I have seen my last film of the Sundance Film Festival (at the festival, anyway. I’m going to try to get my hands on some other movies I missed over the past ten days), and now comes the all-important task of wrapping things up. I’m wrapping things up in the condo – I fly home tomorrow, so I’m packing tonight – and I’m wrapping things up in text. There are many more reviews to be written, and many more thoughts to be recorded, but first I wanted to draw attention to the ten best movies I saw here.
Even though I only saw about 30 movies, compiling this list was tough. There are a lot of films that could have made this list, and the fact that they didn’t doesn’t make them any less worthy. I don’t know if this was a particularly good Sundance or if I was particularly good at avoiding bad movies, but a fairly large proportion of what I did catch was quite good. And it’s important to keep in mind that these are the ten best films I saw. I’ve heard amazing things about movies like An Education and The Cove, but due to scheduling or other issues, I never saw them.
In the meantime, you can keep up with all of my Sundance reviews as I write them (mostly in the order that I saw them) by clicking through to this index page, which will be updated over the next week until I have everything written. Stick with me – some of the films that didn’t make this top ten are very much worth talking about.
10) Bronson. Nicholas Winding Refn returns from directing Miss Marple TV movies to present a strange kind of biopic about England’s most violent criminal, a man who calls himself Charlie Bronson. Featuring a blistering performance by Tom Hardy, Bronson is fascinating because it posits the idea that this man’s form of artistic self-expression is beating up prison guards. It’s also incredibly beautiful for a movie that is made up mostly of a series of severe beat downs.
Who Owns It: Nobody in America yet.
9) It Might Get Loud. Davis Guggenheim (the director of An Inconvenient Truth) turns his attention from warming planets to hot rock licks with this documentary about electric guitar playing. The film focuses on the lives and careers of The Edge, Jimmy Page and Jack White, and brings the trio together to jam and talk about their music and their influences. Watching Page and White together is a joy, since they speak a similar musical language that comes from the blues. The film is a guitar geek’s dream, especially in the way it lingers on the bodies of the guitars and the fingers of the players.
Who Owns It: Sony Pictures Classics
Review: Coming Soon
8) Big Fan. Robert Siegel, one-time Onion editor and the writer of The Wrestler, makes his directorial debut with a dark, funny and tense film about a sports fanatic who gets a little too close to one of his athelete idols. Patton Oswalt plays a pathetic guy who is obsessed with the New York Giants, but he doesn’t turn the performance into comedy. Siegel’s direction keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout, all the way to an ending that shocked and surprised me in all the best ways.
Who Owns It: Nobody in America yet.
7) I Love You Phillip Morris. Jim Carrey is an inveterate con man who also just happens to be madly in love with Ewan McGregor’s Phillip Morris, whom he met in jail. This film is a miracle of tone and form; newbie directors (and the screenwriters) Glenn Ficarra and John Requa have crafted a movie that doesn’t feel hemmed in by cookie cutter storytelling and that has a looseness and chattiness that is endlessly engaging. They also coax out one of Jim Carrey’s best performances in years. This is a film that’s edgy but still seems commercial; the fact that it hasn’t sold is almost baffling.
Who Owns It: Nobody in America yet
6) Paper Heart. There were a lot of love stories at Sundance this year, but this sorta-mockumentary was the best of the bunch. Director Nicholas Jasenovec (played by Jake Johnson, although Nick Jasenovec really did direct the movie) follows LA comedian Charlyne Yi on a cross-country journey to learn about love. Along the way they gather true stories from people and Charlyne gets to know – and possibly start falling for – Michael Cera. The film is very funny and very sweet without ever losing its edge of hipness, but it also doesn’t go in for ironic distancing. In fact, you could argue that the entire journey is about Yi losing that distance. Paper Heart made me laugh and choked me up.
Who Owns It: Anchor Bay, but who knows what will happen.
5) Adventureland. Greg Mottola’s follow-up to Superbad is an amazing entry in the coming of age genre. Mottola perfectly captures the strange feeling of the late 80s as well as the strange feeling of being stuck at a summer job for which you are way overqualified. When his parents have money problems, Jesse Eisenberg’s character has to take a job at the local amusement park, Adventureland, where he makes friends, falls in love and has all the experiences you have in a coming of age story. While this film doesn’t break new ground in the genre, it really gets everything so right that it feels new. In many ways the tone of Adventureland is the closest that I’ve seen to Freaks & Geeks since that show went off the air.
Who Owns It: Miramax
Review: Coming soon
4) Moon. A startlingly good science fiction film whose very synopsis is a spoiler. Suffice it to say that while Sam Rockwell thinks he’s the only human being on a lunar outpost he may be very wrong. Or very right. Directed by David Bowie’s son Duncan Jones, Moon is classic idea-based scifi, the kind of film that blows your mind with thoughts instead of numbing your senses with special effects (although the FX in Moon are quite good). Holding it all down is Sam Rockwell’s performance, the sort which will likely never get proper notice because of the film’s small and genre nature. This movie may be a tough sell for general audiences, but I think CHUD readers will really embrace it.
Who Owns It: Sony Pictures Classics
3) Push. I almost didn’t see this film, which went on to win the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize. Mo’Nique, Lenny Kravitz and Mariah Carrey in a film about an inner-city teen’s struggles? It sounds schmaltzy and I figured it would end with some sort of uplifting bullshit, probably about God or family. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Push, based on a novel by Sapphire, is tough, uncompromising, gritty, real and heartbreaking. And it features a performance by Mo’Nique that is no shit, no kidding, Oscar-caliber. While Push isn’t the kind of uplifting schmaltz fest I expected, it ends up being – in it’s own no-nonsense way – a reaffirmation of our daily efforts to live life better.
Who Owns It: Nobody right now, but look for that to change really soon – word has it that Lionsgate is buying it
2) Grace. I have seen thousands of horror films in my time, and by now I’m a pretty jaded viewer. Things that may shock others get simple laughs from me and what gives a general audience nightmares doesn’t bother me at all. It takes a lot to get me, and Grace got to me. I don’t know the last time I saw a film that worked so well, so completely and so artfully. A low budget tale of maternal terror, Grace doesn’t sacrifice character or intelligent story for cheap scares. In fact, the movie has almost no cheap scares – all of the scares here are the kind that work their way under your skin, that make you feel uncomfortable and anxious. Grace is a movie for people who want to experience true horror, not cats jumping out of cupboards and long haired moist Japanese children crawling on the floor. It’s the real deal.
Who Owns It: Anchor Bay, and here’s hoping they give it a real release!
1) World’s Greatest Dad. I certainly didn’t come to Sundance expecting the new Bobcat Goldthwait-directed film – starring Robin Wiliams, no less! – to be my favorite film of the festival, but here we stand. This dark, dark, dark comedy (none more black, to paraphrase Spinal Tap) goes places no sane audience member would expect, and it goes there while eliciting huge, full body laughs. And while the movie is, on its surface, misanthropic, by the end you get the feeling that Bobcat really has some love for people after all. Just not all of them. A sharp satire as well as a not-too-broad comedy, World’s Greatest Dad just speaks to my own sick, demented sensibilities. It’s the kind of film that shouldn’t exist, but I’m so glad it does.
Who Owns It: Nobody!