The thing is, as beautiful as snowflakes can be, once you’ve seen like a MILLION of them, that specialness goes out the window and you’re just left with cold balls of sludge falling from the sky. Movies as Sundance can sometimes feel like a million pieces of sludge coming at you.
Maybe sludge is too harsh a word. Eh, maybe not. The point is, I saw a lot of movies this Sundance – more than I’ve seen collectively in many years, and none of them felt “special” to me. To be fair, I didn’t see some of the favorites, like Cyrus, which I heard was really great. But I did see many that came to the festival with big buzz, and I was left feeling underwhelmed. Many were perfectly well done (The Runaways; The Company Men), but none gave me that “this is going to be big” feeling. There have been times when I’ve sat in a movie at Sundance and actually felt like I was seeing something that was either 1) just plain great, 2) marked the beginning of a great career, or 3) would be talked about for a long time to come. There have been movies that I just thoroughly enjoyed the fact that “I was there” – bearing witness to a moment so special in a filmmaker’s life that you enjoy it almost as much as the filmmaker. Sundance is the dream – but sometimes, you wake up, unable to remember what the dream was about and with an awful case of cottonmouth. Of course, that might have been due to my choice in hydration.
So here is my list of films that I saw at Sundance that gave me “that” feeling. They aren’t all the BIG ones to come out of the festival, and they certainly are not all “high brow” efforts. But in all of them, I came out either having enjoyed myself thoroughly, or feeling like the filmmaker/actor was going to be someone to watch in the future. In no particular order:
1) Whale Rider
2) Half Nelson
3) Four Weddings and a Funeral
4) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
5) Bend It Like Beckham
6) Muriel’s Wedding
7) Hustle & Flow (single best premiere screening ever! The director and cast sang Proud Mary!)
8) Little Miss Sunshine
9) Seducing Dr. Lewis
10) The Station Agent
Again, I’m not saying that these are the best movies to come out of Sundance or anywhere. I just remember walking out and being totally charmed, loving the performances, and just feeling happy about seeing the movie. There were others that I’ve loved from Sundance, I just didn’t see them AT Sundance. Movies like Memento; The Usual Suspects; Sex, Lies, and Videotape all were memorable to me, but I had to catch them at other festivals or (gasp!) in an actual PAYING venue.
There were a couple of films, to be fair, that captured my attention this year. Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Hesher was certainly notable, as was Dakota Fanning in The Runaways. But the film that left me the most intrigued, the one I couldn’t forget, was Splice with Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley. I saw it at a midnight showing, certain that I’d fall asleep, and when it ended 2 hours later, I was awake and just… enthralled. I can’t tell you what I liked because it might ruin the surprise of it, but I really enjoyed that movie.
And come to think of it, while we were standing in line, in the snow, waiting to see some movie or another, I WAS amazed every time a singularly perfect, “looks like you cut it out of construction paper”, stellar shaped snowflake landed on me. When it happens, you learn to ignore the sludge and just concentrate on the miracle before you.