Sundance 2014 Wrap-Up

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This was my fourth year attending the Sundance Film Festival and due to a flight cancellation that left me stranded for an extra day, I packed a record 22 films (plus one screener) into 6 very full days. As usual, I concentrated mostly on the U.S. Dramatic and Premiere categories which means I missed a ton of smaller films and docs that I’ll probably be catching up with throughout the year. Though I say it every year, this year seemed especially great not just for the films I saw but the time I spent bumping into friends and talking to strangers. (Shout out to Sue, a woman I had never met who offered me a place to stay after my flight was cancelled!) One of these years, I may even make it to a party. For now, here in descending order are my favorites from Sundance 2014.

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1. The Raid 2: Berandal (Gareth Evans) Not as perfect as the original but still a goddamned great time. The theatre applauded after every big fight. Epic.

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2. Boyhood (Richard Linklater) Filmed over the course of 12 years, this unassuming epic tracks one boy from ages 6-18. Quietly moving and cumulatively rewarding.

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3. Frank (Lenny Abrahamson) Michael Fassbender is a musical genius with a giant paper mâché head. A fucking weird, wild comedy, a complete original and a must-see for anyone who’s ever been in a band.

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4. Listen Up, Phillip (Alex Ross Perry) Acidic, idiosyncratic mix of Wes Anderson & John Cassavetes. Jason Schwartzman’s best role since Rushmore.

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5. Song One (Kate Barker-Froyland) Lovely, low-key love story feels emotionally & musically authentic. Great chemistry between Hathaway & Flynn.

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6. The Guest (Adam Wingard) Cannon, Cameron & Carpenter. Imagine a young Tom Cruise cast as The Terminator instead of in Risky Business. Fun! Read my review.

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7. A Most Wanted Man (Anton Corbijn) Understated spy yarn, handsomely produced but neither a thriller or a character study. Accents distract. Read my review.

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8. I Origins (Mike Cahill) Hipster scientists set out to disprove God. Lots of big ideas, silly at times but that ending gave me goosebumps.

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9. The One I Love (Charlie McDowell) Small scale high concept exploration of relationships is simple but effective. Elizabeth Moss can do no wrong. Read my review.

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10. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (David Zellner) Strange, sad character portrait of a lonely dreamer on a quest. Moody, melancholic & cinematic.

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11. 20,000 Days On Earth (Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard) Inventive Nick Cave doc mixes fantasy/reality & gives a glimpse into his creative process circa Push The Sky Away. Read my review.

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12. Hellion (Kat Candler) Authentic portrait of 2 brothers growing up in rural Texas doesn’t strike false note until 3rd act. Heavy Metal soundtrack rules.

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13. Cold In July (Nick Damici) Mullet C. Hall stars as a meek husband who stumbles onto a dark conspiracy in this retro-flavored genre-bender.

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14. Life After Beth (Jeff Baena) Aubrey Plaza is easily the best thing about this disappointing zombie comedy. Lacks motivation, metaphor. Read my review.

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15. Laggies (Lynn Shelton) Admirably flips the gender on Apatow man-children but not even a game Keira Knightley can save this uneven comedy.

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16. The Skeleton Twins (Craig Johnson) Bill Hader & Kristen Wiig do wonders with difficult material as suicidal siblings in this dark dramedy that ultimately feels too slight and Sundance-y. Read my review.

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17. Happy Christmas (Joe Swanberg) A great cast & setup but there isn’t quite a ‘there’ there in this improvised drama that feels more like a rehearsal than fully realized story.

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18. Killers (The Mo Brothers) Disappointing serial killer pic from the Safe Haven VHS2 crew. Long & ultraviolent but with a few strong sequences.

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19. Young Ones (Jake Paltrow) Post-apocalyptic sci-fi western fantasia better on paper than in practice. Deadly slow, overwrought. Small Naps.

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20. Wish I Was Here (Zach Braff) Zach Braff tackles faith & family in this overlong & very uneven comedy. Starts strong but gets very soggy. Read my review.

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21. God’s Pocket (John Slattery) 70s-set dour, tonally inconsistent dark comedy about a small town murder. Fargo is a lot harder than it looks. Read my review.

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22. The Sleepwalker (Mona Fastvold) Chamber piece stretches thin premise to 85 minutes. Awkward staging, stilted acting & obvious expository dialogue don’t help.

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23. Jamie Marks Is Dead (Carter Smith) A murdered teen returns to haunt an acquaintance in this bleak drama. Too dreary & slow with nowhere to go.