The best year yet?
Another Sundance, another 27 films reviewed.
Though this is only my third year, Sundance 2013 is by far the greatest one I attended yet. Even bolder, I'll say that it may be the greatest in the festival's history. Looking back on previous years, I don't think there is a stronger line-up of films displaying artistic integrity, transformation, or powerful imagery in Sundance's history. Even the films I didn't get to see will be talked about for some time to come, such as Escape from Tomorrow, a surreal drama shot at Disneyland without Disney's permission and thus bound to never reach retail in its current state.
I am happy with the films I did choose to see, as you can tell from the high praise given below.
The Way, Way Back really is a teenage take on Adventureland with the comedy coming before the drama. But, Adventureland is one of my favorite films so how could that ever be a negative? Like that film, The Way, Way Back has a sweetness and nostalgia in its setting and tone. Duncan is still a lifetime away from being the cool kid, at film's end, but such a grand transformation wouldn't suit a comedy so dedicated to getting the little things right.
Magic Magic is anti-horror horror. It's mumblehorror. Violence is dealt with as nonchalantly as Cera delivers his lines: lazily drawn-out with a disregard for theatrics. I can't think of any other film that effectively conveys an ominous tone while frequently providing comic relief, without relying on slapstick or surprise. Most of this is due to Cera, who fits seamlessly into a character that is simultaneously repulsive, pathetic, adorable, and sympathetic. Whenever he is on the screen, I found myself laughing -- maybe out of fear, maybe out of comedic delivery (I can't remember which.)
Impeccably shot, acted, and lit, Kill Your Darlings is a tale of love, murder, and artistic intuition that cuts on more than one layer. Like the group of friends the film portrays, Kill Your Darlings' unlikely cast and crew form the perfect storm, culminating in a specific vision of a time and place we thought we knew well but clearly do not know well enough. Though I suspected the film to go south during the first 20 minutes, the remainder made me expect I'd walk out of the theater with chills running down my spine, in the way that great poetry does, visual or otherwise.
The Spectacular Now is the rare high school drama that is smart, funny, and painfully true in its depiction of alcoholism's effect on youth and how accepting peers can be of a soon-to-be obstacle in life. The Spectacular Now is Ferris Bueller for a new generation, with a scoop of medicine aside the fun.
Richard Linklater gives Before Midnight larger, composed images to complement the wider scale of emotion in this entry. Celine and Jesse don't simply live for each other, in this film. The world is bigger than their love. Linklater opens the door to new characters that reflect on their relationship. Widows mourn their old flames and a young couple hints at what Before Sunrise may have been if Jesse and Celine lived in the era of Skype. The 30 or so minute middle of the film that finds Celine and Jesse having lunch at a gorgeous, historic estate brings so much to the entirety of Before Midnight. German cinematographer Walter Lassally, playing the role of the estate's host, gives one of the warmest performances I've ever seen.
Before Midnight  *Editor's Choice*