The 30th Sundance Film Festival awarded its top jury prizes to the films “Whiplash,” a drama set within a New York City music school’s drumming program, “Rich Hill,” “Return to Homs” and “To Kill a Man” on Saturday night, and this critic saw exactly none of them.
So it’s a folly to claim you’ve definitively determined the best movies of Sundance; unless you’re a robot, there’s no way to see 121 feature films over a 10-day-span. That being said, here are some of the movies that hit home during the festival. Expect to eventually find them all at a theater/cable channel/digital platform near you:
The late film critic Roger Ebert is pretty much my personal and professional hero, plus I made a small contribution to this Steve James (“Hoop Dreams”) documentary’s postproduction Indiegogo fundraiser. This isn’t coming from a strictly objective place, in other words. But James captures the full measure of a remarkable man who lived and died with great dignity.
“Infinitely Polar Bear”
Mark Ruffalo breaks away from a series of lukewarm performances with his live-wire work as a father with bipolar disorder raising his two daughters in Boston circa 1978. It’s a quirky story infused with a genuine sense of familial love.
“We Come as Friends”
Documentarian Hubert Sauper flew into South Sudan in a prop plane and came away with an amazing documentary that looks at every conceivable facet of life in that young nation while it undergoes the process of becoming independent in 2011. The film expertly explores the various manifestations of western colonialism that linger in the South Sudan and across the African continent today.
Micro-indie auteur Joe Swanberg continues his ascent into a more polished form of filmmaking with this affecting family dramedy starring the great Anna Kendrick and Melanie Lynskey. Jude Swanberg, the filmmaker’s toddler son, is an especially memorable presence, among the more adorable of adorable babies.
The most haunting of the 16 movies I saw at Sundance concerns a blind woman who succumbs to paranoid fantasies about her husband, her neighbor and a mysterious woman who lives across the street. The feature filmmaking debut of accomplished screenwriter Eskil Vogt is filled with a psychosexual, voyeuristic aura that Hitchcock surely would have admired.
Other Sundance movies worth seeking out when you have the opportunity to do so include: “Rudderless,” starring Billy Crudup and directed by William H. Macy, about a father mourning his son by starting a band; “Laggies,” with Keira Knightley as a twenty-something stuck in suspended adolescence who starts hanging out with a 15-year-old and her friends (it’s not as creepy as that sounds); “Cooties,” a gleefully tasteless horror comedy starring Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson, Alison Pill and a superb Leigh Whannell and “Stranger by the Lake,” a tightly-controlled drama set at a gay cruising ground that's now playing in New York City theaters.