Thursday, January 18, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks - Sundance Favorites

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join the fun by writing about three movies that fit the week's theme.

The Sundance Film Festival is coming up soon, and will surely bring around another crop of quirky indie films that will barely get a theatrical release despite generating tons of buzz (Call Me By Your Name, anyone?).

Picking this week was actually harder than I had expected. It was difficult enough to narrow it down to a list of my ten favorite films that played at Sundance; I had to take out anything that I'd already featured on the blog to even get that far! And then I just decided to hell with it. I looked at the list, and went with my gut. Here you go: My Three Favorite Sundance Movies (That I Haven't Already Used For Thursday Movie Picks)

Once (John Carney, 2007) This minor miracle of a movie musical follows two musicians in Dublin who meet while he's busking on the streets. Before you know it, they're making beautiful (Oscar-winning) music together, and it's clear that they are "meant to be"... except that she's married with a kid and he has a girlfriend in London. Helped greatly by the natural chemistry (both musically and otherwise) of non-actor stars Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, but also by John Carney's intuitive, intimate direction, this is one of the all-time great movie musicals - and for those of you who hate musicals, don't worry: The musical numbers take place naturally within the context of the story. And as a bonus, Once was adapted into a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, which was one of the most magical things I've ever seen live on stage.

Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012) When done well, magical realism can touch us like nothing else. Beasts of the Southern Wild is magical realism at its absolute finest. Taking place in an alternate version of the Louisiana bayou that has left communities completely isolated and fending for themselves, a girl named Hushpuppy and her daddy live in an area called The Bathtub. Hushpuppy's daddy is very much a rolling stone, and while she's tough, she's still just a child. But the child's eye view this takes of the world is infectious, and ultimately beautiful, creating sequences of such devastating beauty (and not just audio-visually) that you'll leave smiling through tears. Quvenzhené Wallis, who was all of five years old at the start of filming, got a well-deserved Oscar nomination for her tremendous performance as Hushpuppy (the youngest ever nominated for Lead Actress), and Dwight Henry, a New Orleans native and baker by trade, is just as fantastic as her father.

It Follows (David Robert Mitchell, 2015) A girl has sex with a hot guy. She wakes up afterward tied to a chair in her underwear to hear him telling her that now some... THING... is going to be following her, at a walking pace, and won't stop until it kills her. The only way to stop it is to pass it on to someone else (by having sex, of course), but unless they pass it on, once it catches them it will move on to her, and then to him, and so on down the line. The perfect dream-logic of this "Why Hasn't Someone Thought Of This Before?" premise is perfectly complemented by the film's cinematography and score, as well as the setting of Any Suburb, USA. A near-perfect metaphor that can be applied to almost anything, It Follows technically falls into the horror genre, but it transcends that by truly feeling like a waking dream all the way through; it's a mood piece where the mood is that nightmare we've all had where we're being chased by something, don't know what it is, but know we just have to keep running.

BONUS: Rejected (Don Hertzfeldt) I love this deranged, bizarre little short SO MUCH. It's less than 10 minutes and so stupid it's genius. Just watch it.


  1. This week was so hard. I love all of your picks. I listen to Beasts of the Southern Wild's soundtrack all the time.

  2. I've heard good things about Once but haven't gotten around to it yet. When I read about It Follows it didn't sound like my kind of thing but your description makes it sound intriguing.

    Sorry to say I hated Beasts of the Southern Wild, I just could not get into it-perhaps I should give it another chance since when I watched it was not the most opportune time.

    Unlike most weeks when I look at the theme and can pluck three titles pretty easily from memory I had to research this time to find out what had played this festival and that I had seen and liked. Fortunately there were at least three!

    Silverlake Life: The View from Here (1993) - Won the Grand Jury Documentary Prize at Sundance. Mark Massi and Tom Joslin are in a long time committed relationship, they have also both been diagnosed with AIDS which at the time was a death sentence. We live through their final journey with them. The film has touches of gallows humor but it is a harrowing, heartbreaking trip to an inevitable destination that will leave you emotionally bereft.

    Big Night (1996) - Won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance. Primo (Tony Shalhoub) and Secondo (Stanley Tucci-who co-wrote and co-directed this film) are immigrant brothers who operate an Italian restaurant in America. Primo is a culinary genius, but hot tempered and determined not to squander his expertise making the routine dishes that customers expect. Secondo is the smooth front-man, trying to keep the restaurant financially afloat, despite few patrons other than a poor artist who pays with his paintings. Their friendly competitor who owns a nearby enormously successful restaurant offers a solution, a special benefit lead by a big-time jazz musician who is a friend of his. Excitedly Primo begins to prepare his feast of a lifetime for the brothers' big night. Amusing comic drama with a terrific cast alongside Tucci and Shalhoub including Isabella Rossellini, Minnie Driver and Live Schreiber.

    You Can Count on Me (2000) - Won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance. Independent, responsible Sammy Prescott (Laura Linney) is a single mother working as a loan officer in upstate New York who is at first delighted when her errant, feckless brother Terry (Mark Ruffalo) shows up unexpectedly for a visit after a long period of not being in touch. When his short visit stretches into an extended stay they both slowly begin to reexamine their lives as their childhood bond strengthens anew. Beautifully acted this is one of the best looks at sibling rivalry and connection ever made.

  3. I haven't seen Once but Beasts of the Southern Wild and It Follows are outstanding films. Love those picks.

    I watched the short and, wow. Most of it was too bizarre for me, however two segments stood out. The "Silly Hats" part was really funny and the crumbling/ripping paper finale was absolutely brilliant. Thanks for sharing.

  4. It Follows is such a terrific movie. I hope Maika can still have big career, she was just fantastic here and in The Guest but then did that awful Independence Day sequel

  5. Hot damn! You nailed it, friend. I love all of these. Beasts of the Southern Wild most of all.

  6. I didn't like Beasts of the Southern Wild...I guess I just didn't get it.

    Once I love love...would love to see the stage version too.

    And It Follows is something I want to see.