U.S. Dramatic/U.S. Dramatic/Premieres
Every year, film enthusiast from across the land journey to the hinterlands of Utah to partake in the Sundance Film Festival. A yearly event which can only be described as the holy pilgrimage og independent film. This year's festival is full of great films, but these ten works are the standout favorites that have garnered the most critical attention.
BoyhoodEveryone was sitting on the edge of their theater chairs to see the results of Richard Linklater’s wildly ambitious project Boyhood, which shot over 12 years and charts the life of a child from ages 6 to 18. It seems like the dozen years it took to make Boyhood were well worth it with with words like "masterpiece" popping up every so often in the rabble of critical praise. The film finds transcendance in the small and ordinairy moments that make up childhood, and the film's relatability is one of it's strongest merits Frequent Linklater collaborator Ethan Hawke and actress Patricia Arquette play the boy's parents. Though some critics are saying that the film is a tad too long, most agree that it is a one of a kind experience not to be missed.Best Review Quote: "Boyhood shines in its engrossing, experiential understanding and it’s a special achievement that should be cherished and acknowledged." - Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist
Kumiko the Treasure Hunter A strange, whimsical story about a young woman who becomes obsessed with a movie and is unable to separate it from reality, Kumiko the Treasure Hunter stars Rinko Kikuchi as Kumiko, a shy office worker who sets out to recover the suitcase that Steve Buscemi’s character buries in North Dakota at the end of Fargo. Based on an urban legend, the film has been described as a “spirited and sad adult fairytale [that] will surely baffle as many viewers as it enchants.” Directed by David Zellner and co-written with his brother Nathan, Kumiko the Treasure Hunter is an artsy indie film that balances the absurdity of its premise with a grounded, human performance from Kikuchi that has been greatly praised by critics. It might be one of the odder films featured at this year’s festival, and it’s unlikely to win over a mainstream audience, but with Kikuchi at the center, it’s definitely a film worth looking up. Best Review Quote: “It’s a marvelous role for Kikuchi, who has the intensity of the great silent film stars, and who’s fascinating to watch even when Kumiko is doing nothing more than sitting solemnly by the window of her apartment eating ramen noodles as a rain begins to fall.” - Scott Foundas, Variety
Life Itself This full-figured portrait of the late Roger Ebert delves into the well-lived life of the most famous and celebrated film critics of all time, and critics, some of which are his former peers, are praising its depiction of the late and great critic. The film is by turns, an unflinching and joyful appreciation of the man’s life, from it’s successful highs to its cancer-stricken lows. The film is being praised for it's sensitivity and brevity, but also for not shying away from Ebert's flaws, namely his alcholism and lust for women.Best Review Quote: "There was a thunder in Ebert's heart, and that was his love for movies, and he wanted to tell the world about films, both big ones and small. James should be high-fived every day of his life for telling the real story of Roger Ebert." - Chase Whale, The Playlist
Listen Up Philip The titular Philip is an insufferable jerk, a narcissistic author who spends much of the film insulting and berating the people around him and spending most of his time obsessed with himself and his novels. With Jason Schwartzman in the lead role, the film has been a critical favorite at the festival, with Schwartzman imbuing the right amount of charm to keep the hero from being completely unwatchable, and a sharp story that provides insight into the overbearing protagonist and the people in his life. The film has also been praised for its creative use of literary conventions, such as a voice-over narration that outlines what’s going on in Philip’s head, and chapters that shift the focus to the other characters, so that the audience can experience the story in the same novelistic way that Philip does. It’s not a film that will easily appeal to everyone, but the incredibly positive reviews should help earn the film plenty of attention and recognition.Best Review Quote: “Importantly, the protagonist disappears for a sizeable chunk of the film’s mid section (a device Perry borrowed from William Gaddis’ novel, Recognitions) and we learn as much about him in absentia as we do from being in his overwhelming presence.” - Emma Myers, IndieWire
Love Is Strange Bursting with truths that are both painful and fun yet all too real, Love Is Strange offers a portrait of love and separation. John Lithgow and Alfred Molina portray an older gay couple that gets married after 39 years of living together due to New York's changing same sex marriage laws, but vows are tested in earnest when financial hardships suddenly divide the couple. Critics are enamored with the loving authenticity that’s layered at the film’s heart, and were impressed with the heartfelt performances from the two leads.Best Review Quote: "Throughout the picture ... you understand the miracle and good fortune of finding love, and recognize the great changes in tolerance American society is currently (albeit slowly) undergoing." - Jordan Hoffman, Film.com
Obvious Child This year’s festival featured a number of films centered around a woman in her mid-to-late 20’s whose life is falling apart, but none of them stood out more than Obvious Child, the feature-length debut of writer-director Gillian Robespierre. An abortion rom-com, the film stars Jenny Slate as Donna Stern, an aspiring stand-up comic who becomes pregnant after a one-night stand, and is faced with the reality of being vastly unprepared for the sudden turn her life has taken. Critics have praised Obvious Child not only for doing away with the standard romantic comedy clichés and dealing with taboos head on, but also for handling the subject matter with realism and heart. Slate has also gotten praise for her performance, and should be able to break away from her short run on Saturday night Live in favor of being recognized as a solid actress in her own right. Best Review Quote: “There’s none of the expected movie-of-the-week scenes here—Slate never has an actorly monologue about her predicament, just a series of laugh-so-you-don’t-cry wisecracks […] And yet when Donna is laying sedated on an operating table and gravity sends her tears down her cheeks towards the clinical cold tile floor, you can recognize that her decision may be decisive, but it isn’t unfelt.” - James Rocci, The Playlist
The Raid 2: BerandalThe sequel to the Indonesian smash-hit actioner is getting acclaim from every inch of the festival for it’s wonderfully orchestrated yet absurdly violent fight scenes. Critics say that the film is a delight for genre fans who have a hunger for bloodletting, though the more squeamish members of the public should probably pack a sick bag if they want to make it to the end credits. The film is being called more ambitious than its predecessor, and some critics are divided if the larger emphasis on story and drama does the film and favors, but most agree that the sequel is a visceral and pulse-quickening follow up that certainly lives up to the first outing.Best Review Quote: "This orgy of broken bones and vicious badassery makes its cult predecessor look like a peevish bitch-slap." - David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter
The Skeleton TwinsIf Will Forte's turn in Nebraska wasn’t proof enough; Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are also striving to prove the dramatic acting chops of SNL vets with their well-received performances in the comedy-drama The Skeleton Twins. The pair play twins that are both suffering through bouts of depression, and the two characters struggle to regrow the sibling relationship that distance and shared pain had witherd away. Both Hader and Wiig are being praised for their nuanced performances as the duo confidently master the film's nicely balanced tone, which flutters between comedy and drama, but doesn't feel forced or jarring.Best Review Quote: "Hader and Wiig can play serious, can weave humor into their realistic performances, but what separates them from other actors and directors who attempt dangerously tired material is a foundation of collaboration. It’s easy to buy that they’re brother and sister because the rapport is established." - Matt Patches, Vanity Fair
The Voices Perhaps the most eccentric film premiering at Sundance this year, The Voices star Ryan Reynolds as a factory worker who is encouraged by his pets, a well-meaning dog named Bosco and a manipulative and evil cat named Mr. Whiskers, to commit murder. Described as a horror-thriller-comedy, the film does its best to do away with both genre conventions and horror film tropes in favor of a weirdly entertaining psychological drama that puts the audience on the same side as its mentally ill, serial killer hero. Critics have given Reynolds, who provided voices for Bosco and Mr. Whiskers in addition to playing the lead, rave reviews, praising his ability to commit to the character’s wilder moments while still keeping the film grounded and restrained. With such an insane premise, a compelling, committed performance and excellent direction from Marjane Satrapi – artist and director behind both the graphic novel and film Pesepolis – The Voices has all of the key ingredients to become a cult favorite, and quite possibly, even a mainstream success. Best Review Quote: “The film’s combination of psychological drama -- cue the childhood trauma -- with blood-splattered limb-cutting, talking heads in the fridge and talking pets on the couch is a risky one that finally works because [screenwriter Michael R.] Perry and Satrapi find the right tonal mixture for the material, with Jerry’s reality recognizable yet strangely heightened from the start (all the overly joyous pinks in the factory should have been a give-away).” - Boyd van Hoeij, The Hollywood Reporter
Whiplash Starring Miles Teller as an aspiring jazz drummer who is willing to give up everything in order to become one of the greats, and J.K. Simmons has his tyrant of a music teacher, who motivates his students through fear and torrents of insults, Whiplash is a film about the question of whether or not it’s worth it to dedicate everything you have in the name of art. The film earned rave reviews when it premiered on opening night, and critics have said that it boasts career making and defining performances from Teller and Simmons, respectively. It’s not the kind of music film that will leave audiences with a warm fuzzy feeling, but with two explosive leading men and a director who lived through it himself, Whiplash became the most attention-grabbing film to premiere at Sundance. Sony snapped up distribution rights on opening night, which means it’s definitely a film to look forward to in the coming year. Best Review Quote: “For those seeking perfection, one tiny slip threatens to jeopardize the ensemble as a whole. As a result, Fletcher’s strategy is to humiliate the stragglers in front of the entire group — the sort of abuse more commonly associated with locker rooms and war movies, whose high stakes [director David] Chazelle brings to bear on this more civilized arena.” - Peter Debruge, Variety
There’s no denying that while Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin—out this week—carries a vast appeal to the typical young audience that animated movies tend to reel in (and aim toward). But their parents might be just as intrigued, given the fact that the popular story dates back to the 1930s and the decades that followed; it summons the kid in everyone. A lot of animated movies do that, attract not just the tyke set but also the grownup demographic—be it for deeper-than-meets-the-eye subject matter or groundbreaking animation/effects. In honor of the generation-transcending cartoons, here's a few of the movie history's best:
South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
South Park the TV series isn’t necessarily intended for mature audiences, but it most certainly is in the ratings sense. Ditto for Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s too-crude-for-TV, often hilarious, slyly satirical feature-length replication of their Comedy Central show. Kid viewers can certainly appreciate the characters’ voices and perhaps some sound effects – but, well, they probably shouldn’t be allowed to.
Kids aren’t really into talky, trippy, animated, experimental meditations on the Meaning of Life, but then, director Richard Linklater didn’t make Waking Life for them; this wasn’t his Bad News Bears phase. Linklater made the film for his Slackers/Dazed and Confused followers – if not solely for himself – and those viewers, along with critics, enjoyed Waking Life quite a bit. See also: Linklater’s similarly “animated,” similarly out-there A Scanner Darkly.
Before Tim Burton made live-action gothic movies for young audiences, he made animated gothic movies for grownups – or at least one such movie: Corpse Bride. The painstaking stop-motion animation in this Burton-co-directed Oscar nominee was beyond amazing, but the story wasn’t far behind – and it was one that kids could at least follow but one that adults (even film-geek adults) could fully sink their teeth into. The simple fact that a movie called Corpse Bride nowadays can even secure a PG rating is fascinating.
Waltz with Bashir
Not suitable for children; not at all. For grownups, though, this Israeli film about the Lebanon War was as good as it gets, and also quite a sight to behold. Director Ari Folman’s decision to animate – and his marvelous execution thereof – what is essentially a war docudrama produced a refreshing take on the potential brutality of man and his war, and the result was appropriately surreal.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Incredibly innovative in its day, technologically speaking, Robert Zemeckis’ live-action/animation hybrid (which unsurprisingly swept the technical categories at the Oscars) had plenty for young’ns to fawn over (even a catchphrase from its protagonist: “P-p-p-p-p-lease, Eddie!”), but it’s also an adult-skewing, noirish detective story – albeit a PG-rated version. Although let’s be honest, Jessica Rabbit, who spawned more porn send-ups than Sarah Palin, was a few inches of flesh away from rendering Roger PG-13, at the very least.
The minimalistic animation of this Oscar-nominated masterpiece from Marjane Satrapi (who adapted her own graphic novel of the same name) isn’t meant to impress or constantly spellbind viewers – which all but eliminates younger movies – but those with patience are greatly rewarded. And educated.
Fritz the Cat
Just saying “based on the comic strip by Robert Crumb” would be enough for parents to prevent their kids from seeing Fritz the Cat, even if Crumb, in some alternate universe, had somehow produced a tame comic strip. But Fritz is about, quite literally, almost everything untame. It also happens to make for quite an interesting, if not always noble or enlightening, viewing. Oh – and it also happens to be the first X-rated animated film.
Most Pixar Movies
It’s not so much that most Pixar movies contain deep or subliminal undercurrents of profundity only decipherable by grownups; it’s that they generally appeal to all ages, because of both their technological wizardry and the depth of the stories. Kids and parents can see the films together – namely the Toy Story series, The Incredibles and Up, whose “Lifespan” sequence can reduce anyone of any age to tears – and interpret them completely differently. Pixar makes films that are, in every way, the very antithesis of exclusive.
At the ripe young age of 8 Marjane Satrapi (voice of Gabrielle Lopes) is celebrating the end of the dictatorial Shah’s reign in late-‘70s Tehran Iran. Along with her parents Tadji (voice of Catherine Deneuve) and Ebi (voice of Simon Abkarian) and her grandmother (voice of Danielle Darrieux) with whom she is closest young Marjane looks toward a bright future one sans the oppression her independent-minded family has endured for some years. But life only winds up changing for the worse in the years that follow. Oppression and repression rage on amidst a new yet obsolete form of government. Women for example are literally not to be seen: Headscarves must cover their faces or else. This doesn’t sit well with Marjane who sneaks in taboo imports like Bee Gees and ABBA records and a “Punk Is Not Dead”-emblazoned jacket. Her parents fearing Marjane is one minor misstep away from jail or worse send her off to school in Vienna at age 14 (now voiced by Chiara Mastroianni) for her own safety. It starts a period of self-discovery self-loathing extreme growth spurts and great wandering both physically and mentally. And it ends with the beginning--of the rest of her life. The only name moviegoers are likely to recognize in the cast of vocals is that of legendary French actress Deneuve whose voice lends a genuinely maternal aura--in addition of course to her distinctive smoky delivery. All the voice-overs are superb though and the family feel is tangible throughout as a result. It pays off--not just budget-wise--to have a cast without A-listers separating Persepolis from the pack that has become star-studded animated movies of today. All dialogue is in French which obviously eliminates 99 percent of Hollywood but the relative few not scared off by lack of star power are in for a more authentic film. Most notable is Mastroianni (real-life daughter of Deneuve and her late husband famed actor Marcello Mastroianni) who voices both the teenaged Marjane and her older self narrating the story via flashbacks. Mastroianni as clearly the central figure of the story is able to capture every emotion on the roller coaster that was Satrapi’s coming-of-age-hood. Sometimes adaptations get lost in translation from source material to movie but Marjane Satrapi the author of the graphic novel of the same name on which Persepolis is based was fortunately integral to the whole production every step of the way. She co-directed and co-wrote the movie along with Vincent Paronnaud and clearly infused her woe-is-NOT-me attitude. Persepolis is sad in spots but it’s always circumstantial never subjective. At no time does Satrapi assert any sense of pathos into her real-life story or plead for viewers’ pity making it a refreshing often humorous and ultimately uplifting retrospective on oppression--not depression. Animation-wise everything is done in minimalist black and white the perfect touch that takes no getting used to; nor does it take away from the story’s soul like CGI sometimes does and the visuals still manage to be just as intoxicating as those in say Pixar movies. And being that Persepolis is adapted from a graphic novel and told in a similarly noir tone live action just wouldn’t have been the same.