Another Sundance Film Festival has come to a close, and after the snowstorm had settled — which wasn’t until about six days in to the 10-day fest — I had taken in 40 films, among them a special 25th anniversary screening of Quentin Tarantino’s iconic heist thriller “Reservoir Dogs” in 35mm (with Tarantino, Michael Madsen, and Lawrence Bender in the house for an insightful Q&A) and a surprise advance midnight showing of Jordan Peele’s incredibly entertaining, racially charged horror/comedy “Get Out.” Obviously, there’s isn’t enough room to cover everything I saw at the fest here in this piece, but here’s an alphabetical list of five Sundance Film Festival highlights that really stuck with me.
“A Ghost Story”
Despite what one might lead you to believe, David Lowery’s latest poetic offering is not a horror film. This is more of a quiet, dreamlike expose on life, death, and longing. It’s also a crazy ambitious movie, particularly given its rather small budget. “A Ghost Story” features Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara as a married couple navigating through that funny thing called life, but rather than telling this story from the point of view of the living, Lowery (“Pete’s Dragon,” “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”) creatively opts to tell this story from the perspective of a ghost. With odes to the likes of Kubrick and Malick, the beautifully shot “A Ghost Story” is a not-to-be-missed movie experience for filmgoers looking for something a little out of the ordinary.
If “Room” and “The Truman Show” had been re-envisioned by the gloriously goofy Lonely Island crew (“Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping”) it might look a little like the surprisingly endearing and altogether likable “Brigsby Bear.” Co-written by and starring “Saturday Night Live” player Kyle Mooney, this sweet and laugh-out-loud funny movie will be instantly relatable to film lovers and to those who use art of any kind to deal with the pressures of real life. In “Brigsby Bear,” Mooney plays James, a man who’s lived a sheltered life, to say the least. With very little warning, James’ eyes are suddenly opened to a world he never knew existed, and through the power of his love for a children’s show called “Brigsby Bear,” this confused individual attempts to move on with his life the only way he knows how. For all its goofy, “The Lonely Island”-infused humor and slapstick hijinks, it should be noted that “Brigsby Bear” has a ton of heart. This is a movie about family, friendship, and moving forward from life-altering situations. It’s also quite the clever look at the art of filmmaking itself.
“Pariah” director Dee Rees returns to the Sundance Film Festival with an exceptional movie called “Mudbound.” Based on Hillary Jordan’s novel of the same name, “Mudbound” tells the story of two men (played by Jason Mitchell and Garrett Hedlund) who return home to rural Mississippi from the battlefields of World War II, only to face a battle of an entirely different ilk. By way of stunning writing, expert direction, and stellar performances from Mitchell, Hedlund, Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Jonathan Banks, Rob Morgan, and Mary J. Blige, the lyrical “Mudbound” emerges as an emotionally charged story about war, race, strong women, the power of family, and the importance of friendship. It’s a great film!
“Patti Cake$” was one of the big buzz movies at the Sundance Film Festival, and after seeing it, it was easy to see why. This story of an aspiring 20-something female rapper trying to breakthrough in a rough New Jersey neighborhood is warm, funny, and inspirational in equal measure. With a hip-hop flavor and a “Rocky”-like underdog story at its center, “Patti Cake$” certainly has a vibe reminiscent of “Eight Mile” and “Hustle and Flow,” but with newcomer Danielle Macdonald leading the charge in an undeniable star making turn, this crowdpleaser manages to carve out a niche all it’s own. Kudos to writer and director Geremy Jasper for fashioning the definitive musical of the Sundance Film Festival 2017. And the music on display throughout this picture extends far beyond hip-hop. When it comes to music, there’s a little bit of something for everyone in this picture, no matter what your musical tastes. What an absolute gem “Patti Cake$” is!
“To the Bone”
An emaciated Lily Collins (“Mirror Mirror”) is absolutely superb as a young woman battling anorexia through the aid of an unconventional doctor (Keanu Reeves) and an inpatient program comprising a handful of colorful patients with similar conditions. Writer and director Marti Noxon isn’t afraid to bring much needed laughs to the table, and this is a key to the film’s overall success, because “To the Bone” dares to wring humor out of very serious subject matter. What’s more, the chemistry between Collins and a fellow patient with a crush on her (played by an undeniably charming Alex Sharp) is spot on. “To the Bone” is inspirational and hopeful without being cloying and overly sentimental. Add to that strong performances right across the board and you have one the most heartfelt films of the Sundance Film Festival 2017.
Honorable mention: “The Big Sick,” “City of Ghosts,” “Dayveon,” “Dina,” “The Incredible Jessica James,” “Nobody Speak,” and “Raw.”
For a list of winning films and other information regarding The Sundance Film Festival, click here.