A look back at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival (part one)

Scene from DOUCHEBAG

Over the years, the Sundance Film Festival has become known for its superior documentary selections, exciting experimental programs, mumblecore masterpieces, a few foreign delights, and buzz-worthy indie flicks that eventually become the year's most under or overrated. The 2010 festival was no exception. Make sure to mark down any of these movies that sound interesting for the upcoming year -- for some reason, post-Sundance film releases seem to be shorter, smaller, and becoming even non-existent. (Johan Renck's decade-defining Downloading Nancy, which screened at Sundance in 2008, was finally released straight to DVD this past month.) Read on for the first in a series of posts detailing my top picks at this year's fest.

Drake Doremus' aptly titled Douchebag achieved the festival's greatest achievement: I heard the word “douchebag” being used in every Utah restaurant, shop and theatre. Luckily the film also does a bang up job as it follows a beardo older brother (on the verge of his wedding) who takes a wild road-trip to find his younger brother's fifth grade girlfriend. Not only will it cause you to mutter the word douchebag multiple times, the film perfectly captures the dominating and destructive characteristics of certain family members. Even the couple sitting next to me who said they "hated mumblecore films" loved Douchebag. David Dickler’s debut performance as the titular d-bag older brother should have been recognized when awards night came around.

Dickler also edited the film, a fact which brought attention to his quiet career in the medium. He edited Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005), Borat (2006), and Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008). And at a compressed running time of 81 minutes, Douchebag is the most fun you'll have hating a character this year.

One of Sundance's hottest ticket was for Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are Alright. Cholodenko won Sundance's screenwriting award for her first film, High Art (1998); her latest is a pitch-perfect family drama for the Y2teens. Two kids who were raised by two different type of mothers (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) track down their surrogate father (Mark Ruffalo) and find him to be a progressive, free-wheeling lone wolf. The film's progression is presented with such confidence and sensitivity that the film transcends its sign of the times vibe, giving the viewer the feeling that it's predicting the future.

Coincidentally, John Waters' new film, Fruitcake, starring Johnny Knoxville and Parker Posey, also follows a boy (who runs away from home after his parents are busted for stealing meat at the grocery store) who meets up a with a girl who was raised by lesbian parents and who is looking for her surrogate father.

Pipiloti Rist's Pepperminta is an inspired, unofficial remake of Czech New Wave director Vera Chytilova's Daisies (1966). Its psychadelic set and color design felt like an episode of Pee Wee's Playhouse wrapped up in feature-length Skittles commercial. Many audience members were overwhelmed by the film's aesthetic, but those who finished it were rewarded with a killer quest through anarchy, feminism, and fearlessness. For anyone who's been inspired by the music of Kate Bush and Björk, or the children's books starring Madeline and Pippi Longstocking (after whom the director was nicknamed), this is the movie for you. Rist brings an excitement and inventiveness not only to the screen (and her wardrobe, showcased during the movie’s Q&A), but also to the multimedia exhibit that she also created to compliment the film. Don't miss seeing Pepperminta in a theater.

Following his previous features I Stand Alone (1998) and Irreversible (2002), enfant terrible Gaspar Noe has now taken the digital revolution to a psychedelic hell with Enter the Void. The warning signs to epileptics upon entering the theater that a strobe effect was used throughout the film kicked things into overdrive right off the bat. Utilizing first person digicam, Noe takes the audience into strobing sexual scenes, deafening drug benders, and all-around supernatural swirly stuff … for two hours and 41 minutes! The film will eventually be released in two versions: a director's cut and a commercial cut, which will run one reel shorter (by 20 minutes).  Pondering if this epic journey was made to watch while you are on drugs or instead of doing drugs is almost as debatable as the final moment of the voyage (it truly is worth it to make it all the way through to the end!)

Zeina Durra's The Imperialists Are Still Alive explores a group of Manhattan socialites who by day, talk and make self-righteous Post-Modern art, but by night, wander the city looking for late night parties and showing off their audacious new dresses. Asya (played with a perfect balance of ignorance and irony by Elodie Bouchez) is not only participating in this scene, she's also worrying herself sick about a kidnapped friend in Lebanon (the film takes place during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah conflict). While Variety pointed out that the film's title is taken from Jean-Luc Godard's La Chinoise (1967), it's the consistent ironic undertone that feels truly Godardian; no doubt it'll  put off many audiences (more than half of the audience in the press screening left early.) The director was slammed after her introduction for being too pretentious and proud of her work. But that is exactly what rings so true to me about this mini-masterpiece, that reflection of our current contradiction that many of us living in big cities find ourselves in: We know and "care" so much about world events, yet seconds later we're arguing about the Academy Award nominations. Irony is alive and well.

Coming tomorrow: Jesse Hawthorne Ficks' top five picks and honorable mentions from the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.