What better way to start the new year than discovering a bunch of good films? Here are 15 titles that received the most buzz at the recently concluded Sundance Film Festival. Let's hope at least some of them make it to the Indian shores.
Director Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank chronicles the bizarre real life story of musician Chris Sievy (played by Michael Fassbender) who wears a large mask and turns into an alter ego named Frank Sidebottom. The film co-stars Domhnall Gleeson and Scoot McNairy and as per the reviews is a funny, warm and insightful debate on an artist’s dependence of someone other than himself to find his artistic inspiration.
Three years ago director Mike Cahill and his writer-star Brit Marling stormed the indie circuit with Another Earth. The duo is back with a new science fiction drama I Origins that delves into the conflict between science and religion. Michael Pitt plays an atheist PhD student who madly falls for a devout Christian girl, and the film puts us in a crossfire between their conflicting personalities, until a scientific breakthrough that sends both characters questioning their own ideologies.
Kumiko The Treasure Hunter
David and Nathan Zellner’s Kumiko The Treasure Hunter stars Rinko Kikuchi (Pafic Rim, Babel) in a rather unusual plot. Kumiko watches the Coen Brothers’ film Fargo on the television and goes on a quest to find the fictional buried treasure from the movie. It’s been acclaimed as a strange but touching character study of disillusionment and the fine lines that the title card ‘based on a true story’ crosses in motion pictures.
The Internet’s Own Boy
Exactly a year ago Aaron Swartz, the internet hero who operated Reddit, compiled data for all of us, and faced 35 yrs of jail for the same, committed suicide. He was 26. The internet paid tribute to Swartz but still no one away from keyboard knows who he is. This could be fixed thanks to director Brian Knappenberger’s film The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz which records the young prodigy’s heartbreaking rise and fall.
Andrew Rossi’s documentary Ivory Tower takes an introspective gander at one of the most important subjects of modern America – the exorbitant college fees that forces students to repay loans over 15-20 years. The system is deeply flawed seeing as most kids either don’t receive higher education or are forever struggling with debt - it’s affected the society and the economy of the country. Ivory Tower is a damning look at the system in place and is definitely one of the most important movies of the year.
Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett put a new spin on the home invasion genre in the critically acclaimed You’re Next a couple of years ago and their latest project is evidently even more visceral. The Guest is a mixture of a 90's Cronenberg movie and an 80's John Carpenter movie, and is a dark comedy mystery thriller with a heavy dose of violence.
Possibly the most adored film of Sundance, Roger Ebert’s biography Life Itself has been acclaimed as a sensitive and moving ode to the most famous film critic of our generation. Reviewing a biography of a film critic at a film festival seems a tad indulgent but the film chronicles even the unflattering shades of Ebert’s life instead of just mindlessly worshipping the man.
If last year’s A Touch of Sin delved into the social stigmas of China this year’s Web Junkie takes us through the unsettling addiction of the Chinese to the internet. The problem has risen to the levels of a national crisis and the country has set up ‘rehabilitation camps’ to forcibly get adults and even young children away from the internet.
John Michael McDonagh and Brendan Gleeson who made the hilarious The Guard two years ago reteam for Calvary, the second film at the fest that argued the necessity of religion in the modern world. Gleeson plays a priest and the film is a dark drama stocked under the winning tone of its cast that includes Chris O'Dowd, Kelly Reilly and Marie-Josee Croze.
While making School of Rock, A Scanner Darkly, Before Sunset and Midnight, Richard Linklater had been shooting a radical project over the course of more than a decade. The project, titled Boyhood is a film that follows a child who grows up in Texas over a course of twelve years from 2001 to 2013. It’s a technique that’s been done in Michael Apted’s ‘Up’ series but never before in a feature film of this scale. Boyhood finally premiered at Sundance to overwhelmingly positive reviews and is undoubtedly the most ambitious motion picture in a long time.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Ana Lilly Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Alone at Night got me super excited when its eerie, atmospheric teaser hit YouTube a couple of weeks ago. The film is a rarity on many levels – it’s a black and white Iranian vampire western film noir directed by a woman. As per the reviews the film goes the extra mile and actually lives up to its making, forging new ground in the vampire genre and offering insightful commentary on Iranian culture.
The Raid 2
The Raid 2 was by far the most anticipated Sundance film and it delivered in bucket loads seeing as the acclaim is through the roof. Evidently Director Gareth Evans has taken the best parts of the original film and pumped some seriously high dosage of acid for the sequel. The buzz ranges from ‘the best action movie in recent times’ to ‘the most enjoyable Sundance film in ages’. We should be thankful that we’ll get to see it this April.
Others: The Signal - which has been described by Slashfilm as an "ambitious, mind bending sci fi thriller" starring Lawrence Fishburne.
The Voices - A comedy horror from Persepolis and Chicken with Plums dir Marjane Satrapi, starring Ryan Reynolds as a psychotic man who is told by his cat to be a serial killer.
Whiplash - A student-teacher drama starring The Spectacular Now's Miles Teller as a drummer. Won the grand jury award.
For the best coverage of Sundance, head over to Indiewire who reviewed 66 films at the fest.
(First published in DNA on 26/1/2014)