Ryan Coogler's Bay Area story Fruitvale picked up the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize; it is, of course, based on the life and death of Oakland's Oscar Grant, a young man gunned down by a BART cop on New Year's Day 2009. I emerged from this important, wonderfully-made debut like everyone around me in the sold-out theater — in devastated tears.
Lead actor Michael B. Jordan is absolutely gripping as Oscar — no surprise for anyone who saw him as Wallace on the first season of HBO's The Wire, or as one of Josh Trank's accidental superheroes in 2012's surprisingly gritty Chronicle. Coogler is a skilled director; the way he slowly builds toward his story's inevitable conclusion is worthy of praise.
I only got to experience half of this year's US Dramatic Competition films (unfortunately, missing David Lowery's buzzed-about Ain't Them Bodies Saints, which shared the Best Cinematography Award with Andrew Dosunmu's breathtaking Mother of George).
Still, among the films I saw, I was pleasantly surprised by James Ponsoldt's brutally poignant coming-of-age drama The Spectacular Now. With a straight-ahead script that avoids clichés, the film benefits greatly from a pair of standout performances by its young stars. Miles Teller, from John Cameron Mitchell's Rabbit Hole (2010) and Craig Brewer's underrated remake of Footloose (2011), perfectly embodies a high-school asshole, while Shailene Woodley (so good in Alexander Payne's 2011 The Descendants) is spot-on as the class loner.
Scroll on up Pixel Vision for Jesse Hawthorne Ficks' previous Utah festival reports.
In recent years, Sundance has become well-known for its strong documentary offerings — to the point of overshadowing its dramatic films. And with good reason, when docs like Martha Shane and Lana Wilson's After Tiller are among the selections.
The film follows the four remaining doctors in the United States who continue to perform third-trimester abortions; it's a decidedly direct character study that uncovers the complex and difficult choices these physicians go through on a daily basis. (Not to mention the element of danger they face, as the title's reference to the murder of Dr. George Tiller suggests. With that in mind, there was a protective police presence at all of After Tiller's Sundance screenings.) The doc's impact didn't end when the lights came up; for days after the screening, I found myself drawn into fascinating conversations with folks who were eager to discuss their feelings about the film and the issues it explores. Read more »
Easily the greatest screening event at this year's Sundance Film Festival was Jane Campion's multi-part miniseries Top of the Lake, a co-production of the Sundance Channel, BBC Two, and UKTV in Australia and New Zealand.
Though it was made for TV, this 353-minute, Twin Peaks (1990) meets Silence of the Lambs (1991) extravaganza was shown on the big screen, which gave it even more impact. Not that it needed much help: when intermission came at the end of the third episode, audience members filed out for lunch with similar (stunned, shocked, obliterated) expressions on their faces.
At Sundance 2013, no other category could compete with the NEXT programming. NEXT was initiated in 2010; its aim is to highlight "pure, bold works distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling. Digital technology paired with unfettered creativity proves the films selected in this section will inform a 'greater' next wave in American cinema."
Matthew Porterfield's I Used to Be Darkershowcases Ned Oldham (brother of indie fave Will Oldham) as a father-husband-musician whose teenage daughter starts to drift away as his marriage dissolves. Wonderfully awkward and trying moments arise from every suburban-hipster angle, making Darker not only a disturbing blueprint of divorce among the indie-rock generation, but — with three fully performed songs — a reminder of why so much music from this time period remains utterly relatable. (Clearly, not everyone agrees; I overheard a group of SLC locals calling Darker their "least favorite movie of all time.")
Festival veteran Jesse Hawthorne Ficks files his third report from the 2013 Sundance and Slamdance Film Festivals.Read his first two reports here and here.
British filmmaker Sean Ellis' Philippines-set Metro Manila took home the Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic at Sundance. It's a gritty, neo-realist journey into Manila's Catch 22'd slums that's every bit as shocking as it is hypnotic. When I saw it, the entire audience (myself included) was left gasping for air while wiping their tears — it's ruthlessly realistic, insanely inspired, and a taut thriller to boot.
Festival veteran Jesse Hawthorne Ficks files his second report from the 2013 Sundance and Slamdance Film Festivals.Check out his first report here.
The most controversial and inspired film amid this year's Utah fests actually screened at the Slamdance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Sparky Award for a Narrative Feature. The Dirties, by 28-year-old Canadian writer-director-star Matthew Johnson, is an utterly brilliant, unstoppably hilarious found footage entry that follows two high school cinephiles as they try and make a documentary about "bullying," while they themselves continue to get uncomfortably bullied at their own school.
Festival veteran Jesse Hawthorne Ficks files his first report from the 2013 Sundance and Slamdance Film Festivals.
This year's Sundance and Slamdance Film Festivals were both outstanding, so I did my best to pack my schedule as full as humanly possible (sacrificing sleep in the process). With close to 50 programs achieved, I can assure you it's gonna be one helluva year for cinema. Make sure to mark some of these titles down for 2013.
Filmmaker Sebastián Silva brought two new entries to Sundance, and they both happened to be two of my most cherished experiences. Crystal Fairy and Magic Magic were filmed in Chile at the same time, and showcase the almighty Michael Cera — who learned Spanish just for these projects. If you are able to avoid the countless spoiler-heavy reviews (this isn't one of them) and enter these films at your own risk, you will be treated to Silva's masterful, even transcendental, slow burn.