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.
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.
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.
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.
4. Listen Up, Phillip (Alex Ross Perry) Acidic, idiosyncratic mix of Wes Anderson & John Cassavetes. Jason Schwartzman’s best role since Rushmore.
5. Song One (Kate Barker-Froyland) Lovely, low-key love story feels emotionally & musically authentic. Great chemistry between Hathaway & Flynn.
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.
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.
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.
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.
10. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (David Zellner) Strange, sad character portrait of a lonely dreamer on a quest. Moody, melancholic & cinematic.
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.
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.
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.
14. Life After Beth (Jeff Baena) Aubrey Plaza is easily the best thing about this disappointing zombie comedy. Lacks motivation, metaphor. Read my review.
15. Laggies (Lynn Shelton) Admirably flips the gender on Apatow man-children but not even a game Keira Knightley can save this uneven comedy.
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.
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.
18. Killers (The Mo Brothers) Disappointing serial killer pic from the Safe Haven VHS2 crew. Long & ultraviolent but with a few strong sequences.
19. Young Ones (Jake Paltrow) Post-apocalyptic sci-fi western fantasia better on paper than in practice. Deadly slow, overwrought. Small Naps.
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.
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.
22. The Sleepwalker (Mona Fastvold) Chamber piece stretches thin premise to 85 minutes. Awkward staging, stilted acting & obvious expository dialogue don’t help.
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.