Sundance 2017 Recap

So, last week I attended the Sundance Film Festival for the first time. Last year I went to one movie at the festival but this was my first year actually attending. I would have updated you guys sooner but I’ve been very sick.

As far as the festival as a whole it was a good experience. I’m not sure if I will want to do it again because all the driving definitely got old. I’m not used to driving into Salt Lake every single day and it gave me a renewed appreciation for the people do that commute each day.  It would make me nuts!

I ended up seeing 10 movies. One film, Band Aid, that I wanted to see I arrived within the 15 minute window before the movie starts and they had given my spot away. This was very frustrating as I had left plenty of time but there were 3 accidents slowing things down.

The 10 movies I did see break down like this:

  1. My Life as a Zucchini- I reviewed this film so you have a pretty good idea of what I thought. It’s a very unusual film. Most adult animation isn’t as adorable as this one, which make it feel different. There are shocking story elements but also sweet moments. I can see why some love this film because the animation is amazing and it is refreshing to see something so unique. Still, I personally didn’t love it but liked it. Overall Grade- B
  2. Lady Macbeth- This movie was glossy garbage. Set up as a corset ripping gothic thriller it was laughably bad.  The cinematography is beautiful and the lead performance isn’t half bad but there is no chemistry between her and the man she is with. They keep making nonsensical choices and the direction makes odd choices in the guise of art. Like a tense scene will be punctuated by a long look at a cat staring at the camera. Even the fact these 2 people are together makes no sense. Tough to like a romantic thriller with little to no romance. My audience was laughing at supposedly tense scenes. Overall Grade- D-
  3. STEP- The highlight of the festival. This amazing documentary tells the story of 4 high school seniors who have been part of a special inner-city Baltimore charter school. The step competition is merely a footnote to the journey the girls go on. You get to know their families and love the girls so much. The school counselors and teachers work together to save each of these young women. It was inspiring and will make you feel good about the world for a change.  I LOVED it! It reminded me of Hoop Dreams. Put it on your calendar for this year.  Overall Grade A+
  4. RISE- This was actually 3 episodes of a docu-series about the Native American struggle particularly with the Dakota Pipeline. It was fine and they had good intentions; however, it felt pretty propagandish to me and these kind of political message documentaries aren’t my favorite. It was neat after the screening to hear from the participants and one man sang a Native song. That was better than the movie! Overall Grade- C
  5. Animation Spotlight- I was kind of disappointed by these animated shorts.  There were a couple clever shorts but for the most part they were underwhelming and felt derivative of other surrealists like Don Hertzfeldt. They all felt like I had seen better versions by better artists, and so it just ended up being boring.  This was a big disappointment as I love animated shorts. Overall Grade- C-
  6. The Good Postman- A wonderful documentary about a man in Bulgaria who decides to do something about the Syrian refugee problem he sees all around him, so he decides to run for mayor. His opponent is hilarious and the characters are delightful. It manages to make important points while still remaining light and cheerful. Could be tighter but still very enjoyable documentary. Overall Grade- B+
  7. Wilson- I was nervous about seeing this because of the content, which is quite strong. However, it’s not one of those comedies that has profanity just to be shocking. At its core it’s actually kind of a sweet story about a man with some seriously strange quirks! Great performances by Laura Dern and Woody Harrelson make it a heart-warming experience. It was  lot better than I thought it would be.  Overall Grade- B+
  8. The Hero- This is a film where the lead performance is great but the movie he’s in is average. Sam Elliott is terrific as an aging Western movie star (brilliant casting) who finds out he has cancer. The dialogue is well written particularly between Nick Offerman as his best friend and Sam. The romance; however, did not work for me at all and felt extremely contrived and predictable with no chemistry between the couple. Overall Grade- B-
  9. The Yellow Birds- This movie tackles a lot with a brutal story about a group of soldiers in Iraq. Alden Ehrenreich and Ty Sheridan were both great and the cinematography is stunning. It is very impressive how they pulled off the war scenes on such a small budget.  Jennifer Aniston is also fantastic as Sheridan’s mother. Unfortunately the movie is held back by using a non-linear timeline so it jumps all over the place from when they first met to overcoming PTSD.  The big reveal was shocking but I think it would have been more so with a traditional timeline. Overall Grade- B-
  10. Rebel in the Rye- Fairly standard but impressive biopic about JD Salinger. Nicholas Holt is very good in the lead role and the journey of his writing is well portrayed. His personal descent into isolation was less well done and didn’t feel accurate. Kevin Spacey is fantastic as his teacher who inspires him to write Catcher in the Rye. Overall Grade- B

So the highlight of the festival was definitely STEP and low point Lady Macbeth.

On Thursday I went and saw Silence because I didn’t get into Band Aid. I hated Silence and can read my review of that film here.

Do any of these films sound interesting to you? There were a bunch at Sundance I didn’t get a chance to see but heard great things about like Wind River, Ghost Story and Mudbound. It will be great to see those when they get released to the mainstream.

3 thoughts on “Sundance 2017 Recap

  1. I *love* your review of Lady Macbeth. I just saw it last night with my kid for a high school english class assignment. I thought it was a collection of half finished thoughts. The movie wanted to be deep. It was beautifully shot and the acting was good. However it didn’t say anything. At first we get a feminist revenge narrative where she’s taking the power back and poisoning the evil father in law. The photo taken with the dead corpse was a great moment. When her husband comes back and is abusive and horrible the audience is on her side until it goes over the top at the end of that scene. The movie also wants to say something about race relations but doesn’t do anything with it but instead makes Anna hapless in her servitude. She’s just a prop to the roller coaster narrative. The ending was ridiculous and fully cements Katherine as a psychopathic criminal instead of an anti hero. This was such an empty pretentious move. For me, Birds of Prey which is the complete opposite of this, in that it is loud, profane, crazy, was so much better in exploring the themes of misogyny and feminist revenge. Lady Macbeth was utter foolishness disguised as something deep to ponder.

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