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Entries in Sundance (46)

Thursday
Jan302014

Sundance Wrap-Up / Review Index

Thanks to everyone who commented on or read our Sundance coverage! We braved Park City's confounding bus system for you, you know. (If you appreciated it why not like us on Facebook and follow Michael and Glenn and I on twitter?)  I had attended Sundance twice before. Once before I was a writer during college and once officially as press in 2010 when the highlight was dancing with Parker Posey at a party! But this felt like a first time again, mostly because I brought a team so we did it up right. Well, mostly right. 75% right. We definitely didn't attend enough parties but there's always next year if -- no, I can't even think about leaving NYC again any time soon. I've woken up in my own cozy bed the past few mornings for the first time in two weeks (a quick LA trip was before Sundance, remember) and it feels great.

Park City was not without its charms. I got to take a ski lift "to work" each day which was fun. 

those are not actually tears of joy but tears from the cold

(Those are not actually tears of joy I'm shedding but tears from the cold. I love that kind of bracing cold weather.  But I digress.)

Between the three of us we saw over 60 films and wrote up half of them up for you! We'll get around to some of the others eventually... but the constant barrage of Sundance coverage must now end since it's Oscar time.

THE AWARDS
The Official Sundance Prizes in case you missed them. I heard joking on twitter that if you screen at Sundance you win an award but this isn't actually true. Of the 42 pictures we wrote about (!!!) only 7 of them won something.

Elisabeth Moss had every reason to smile at SundanceMY PERSONAL JURY OF ONE PRIZES
PICTURE: Love is Strange or Boyhood
DIRECTOR: Richard Linklater
ACTRESS: All hail Elisabeth Moss. For many actors "Peggy" on Mad Men would be a crowning glory. But after Top of the Lake and now, for our Sundance purposes, Listen Up Philip (reviewed) and The One I Love, it seems clear that Moss is just warming up. Embarassingly talented. 
ACTOR: Alfred Molina & John Lithgow in tandem in Love is Strange
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Vera Vitali, Blind
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Jonathan Pryce, Listen Up Philip
MOST BEAUTIFUL: Andrew Leung in Lilting
BEST CAMEO: Shirley Venard, Kumiko the Treasure Hunter
FUNNIEST BABY: Jude Swanberg in Happy Christmas 

OUR COVERAGE in alpha order by film
52 Tuesdays (Glenn) - world cinema director winner
Appropriate Behavior (Nathaniel) 
Blind (Nathaniel) - world cinema screenplay winner
Blue Ruin (Michael)
Boyhood (Nathaniel)
Calvary (Michael)
Cooties (Glenn)
Dear White People (Michael) - breakthrough talent winner
Drunktown's Finest (Glenn)
Ernest & Celestine (Tim, screened before the festival)
The Girl From Nagasaki (Glenn)
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Glenn)
God's Pocket (Michael)
Happy Christmas (Nathaniel)
Happy Valley (Glenn)
Hellion (Nathaniel)
Hits (Michael)
I Origins (Glenn) -walter p sloan winner
Infinitely Polar Bear (Nathaniel)
Kumiko The Treasure Hunter (Nathaniel) - original music winner
Laggies (Michael)
Land Ho! (Glenn)
Last Days of Vietnam (Glenn)
Life Itself (Michael)
Lilting (Nathaniel) -world cinema cinematography winner
Listen Up Philip (Glenn)
Love is Strange (Nathaniel)
Mitt (Michael)
My Prairie Home (Glenn)
Only Lovers Left Alive (Michael, screened before the festival)
Obvious Child (Michael)
Private Violence (Glenn)
The Raid 2 (Glenn)
Rich Hill (Glenn) - Grand Jury Documentary winner
Song One (Nathaniel)
Stranger By The Lake (Nathaniel, screened before the festival) 
The Trip To Italy (Michael)
The Voices (Nathaniel)
War Story (Nathaniel) 
Web Junkie (Nathaniel)
What We Do In the Shadows (Glenn)
White Shadow (Nathaniel) 

Thursday
Jan302014

Sundance: 'Lilting' and 'Happy Christmas'

Our last two Sundance movies! But for the roundup/index post in the morning, this is our final bit of coverage from Sundance 2014. Let's end with two movies featuring faces and topics I'm willing to bet you'll love: Ben Whishaw in a gay culture-barrier drama and Melanie Lynskey and Anna Kendrick in a dramedy about sister-in-laws.

Chang Pei Pei & Ben Whishaw in "Lilting"

LILTING
Remember Chang Pei Pei as Jade Fox in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon? She's just as pissed off in Lilting, but with good reason. Her only son Kai (Andrew Leung) has abandoned her by way of sudden death. This is not a Spoiler Alert: We see him in flashbacks but he's dead as the story begins. She's left grieving and alone... but for unexplained visits from her son's "best friend" (Ben Whishaw) though she can't fathom why he keeps dropping in since a) she hates him though she can't exactly say why and b) she doesn't technically know that her son was gay. Props to Pei Pei's performance that those two details are so willfully and obtusely fused together. She knows. By the very nature of its plot, particularly if you've lost someone you deeply loved way too early in life, Lilting is hugely moving; I was a wet-faced wreck. But while the film gets much thematic resonance from Chang's inability to adapt or communicate in her new homeland (she never learned the language and leaned on her son heavily), I did grow frustrated with the constant withholding. Ben keeps refusing to tell her the truth, even though he has every reason and backstory desire to do so. Lilting won the World Cinema Cinematography prize and, though its simple images have a kind of crystalline beauty, I can only assume this prize is for all the dreamy shots memorializing the peak beauty of Andrew Leung & Ben Whishaw lolling about shirtless and snug in bed. That peaceful aesthetic beauty amplifies the furiously unfathomable irreversible loss of love.

Grade: B
Distribution: Not at this point but LGBT films usually find their way eventually. It was much easier for LGBT to get traditional distribution years ago when gay people were loyal to the arthouses. (But that hasn't been the case in some time.)

The Cast of Happy Christmas © Larry Busacca/Getty Images

HAPPY CHRISTMAS
IMPORTANT NOTE: Chicago readers can see this later today at the Music Box Theater with Joe Swanberg in attendance doing a Q&A!
Happy Christmas is an intimate highly enjoyable and tighly focused dramedy about a husband and wife (Swanberg with Melanie Lynskey) with a newish baby (Jude Swanberg - too hilarious!) who are lending their basement to the husband's sister (Anna Kendrick) after her latest breakup. Leaving the theater afterwards I wondered how much better Swanberg's films might be with a little more time for second drafts or rehearsal. He keeps cranking them out and though they're all quality (I highly recommend All the Light in the Sky if you can find it) they don't quite crossover. But then I realized how uncharitable that was. Though Happy Christmas is perhaps too modest for greatness I must also quickly emphasize that it is wholly satisfying. Swanberg describes his impetus for making the movie as wanting to dramatize the process by which in-laws become siblings. That's a beautiful goal and a rare topic, too. Also rare: the opportunity to see great supporting actors like Lynskey dig into a large role and mix it up in zesty character-based comic scenes with Lena Dunham & Anna Kendrick. (Swanberg writes outlines but the actors fill in the details)

Lena Dunham & Anna Kendrick babysit Jude Swanberg in "Happy Christmas"

On a related in-house note, I wanted to give a shout out to a reader 'TB' who, in our recent post about Anna Kendrick and the Movie Musical, provocatively suggested the following:

that Anna Kendrick is emerging as the face of musicals is a fundamental sign that modern Hollywood doesn't understand what makes musicals work. She constantly positions herself as an actress above and outside her films, happily pointing to all of the places where it's not real. She's skittish around her own emotions. She has two feet FIRMLY planted in reality at all times. She's staunchly contemporary. It's not just that these are flaws, it's that these...directly work against what a musical needs to survive.

I thought that was an astute point even if I don't wholly agree that a very contemporary persona can't work within the movie musical, a more flexible genre than most will concede. But I am happy to report that there is a pretty great moment in a funny-touching scene in Happy Christmas with Lynskey wherein Kendrick totally embraces and uses this very quality described FOR her characterization, both playing it out and commenting on her own skittishness. I think she's really talented. And, as it turns out, self aware. 

Grade: B+
Distribution: Yes. It's Magnolia so a very limited release will happen eventually. No word yet on when. But if you're in Chicago,  GO SEE IT TODAY. It's fun and sweet and the ensemble is great. 

Wednesday
Jan292014

Sundance Documentary Round-Up: 'Rich Hill', 'Happy Valley', 'Private Violence' and 'Last Days in Vietnam'

Our Sundance coverage is just about wrapped up. Here's Glenn on four documentaries that may just end up on the Oscar long list in 11 months time.

When I moved to New York early last year, one of my movie missions was to see more documentaries. Given there’s on average three released here a week, that was never going to be too hard. I definitely succeeded with a year-end tally that nudged 50, which I think is pretty good considering years prior my number was much smaller and in some particularly disappointing years was limited exclusively to Oscar nominees. Michael has already reviewed and liked Life Itself, Nathaniel has reviewed and didn't like Web Junkie, and I announced my love for My Prairie Home. For completions sake, here are four more starting with the Grand Jury winner...

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Jan292014

Sundance / Netflix Instant: 'Mitt' Stays on the Surface

Here's a leftover from Sundance that's also playing on Netflix Instant - Michael Cusumano on "Mitt".   

In one scene from Greg Whiteley’s documentary about the two failed presidential runs of the former governor of Massachusetts, Romney complains bitterly about Candy Crowley's interference in the second debate, which led to the infamous “Please proceed, Governor” moment. According to Mitt it was not the moderator’s place to comment or press the candidate for answers.

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Jan282014

boy, you should know what you're linking for ♫

AV Club Sad Keanu Doll 
Empire JJ Abrams on the secrecy of his Star Wars sequels
Empire 25 different covers celebrating X-Men: Days of Future Past. I hate the cinematic interpretation of Quicksilver already... but they never do right by my favorite characters (see also Storm). And I didn't realize Sunspot was in this but they cast a Mexican actor to play an African-Brazilian? 
Playbill Brokeback Mountain: The Opera debuts today in Madrid

US Magazine Charlize Theron & Sean Penn holding hands. The rumors are true. So that's a good excuse to relisten to...
That Film Experience Podcast in which we fantasized about same-year Oscar couples
Variety The Great Gatsby sweeps the technical prizes at the first half of the Australian Oscars. They announce the headline categories Thursday
Guardian Johnny Depp receiving an award from the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild 

Post Script Sundance Sales
Ah, Sundance. My wrap up index post is coming late tonight but I enjoyed reading Vulture's takeaways and loved talking up the Sundance favorites with Guy Lodge on the podcast. I was also reading this piece about the non-spectular but steady sales at Sundance and a list of titles from the festival which now have distributors via Sound on Sight and I found both frustrating. I don't know if the latter list is 100% accurate (it's tough to keep track and did they ignore pre-sold films? If you know of a 100% complete list let me know) but it's frustrating. Only 20 deals were made? So naturally the great majority of films didn't sell. Some of them have easily saleable elements -- like oh, Anne Hathaway! --and in some cases are much stronger than some on the films that sold. I'm aware that in this day and age of DIY  distribution, VOD, and [insert latest trend here] not selling to a major distributor is not a death knell, just as being picked up is not always a godsend (some films that have distribution curiously never make it to screens or arrive years later when the buzz has gone ice cold). The three films I most wish had been picked up are:

  • Blind -Norwegian films rarely make a dent at the arthouse but it's so good
  • A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night -Glenn loved it and it sounds like a must-see curio
  • Appropriate Behavior -in the comic subgenre of sexually impulsive twentysomething New York lady in a tailspin it's superior to Obvious Child which did sell.

Exit Music
Here's Vin Diesel dancing to Katy Perry (!) and grabbing his crotch a lot. Two things that are worth doing when one tops
                the dvd charts.

He would be in big trouble if he was asked to "lipsynch for your life"... but wouldn't he be an awesome guest on RuPaul's Drag Race? Make it happen, Ru.