Sundance Film Festival: one of the few places a person can see over thirty movies in ten days and still walkaway with a lengthy list of regretful misses. This year was full of positive buzz, from rabid studio purchasing to the general thumbs-up public reactions to Park City's packed slate.
While many of the screened movies have their theatrical destinies set before the final night, the Sundance award ceremony often gives a much needed boost to films across the spectrum. Of course, like any "Best of," they also manage to overlook the true gems.
Here were the big winners of the festival along with a guide to who really should have taken home the awards:
Audience Award: Documentary - Buck, directed by Cindy Meeh
Buck has a special place in Sundance founder Robert Redford's heart - the film chronicles the true life story of Buck Brannaman, the real life Horse Whisperer (the basis for Redford's film). Buck is a heartwarming crowd-pleaser, but we're surprised the even gooier Being Elmo, a look behind one man's quest to become a Muppeteer, didn't sweep up this category. Both are must-sees.
Audience Award: Dramatic - Circumstance, directed and written by Maryam Keshavarz
The Iranian lesbian romance drama debuted to positive reviews and we're all for the win - the subject matter will be a tough enough sell for any distributor consdering picking up the film. We expected Sundance veteran Miranda July to pick this award up for her second feature, The Future, an adorable and emotional tale of a couple on the brink of splitting. While we enjoy July's brand of comedy, spreading the love to Circumstance will certainly help that picture's chances at being seen by a wide audience.
Best of NEXT!: Audience Award - to.get.her, directed and written by Erica Dunton
Critically panned by fest-goers, to.get.her, a drama concerning four teen girls' wild night, took the NEXT! category (designed for projects shot on little to no budget) by surprise. We had two favorites that deserved some the bump from winning this award: Bellflower, an off-beat mix of muscle cars and romance, and The Sound of My Voice, a twisted sci-fi/drama about a documentary team infiltrating an underground cult. Both movies transcended their budget limitations to tell engaging stories - we'll have to see if to.get.her commands that kind of attention.
Directing Award: Documentary - Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles, directed by Jon Foy.
Resurrect Dead took Jon Foy five years and a significant portion of his own income to complete, but the result is a wild mystery and fun 90-minute ride. It may not be the most expertly directed documentary to play the fest - James Marsh's slick Project Nim or the hilarious Shut Up, Little Man may take that honor - but with so much sweat and blood making its way to the screen (and a thrilling subject matter: the mysterious, sci-fi Toynbee Tiles), Foy is certainly deserved of the prize.
Directing Award: Dramatic - Martha Marcy May Marlene, directed and written by Sean Durkin.
Everyone at the fest thought Sean Durkin's first directorial effort, the terrifying Martha Marcy May Marlene, would take home the top prize, but at this fest the film will have to settle for excellence in directing. There's no doubt Durkin earned it - MMMM is a gracefully paced, unnerving experience, creating a sense of paranoia and dread few of his horror contemporaries could even attempt matching. Thankfully, this one has a distributor and you'll be seeing it soon.
Excellence in Cinematography Award: Dramatic - was presented to Pariah, directed and written by Dee Rees, shot by Bradford Young.
Another fan favorite, Dee Rees' Pariah rejuvenated the tired coming-of-age drama with grounded reality and fully fleshed out characters. Bradford Young's look compliments the feel. Instead of settling for the a gritty, "urban" look of most New York indies, Young's cinematography is diverse and complimentary to the world of the film.
Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award - Another Happy Day, directed and written by Sam Levinson.
Sam Levinson, son of famed director Barry Levinson (Rain Man), debuted with a harrowing feature film centered on a family that just can't get it right. Levinson picked up the screenwriting award for his script chock full of Aaron Sorkin-lite dialogue and Diablo Cody-esque pop culture references. It's not a particularly great film, but there's talent there. We would have loved to see Pariah, The Future, HERE or Terri take the prize, but the world isn't perfect.
Grand Jury Prize: Documentary - How to Die in Oregon, directed by Peter D. Richardson.
Once in awhile, a firm punch to the gut is a necessary wake up call to real world problems and issues. How to Die in Oregon is exactly that, rightfully taking top honors in the documentary category and leaving audiences across the fest bawling soon-to-be-frozen tears. The doc unravels the moral debate over Oregon's law to allow for terminally ill or elderly citizens to terminate their own lives and, as you can imagine, it's a tough one to watch. But for every gasp or sniffle, there's a moment of inspiration of hope - for an hour and a half, you're watching people do exactly what they want to do (legally).
Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic - Like Crazy, directed by Drake Doremus
Like Crazy hit home for many fest-goers, some calling the cross-continent relationship drama the new 500 Days of Summer. That might not be a sell for everyone, but for those who caught the picture, starring Anton Yelchin, Felicity Jones and Jennifer Lawrence, it resonated in a smart, true way. There are a handful of films that would seem fit for a win in this category, but a win for Like Crazy will only help its buzz when Paramount releases it sometime this year.
Keep These Films on Your Radar: Kaboom, Project Nim, Pariah, Martha Mary May Marlene, Win Win, My Idiot Brother, Troll Hunter, The Woman, Life in a Day, HERE, Bellflower, How to Die in Oregon, Take Shelter, Resurrect Dead, Submarine, The Future, Letters from the Big Man, Shut Up, Little Man!
The So-So Bunch: Jess + Moss, Uncle Kent, The Music Never Stopped, Hobo with a Shotgun, The Woods, Knuckle, The Sound of My Voice, The Devil's Double, Cedar Rapids,The Details, Terri, Flypaper
The Disappoints of the Fest: Magic Trip, The Ledge, I Melt with You, Homework, Another Earth, Son of No One, Another Happy Day
S4E4: When Californication is on its game, it captures a wide range of human emotion -- from the wacked-out silliness of seeing some dude accidentally kill himself while masturbating (yes, that happened this week) to watching Hank deal with Karen meeting a new man. Although both moments are on the opposite sides of the human emotion spectrum, they still feel genuine. That's because Californication isn't pretending to be something that it's not. It accepts that it is a farce, and through that, it's able to illustrate its characters feelings and actions -- no matter how odd or absurd -- successfully.
So on that note, let's dive into this week's episode -- which illustrated the show at its best -- "Monkey Business."
"Well, who wants to get baked?"
Welp, Hank's finished the screenplay for Fucking and Punching and, unsurprisingly, everybody loves it. Charlie calls it "brilliant" and takes Hank to meet the financing producer Zig, who's a billionaire. He loves it as well, but "hates screenplays," so the group of them head back to his billionaire mansion to do some cold-reads. And, well, that's where things got a little interesting. Here's what happened: They do the reading. It turns Zig on so much (yes, the script turned him on), that he demands to get a blowjob in front of everyone (then leaves to go masturbate and die). Sisters start making out with each other. Charlie accidentally kills a monkey. And, well, yeah. That was that. Then they all then do the logical thing and get baked.
"Quick. Punch me in the stomach."
Marcy lets Becca's new band (Queens of Dogtown, which I still think is a stupid name) practice at her house while her and Karen hang out. Marcy complains about all the telling signs of pregnancy, so they go pick up a test. Turns out, Marcy is preggers! Except she's not too happy about it, and really, doesn't know who the husband is. (According to her, it can't be Charlie because he's "snipped"). Now this seems like the logical progression for Marcy's character. She's spent the past three seasons stressing how much she hates kids, so of course, she gets pregnant. I appreciate the writers taking a risk with this type of plot twist. Marcy's loud/obnoxious act was getting a little old and redundant, so making her pregnant forces her to go through some big character changes.
"Sensible and trusting. That's me in a nutshell."
"How high are you right now?"
-Hank and Abby
So, yeah. Zig accidentally committed suicide while he masturbated. Hank doesn't know what to do, so he calls his "lady lawyer" (better known as Abby), but before she arrives a cop car shows up. The over-eager officer decides the best move is to taser everyone -- well, at least Charlie. He tries for Hank, but instead gets a fist in his face. Then Abby shows up, fixes everything, flirts with Hank, and all is well.
Honestly, I'm pretty sure Californication is the only show on television that could get away with this type of plot twist, and actually have it be believable. One of the faults that critics point to in this show is that everything that happens is so over-the-top and in-your-face. Sure, living as a Bukowski-esque writer in Hollywood probably isn't really like Californication, but I don't think the show has ever tried to make the argument that it's presenting a realistic viewpoint. Instead, it's a farce. Now within that crazy, absurd world, these types of weird situations happen. And that's okay. They may not be believable in our world, but they are believable in the world of Californication.
"Not everyone can say they have a picture of when they first meet someone."
Karen meets Ben, Becca's bandmate's father, who's an artist. The two hit it off immediately, and Hank walks in and sees them enjoying a glass of wine together. Rather than making a big scene like he usually does, he instead backs off, lets it happen, and leaves.
As I stated in the intro, it's moments like this that makes Californication quality television. Without much effort, the show gracefully moves from the absurd scene at the mansion to a quiet moment at Marcy's house. And it's able to do this because of the ensemble's solid acting. When Ben and Karen meet, although the moment is brief, the two actors clearly show that there's chemistry between their two characters. Then, when Hank comes in and sees what's going on, he quietly removes himself. With any other actors who weren't so confident in their characters, the scene would've easily come off as cliche. But, because the actors know what they're doing and trying to accomplish, they are able to sell the scene as genuine.
Overall, this week's episode was the season's best. "Monkey Business" contain all the things that makes this show great, balancing both the silly and the serious moments with grace. Let's keep it up, shall we?