Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Sundance Kid Returns

The Oscar nominees were announced today. Regular readers will know that my interest in the Academy Awards has waned considerably with each passing year and this one is no exception. It's gotten to the point now where, this time of year, I'm thinking more about the Sundance Film Festival than I am about the Academy Awards. Unfortunately, deficient funds have prevented me from going to Sundance the past few years, but it occurred to me that it's been exactly five years since my first trip to Park City. So, for fun, I thought I'd post my original blog about losing my Sundance virginity. It's interesting to look back on these movies that were so fresh and unfamiliar back in 2007. The vast majority of these films have kinda fallen off the radar, which is a shame because most of them are worth looking up. Stay tuned for my top ten favorite films of 2011, but in the meantime, enjoy this blast from the past:

The Academy Award nominations were announced earlier this week and, while I haven't really looked at them with any degree of scrutiny, my first impression was that they did a pretty good job of selecting nominations this year. However, when I think about it overall, 2006 wasn't all that great a year for movies, though. There were a few gems out there, but nothing that really quickened my pulse and made me think "Damn, this is a REALLY good movie" while I was watching it. For example, there was no Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, no American Splendor, no Amélie, no Memento. I haven't really catalogued my top ten list of favorite movies this past year (stay tuned for a future post on that), but if I were to guess, I'd say the majority of my top ten for 2006 probably played at the Sundance Film Festival last January.

My friend DJ goes to Sundance every year and I had hoped to go with him last time. For one reason or another, I didn't, and consquently missed out on an early peek at the best films of the year. This year, I had sense enough to go and, man oh man, am I ever glad I did. My only regrets are that I didn't go any of the other previous years and that we didn't stay longer this year. Without going into too much detail (if you want the juicy insights of my glorious movie-watching, celebrity-spotting, party-crashing extravaganza, you'll hafta ask me yourself - you know my stance on blogging), here's a breakdown on the movies we saw during our six days in Park City, Utah. The titles are arranged in the order of how much I liked them:

1. Son Of Rambow: Not only was this my favorite film at Sundance, I'm willing to bet my bottom dollar it will be my favorite film of the year. It was so good I was almost brought to tears when it was over. Literally. This is one of those movies where if you don't like it, you're basically the antichrist. I'm definitely buying it and then watching it over and over.

2. Rocket Science: This is the first movie we saw and conicidentally the first movie selected for Sundance. I don't know whether to say it's tragically funny or comedically sad, but I can probably best sum it up by saying it's as flawless a portrayal of the awkwardness of adolescence as I have ever seen. I'm almost sorry I saw it before any of my other friends because I want to discuss it with so many of them.

3. Dedication: Anybody who knows me well will know why I liked this movie so much. It's hard to say which of the movies we saw had the best dialogue, but this one's right up there. The characters were so vividly written, I found myself wondering how they were doing afterwards. Dan, one of the guys we were sharing our condo with, actually worked on this movie as a P.A. He tried to get DJ and I into the premiere party afterwards, but apparently didn't have enough clout to have an entourage. We went to the Dough Boys premiere party instead.

4. Finishing The Game: Required viewing for anyone who's a fan of mockumentaries or Bruce Lee. After seeing a string of films that were somber and thought-provoking, this silly masterpiece really hit the spot. Another funny thing about this movie was that DJ and I had to rush out when it was over because we had another movie to get to right after. On our way out of the theatre, the cast and crew were on their way single-file into the theatre for the Q & A so it was like we had a visual, live-action end credits.

5. Teeth: Sick humor at its sickest. And pretty frickin' funny, too. I think the audience was the best part of this movie, actually. They squirmed and howled and cheered and gagged. You get a lot of people at Sundance who consider themselves holier-than-thou movie snobs seeking out arthouse flicks so they can talk about how cultured they are having seen these poignant, evocative films. Sundance needs a film or two like this to keep them on their toes and show them movies can be silly fun with no message or redeeming qualities whatsoever. Hard to believe I could enjoy a movie this much that contained so many severed penises.

6. Joshua: I felt like I'd seen this movie before, but I didn't care. Creepy kids are nothing new, but it did pretty brilliant job of balancing humor and suspense. The director said afterwards he always was a fan of cutting tension with humor. That's hard to do effectively, but this movie pulled it off quite well. Mostly due to the performances, I think. For example, the line "You don't beat up your kid in public on the weekend" delivered with the utmost sincerity was pretty hilarious.

7. Weapons: The most disturbing portrait of inner-city youth since Larry Clark's Kids. It's been a while since we've seen a movie with the same story told from different points of view and out of sequence. Tarantino made this technique popular with Pulp Fiction wanna-bees and it often feels contrived, but I thought it lent more to the story here.

8. Waitress: To be sure, this is a chick flick to the utmost degree, but a cute one. I liked it, but had a few problems with it. First and foremost, it shoulda ended sooner. After a crucial and moving scene, the screen faded to black and a few audience members began to clap in anticipation of the end credits. Next thing you know, a new scene begins and takes us through this totally unnecessary montage assuring us that everything turned out alright and everybody lived happily ever after. I prefer when movies like this end with a feeling of hope (like Dedication did) for the audience to contemplate rather than force-feeding them a happy ending. It's patronizing. My advice: If you go see this movie, exit the theatre when you hear the line "We're gonna have so much fun." You'll appreciate it more.

9. Save Me: I was expecting a movie condemning fundamental Christianity and defending the gay community through sympathy, but what I got was the most fair and evenly-balanced portrayal of the conflict between the church and homosexuality I've ever seen. I think even the most liberal homosexual and the most conservative Christian could watch this movie and both walk away feeling represented respectfully. I was surprisingly impressed - I didn't think that was possible. And another surprise: the mom from "Who's The Boss" turns in one of the best performances of the festival.

10. Padre Nuestro: DJ and I remarked how much this one reminded us of Maria Full of Grace. They're both Spanish-speaking movies filmed in America and written and directed by white boys. Funny how authentic both movies felt. There were some Mexican people in the audience who made a big deal about what a realistic case study this was about the struggles immigrants have trying to assimilate to America. Given that this movie was made by a gringo, I guess it just goes to show how much credibility comes from talent.

11. Never Forever: This one took a while to get going, but it got under my skin. You know the characters are headed towards disaster despite their best intentions, but you see the end of the tracks getting closer and closer. I wonder what percentage of movies have plot complications that stem from sex. Probably a helluva lot of 'em. Actually, most of the movies on this list have to do with big trouble spawned from sex or the pursuit of it.

12. Starting Out In The Evening: This is the kinda movie that I woulda been bored enough to commit suicide over when I was a kid. The kinda movie my parents would rent and I'd say "Well, I guess I'll go do my homework then." I still consider myself pretty immature, but there's a grown-up in me somewhere because I found this movie quite interesting. Really nothing more than character studies within a slice-of-life plotline, the dialogue held my attention and I cared about what went on. It ran a little long, but I never did look at my watch so I hafta say I enjoyed it.

13. Away From Her: My main incentive to see this was to see Sarah Polley in attendance because I've had a small crush on her ever since Go. I wasn't sure how much I'd like the movie 'cuz it's certainly aimed more towards older audiences (by the way, if your grandparents ever complain that there's no movies out there for them to see, draw their attention to this one), but like Starting Out In The Evening, it held my attention. Something the director said in the Q & A that I particularly liked was that she wanted to do this movie because it was a love story about a couple who'd been together for over 40 years and she was sick of seeing romances always taking place at the beginning of relationships when people are young and reckless. She's right, it's nice to see this for a change.

14. The Nines: DJ's gonna kill me for having this so low on the list, but what can I say - it didn't wow me as much as I felt it was supposed to. That might be because it was the fourth film we saw that day and late at night to boot (and we got very little sleep all week). I kept up with the convoluted plotline pretty well, but I didn't find it as clever as others seemed to. Maybe it deserves another viewing, but I didn't think it was that great despite being original and well-made.

15. Fay Grim: I have finally come to terms that I am not a Hal Hartley fan. That's not to say I dislike his movies, but they don't really do it for me, either. Not much more to say about this one except I guess you're either a Hartley fan or you're not. It was a treat to see Parker Posey in person, though.

16. On The Road With Judas: This is the only movie I saw at Sundance that I can truly say I didn't like. From stories DJ's told me of previous Sundance experiences, I should count my lucky stars there was only one. I felt like the director was trying to impress us with an unconventional story-telling technique which really didn't work. It was like a pathetic attempt at trying to make his ordinary story (which wasn't altogether bad, just insufficient) more compelling by trying to mimic Charlie Kaufman or something. The director came across as a real idiot in the Q & A, so I wasn't real surprised.

And that was the movie part of Sundance. There's much more to tell, of course, but since I've already spent all this time playing Roger Ebert, I'm gonna hang it up for now. I'd be surprised if many of you read this far anyway. If you did, you must be a pretty big fan of movies yourself and should go with me to Sundance next year. Oh, yes. I'm going again.

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