What I Talk About When I Talk About Sundance 2014

This past weekend marked the fifth time I've attended the Sundance Film Festival in as many years. Each January since 2009, I've joined a small group of film junkie friends in renting a condo in Park City, Utah with the express purpose of hitting as many screenings as allowed by ticket availability, snowboarding plans, and the circadian limitations of the human body. Last week, while I was scrambling from venue to venue, the Beutler Ink team compiled a few of my Instagram shots into an early report for this blog. I may not even see another 16 films this year, so I figured I should at least take some time to share my experiences with the benefit of a half week's hindsight.

All Sundance 2014 movies seen by William Beutler
All Sundance 2014 movies seen by William Beutler

The Three Best Films I Saw at Sundance This Year

It probably is worth noting that of 121 films screened at Sundance 2014, tickets were very hard to come by for some of the most anticipated, while others did not screen at all during my stay. That said, I'm very confident I saw some of the festival's very best, including:

  1. Boyhood—The new film from Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused; the Before trilogy) is remarkable in the first place for the concept: Linklater shot Boyhood over 12 years, following a young boy (Ellar Coltrane) as he grew from 6 years old to 18 by the film's end. It's remarkable as well because this crazy idea actually works. And boy, does it ever (no pun intended). Linklater himself has called this an "epic of minutiae" and one review called time itself a character in the movie, and both of these contribute to the film's subtle but powerful effect. Indeed, we see the world change from 2001 to 2013 and, it turns out, it is actually possible to be nostalgic for last summer.
  2. The Case Against 8—A documentary about the legal fight to overturn California's Proposition 8 which also necessarily took several years to complete: from the first state lawsuit up through the 2013 Supreme Court decision, it follows the legal team led of Ted Olson and David Boies, and the two same-sex couples who were selected (and agreed) to serve as plaintiffs. As you might expect, much is made of the fact that Olson and Boies were on opposite sides of Bush v. Gore, as well as Olson's dedication to the fight for marriage equality in the face of criticism from his conservative allies. Extremely well made and very affecting, look for it on HBO in June.
  3. Life After Beth—Somehow, the first three films I saw this year were horror comedies. This one was the best and also the most… er, heartwearming? It's an apocalyptic zombie teen romance with Parks & Rec's Aubrey Plaza playing deadpan comic zombie—not a stretch, if you've seen her other work—and featuring John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, and Anna Kendrick, among other recognizable faces. Just about everything in this movie works, no mean feat considering the multitude of genres figuring into it. This one has also been picked up for distribution, and I think it's going to be a sleeper hit.

Everything Else I Saw at Sundance 2014 in 140 Characters Or Fewer

I saw too many films in too few days to form well-considered opinions about them all, but I've had more than enough time to come up with Twitter-friendly snark:

  • Dead Snow 2Army of Darkness to Dead Snow's Evil Dead. Not my genre but kinda fun. If you like this sort of thing you will like this thing.
  • The Voices—If you like Ryan Reynolds and movies with talking animals, you will NOT like this horror-comedy featuring both. I don't—but did!
  • Mr. leos caraX—Documentary about a reclusive French filmmaker that mostly reminds me his Holy Motors has been in my Netflix queue for ages.
  • Fishing Without Nets—Expansion of a 2012 Sundance short and the best movie about Somali pirates you'll see that does not star Tom Hanks.
  • A Most Wanted Man—Le Carré adapation with Phil Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe playing German. Easier to follow than Tinker Tailor.
  • Appropriate Behavior—Brooklyn hipster lesbian breakup comedy is funnier than the concept sounds, although a little too jokey to be great.
  • The Sleepwalker—The Sundanciest film of all: unusual characters, unconventional storytelling, unsatisfying plot resolution. I liked it!
  • Liar's Dice—Indo-Tibetan road movie featuring a cute kid (little girl) and a cute kid (baby goat) but otherwise glacial, uncompelling.
  • Watchers of the Sky—Noble but too long documentary about the development of the concept of genocide, the man behind it, and Samantha Power.
  • Zip and Zap and the Marble Gang—Think of it as a Spanish update of The Goonies, i.e. numerous gaps in logic don't detract much from the fun.
  • Stranger by the Lake—Part psychological thriller, part gay porno. Claustrophobic and at times tedious, but then I think it's supposed to be.
  • Rich Hill—Follows three boys in ailing mining town. No catharsis here, just depression—so of course it won the Grand Jury Documentary prize.
  • Low Down—Many great HBO actors join Flea and Elle Fanning to make a beautifully shot but completely boring film about a minor jazz legend.

Things I Lost in the Snow

I always lose things whenever I travel, usually Kindles. Not this time. Instead, I lost:

  • Knit cap
  • Fitbit One
  • The use of a good-condition iPad (by which I mean I cracked the screen, although it still works fine otherwise)

Best of my Sundance 2014 Instagram Feed

Not in chronological order, and only minimal overlap with last week's post, I promise: