During the fest, I heard buzz from both sides: this year exceeded expectations; this year fell short of the recent past.
No festival-goer can deny, Sundance '11 was full of drama, protest, cold temps and fun.
This year, I had only one truly painful movie-going experience (Vampire). Everything else was either good or great. More of the prior, mind you - but at the very least, it was all entertaining.
Below, my top 10 picks of the fest. Let me know your favorites in the comments:
10. Shut Up Little Man: An Audio Misadventure
In the late-'80s two punk kids, Mitchell D and Eddie Lee Sausage, move from Minnesota to San Francisco. Once in their tiny Lower Height apartment, they notice the old/drunk neighbors argue all the time. The young punks start recording every fight and create the phenomenon of Peter and Ray. These found recordings were passed around the West Coast, eventually reaching cult status. The drunken rants inspired plays, books, CDs ...and this film.
9. Win Win
Tom McCarthy returns to Sundance with his funniest film yet. Set in the suburbs, Paul Giamatti is struggling attorney Mike Flaherty who finds himself offering help to one of his clients and getting more than expected. On the side, Mike is the high school wrestling coach. Alex Schaffer plays his star athlete and come-lately roommate. McCarthy is terrific at writing for an ensemble and this film is no exception.
8. The Guard
A hilarious dark comedy set against the drab backdrop of an Irish town. Brendan Gleeson plays the smart but morally flexible and lazy Sergeant Gerry Boyle paired with Don Cheadle, a straight-laced FBI agent tailing a drug-trafficking ring. This buddy cop film is packed with thick accents and clever laughs.
7. My Idiot Brother
Paul Rudd shines as Ned, a hippie/stoner just trying to get by. Never catching a break, Ned tracks down his three sisters seeking help and refuge. Ned's honesty and naivete brings out the worst in his siblings. Taking a break from high-concept comedies, this is one of Rudd's more well-crafted performances. The hilarious ensemble cast of Zooey Deschanel, Elizabeth Banks and Steve Coogan aptly back him up.
6. Martha Marcy May Marlene
Sean Durkin was brought up through the Sundance Institute and his feature debut as writer/director left me with an eerie feeling and wanting more from this intriguing newcomer. Following young Martha (Elizabeth Olsen), who just escaped from a violent cult, we get a beautifully transitioned mix of her two lives. Durkin does a brilliant job keeping the cult a mystery while creating a compelling atmosphere for Martha's new life on the outside. Picked up by Fox Searchlight, we should see this one in wide release during the summer/fall.
5. In A Better World
Susanne Bier's latest endeavor breaks down family life. Individuals are forced to choose love, face bullies and endure the loss of a loved one. Bier creates a story of holding to your values in times struggle regardless the consequence. Recently winner of the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Picture and nominated last week for an Oscar, this is a must-watch.
Set in a modern-day Iran, we get a truly beautiful character piece. Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheri) and Shireen (Sarah Kazemy), whose parents were likely executed, are teenage girls testing the boundaries of their friendship as well as their attraction for one another. Add in the scorn of a brutal/repressed society and you've got a wonderful debut from writer/director Maryam Keshavarz. Circumstance also won the US Dramatic Audience Award.
3. I Saw The Devil
Korean director Kim-Jee Woon brings a tale of revenge to new heights as this cat-and-mouse chase of bad-versus-horrible has brutal outcomes. With a vibrant backdrop, ramped-up intensity and outstanding performances by both male leads, I Saw The Devil delivers ...as long as you can handle the graphic violence.
2. Life In A Day
The makers of this documentary collected (via YouTube) footage from people all over the world living life on July 24, 2010. Edited masterfully and hitting every range of emotion, this film redefines collaborative art.
Very few first-time directors would have the balls to showcase domestic violence with such brutal honesty. The film kicked me in the stomach in the first scene and never lets up. Brilliant performances made Tyrannosaur my top pick.
Hope everyone had as much fun as I did. See you next year!