Picks and Pans Review: Spotlight On...

updated 02/05/1996 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/05/1996 AT 01:00 AM EST



1995 WAS A GOOD YEAR FOR THE Sundance Film Festival—which, in Robert Redford's view, was a bad thing. Yes, the lineup for the 15-year-old celebration of independent films included such eventual commercial successes as The Usual Suspects, The Brothers McMullen and Unzipped. But that was precisely the problem. Sundance, said Redford, should return to its roots with what he called "rougher stuff, more edgy entries."

The result was a 1996 selection low on explosions and laughs and high on pensive drama and searching monologues. Still, Sundance is Sundance, and neither Redford's mandate nor the 30 inches of snow that blanketed Park City, Utah, where the bulk of the festival was held last week, was enough to keep the celebs away. Brad Pitt escorted Gwyneth Paltrow to the premiere of her younger brother Jake's short film An Eviction Notice. John Travolta screened the dark comedy Meet Ruth Stoops along with its cast: wife Kelly Preston, Burt Reynolds and Laura Dern. At the party for the romantic comedy If Lucy Fell, that film's Elle Macpherson crept outside to share a smoke with fest guest Matt LeBlanc. Al Pacino, Kevin Bacon, Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott all came to show off their own first efforts at feature-directing. Even R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe, who makes his acting debut in the dramatic entry Color of a Brisk and Leaping Day, gawked, saying, "I'm amazed how many big stars are here."

Up on the screen, big-buzz items were Care of the Spitfire Grill, a drama about an ex-con, starring former model Alison Elliott, and I Shot Andy Warhol, with Lili Taylor as Valerie. Solanas, who tried to kill the artist back in 1968. Ironically, one of the earliest entries purchased for release from among the 34 in competition was the hardly edgy, female-bonding Girls-town—shades of Waiting to Exhale. But Redford remains undaunted in his quest for artistic purity. Coming soon to a TV screen near you: the Sundance Film Channel. At least Redford has promised it will be commercial-free.

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