Sundance 2012: Best (and Worst) of the Fest


When you spend an entire week in a dimly lit room watching movies, you better hope those movies are good. Outside a couple duds, Sundance 2012 made this task absolutely not torturous. In fact, it was pretty enjoyable. After spending ten days watching 27 films, I’m able to walk away with a early best of list for 2012 and some new favorites.

Find out what films you missed, should miss by all means, and must seek out below.

Full of dark twists and well earned scares, V/H/S is one of those rare horror films, like Blair Witch Project, that you wish you could experience again for a first time. Each director involved brings a masterful touch of suspense, humor, and horror to their story. As a larger narrative, the stories are perfectly juxtaposed to make one of the most thrilling times I’ve had in the cinema in years. It’s nostalgic and wonderfully progressive at the same time. It revives the found footage concept only to bury it for good. Ti West and crew saw it to its end and gave it the perfect send-off. [Read the full review]

Unlike similar films about a teacher helping an impaired student, The Surrogate never lays on the cheese or drama. It’s clear that Brien is suffering over his sexual anxiety and heartbreak, but it’s all in Hawkes’ subtle, Oscar-worthy performance. He speaks beautiful words with a voice that sounds like Bukowski without the edge — the sound lulls me to sleep, while the intricate wordplay keeps me wide awake. I’ve rarely seen a script and actor form such a tight bond to deliver a performance as powerful as this one. [Read the full review]

Bones Brigade is the type of documentary I love watching. It takes you to another place and time, completely immersing you in the joy, drama, and adventure these guys went through. By the end of the film, I feel inspired and full of life in the way only a great documentary can. Bones Brigade was the team Peralta was destined to form, and this is the story he was born to tell. [Read the full review]

Julie Deply and Chris Rock are two of my favorite artists, mostly for their achievements from a decade ago. So, I went into this comedy with low expectations, despite loving the film’s predecessor 2 Days in Paris which Deply also wrote, directed, and starred in. It’s ironic that this film takes place in New York, because it couldn’t feel more Parisian. More specifically, it feels like Woody Allen, who famously applied the European New Wave aesthetic to New York. So it’s really American … I’m getting lost here. Basically, Deply brings my favorite era of Woody Allen to the big screen and fills it full of lovable characters, including a surprisingly understated performance by Chris Rock. Deply is a very sweet, manic person and her personality seeps through every minute of this personal film (her on-screen dad is her real life dad, for example). It’s been a long time since a film has made me laugh as much as 2 Days in New York. It charmed the pants off me and made me fall in love with New York all over again. [Read the full review]

While waiting to enter the theater for a Sundance press screening, a critic from another queue shouted that we’re all about to regret how we were about to spend our next two hours. I don’t know anything about this person, but by the end of This Must Be the Place I felt pretty sure that I hated him. Such is the bond that a viewer forms with a unique piece of cinema. I firmly believe this will still be my favorite film by the end of the year. If not, 2012 is going to be a year to remember for film.  [Read the full review]

Hello, I Must Be Going
Dir. Todd Louiso

There is a certain festival film that can only thrive in this specific environment. I’m talking straight-out-of-film-school indie comedies about a 20-something-year-old coming to terms with life, while living with their rich parents who misunderstand their child’s generation. I think that’s a genre. It sure feels like one at this point — one that Hello, I Must Be Going runs into the ground more than any I’ve seen before it. Between its obnoxiously twee soundtrack, lackluster performances, amateur filmmaking, and cheap gags (throw up, haha!), it’s hard to celebrate anything about this film. It was made. Yet, that’s not a good enough reason alone to watch it. Perhaps, if you have a real soft spot for these types of films and have exhausted all of your other options, maybe the “so inoffensive it’s offensive”-quality of the film won’t wear on you so much. —  Bad, 36

Lay the Favorite
Director: Stephen Frears

I kind of forgot what subpar early ’90s comedies were like, but then I saw Lay the Favorite. From the cheesy soundtrack (oh god, those keyboards!) to the weirdly cartoonish characters, this is a film that feels like it came from another time. It’s kind of charming in a way, but that charm doesn’t last long. This story of a stripper becoming a bookie’s assistant hits its peek early and becomes an absolute dud by its end. Stephen Frears’ (The Queen, High Fidelity) places his camera in awkward places and the editing lacks the energy that the script and actors bring to the film. Bruce Willis makes the film bearable, which is why I lost complete interest when he was off screen. — 41, Subpar

For a Good Time, Call…
Director: Jamie Travis

Not since Human Centipede 2 has a movie left me has violently shaken and upset by the end. The difference is that HC2 achieved this through it’s nihilistic, brutal vision, while For a Good Time brings this out of me through it’s lifeless, dull plot. This is a comedy that mistakes humor for saying “dick”, “pussy”, and “fuck” repeatedly. This is a comedy with a plot that can be summed up in a sentence — a very boring sentence that would put me to sleep faster than a trough of NyQuil. I looked into For a Good Time and all I saw was a void of comedy cliches that left me with an emptiness I never thought possible. In short: It really, really sucks. — 24, Terrible

Director: Christopher Neil

This is a coming of age story about a young boy, isolated in the Arizona desert. The only present figures in his day-to-day life are his terribly mean new age mother, goats, and his father-figure Goat Man. Now, take all these elements and present them as-is and you have this train wreck. Everything plays out exactly as you’ve seen these sort of films play out before. The only interesting element the film has going for it is Goat Man (David Duchovny), a stoner who ventures into the desert with his trained goats. This feels like the stuff forgettable Showtime series are made of. — 36, Bad

About the Pink Sky
Director: Keiichi Kobayashi

Celebrated at the Tokyo Film Festival as a bold, new vision of Japanese cinema, I had high hopes going into About the Pink Sky. Shot in washed-out black & white and lacking any music, it’s amazing how much the film gets wrong even though it’s working in a sparse environment. Everything from the sound mixing to the translation is sloppy, but these would be forgivable mistakes if there was a story worth telling behind it all. Instead, we are  presented an impossibly dull story of a girl who finds a wallet full of money, shares it with her friends, returns it, and faces repercussions with the wallet’s owner who demands she helps him make a newspaper. Actually, that sounds kind of interesting. Except, it’s not. I walked out of the film, as did 90% of the audience. I can’t rate it since I only saw the first half, but I was feeling a strong 42. If nothing else, it was a nice palette cleanser. So, I got my palette cleansed and left.

The Raid [91] *Editors’ Choice*
Wish You Were Here [84]
The First Time [83] *Editors’ Choice*
Red Lights [80]
Your Sister’s Sister [79]
Indie Game: The Movie [78]
The Pact [75]
Compliance [75]
Safety Not Guaranteed [74]
Shut Up and Play the Hits [70]
Robot and Frank [70]
Room 237 [70]
Celeste and Jesse Forever[69]
The Words [68]
John Dies at the End [65]
Simon Killer [63]
Bachelorette [62]
Red Hook Summer [48]
Shadow Dancer [47]

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