The Midnites for Maniacs maven totes 'em up
1. Downloading Nancy (US) As the movie unfolds, the self-destructive couple at the center of Johan Renck's film enabled me to feel what they could not. I was hypnotized by Nancy's bitter, snowy sadness (emphasized by Christopher Doyle's camera work); it forced me to sob and, at the same time, made me want to run toward the exit. In fact, dozens of people left during the press screening, and not in a casual way. Watching it twice in two days made it clear that knowing the plot would affect the experience. Just watch this film.
2. Momma's Man (US) A man hides at his parents' home to figure out his mid-midlife crisis while his wife and newborn child await his return. Filmed with director Azazel Jacobs's real parents in their real home, this is a throwback to the great films that Sundance showcased in the early 1990s.
3. Funny Games U.S. (UK/US/France) For those who don't understand why Austrian bad boy Michael Haneke remade his 1997 intellectual torture-porn classic shot for shot, blow for blow ... well, how about the fact that Americans don't like subtitles? For those who haven't seen the original, prepare to be traumatized.
4. Paranormal Activity (US) A couple buy a video camera to record the unexplained occurrences happening in their house while they sleep, and I was holding my breath though most of the film's subtle freakiness. Oren Peli's chiller, which played at the Slamdance Film Festival and is about to screen at San Francisco IndieFest, is worthy of its comparisons to The Blair Witch Project.
5. Pariah (US) A young lesbian struggles with her identity at school, at the clubs, and at home in this short by Dee Rees, which presents the most honest 27 minutes you'll see this year. Luckily, it's going to be extended into a feature. Wendell Pierce (Bunk from The Wire) packs quite a punch as a confused father.
6. My Mother's Garden (US) Cynthia Lester's bare-all documentary (winner of the Slamdance Jury Honorable Mention) sensitively explores a mother's hoarding disorder and her children's difficult job of helping her understand her problem. Directed by the woman's daughter, it conveys a similar familial love as Jonathan Caouette's Tarnation.
7. Because Washington Is Hollywood for Ugly People (US) With the best title of the fest, Ken Tin-Kin Hung's hyperactive video game collage has meticulous designs of political figures fighting one another while inhabiting celebrity bodies. MC Paul Barman narrates this clusterfuck, bringing it to the level of downright genius. Also worth watching is Hung's five-minute prepresidential election battle Gas Zappers.
8. Hamlet 2 (US) Finally, a movie that made me laugh! This vehicle to help British comedian Steve Coogan make his United States crossover has him playing a Dudley Mooreesque high school teacher who decides to write and direct a sequel to Hamlet. Andrew Fleming's satire was purchased for one of the highest prices in Sundance history ($10 million, by Focus Features), and its first and last half hours are some of the funniest things I've seen in years. Thank gawd, because all of those cynical films were starting to take their toll.