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Ranking This Year’s Sundance Movies According to Sundanciness

By / 12.17.12

The Sundance Film Festival, Hollywood’s premiere celebration of Hollywood insiders celebrating the outsider, recently released their programming schedule, and with the 2013 fest just a few weeks away, Laremy Legel and I decided to attempt to explore just what makes a good Sundance movie. Is it scarves? Non-linear narratives? Magical realism? Melancholic, semi-autobiographical tales of romanticized bohemian narrators trying to find their place in an increasingly alienating world with the help of a manic pixie girls? Is it, as David Sedaris once wrote of hanging out with filmmakers in college, “grainy black-and-white movies in which ponderous, turtlenecked men slogged the stony beaches, cursing the gulls for their ability to fly”?

Laremy and I are a lot like the Supreme Court in that we may not be able to tell you exactly what makes a Sundance movie, we just know one when we see one. While we most likely won’t be making the trip ourselves this year (trivia: we met there two years ago), that doesn’t mean we can’t still drool over the program guide like a pair of old yuppies reading a Zagat’s Guide, and then make wild generalizations as to its content.

Here, using the actual program guide, we tried to rank the Sundanciest Sundance Films in terms of Sundanciness (a very scientific measure, though we didn’t include all of them), as only people who would quote David Sedaris in an article about it could do. And if you’re attending the festival this year, we helpfully included some pairings to help you get the most out of each. Boner Appetite!

(Disclaimer: I saw Winter’s Bone, Hesher, and Elite Squad 2 at Sundance, so be advised: some of these might be really f*cking good).

Afternoon Delight / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Jill Soloway) —  In this sexy, dark comedy, a lost L.A. housewife puts her idyllic hipster life in jeopardy when she tries to rescue a stripper by taking her in as a live-in nanny. Cast: Kathryn Hahn, Juno Temple, Josh Radnor, Jane Lynch.

SUNDANCE THEMES
A housewife escaping her dreary day-to-day existence is classic arthouse, though the wacky duo/nanny plot is a timeless sitcom plot. And nothing’s more pleasing to Sundance palates than marrying classic tropes to contempo zeitgeistiness. I call it the Modern Family effect. Also, it has “hipster” in the headline. Making fun of hipsters is so hipster.

SUNDANCE QUOTIENT
Seven out of ten. I award it five for the name “Juno Temple” alone, plus two for aforementioned themes, but I had to dock it three for an apparently lack of self-serving attempts at multi-culturalism.

CHANCES YOU’LL EVER HEAR ABOUT IT AGAIN
50/50. Jane Lynch is famous and Kathryn Hahn’s star is rising, if it’s good it could be 2014’s Take This Waltz. You didn’t see that either, did you.

PAIRINGS
I’d pair this with a nice raw quail egg over mint-spiced duck meatball and a yeasty Belgian farmhouse ale. Rustic yet sophisticated, worldy, but with a pastoralist redolence.

-Vince

“Hey guys, is my torso on straight?”

Before Midnight — Directed by Richard Linklater, written by Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke and Linklater. Jesse and Celine meet again, this time in Greece, in this sequel to “Before Sunset.” Stars Hawke, Delpy, Xenia Kalogeropoulo, Ariane Labed, Athina Rachel Tsangari, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick.

SUNDANCE THEMES
As the third film in the Sunset series, it’s seriously verging into dangerous “commercial” territory. You know, like a movie people buy tickets to and are generally aware of. So what gives? The most likely scenario is Sundance is including it merely to make a comment about having “discovered” the Hawke/Thurman trilogy first. They may say “TOLDJA” during the press conference. Still, I for one am big-time excited to see Xenia Kalogeropoulo’s comeback, if only because that’s the name of two of the Koi in my Koi pond.

SUNDANCE QUOTIENT
Three out of ten. No one at Sundance wants to be in the business of being a business.

CHANCES YOU’LL EVER HEAR ABOUT IT AGAIN
100 percent. People like the first two films, and this one will gain a following.

PAIRINGS
I’d go the brandy snifter route, and perhaps some sort of braised apple pork. This is a meal you’ll want to get sentimental about.

-Laremy

Hey! I live four blocks from there.

Big Sur — Directed and written by Michael Polish. Faced with a suddenly demanding public and his own demons, Jack Kerouac takes three brief sojourns to a cabin in Big Sur. With Jean-Marc Barr, Kate Bosworth, Josh Lucas, Radha Mitchell, Anthony Edwards and Henry Thomas.

SUNDANCE THEMES
Unconventional biopic, the beat generation, opportunity for poetic/literary voice over, public figure’s private demons, escaping into nature, the price of fame.

SUNDANCE QUOTIENT
Nine out of Ten. This sounds like it’s basically Howl 2: Kerouac to the Forest. (Too much of a stretch?)

CHANCES YOU’LL EVER HEAR ABOUT IT AGAIN
Slim to none. Remember Howl? Probably not. And that one had James Franco. This one has… Josh Lucas.

PAIRINGS
A medium-rare cube of Kobe ribeye with sage butter chimichurri and a deep, heavy-breathing merlot. Anachronistic if it weren’t so timeless.

-Vince

[Picture source = here]

C.O.G. / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Kyle Patrick Alvarez) — In the first ever film adaptation of David Sedaris’ work, a cocky young man travels to Oregon to work on an apple farm. Out of his element, he finds his lifestyle and notions being picked apart by everyone who crosses his path. Cast: Jonathan Groff, Denis O’Hare, Corey Stoll, Dean Stockwell, Casey Wilson, Troian Bellisario.

SUNDANCE THEMES
Fish out of water, Oregon, David Sedaris.

SUNDANCE QUOTIENT
Only five out of ten, mostly because it doesn’t seem oppressively dispiriting.

CHANCES YOU’LL EVER HEAR ABOUT IT AGAIN
That’s a negative.

PAIRINGS
Kangaroo meat and Four Loco. You want to get very exotic and wild when digesting this situation.

-Laremy

[Vince's Note: Obviously, I'm stoked as f*ck for this one. Picture source = here.]

Concussion / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Stacie Passon) — After a blow to the head, Abby decides she can’t do it anymore. Her life just can’t be only about the house, the kids and the wife. She needs more: she needs to be Eleanor. Cast: Robin Weigert, Maggie Siff, Johnathan Tchaikovsky, Julie Fain Lawrence, Emily Kinney, Laila Robins.

SUNDANCE THEMES
Oooh, who is this mysterious Eleanor? Housewife ennui (short of grief, ennui is arthouse’s favorite emotion), rebellion against traditional values/gender roles (pre-established forms of rebellion are another big winner), idealized depiction of mental illness, a quirky delusion, escaping ennui through quirky delusions.

SUNDANCE QUOTIENT
Nine out of Ten. Sounds like the archetypal Sundance comedy, though maybe it’s a drama? Oh who are we kidding, I’m sure it’s a dramedy.

CHANCES YOU’LL EVER HEAR ABOUT IT AGAIN
Highly doubtful, unless the reviews are incredible.

PAIRINGS
Ostrich burger tartar and a rescue dog.

-Vince

[picture source]

Crystal Fairy / Chile (Director and screenwriter: Sebastián Silva) — Jamie invites a stranger to join a road trip to Chile. The woman’s free and esoteric nature clashes with Jamie’s acidic, self-absorbed personality as they head into the desert for a Mescaline-fueled psychedelic trip. Cast: Michael Cera, Gabby Hoffmann, Juan Andrés Silva, José Miguel Silva, Agustín Silva. World Premiere.

SUNDANCE THEMES
Free and esoteric persons, Mescaline, the desert, Michael Cera.

SUNDANCE QUOTIENT
Another strong eight out of ten. My guess is this plays like Fear and Loathing meets The English Patient. Winner!

CHANCES YOU’LL EVER HEAR ABOUT IT AGAIN
Slim to none, and slim left town.

PAIRINGS
A vegan turkey product and green tea. Really get luxurious here.

-Laremy

[picture source]

Don Jon’s Addiction — Directed and written by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. A selfish modern-day Don Juan attempts to turn over a new leaf. With Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Glenne Headly and Rob Brown.

SUNDANCE THEMES
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, actor changing his body for a role, a hot young actor beloved by the indie set stepping behind the camera, a random name in the cast seemingly pulled from a pillow case marked “RANDOM CASTING CHOICE.”

SUNDANCE QUOTIENT
Eight out of ten. That synopsis seems more multiplex than Landmark Theaters, but that might be the Sundanciest cast I’ve ever heard. God I hope Tony Danza reinvents himself as a beloved indie actor.

CHANCES YOU’LL EVER HEAR ABOUT IT AGAIN:
JGL is all buff now? Pretty good. Theaters may have to install gutter.

PAIRINGS
A throaty Chardonnay with mole poutine and KY-braised pork belly. Familiar flavors in surprising combinations!

-Vince

Kill Your Darlings / U.S.A. (Director: John Krokidas, Screenwriters: Austin Bunn, John Krokidas) — An untold story of murder that brought together a young Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs at Columbia University in 1944, providing the spark that led to the birth of an entire generation – their Beat revolution. Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHann, Ben Foster, Michael C. Hall, Jack Huston, Elizabeth Olsen.

SUNDANCE THEMES
Elizabeth Olsen, death, untold stories, Columbia University (Hey Vince, ZING).

SUNDANCE QUOTIENT
A solid seven out of ten. Whenever white folk can lecture you on stuff you missed, they’re in their element.

CHANCES YOU’LL EVER HEAR ABOUT IT AGAIN
Maybe twenty percent, if you’re an untold story sort of fellow (read: sad).

PAIRINGS
Single malt scotch and Bacardi 151. No sustenance needed.

-Laremy

[picture source]

The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete – Directed by George Tillman Jr., written by Michael Starrbury. A story of salvation in which two boys, separated from their mothers, hide from police and forage for food in the Brooklyn projects. With Skylan Brooks, Ethan Dizon, Jennifer Hudson, Jordin Sparks, Anthony Mackie and Jeffrey Wright.

SUNDANCE THEMES
Magical realism (I think?), precocious children doing adult things, the world through the eyes of children, (possibly fetishized) poverty, Brooklyn.

SUNDANCE QUOTIENT
Nine out of ten. Obvious parallels to Beasts of the Southern Wild, but missing important element of cultural tourism. It’d be more Sundancey if the director was Steve Buscemi’s son or something, fresh out of art school.

CHANCES YOU’LL EVER HEAR ABOUT IT AGAIN
Decent, especially if Oprah likes it.

PAIRINGS
Bitter-melon glazed horse belly with bruised parsnips and a cave-aged moonshine. Self-explanatory.

-Vince

[Picture]

It Felt Like Love / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Eliza Hittman) — On the outskirts of Brooklyn, a 14-year-old girl’s sexual quest takes a dangerous turn when she pursues an older guy and tests the boundaries between obsession and love. Cast: Gina Piersanti, Giovanna Salimeni, Ronen Rubinstein, Jesse Cordasco, Nick Rosen, Case Prime.

SUNDANCE THEMES
Brooklyn, teenage sexual quests, older guys, obsession.

SUNDANCE QUOTIENT
Only a five out of ten, because it reinforces the patriarchal themes Sundance so desperately wants to tear down.

CHANCES YOU’LL EVER HEAR ABOUT IT AGAIN
Zero, though I admire any man named “Case Prime”.

PAIRINGS
Veal and Beaujolais nouveau. Symbolism!

-Laremy

The Lifeguard / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Liz W. Garcia) — A former valedictorian quits her reporter job in New York and returns to the place she last felt happy: her childhood home in Connecticut. She gets work as a lifeguard and starts a dangerous relationship with a troubled teenager. Cast: Kristen Bell, Mamie Gummer, Martin Starr, Alex Shaffer, Amy Madigan, David Lambert.

SUNDANCE THEMES
A protagonist returns to her childhood home to get her head straight, disillusioned prodigy, wasted potential, leaving New York City, slumming it in an entry-level job, a non-age-appropriate relationship, heir to Hollywood royalty in the cast.

SUNDANCE QUOTIENT
Eight out ten. Not only is “Mamie Gummer” a real name, she’s Meryl Streep’s daughter.

CHANCES YOU’LL EVER HEAR ABOUT IT AGAIN
Smaller than Kristen Bell, which is a shame, because I love Martin Starr.

PAIRINGS: A deconstructed lutefisk pita wrap with a catty gewürztraminer, for obvious reasons.

-Vince

Touchy Feely / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Lynn Shelton) — A massage therapist is unable to do her job when stricken with a mysterious and sudden aversion to bodily contact. Meanwhile, her uptight brother’s foundering dental practice receives new life when clients seek out his “healing touch.” Cast: Rosemarie DeWitt, Allison Janney, Ron Livingston, Scoot McNairy, Ellen Page, Josh Pais.

SUNDANCE THEMES
Lynn Shelton, mysterious and sudden aversions, foundering dental practices, quirkiness.

SUNDANCE QUOTIENT
Eight of ten, because it features an awful lot of “it” indie people with names like Scoot, Ellen, and Allison.

CHANCES YOU’LL EVER HEAR ABOUT IT AGAIN
Pretty good. Lynn Shelton directed Humpday and Your Sister’s Sister, both of which received limited theatrical runs and DVD treatment.

PAIRINGS
Bit-O-Honey, Apple Shcnapps, and KFC “extra crispy” fried chicken.

-Laremy

Toy’s House / U.S.A. (Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts, Screenwriter: Chris Galletta) — Three unhappy teenage boys flee to the wilderness where they build a makeshift house and live off the land as masters of their own destiny. Or at least that’s the plan. Cast: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Alison Brie.

SUNDANCE THEMES
Children mimicking adult behavior, magical realism, quirky delusions, quirky obsessions, escaping unhappiness through quirky delusions, escaping into nature, hyphenated names, actors from Parks & Rec.

SUNDANCE QUOTIENT
Nine out of ten.

CHANCES YOU’LL EVER HEAR ABOUT IT AGAIN
It depends how cute those teenage boys are. None seem Hushpuppy-esque enough.

PAIRINGS
Braised rabbit loin chimichanga fried in duck fat on a bed of pine needles with a gooseberry Jones soda.

-Vince

Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer / Russian Federation, United Kingdom (Directors: Mike Lerner, Maxim Pozdorovkin) — Three young women face seven years in a Russian prison for a satirical performance in a Moscow cathedral. But who is really on trial: the three young artists or the society they live in? World Premiere

SUNDANCE THEMES
Young women, prison stretches, satire, who is really on trial?

SUNDANCE QUOTIENT
Ten out of ten. This is everything Sundance loves, denouncing totalitarianism, giving love to indie bands, documentaries, lost causes.

CHANCES YOU’LL EVER HEAR ABOUT IT AGAIN
Well, Pussy Riot makes the news on the regular, so a decent three out of ten?

PAIRINGS
Goulash and Swedish Vodka, so as not to support the enemy.

-Laremy

Soldate Jeannette / Austria (Director: Daniel Hoesl) — Fanni has had enough of money and leaves to buy a tent. Anna has had enough of pigs and leaves a needle in the hay. Cars crash and money burns to shape their mutual journey toward a rising liberty. Cast: Johanna Orsini-Rosenberg, Christina Reichsthaler, Josef Kleindienst, Aurelia Burckhardt, Julia Schranz, Ines Rössl. World Premiere

SUNDANCE THEMES
Foreign inscrutability, ennui, escaping into nature, non-linear narrative, stuff burning for some reason – it could be symbolism!

SUNDANCE QUOTIENT
Eight out of ten. Possibly much higher, but synopsis is somewhat cryptic.

CHANCES YOU’LL EVER HEAR ABOUT IT AGAIN
Low to medium, but again, hard to tell. Could it be the next Dogtooth?

PAIRINGS
Rehydrated shitake mushroom schnitzel atop a pile of hemp baby hats. With a nice Märzen – assertively hopped, but not pushy.

-Vince

“Top of the Lake” (Australia-New Zealand) — Directed by Jane Campion and Garth Davis, written by Campion and Gerard Lee. A six-hour film in which a pregnant 12-year-old girl stands chest deep in a frozen lake. Stars Elisabeth Moss, Holly Hunter, Peter Mullan and David Wenham.

SUNDANCE THEMES
DING DING DING. As previously discussed, we have a winner, the most arthouse synopsis ever written, and it only cheapens it to break it down. Unfortunately, it seems this was the truncated synopsis from Variety. Here’s the full version:

Top of the Lake / Australia, New Zealand (Directors: Jane Campion, Garth Davis, Screenwriters: Jane Campion, Gerard Lee) — A 12-year-old girl stands chest deep in a frozen lake. She is five months pregnant, and won’t say who the father is. Then she disappears. So begins a haunting mystery that consumes a community. Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Holly Hunter, Peter Mullan, David Wenham. This six-hour film will screen once during the Festival.

SUNDANCE QUOTIENT
Ten out of ten.

CHANCES YOU’LL EVER HEAR ABOUT IT AGAIN
Almost guaranteed. I just want to know how they’re going to screen it. I hope there’s at least three intermissions or else the audience will have to pass around the empty coffee can.

PAIRINGS
Black eyeliner and a corndog. Really get rustic.

-Vince

[picture source]

There Will Come a Day / Italy, France (Director: Giorgio Diritti, Screenwriters: Giorgio Diritti, Fredo Valla, Tania Pedroni) — Painful issues push Augusta, a young Italian woman, to doubt the certainties on which she has built her existence. On a small boat in the immensity of the Amazon rain forest, she faces the adventure of searching for herself. Cast: Jasmine Trinca, Anne Alvaro, Pia Engleberth. World Premiere

SUNDANCE THEMES
Painful issues, doubting certainties, small boats, the Amazon, searching for oneself.

SUNDANCE QUOTIENT
Ten out of ten! That’s a bingo, perfect score!

CHANCES YOU’LL EVER HEAR ABOUT IT AGAIN
Possibly for Best Foreign film, which means not at all.

PAIRINGS
Gnocchi and Montepulciano, treat yo’ self.

-Laremy

[picture source]

Two Mothers (Australia-France) — Directed by Anne Fontaine, written by Christopher Hampton. Charts the unconventional and passionate affairs of two lifelong friends who fall in love with each other’s sons. Stars Naomi Watts, Robin Wright, Xavier Samuel, James Frecheville.

SUNDANCE THEMES
Two Mothers? I liked this better when it was called The Kids Are All Right. HEYO! Just kidding, that sucked. Anyway… Non-age-appropriate relationships, sexual taboos, passionate affairs, probably lots of closed-eye cuddling and breezy drapes and gratuitous cigarette smoking. Something deliberately taboo and provocative that will probably end up kind of boring.

SUNDANCE QUOTIENT
Nine out of Ten. Director of Coco Avant Chanel and indie-cred actresses plus creepy sexual angle give it a high score.

CHANCES YOU’LL EVER HEAR ABOUT IT AGAIN
In terms of awards, pretty good. In terms of it playing at any theaters near you, pretty bad. Will almost surely be the focus of a heated twitter debate between entertainment writers.

PAIRINGS
Foie-gras bonzai tree casserole and a dirty martini served in a fez.

-Vince

[picture source]

This is Martin Bonner / U.S.A.(Director and screenwriter: Chad Hartigan) — Martin Bonner has just moved to Reno for a new job in prison rehabilitation. Starting over at age 58, he struggles to adapt until an unlikely friendship with an ex-con blossoms, helping him confront the problems he left behind. Cast: Paul Eenhoorn, Richmond Arquette, Sam Buchanan, Robert Longstreet, Demetrius Grosse.

SUNDANCE THEMES
Rehab, prisons, starting over, struggling, unlikely friendships, ex-cons, problems.

SUNDANCE QUOTIENT
Eleven out of ten. You didn’t know the knob went that high, did you?

CHANCES YOU’LL EVER HEAR ABOUT IT AGAIN
You’ll hear about it when everyone gives it raves at Sundance (Variety headline: Boffo Bonner!) but then never again after that 48-hour period.

PAIRINGS
Mesquite skirt steak and a solid sarsaparilla.

-Laremy

Milkshake / U.S.A. (Director: David Andalman, Screenwriters: David Andalman, Mariko Munro) — In mid-1990’s America, we follow the tragic sex life of Jolie Jolson, a wannabe thug (and great-great-grandson of legendary vaudevillian Al Jolson) in suburban DC as he strives to become something he can never be – black. Cast: Tyler Ross, Shareeka Epps, Georgia Ford, Eshan Bay, Leo Fitzpatrick, Danny Burstein.

SUNDANCE THEMES
Provocative, sexy un-political correctness. Something so bizarre it has to be awesome. I’m not going to lie, I would watch the hell out of this.

SUNDANCE QUOTIENT
Four out of ten. I predict a lot of people afraid to laugh. At least, assuming it’s a comedy. A plot like this not played for this would be a fifteen out of ten.

CHANCES YOU’LL EVER HEAR ABOUT IT AGAIN
I’m inclined to say not good.

PAIRINGS
A nice roasted chicken breast that won’t offend anyone and a milkshake, avante-garde in its literalness.

-Vince

This was the actual Sundance theme of 2010


TAGSAFTERNOON DELIGHTBEFORE MIDNIGHTBIG SURC.O.G.CONCUSSIONCRYSTAL FAIRYDON JON'S ADDICTIONFEATURESINEVITABLE DEFEAT OF MISTER AND PETEIT FELT LIKE LOVEKILL YOUR DARLINGSLAREMYMILKSHAKEpussy riotSOLDATE JEANNETTEsundanceTHE LIFEGUARDTHERE WILL COME A DAYTHIS IS MARTIN BONNERTOP OF THE LAKETOUCHY FEELYTOY'S HOUSETWO MOTHERS

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