellent Ryan Reynolds’ thriller Buried to Sundance two years ago, comes this thriller about scientists attempting to examine paranormal activity, which leads them to unexpected encounters through a world-renowned psychic.

(Cast: Cillian Murphy, Sigourney Weaver, Robert De Niro, Elizabeth Olsen, Toby Jones. Screenplay by Cortés)

Robot and Frank:

Frank Langella stars as “a curmudgeonly older dad” whose grown kids install a robot as his caretaker, according to the Sundance synopsis. “It’s sweet and light and an endearing story,” Cooper says. “It’s in the future and the robot almost looks like the one Honda has, Asimo, this little guy who is very sweet and becomes a friend and protector of this old guy.” Susan Sarandon co-stars as a librarian whose facing the closure of her workplace because paper books have become obsolete.

(Co-stars: James Marsden, Liv Tyler. Director: Jake Schreier, Screenwriter: Christopher Ford)

Shadow Dancer:

Andrea Riseborough (seen lately in Madonna’s W.E.) stars as a widowed mother-turned-terrorist with brothers in the top echelons of the IRA, who must decide whether to share what she knows after being arrested for a failed bomb plot. (Co-stars: Aidan Gillen, Domhnall Gleeson, Gillian Anderson [The X-Files], and Clive Owen Director: James Marsh, Screenwriter: Tom Bradby)

The Words:

Sundance synopsis: “Aspiring writer Rory Jansen finds another man’s haunting memories in a collection of lost stories and claims them as his own, propelling him to literary stardom.” But it’s a non-linear tale, as Cooper explains: “It’s very sweet, and we’re lucky to have it. It’s a tricky story because it’s kind of a flashback in another flashback.”

(Cast: Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Irons, Dennis Quaid, Olivia Wilde with Zoe Saldana. Directors and screenwriters: Brian Klugman, Lee Sternthal)

NEXT: Sundance docs on Paul Simon, skateboarders and supermodels

DOCUMENTARIES:

Untitled documentary about Paul Simon’s Graceland:

Twenty-five years after Paul Simon created his iconic Graceland album, the singer-songwriter returns to South Africa, where he fused his folk-rock sensibilities with African rhythms and joined forces with the a cappella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. But doing so violated the United Nations’ cultural boycott of that country, which was designed to end Apartheid. Many would argue Simon helped the world see the beauty of South Africa through its music, which focused attention on the repression there. Others still feel he crossed a line, and Simon confronts both points-of-view in this documentary. “He’s putting himself right on the line,” says Sundance’s Cooper. “It’s about an artist’s role in the midst of a political situation, and does an artist have to adhere to any rules that politicians are putting in place. It raises some good questions, and you get to love the music.”

(Directed by Joe Berlinger, the Paradise Lost documentaries and Metallica: Some Kind of Monster)

About Face:

A study of aging and beauty that speaks to some of the world’s most beautiful women, who helped define the term “supermodel.” Among the participants: Isabella Rossellini, Christie Brinkley (pictured), Beverly Johnson, Carmen Dell’Orefice, Paulina Porizkova, Jerry Hall, and Christy Turlington.

(Director: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders)

A Fierce Green Fire:

A study of the evolution of the environmental movement through the decades, from the 1960s to present day. (Director: Mark Kitchell)

Bones Brigade — An Autobiography:

Skateboarding legend and filmmaker Stacy Peralta brings together six men who helped define the sport in the 1980s. “Where Dogtown and Z-Boys captured his coming-of-age in the ‘70s with the Zephyr group, this is what he started in the ‘80s, which actually had even more of a cultural impact,” says Cooper.

(Among the participants: Tony Hawk, Lance Mountain, Steve Caballero, Mike McGill, Rodney Mullen, Tommy Guerrero)

The D Word: Understanding Dyslexia:

Via Sundance: “While following a Dyslexic high school senior struggling to achieve his dream of getting into a competitive college, The D Word exposes myths about Dyslexia and reveals cutting edge research to elucidate this widely misunderstood condition.” (Director: James Redford)

Ethel:

Directed by daughter Rory Kennedy, this documentary is a portrait of Ethel Kennedy, widow of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, providing a view from inside the politically powerful family and dealing with everything from his assassination to the 11 children she raised afterward.

West of Memphis:

Via Sundance: “Three teenage boys are incarcerated for the murders of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. 19 years later, new evidence calls into question the convictions and raises issues of judicial, prosecutorial and jury misconduct – showing that the first casualty of a corrupt justice system is the truth.” This story has been widely explored in Joe Berlinger’s previously mentioned Paradise Lost films, but has continued to draw documentarians’ attention as the story evolves. This film was produced by Peter Jackson, who helped to fund the effort to exonerate the three men starting in 2005. (Director: Amy Berg)

Something From Nothing: The Art Of Rap:

Ice-T and co-director Andy Baybutt sit down with Chuck D, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Eminem, MC Lyte, Mos Def, and Kanye West to exlore the roots of their music. “He gets everyone, all of the seminal rappers from the ‘80s and ’90s,” Cooper says. “And he gets them talking about what they do — not just the cultural impact, or what it’s place is in the musical world — but actually about the art of what they do.”

Read more:

Sundance 2012: Did Stanley Kubrick fake the moon landing?

Sundance 2012 lineup: Time-travel, sex, and… sex dominate competition

Sundance 2012: Midnight Movies highlight the horrible and hilarious

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