iBeatYouToIt – Steve Jobs biopic is out

It's called, rather neatly, jOBS, and stars Ashton Kutcher; but it's not the only one

Every year, at around this time, Hollywood interrupts its awards season on the sunny West Coast to decamp to Park City, Utah, which is more than 2,000 metres above sea level and often -10C. The trip is not for the weather but for the Sundance Film Festival, now in its 35th year: a showcase for new, independent films made largely with low budgets and little-known actors.

Last year's festival proved to be a launch pad for Beasts of the Southern Wild, a movie made for $1.8m (£1.1m) by a first-time director, which has just been nominated for four Oscars. The most anticipated item in this year's 10-day programme, which began on Thursday, is more of a known quantity. jOBS is the first biopic of Steve Jobs, and it will have its world premiere on the festival's closing night, next Saturday.

The film was directed by Joshua Michael Stern, best known for the Kevin Costner political satire Swing Vote, and festival organisers have suggested it was selected for the slot partly because of its subject's profile. Starring Ashton Kutcher as the iconoclastic chief executive of Apple, jOBS is described as "The true story of one of the greatest entrepreneurs in American history … a candid, inspiring and personal portrait of the one who saw things differently."

Jobs died of pancreatic cancer in October 2011, but jOBS covers what its creators describe as his "30 most defining years", 1971 to 2000. In that time, the ambitious young man and questing hippie created the personal computer, established and then was ousted from Apple, founded Pixar, then returned in triumph to reclaim his most celebrated tech firm.

The film began shooting in June 2012, at the home in Los Altos where Jobs grew up, and at the garage where he and his partner Steve Wozniak founded Apple in 1976. The question for critics and fans is whether Kutcher, famous as Demi Moore's estranged husband and the star of Two and a Half Men, has the acting chops to fill Jobs's New Balance sneakers.

Kutcher is well known in Silicon Valley as a surprisingly successful tech investor, and pictures from the set display an eerie resemblance between actor and subject. Josh Gad, who plays Wozniak, praised his co-star's performance in an interview with USA Today. "When he showed up," said Gad, "it sent a ripple of shock throughout the set. Everyone was like, 'We're in the presence of Jobs. Let's go do this.' It was literally like being in the room with the creator of Apple. This is one of those roles that's the perfect fit."

Among the other actors appearing in jOBS – which is expected in cinemas in April – are Dermot Mulroney and J K Simmons as the early Apple investors Mike Markkula and Arthur Rock; Matthew Modine as the former Apple CEO John Sculley; and James Woods as Jack Dudman, Jobs's maths professor and mentor at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.

jOBS is not the only Jobs biopic in the works. Indeed, it may not even be the most high-profile. Sony, one of the major Hollywood studios, is developing a film based on the best-selling authorised biography by Walter Isaacson. Its screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who wrote Moneyball and won an Oscar for The Social Network, recently revealed that the film will comprise just three 30-minute scenes, each shot in real time, and set backstage just before a big tech launch: the Mac in 1984, the NeXT in 1988, and the iPod in 2001.

Speaking to the AllThingsD conference in California last May, Sorkin described Jobs as a hero: "It's a little like writing about the Beatles," said the writer. "There are so many people out there that know him and revere him." Sony, meanwhile, has hired Wozniak as a consultant for the film, to "tutor" Sorkin and the other film-makers on both the technical aspects of computer design, and on his friend's character.

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The WikiLeaks founder is to be played by Benedict Cumberbatch in a DreamWorks studio film, currently in pre-production, about his life.

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