When I’m standing in the press theatre line at Sundance, I am with my people. We laugh and cry during films, wax nostalgic about the volunteers whose faces we see year after year and get over excited and emotional about our film schedules. Yup. Film geeks all around with our bags full of snacks so we never have to leave the line. Every Sundance takes on a personality of its own but the one thing you can always rely on is seeing great films (even if on occasion you hit a dud). I always have so much that I love but definitely a few stand outs that I obsess over. This years obsessions are Fruitvale, Big Sur, Kill Your Darlings, In A World, Toy’s House and Upstream Color (I am voting for this one from Shane Carruth to take home the big prize, that or Fruitvale, it’s a really tough one). There was a lot to obsess over and a lot I wanted to see and didn’t have time to. I try to prioritize the films by ones I am dying to see and know will soon be out in theaters with films I know I may never get another chance to see. Which means much of the time is spent struggling with a Sophie’s Choice of a schedule. My favorites so far below (I still have links and DVDs to catch up on too).
Upstream Color was amazing. The conventional interpretation is that this is a film about a romantic relationship between two people who have unknowingly been thru the same traumatic experience that has permanently altered their lives. The more experimental undertone is that out of violence and evil something incredible can appear. There are so many layers here to unearth. I may not have understood everything in this film but I loved it anyway. Fruitvale, which stars Michael B Jordan who I LOVE, is a beautifully paced narrative retelling of the 2009 New Years Day tragic and unnecessary murder of Oliver Grant. It is difficult to watch in the end which also means it is incredibly well done, the whole theatre, myself included, was sobbing and shaking at the end. I also loved The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman (except for Evan Rachel Wood’s accent, what was that?) Other than that, the film is shot and paced brilliantly and there’s some killer music in it, with a great twisted story to match. I was really looking forward to Two Mothers and loved the cast especially the two young male leads… um, who wouldn’t? Toy’s House, which I absolutely loved, also has a fantastic cast. The film was really well done and funny (how could it not be with Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman plus a great cast of new faces AND Allison Brie?) And I loved director Jordan Robert’s light experimental touches throughout the film. Right up my Bard alley. Lake Bell’s first feature In A World nails it. Smart, sexy, funny and all around pitch perfect. She makes a beautiful political statement without saying too much all while being witty, charming and looking hot. No wonder our old friend Scott Campbell wants to marry her! It was produced by another friend of ours, Eddie Vaisman who also produced Big Sur. Loved Michael Polish’s rendition of Jack Kerouac’s novel, which I saw right before leaving Park City this morning. I found out last night that there was an 8:30AM screening this morning so decided to get up at the crack of dawn today and make my way to the Marc theatre for the screening, schlepping my luggage along with me so I could go to the airport right after (I really had a hard time leaving Sundance this year). Well, let’s just say, it was definitely worth the effort. Poetically paced, stunningly shot, and told to the sounds of the beats and broken hearts. I heard awesome things about Loveless, Don Jon’s Addiction, The Spectacular Now and Concussion, which was acquired by Weinstein (along with Fruitvale) but sadly I wasn’t able to juggle their screenings (all of them were bought up fast and will be released so there’s something to look forward to!) I also didn’t get a chance to see Andrew Dosunmu‘s Mother of George or I Used To Be Darker although I met the Darker filmmakers at a party on Sunday and Andrew and I used to be repped by the same photo agent in NYC when he was still doing fashion photography. Hoping both films get bought so I can see them, I know they will both be fantastic. Aint Them Bodies Saints was also really well done. Rooney Mara looks gorgeous and I loved the story. Another big favorite of mine was Kill Your Darlings, packed with an incredible cast and shot in 24 days (!!) It focuses on the initial birth of the Beats, when Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs first meet in NYC in the late 40’s. I loved what director John Krokidas said before the screening yesterday, it was so inspiring and true. They wrote the first draft of the film in 2004 and went through more than one meeting with agents in big buildings that told them to shelve the project, that “this one will never get made,” and yet they persisted and insisted on their dream and here it is, nine years later. Sundance is so much about never giving up on your creative dreams, which is half the reason we spend so much time tearing up at these screenings. Every film made is a small miracle and every filmmaker and film lover knows this. I really liked A Teacher, directed by Hannah Fidell and fell in love with the up and coming cast! Lyndsay Burdge and Will Brittain are definitely Ones To Watch. Look out for them. Breathe In was a good film with some great moments (sexy moments, which there was definitely no shortage of this year in a lot of films). Definitely worth seeing, especially if you were a fan of Drake Doremus’ first feature, Like Crazy (which I was crazy about at Sundance in 2011) though it is not as good as LC. The documentary Pussy Riot was fantastic! Of course it made me cry because my birth city (Moscow) is a beautiful yet sad place and Putin is a monster who needs to be dethroned. I fell in love with Katia, Masha and Nadia and was happy to hear the film was bought by HBO. The Stuart Hall Project was a nice surprise. Honestly I went in because I had nothing else to see and really just wanted to sit in a dark theatre but as it turned out, it was a really special documentary, beautifully structured with a lot of historic photographs and Miles Davis’ music as a main character and narrator. Really cool. Another documentary that I loved was Muscle Shoals about Rick Hall and the recording studio he started in Alabama that is responsible for some of our culture’s most revolutionary music. This Is Martin Bonner was a quiet film that I fell in love with my first day of films. I liked how slowly they peeled away the layers and then folded it back up again. Another amazing Sundance! Thank you volunteers, shuttle drivers and Sundance Institute for a beautiful week of small miracles on film. I am already counting down to next year!