So I'm back from Park City and still recovering from this year's Sundance Film Festival, where I-- Cinema Blend's lone reporter this year-- managed to see 32 movies, conduct 11 interviews, and sleep about 5 hours a night. It was stressful but an adventure, a refresher course on what I love about movies and a chance to meet new talent I genuinely believe we'll be hearing a lot from soon.
I still have a few interviews left to run, but it's time to wrap this thing up, look over the good and the bad and figure out what I learned in the process. A lot of the tips are only helpful if you ever make it to Park City-- learn the bus routes as fast as you can so you don't wind up on unintentional tours of town. Buy a pair of snow boots once you get there and never take them off your feet. Eat at the Yarrow Hotel for lunch but not for dinner. Make sure there's someone ahead of you in line at the press screenings so someone can save you a seat. Pack lots of Emergen-C and bring it with you to screenings, because that stuff starts being as valuable as crack.
My Sundance experience was a little heavier on the parties than what the CB Squad has done in the past-- don't know why, but the notion of pushing through a crowd to get into something called The Tweet House just doesn't appeal to them. The photo you see of me above is posing with a coin purse made out of a cane toad, at the after-party for the Animal Collective film ODDSAC (and that's all I'll explain about that). But while friends of mine danced with Parker Posey or got birthday wishes from Mark Ruffalo, I was mostly scarfing down meals with other sleep-deprived bloggers and, on one very special occasion, getting them to dance in the middle of a Soul Train-style circle. There's a corner of Sundance reserved for the rich and the privileged with time on their hands, but when you're there to see as many movies as possible, your best company will the people who are also interested in discussing out how Lionsgate will sell Buried to the public.
Speaking of which, do you want to hear about the movies? Many of my favorites from the fest are movies that either came to Sundance with distribution or got picked up while I was there-- Cyrus, The Kids Are All Right, Buried and I Am Love are all coming to theaters at some point this year, which means you can see for yourself whether or not my love for them was just exhaustion-induced euphoria. Others, like Catfish, Banksy's Exit Through the Gift Shop, happythankyoumoreplease and The Freebie, were such crowd pleasers that they're bound to be picked up soon.
The movies I liked the most tended to be comedies, and I don't think that's just because I needed a laugh after trudging through the snow to get everywhere. Something about Sundance frees people up to escape the usual rigors of Hollywood comedy, whether the sad-tinged honest comedy of something like The Kids Are All Right, Please Give and The Freebie or the outlandishness of HIGH School and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. Seeing these movies with packed houses matters too-- catching the comedy concert film Louis C.K.: Hilarious at a midnight screening on Main Street, even when half-asleep, was infinitely better than it would have been to see it alone.
Most of the festival's dramas that got everyone buzzing I either didn't see-- Enter the Void, Winter's Bone-- or left me a little cold-- Blue Valentine, Mother and Child. They say that comedy is harder than drama, but the self-seriousness of many of these movies just instantly kicked off my skepticism; at Sundance, when you're seeing so many movies in such a short period of time, you get harder to impress. Even stellar dramas like Animal Kingdom and to a lesser extent The Company Men took their time to sink in with me; usually only after a few days and conversations with other writers was I able to see the insight they held.
My go-to answer for my favorite of the festival has been either Cyrus or Catfish, but it's really a lot more complicated than that-- there were about 8 films that I loved almost equally, and will be delighted to see again when they hopefully make their way to me again. And then there were a few that left me groaning or kicking myself for being stuck in those theaters-- except for one occasion, where the other press in the room were so miserable they all started laughing with me. To go over all of those and everything else I saw, below is my best and worst of Sundance (click on any of the titles for the full review). The fact that there's much more good than bad should tell you that I can't wait until next year.
One more thing: I also participated in two video reviews, of Nowhere Boy and The Killer Inside Me, with Dave Chen at Slashfilm. I embedded them under their respective entries on these lists, just in case you want to see me and some other bloggers talk about these some more.
An Italian art film with zero stars and a two-hour running time,I Am Love is a tough sell for a hectic Sundance schedule, but think of it this way: with lush visuals, beautiful Italian language and a weird psychosexual vibe unique to Europe, it's kind of like a Milan vacation high in the Rocky Mountains.
I saw Catfish this morning entirely because I had space in my schedule and could get a ticket from the publicist-- I didn't know if it was a documentary or a feature (documentary), if there were actual catfish involved (no), or anything else. As it turns out I gave myself one of those legendary Sundance experiences, walking into a movie knowing nothing about it, and leaving smitten and transformed.
You might be told by someone else that Seven Days is torture porn, so let me set the record straight from the beginning. Seven Days is only torture porn if porn leaves you feeling exhausted and numb, sad for everyone onscreen and for yourself for being part of the species that's capable of such things.
Buried: in which Ryan Reynolds is buried underground in a coffin with a cell phone, a lighter and some glow sticks and spends 90 minutes trying to fight his way out. You're pretty much in or out with the premise alone.
The notion of mixing mumblecore honesty with the traditional Hollywood rom-com format sounds disastrous, but indie stalwarts Mark and Jay Duplass have pulled it off beautifully in Cyrus, the most charming and hilarious and truthful romantic comedy I've seen in ages.
In April Aaron Johnson will be introduced to most of the world as the titular character of Kick-Ass, but before he strapped on the spandex and the catchphrases, he had the gall to play one of the 20th century's most revered figures.
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil fits pretty much every imaginable midnight movie requirement-- it's funny, crazy and violent, all in the same scenes, but not fast-paced or smart enough that hoots and hollers would ruin all the best parts. Led by totally over the top performances from Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine as well-meaning hillbillies mistaken for serial killers...
Though the art featured in the film can be avant garde and confusing-- Shepard Fairey's "Andre the Giant Has A Posse" or Banksy's own painted elephant-- the film itself is the kind of documentary anyone can love, funny and insightful and even a little sarcastic about the world it explores. Against all odds, a movie by a street artist who won't reveal his identity is a crowd-pleaser. I'm just as surprised as you are.
Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady introduced the world to a gigantic and terrifyingly evangelical movement with 2006's Jesus Camp, and now they're back exploring the cultural divide with 12th and Delaware, a documentary about a Florida abortion clinic with a pro-life "pregnancy counseling center" facing it across the street-- the most literal representation of the abortion debate imaginable.
I'm not really sure if the Animal Collective and Danny Perez collaboration ODDSAC is genius or insane or some combination of the two, or the if the low-fi hallucinatory visuals here represent some great leap for music movies-- I'll leave that to Pitchfork to sort out. What I do know is that ODDSAC definitely doesn't look like anything I've seen at Sundance, or maybe even in my life.
Now that the film has been picked up by Focus Features for distribution at some point this year, I'm thrilled to tell you you've got a lot to look forward to. Lisa Cholodenko's film is sure-handed, warm and funny, a crowdpleaser that isn't too pleased with itself, despite the presence of organic farmers and smart teenagers and all the other tropes of smug liberal filmmaking that might normally make me cringe.
Americans may have created the perfect examples of the crime saga with The Godfather and The Sopranos, but Animal Kingdom proves that we don't have a lockdown on compelling gangsters. Even though it's about an unlikely family of armed robbers, Animal Kingdom turns into a strangely emotional and extremely dark story about family love and loyalties.
Many independent films take place in a single location out of necessity-- location scouts don't come for free, and if it's just you and your buddies and an HD cam making the magic happen, you'd better be able to control the circumstances around you. With his third film Lovers of Hate, director Brian Poyser takes the relatively limited space of a Park City ski mansion and uses it to play out a very adult, very emotionally fraught game of hide-and-seek.
Set in world where people can be honestly named Charlene Phuc (you can guess how it's pronounced) and some kids getting stoned become the biggest problem at a school, the movie gladly joins the ranks of high school comedies that assume every kid fits in a type and all it takes is one big dreamer to change the status quo.
happythankyoumoreplease goes down easy and charming without a bit of weight or meaning, and I'm betting moviegoers outside of the Sundance bubble will be just as happy to be coddled and delighted for an hour and a half. Written and directed by, and starring, How I Met Your Mother star Josh Radnor, the movie directly mimics much of that show's charm.
Nicole Holofcener's Please Give is a movie about White People Problems suffered by white people living in one of New York City's most beautiful neighborhood. But because it has great affection for its characters and goes in a few surprising directions, Please Give feels a lot more human and relateable than it might have.
The Freebie was my final screening of this year's festival, and it's hard to imagine a more fitting conclusion to a festival that's theoretically about artistic experimentation, risk-taking and honesty.
Unfortunately the third film from American Splendor directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini is so interested in its own oddball delights that is veers very, very close to disaster. Engaging performances from Paul Dano and Kevin Kline keep things watchable and moving along, but as the movie enters its third act with ancient socialites and a transvestite club, there's a distinct feeling of "That's all?"
It's surprising to come here and see something like The Company Men, which despite occasionally bleak and honest moments plays more by the Hollywood rules than anything I've seen so far. Basically a story about what happens in Up in the Air after Ryan Bingham leaves the office, it's an incredibly timely and occasionally poignant story that still manages to sell itself short when it goes for easy narrative conclusion rather than actual honesty.
Stone-serious about the boilerplate rich-kid antics it depicts, and perhaps completely unaware that Gossip Girl is already mining this territory pretty well (even with the presence of Chace Crawford in the lead role), Twelve is a hilarious and melodramatic mess.
Mileage will vary on whether or not it's too silly to stand-- people in my audience howled with laughter when the movie went into an extended Carrie reference and swooned when the transparently obvious romance finally worked out, but it's just as easy to roll your eyes too.
When The Killer Inside Me was written as a novel by Jim Thompson in 1952, it might have seemed shocking to spend time inside the mind of a guy who gets a sexual kick out of beating women with a belt before punching them in the face. But in 2010, in a film directed by Michael Winterbottom and starring Casey Affleck, it's yet another disturbing and painful descent into a sociopath's mind-- both shocking and overly familiar.
About a mother and daughter separated at birth, with Kerry Washington's character in between them mostly as a plot device, the movie shifts from one melodramatic story to the next, trying in vain to build believable character arcs and meaningful plot developments, and turning into merely a second-rate tearjerker in the process.
Thanks to its historical bent and name-brand actors doing excellent work, Night Catches Us will likely show up in theaters at some point, but won't act as the kind of defining moment that both Mackie and Washington have deserved as actors for years. As Hamilton finds her legs as a filmmaker I hope she continues telling these under-remembered stories, but also that she's able to express more clearly her passion for them.
For more of our Sundance 2010 coverage, click here.