I’ve been going to the Sundance Film Festival for going on 10 years now. It’s a strange time in every entertainment writer’s life when you vehemently express opinions with fellow bubble dwellers about a handful of films the rest of the country almost certainly won’t care about for another six months, if ever. You become intensely passionate about certain films, writing earnest reviews that if you’re lucky people might read at some indeterminate point in the future.
In the face of apathy from the larger world, there’s the concurrent state of constant anxiety that you’re not seeing and championing enough of the worthy films. Theoretically, one could see five or six films in a single day. Practically, this requires shoving enough food in your mouth between screenings to give you the energy to trudge from theater to theater in the freezing cold (on the plus side the air in Park City is shockingly clean).
Even assuming you had the physical stamina to achieve this, it would probably make you go insane. You know that thing where if you repeat a familiar word enough times it eventually starts to become a collection of strange sounds? Imagine that, but for movies about sensitive sons trying to reconnect with their dementia-addled fathers.
Dementia was a big theme in this year’s offerings, incidentally, showing up in Falling (Viggo Mortensen’s directorial debut), Relic (a horror movie starring Emily Mortimer), The Father (starring Olivia Colman and Anthony Hopkins), and Dick Johnson is Dead (Kirsten Johnson’s documentary about her father). Yesterday Google even used a dementia story to sell… I’m not sure, actually… their products, I suppose… in a Super Bowl ad. Gross. I guess it’s hard to avoid the subject of dementia during a Trump presidency.
Anyway, there’s probably a limit to the amount of movies you can watch in a single day before they all begin to run together and lose all meaning. And if you plan to write about them afterwards, you start to create a massive backlog of work. So yes, this is all an elaborate apology for not seeing more movies. There’s no way to not feel bad about not seeing more movies. Nonetheless, I did see a few. I present them here in ascending order of how much I liked them, along with my one or two sentence reviews, in the hopes of whetting your appetite for when they actually come out. That’s how I like my appetites best. Whet.
Worth (full review)
Michael Keaton stars as the heroic administer of a fund set up to keep the families of 9/11 victims from suing the airlines out of business. Essentially a litany of sad 9/11 stories that don’t entirely connect. A movie about an actuarial table is a bold concept but unfortunately we never learn what exactly “administering funds” means. Release date TBD.
Essentially a puff piece documentary for the ACLU, but a pretty solid one. I almost left after the record-scratching sizzle reel title sequence (this documentary is totally in my face!) but eventually the focus on the characters won me over. Release date TBD, but it’s been acquired Magnolia Pictures.
Falling (full review)
Viggo Mortensen makes his feature directing debut with a film he also wrote, about a gay son (Mortensen) trying to connect with his increasingly dementia-addled, homophobic asshole father (Lance Henriksen). Initially funny but increasingly repetitive (and a bit pathological) as the film goes on. Release date TBD.
Ironbark (full review)
So-so Cold War bromance between an English businessman (Benedict Cumberbatch) and a Russian intelligence officer (Merab Ninidze) that thinks it’s a spy drama. Kind of a poor man’s Bridge of Spies. Acquired by Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions, release date TBD.
Charm City Kings (full review)
Boys ‘N The Hood meets A Bronx Tale set in the world of 12 O’Clock Boys (urban dirtbike daredevils from Baltimore), which is a great pitch, but the movie never quite evolves beyond that. Slated for release April 10th, from Sony.
Dream Horse (full review)
Toni Collette rears a racehorse who inspires a small Welsh town in this extremely dowdy and incredibly Welsh underdog horse movie. If you’ve seen any inspirational horse movie you pretty much know what to expect with this one, but probably worth it to see Damian Lewis doing a Welsh accent. Releases May 1st, from Bleecker Street.
The Nest (full review)
Carrie Coon and Jude Law play 80s yuppies who move to the UK where it all falls apart. He’s a bullshitter, she’s a ballbuster in this simmering drama from the director of Martha Marcy May Marlene. Some of the reveals left me scratching my head a little bit, but entertaining throughout and Carrie Coon is a once-in-a-generation talent. Release date TBD.
The Truffle Hunters
A verité-style documentary about old Italian men hunting for truffles while singing songs and dispensing life advice to their beloved dogs. In other words, my precise wheelhouse. One 80-something-year-old guy even gets his dog a benediction from a priest in full regalia. Acquired by Sony Pictures Classics, release date TBD.
Zola (full review)
Janicza Bravo’s (Lemon) adaptation of a stripper’s viral tweet thread starring Taylour Paige as Zola, Riley Keough as a nutty sex worker and Nicholas Braun (cousin Greg from Succession) as her lunkheaded cuck boyfriend. I don’t know that I entirely “got” this one, but it was indisputably entertaining as hell. Set to be distributed by A24, release date TBD.
Palm Springs (Mike’s review)
I don’t know how much to tell you about this one to keep from spoiling it (though I’m fairly certain the trailer is just going to do that anyway), but for now let’s just say it’s Eternal Sunshine meets Groundhog Day starring Andy Samberg and produced by the Lonely Island guys, and it’s a very solid rom-com. Why do the highest concept rom-coms always end up being the most earnest? Neon and Hulu acquired the rights for $17.5 million and 69 cents, breaking the Sundance record by 69 cents, which is… nice.
Sylvie’s Love (full review)
An unironic La La Land set in 50s Harlem starring Tessa Thompson, this one wrecked me harder than anything I’ve seen at a festival since Brooklyn. Nothing like trying to hold it together while sitting in a room full of strangers. This one was a home run for me and I can’t believe it hasn’t found a distributor yet. Hopefully soon.