Well it’s official, the crowds have cleared, the snow has settled, and the Sundance Festival has officially closed up shop for the year! With this year playing host to over 120 films, it may be hard to sift through the rubble to find those hidden gems that we will continue to enjoy over the next year. This is why I have decided to put together a list of all the wonderful films you should keep an eye out for as 2012 unfolds! Some you’ll be able to catch at the multiplex, others on DVD or Netflix, and a few… well.. a few you should just avoid like the plague!
TOP 10 FILMS TO LOOK OUT FOR!
While some of us were off seeking relief from dysfunctional family dramas, a braver audience was off checking out Beasts of the Southern Wild. As much as I loved the film I saw instead, I almost wish I had make the journey one theater over to check out this film. No film this year generated near the amount of buzz from both press and attendees alike, and no other film garnered in such rave reviews. It also just so happened to grab the Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic Film, as well an Excellence in Cinematography Award. Not bad for a group of first timers huh? Word on the street is that Icon Films has picked the film up for distribution, so you can most likely expect to see this film premiere at your local Indie theater in due time! Don’t make the same mistake I did, see this film!
I was hooked by this film from the first time I heard it described as a Lebanese Musical about religious conflict in Lebanon. The film actually only has about 4 songs spread throughout it’s 100 minute run time, so it’s hardly a musical by traditional standards. What the film truly is, is a hilarious yet heartbreaking comedy reminiscent of films like My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Often with these 100+ minute films, there tends to be a good 20 minute chunk in which I start to zone out. This was not an issue during the screening of this film! If you liked Nadine Lebaki’s last musical Caramel, then you will most certainly find this film to your liking.
Ok, so Nicholas McCarthy’s feature length debut may not blow minds with any crazy horror twists that you haven’t seen, but that doesn’t stop it from being one heck of a thrill ride. McCarthy is part of the new school of horror that has decided to tone back all the jump-scare tactics, and instead letting the audience psyche themselves out on their own. Based on the 2011 Sundance Premiere Short, The Pact is an edge of your seat horror film that if nothing else, will keep you entertained for a good 91 minutes. How can anything starring Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) possibly be bad?
If you haven’t been paying close attention to the Horror genre as of late, then you likely will have missed quite a few exciting things. In fact, you may be altogether unfamiliar with a group of guys that some consider to be the next generation of cutting edge genre Directors. Thankfully V/H/S is here to remedy your ignorance with a heavy dose of 6 shorts, all directed by a group of guys whose names you probably want to start memorizing. Directors include: Ti West, Adam Wingard, Joe Swanberg, Glenn McQuaid, David Bruckner, and a group of young fellows known simply as Radio Silence. The film itself is yet another chapter in the recent string of ‘found footage’ films, but honestly there are some real gems here. I absolutely hate found footage anything (even YouTube sometimes bridges on annoying), but I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of V/H/S. And for the record, this film makes me want to cast Hannah Fierman in pretty much every film I ever personally make. Due to the overall 6 short structure of the film, it’s unclear wa full theatrical release, but something tells me you’ll be hearing more from this film in the near future.
The Surrogate was probably one of the most challenging films of the festival, but at the same time, one of the most rewarding. The story, based on true events, depicts the life of a man confined to an iron lung and his journey to experience the loss of his virginity. The fact that the film heavily deals with sexuality, and that Helen Hunt remains nude for a good portion of it, all work to make this film a tough sell. However once people get over the nudity and get over the tough subject matter, they will find a superbly executed, well acted film. This film at no point ever comes across as obscene, just like it never releases its firm grip on the heart of it’s viewer. I wish this film all the luck in the world as we move forward into the year (and during award season).
Kristen Wiig and company opened up the flood gates so to speak with 2011’s Bridesmaids. Now it seems we are set to be bombarded by female lead comedies, a trend which while seemingly overdone, is most assuredly overdo. To some Bachelorette may at first give off the appearance of being just another Bridesmaids ripoff (it is a comedy centered around Bridesmaids after all). However upon further inspection we find a film that is more polished and indeed funnier than it’s contemporary. The highlight of the film is undoubtedly in Kirsten Dunst’s patently “bitchy” performance. Something happens to her when she’s thrown into film’s about over-dramatic characters in the midst of a wedding, and whatever it is, I love it! Expect this film to get a wide release at some point.
Oftentimes I tend to steer away from documentary programming due to their tendency to be bleak one-sided affairs. Every once in awhile though a film like Searching For Sugar Man comes along and completely breaks form. It starts out as a depressing biographical film about a musician who died before his time, never realized his full potential. As time passes and the film unfolds, we are instead greeted with a surprisingly uplifting film that actually speaks to the genial nature of man. The film is also accompanied by a stirring score by it’s subject Jesus Rodriguez which will stick with you long after the credits come to an end. Sugar Man marks the directorial debut of Malik Bendjelloul, but honestly there is nothing here that makes him seem anything but the most seasoned of vets.
There’s just something about movies that only have 1 or 2 locations that is just so damn interesting (see London or Carnage). It forces Directors such as Craig Zobel to abandon their gimmicky airplane and SFX shots (Michael Bay), and requires that they for once exercise that little brain muscle used for narrative storytelling. The end result is remarkably compelling film that is at times so patently absurd, you almost can’t believe the events truly happened. Dreama Walker (Gossip Girl, Gran Torino), and Pat Healy (Rescue Dawn, The Innkeepers) put forth some of the best performances of their careers, and Director Craig Zobel goes 2-0.
It’s X-Files meets The Prestige, and that’s not just because Gillian Anderson co-stars! The film itself revolves around a pair of University backed skeptics who set out to disprove the purported psychic abilities of the ever mysterious Simon Silver (Robert De Niro). This film’s twist ending successfully polarized just about every audience member to screen it, making it one of the most talked about films of the whole festival. Accompanied by Xavi Giménez’s stunning cinematography, Red Lights is definitely a film you do not want to miss. Expect a US wide release in March
With the original ‘3 Dragons’ surely past their prime, there has been a giant gap left in the world of Martial Arts films. Thankfully Gareth Evans and his rag tag band of Indonesian martial artists have put together a film that will change the landscape of action movies for years to come. Think of the plot as a really really awesome video game. Your goal, to fight your way through 15 levels of villains to reach the ultimate final boss at the top of the dungeon. Oh and hope you’re good with a knife, because you’ve only packed a limited supply of bullets! What ensues is one of the most dazzling and brutal displays ever to grace the action movie genre. The Raid will likely spoil the next 10 action movies you watch, as it is most certainly in a league of it’s own
The Imposter: Other press members I met described it as a film that delivers more thrills and suspense than most fictional films. It’s description that makes me want to catch this one that much more! Rumor also has it that the cinematography is just breathtaking!
Excision: One of my favorite parts about the Sundance festival comes in the form of it’s midnight horror programming. Excision was one of only two films I missed out on, but from what I hear, I missed quite a show. One volunteer I met even went to see it 3 times at the festival!
AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE!
Sometimes we get so jaded by our blind love for the Die Hard films, that we tend to forget Bruce Willis is perfectly capable of starring in some truly horrible features. Lay The Favorite is one such feature. It’s not just the poor acting, or the pointlessly muddled plot line that makes this film so painstakingly awful, but in fact it’s everything! Rebecca Hall’s performance as a pretty but incredibly naive ex-stripper ceases to be cute after the first 20 minutes and Bruce Willis as a Danny Tanner clone just doesn’t work . The rest of the film only serves as a tortuous reminder that no matter how hard Director Stephen Frears tries, this will never be as good as The Grifters.
I went into this film expecting it to at least be on the same tier as the recent Jane Eyre remake. However after about the first 30 minutes or so of extraneous bird and babbling brook shots, I became painfully aware that I had made a grave mistake in attending this film. Director Andrea Arnold attempts to reinvigorate the story for new a new generation of audiences by updating the obscenities and casting a black actor (James Howson) for the role of Heathcliff, but in the end the film is never able to set itself apart from being just a poor novelty act. Instead of a moving story about the pain and heartache that comes about from love, the viewer is instead left with a poorly acted tale about two extremely overdramatic teens (Twilight fans rejoice!). In Arnold’s defense though, that’s kind of the jist of the original source material anyway.
Healy has been traveling under the radar ever since he first caught a gig playing a Agent Rogers in the not so popular Home Alone 3. However his last few roles as a awkwardly comedic hotel employee in The Innkeepers, and the malicious orchestrator of the prank call from hell in Compliance, have shown that Healy most certainly has the charisma needed to hold a starring role. Keep a sharp eye out for this guy!
Webber has come a long long way since his role in the ever nostalgia inducing Snow Day. This year alone he has 3 films slated to be released (The End of Love, Save The Date, For a Good Time Call) and every single one of them had their premiere at this years Sundance festival (talk about a busy guy!).
Apparently the powers that be weren’t to keen on the original score for this Indonesian power house film, so in order to spruce things up they brought in Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda. I’m not sure how different this new soundtrack is from the original but Shinoda has most certainly outdone himself this time! We’re talking pulse pounding drums layered upon grimy low frequency oscillations that would even make The Notebook seem like a John Woo film.