PARK CITY, Utah —- In their fifth year at the helm of Sundance, both John Cooper as festival director and Trevor Groth as program director have settled in and created a more cutting-edge festival. While nothing materialized quite as powerful and strong as Beasts of the Southern Wild from 2012, there was a sold buying spree in 2013 as over 30 films were acquisitioned. For the first time in Sundance history, both the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Award, and the Audience Award, and the corresponding awards in Documentary went to a single film (â€œFruitvaleâ€) putting both juries and audience in rare accord. Another unusual development was the large number of feature entries that seemed to focus on sex and all its permutations. This trend was so offensive to many that the right wing Utah policy group called the Sutherland Institute called for an end of state support for the Sundance Film Festival. At the opening press conference Robert Redford just shook his head and referred to these people as narrow minded and oblivious to the 80 million dollars a year that the festival brings to the state of Utah. We watched about 40 of the 120 or so films and we liked these 10 so much that we arrogantly call them the best. We are aware that something will bubble up that we missed.
THE FILM FESTIVAL TODAY TOP 10 OF SUNDANCE 13
- Blood Brother (Steve Hoover)
- Fruitvale (Ryan Coogler)
- Pussy Riot-A Punk Prayer (Mike Lerner, Maxim Pozdorovkin)
- Escape from Tomorrow (Randy Moore)
- Before Midnight (Richard Linklater)
- Kill Your Darlings (John Krokidas)
- Cutie and the Boxer (Zachary Heinzerling)
- Metro Manilla (Sean Ellis)
- Mother of George (Andrew Dosunmu)
- Upstream Color (Shane Carruth)
BEST OF SUNDANCE 2013 FESTIVAL CAPSULE REVIEWS
AWARD WINNERS+ PLUS
U.S. DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
Blood Brother ****
Director Steve Hoover has crafted a heart felt study of human kindness as he documented his pal Rocky and his new life caring for HIV infected children in India. â€œRocky Annaâ€, as the children call him, grew up in a loveless household himself and wanted a meaningful life where he could help others. This emotionally riveting film won the U.S. Grand Jury Prize for Documentary and The Audience Award for best U.S. Documentary as well.
Inequality for All ****
Director Jacob Kornbluth builds his film around current U.C. Berkeley Professor/ former labor secretary Robert Reich and his book â€œAftershockâ€. Reich delivers a compelling and engaging narrative explaining with many poignant graphics, topics such as capital markets, globalization, and financial instruments in a manner that a layperson can understand and assimilate. Winner of the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Achievement in Filmmaking.
Dirty Wars ***1/2
Director Richard Rowley explores a secretive world of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) that since 9/11 has carried out drone strikes and covert raids wherever terrorism is deemed a threat to the United States. No target is safe from the â€œkill listâ€ that is executed by the JSOC.
Winner of the Cinematography Award for U.S. Documentary.
Cutie and The Boxer****
Zachary Hindering won the Best U.S. Documentary Director Award for this
touching examination of the 40 year plus marriage of Ushio and Noriko Shinohara.
two Japanese artists who meet and marry in NYC during the 1970s. The struggle
for survival as they complete mixed media and â€œboxingâ€ paintings is captured
with a verite aesthetic that is stunning. The title comes from a series of cartoon
style drawings that Noriko has been painting with a blend of inspiration and
dedication. Witty, bold and enthralling this is a film you should go out of your way
Director/producers Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson document the experience
of growing up â€œblackâ€ and middle class in modern day America. They began
filming in 1999 and continued for the next 12 years capturing the vicissitudes
of life for their sons. One goes to a private school and the other a public one.
Winner of a Special Jury Award for Achievement in Filmmaking.
Director/lawyer Dawn Porter’s documentary takes its name from a 1963 landmark Supreme Court decision known as Gideon vs., Wainwright that guaranteed that all defendants accused of a crime have a right to counsel. The film finds that there are only 15,000 public defenders in the U.S.A. and that our system depends on these lawyers to function with any semblance of justice. The film focuses on three of Gideon’s army and their trials and tribulations.
Winner of the Editing Award: U.S. Documentary.
U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION
Director Ryan Coogler’s (MFA in Cinematic Arts from USC) Award-Winning debut feature film is an emotionally powerful and heart- wrenching experience. Coogler who wrote the script dramatizes the final day of 22 year old Oscar Grant’s life, as the unarmed Afro-American, is murdered by a white transit cop at a BART station in Oakland, California. It could have been a documentary, but, it works out much better as a narrative feature. It structurally borrows a tiny bit from the Award-Winning French film by Mathieu Kassovitz know as The Hate (â€œLa Haineâ€) It was nursed along by The Sundance Institute and it was produced by Forest Whitaker’s production company for under a million dollars.
Oscar Grant is played by Michael B. Jordan (â€œThe Wireâ€, â€œFriday Night Lightsâ€, â€œChronicleâ€) who gives a magnificent performance bursting with joy and seething with ferocity. Oscar is humanized so we see his flaws (went to prison for selling dope) but also feel his dreams. Texting is inserted into the frames with on-screen displays that draw us into Oscar’s moment to moment life. We experience his pain as he is fired from a supermarket job. He longs for the good life as he displays great affection for his mother (a great performance by Octavia Spencer), his girlfriend Sophina (a terrific Melonie Diaz) and, most of all, their young daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal) who exudes empathy in every scene she plays. The pleasures of an ordinary day precede the film’s disturbing climax. The movie opens by showing us the actual murder captured by shaky cell phone video and closes by revealing that the transit cop that killed Oscar claims he reached for his Taser, but, by accident used his gun. Winner U.S. Grand Jury Prize and U.S. Audience Award: Dramatic (a rare occurrence!)
Writer/director Jill Soloway’s debut feature film brings together a solid cast. Kathryn Hahn known for her small-but-memorable roles on TV and in films (Parks and Rec, Anchorman, Step Brothers), takes the lead as Rachel and is pitch perfect. She’s fierce, vulnerable, crazy, and courageous, all at the same time. Josh Radnor, who is better known as playing the hopeless romantic in long-running sitcom How I Met Your Mother, steps out of the norm in this film, but still manages to play a man with a gentle heart. Radnor is a very likable guy, and will always get a thumbs up from me for playing characters who wear their heart on their sleeve.
Winner Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints***1/2
Director David Lowery and DP Bradford Young(whose work resembles the late Nestor Almendros) create a movie homage to the work of the auteur Terrence Mallick during his 70s period when he made â€œBadlandsâ€ and â€œDays of Heavenâ€. It is a remarkable accomplishment and one of Sundance 13’s most defining works. Ruth (Rooney Mara) and Bill (Casey Affleck) are outlaws- who scrape by pulling small-time jobs in the hills of Texas. When they’re ambushed by the cops, and Ruth shoots a local deputy- Patrick Ben Foster), Bill takes the wrap allowing the pregnant Ruth to go free. Years later, Bill escapes prison, and seeks to reunite with Ruth, and the daughter he never knew. Winner Cinematography Award: U.S. Dramatic.
Mother of George***1/2
Nigerian born director Andrew Dosunmu (â€œRestless Cityâ€) creates an emotionally vibrant portrait of the Nigerian immigrant community in Brooklyn. The story revolves around a pre-arranged marriage between Adenike (the beautiful Danai Gurira) and Ayodele (Isaach de Bankole) and their attempts to conceive a boy whose christened name is George.The difficulties of Adenike getting pregnant bring about a dramatic set of circumstances which you must experience as you experience the vibrant cinematography of the brilliant DP Bradford Young. Winner Cinematography Award: U.S. Dramatic.
Kill Your Darlings***1/2
First-time director John Krokidas delves into a world that in recent years has served up a string of movies laced with nostalgia for the Beat generation. But the film tells a sort of pre-history to the Beats, focusing on the Columbia days of Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), William Borroughs (Ben Foster), and Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston). Based on a true event, the film explores their friendship with their charismatic but less prolific classmate Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), who in 1944 would implicate them in murder
Director and MFA graduate of Columbia University delivers a strong follow-up to his last film titled â€œSmashedâ€. This year, Ponsoldt is back with yet another movie about alcoholism, but by making his lead a good deal younger- who’s just at the beginning of his battle with the sauce, the energy is all different. The film focuses on Sutter (Miles Teller), a high school senior, who thinks he has it all figured out. He’s ultra-popular at his school, has a gorgeous girlfriend (Brie Larsen), and a part-time job at a men’s store that he loves. He’s also an alcoholic, but he’d never admit it. But- when his girlfriend dumps him, he tries to rebound with the shy Aimee (Shailene Woodley), and eventually he comes to realize that he life may not be as great as he thinks. It’s that rare authentic teen film built on the spontaneity of youth. U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Acting for Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley.
Following his 2004 Sundance Grand Jury Prize winning film, â€œPrimerâ€, Director Shane Carruth returns with his latest magnum opus and once again intrigues and baffles his audience with a film that is an incredibly complex. Kris (Amy Seimetz) is an ambitious exec who, after a chance encounter at a nightclub, wakes up after several days to find she’s lost her job, along with all of her savings. She’s even lost her home equity. Some time later, she’s drawn to a man named Jeff (the director) – and the two fall deeply in love. But could it be that there’s more than just their feelings that draws them together? Winner of a U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Sound Design-Shane Carruth & Johnny Marshall.
In a World ***1/2
Written and directed by actress Lake Bell (Sundance 2011, short, â€œWorst Enemyâ€), In A World is a Hollywood comedy set in the down and dirty world of the trailer voiceover business where, following the death of real-life industry legend Don LaFontaine (who was the go-to guy for Sci-Fi themed trailers booming the film’s title phrase), Sam Soto (Fred Melamed) is the new king of the roost Pompous Sam is dismissive of his voice dialect coach daughter Carol (Bell) when she gets her first voiceover gig but when he hears she might get to utter the words â€˜In A World…’ on a trailer for a new futuristic franchise, he goes out of his way to beat both her and his friend/rival Gustav (Ken Marino) to the job. Winner of the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award in the U.S. Dramatic category.
WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
A River Changes Course****
Bay area director Kalyanee Mam wins The Documentary Grand Jury Prize in World Cinema with this brilliant directorial debut that takes us to forgotten worlds.The globalization depicted starts with China and moves quickly to Cambodia destroying the endemic cultures. The film depicts this transformation by focusing on the live off three distinct families and how their way of surviving has become an anachronism.
Director Jehane Noujaim captures the tension and visceral intensity of Tahrir
Square as the Egyptian revolution happens before our eyes. A daring and
audacious work this film fulfills the highest calling of what a documentary
aspires to be. The winner of The World Documentary Audience Award.
The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear ***
The Georgian born director Tinatin Gurchiani’s boldly original debut documentary embodies a stark depiction of everyday hardship through concise successive portraits of Georgian youth. After putting out an ad seeking young people interested in appearing in a film, Gurchiani performed a series of interview auditions with each respondent. Piercing in it’s austerity and mesmerizingly simplistic execution, this footage makes up the bulk of her penetrating first feature. Winner of the Directing Award World Cinema Documentary.
Who is Dayani Cristal?***1/2
British Director Marc Silver has created a powerful piece about the plight of Latin American immigrants. Silver focuses on a dead man found in the Arizona desert as aa symbol of the more than 2000 who have perished trying to make it to the U.S.A. The film humanizes the subject and makes it evident that each migrant rolls the dice trying to win a new life with snake eyes staring back at them. Winner of the Cinematography Award: World Cinema Documentary.
Director Nick Ryan analyzes what went wrong when 11 of 24 expert climbers lost their lives in their quest to climb K2 in 2008. K2 is considered more difficult than conquering Mt.Everest. After the world learned of the carnage, and the Internet erupted with provocative and often premature conclusions, the â€œtruthâ€ of the trek was lost. International outcry heightened when it was learned that mountain climbers who had fallen had been abandoned to die. In short, this document is an attempt to set the record straight, and it’s also a moving testament to the courage, resourcefulness and skills of the diverse mix of adventurers who teamed in this quest. Winner of The Editing Award for World Cinema Documentary.
Pussy Riot-A Punk Prayer****
Directed and produced by Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer tells the well-publicized story of Nadia, Masha and Katia, three feminist members of the punk-rock activist group Pussy Riot that performed inside Russia’s main cathedral in protest of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Accused of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, the young women were arrested and sentenced to two years imprisonment each, which sparked considerable criticism and protests around the world. Exploring the real people behind their colorful balaclavas, the documentary follows their trials and explores how political and religious forces schemed to make an example of three women that dared to make protest art against Russia’s ruling powers.
It won World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Punk Spirit.
WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION
Based on a terrible event from history, in which Korean troops, instructed by the United States, turned on their fellow countrymen as they launched an attack on the southern island of Jeju. It was a dark and foreboding time.
Jiseul shows events from that time and it doesn’t shy away from some real moments of horror â€“ in the form of torture, rape and, of course, genocide. The decision to film everything in stark, gorgeous, black and white, however, helps director Muel O bring the absurdity of war to our attention in a rare and satisfying way. It won The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic.
Metro Manilla with a fantastic blend of crime, drama, romance and emotion. Each of the characters are well-developed and well brought to life and the insistence of the film’s British writer, director, cinematographer and co-producer, Sean Ellis, to shoot the film in the local Tagalog language is credible and inspiring. A particular scene highlight is when the family actually arrive in Manila; it’s an intense and colossal moment for them and Ellis commendably acknowledges this with a memorable sequence of the family meeting their new city, perfectly setting up the notion that Metro Manila will be one thrilling and poignant viewing experience. Winner of the Audience Award World Cinema Dramatic.
Director Sebastian Silva (â€œThe Maidâ€, Grand Jury winner from 2009) returns to Sundance and once again wins a prestigious prize-this time the World Cinema Directing Award. The film features actor/personality Michael Cera as an idiosyncratic character who goes to Chile to get â€œhighâ€ by ingesting the San Pedro cactus on a beach. He and his friends connect up with a spacey neo-hippie played to perfection by Gaby Hoffmann and this turns into a drama about watching â€œdruggiesâ€ do their thing. The film captures these people in a compelling way and is a fascinating experience.
Before Midnight ****
Director Richard Linklater flawlessly executes the third chapter of his â€œBeforeâ€movies â€“â€œBefore Sunriseâ€ (1995) and â€œBefore Sunsetâ€ (2004) with this poetic and highly conversational romantic tryst. Refreshing your memory, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) met on a train back in 1995, got off together in Vienna, talked throughout the evening and promised to meet again. It took nine years (â€œBefore Sunsetâ€) before their next rendezvous. Jesse has a wife and son back in the USA and turned that first â€œSunriseâ€ experience into a bestseller. He is in Paris on a book tour and Celine, an environmental activist, sets up a reunion for these thirtysomethings. They leave us wondering what will happen next?
â€œBefore Midnightâ€ opens at an airport with the now divorced Jesse sending his son back to the States. He and Celine, now in their forties, are unmarried and have twin daughters. We watch them as they drive through the Greek countryside and begin a prolonged and fascinating conversation. They partake of a multigenerational dinner that presents life in totally different realm than the action, adventure illusionism of a studio film. After dinner they take a walk to a hotel suite for their final night in Greece. They discuss their children, their regrets, resentments and the trajectory of their lives. They end in an argument that leaves us recognizing how difficult it is for a relationship to be successful.
This is a verite style piece that has a free and relaxed visual style that allows the audience to be â€œflies on the wallâ€ as the heartfelt feelings unspool and human failings become evident. It is a remarkable example of virtuosity, tour de force acting and directing, and, an enchanting entertainment that adults can enjoy. It was one of the best films (in the Premiere category-not in competition) at Sundance 2013 and an â€œend of yearâ€ awards caliber film you should not miss.
Don Jon’s Addiction***
As directorial debuts go, director/actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Don Jon’s Addiction is a surprisingly well-crafted first effort, a raunchy comedy with substance. Gordon-Levitt stars as Don Jon, a Jersey Shore type obsessed with hardcore porn, more interested in the thousands of kinky clips he’s amassed on his hard drive than he is with the actual sex he has with the countless beautiful women he picks up at night clubs. For him, nothing quite lives up to the fantasy women in his videos, until he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), a beauty in a red dress who rejects his usually successful pick-up lines and inadvertently forces him to face his porn addiction head-on.
Directed by Dror Moreh, The Gatekeepers looks at the last 45 years of conflict between Israel and Palestine, since the Six Day War in 1967, seen through the eyes of six former heads of the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret service agency (between them, the interviewees account for all but two of the intervening years). Each of the men reveals chilling details about specific operations and reflects upon the morality of the decisions they had to make; ultimately, they all reach similar conclusions about the future of the conflict.
Escape from Tomorrow****
There’s no film at Sundance 2013 that has garnered more notoriety than Randy Moore’s stunning directorial debut, Escape from Tomorrow. The legalities surrounding the film have been discussed ad-nauseam â€“ in which Disney Studios is likely to sue the film before it sees the light of day. Employing guerrilla-style filmmaking (filming on location without permission), Moore’s audacious film chronicles the last day of a family vacation at the serene Disney World. The craziness abound on this wholesome day includes a perverted father who drags his kids around the amusement park while he follows French teenage girls. Swooning over the teens, the despicable protagonist loses himself in alcohol, simultaneously losing his kids in the process. An obese man, an endlessly nagging wife, a devious witch, and roundabout of other demented characters ensue. What makes it fascinating is the Fellini-esque nature of the tone of the film which is both amusing and poignant. This one should have won the most daring film at Sundance 13.
In a fateful three weeks in October 2002, 10 people were killed and three more critically injured in a random series of attacks in Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia, by one man and a teenager, who became known as the Beltway Snipers. Director Alexandre Moors’ strong debut feature looks at the run up to the attacks, exploring how young Lee Boyd Malvo (Tequan Richmond) became, in essence, a child soldier created – or, more accurately, brainwashed – by the older John Allen Muhammed (Isaiah Washington). The film may or may not represent the psychological reality of the men portrayed but it certainly represents a frighteningly plausible and deeply unsettling version of events.
PARK CITY AT MIDNIGHT
We Are What We Are***
Writer-director Jim Mickle has steadily established himself as a horror filmmaker that treats the art of shock value with rare maturity. In his feature-length debut “Mulberry Street,” he funneled a cheesy monster movie into a metaphor for gentrification and urban decay; in his follow-up, “Stake Land,” he imagined a B-movie universe of vampires versus humans with soft-spoken exchanges and lyrical imagery that instantly called to mind Terrence Malick. “We Are What We Are,” Mickle’s loose remake of Jorge Michel Grau’s 2009 Mexican cannibal tale, brings the filmmaker’s distinct blend of the elegant and the macabre to its ultimate realization. Outdoing the original by a long shot, Mickle’s slow-burn take on the story is poetic, creepy and, finally, satisfyingly gross.
Interior Leather Bar**
Director/actor James Franco and collaborator Travis Matthews decide to recreate lost footage from Billy Friedkin’s classic.. They recruit Franco’s friend Val Lauren to play the Pacino role, and set about shooting scenes that they imagine are like what was once in Cruising. But the movie isn’t about this reconstruction. Nor is it about the process of making it. Mostly, it’s talk. Franco and Matthews talk about taboos in depictions of sexuality in culture. Franco and Lauren talk about how making this movie could affect Franco’s image. Lauren talks about his discomfort as a straight man being present for unsimulated gay sex. The grand majority of this film is chatter, making it seem longer than its 60-minute runtime and less than satisfying motion picture.
WITH 30 REVIEWS, THAT’S A WRAP FOR 13!