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Director and sometimes actor Joe Swanberg is a household name among South by Southwest fest-goers (and mumblecore fans everywhere), with such gems as Nights and Weekends (2009), Marriage Material (2012), All the Light in the Sky (2012), and his segment in V/H/S (2012) entitled "The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger."
More recently, he's been embraced by the Sundance community with the hilariously sexual Uncle Kent (2011) and last year's Drinking Buddies, the latter showcasing mainstream stars Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, and Anna Kendrick. But now that he has hit parenthood, it seems that Swanberg is maturing into crossover material, and Happy Christmas (US) will make you one happy cinematic camper. Giving Kendrick the most complicated character of her career — as well as memorable roles for Melanie Lynskey and Girls' Lena Dunham — Swanberg may be aligning himself with Noah Baumbach and Alex Ross Perry to grab the title of this generation's Woody Allen. Note: the scenes with Swanberg's two-year-old baby Jude are worth the admission alone.
Speaking of Alex Ross Perry, he also had a new film at Sundance, and it rivaled Swanberg's for "most enjoyably unlikable characters:" Listen Up Philip (US). Jason Schwartzman gives a tour-de-force performance in this follow-up to Perry's debut feature, 2011's The Color Wheel, helping Philip fulfill the promise hinted at in that earlier film.
Philip explores three sides of an incorrigible coin, embodied by Schwartzman, Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss, and the greatest grumpy old man of the year (so far), Jonathan Pryce. The end result exposes the uncomfortable truths of New York neuroses to such a degree that you may feel dirty just to be a human as you leave the theater — it's both excruciatingly hilarious and unstoppably ruthless.