Editorial: 8 Movies That Made Me Wish I Was At Sundance

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Zachary Shevich

Zachary Shevich

Every year the Sundance Film Festival premieres some of the most exciting new movies being made, spotlighting both established auteurs and first-time filmmakers. The films showcased here can go on to awards glory or box-office success, while others will be panned and forgotten. But while the Hollywood elite mingle with media-leaders, I am confined to my Philadelphian apartment, which is decided not in Park City, Utah. Thus, I’m forced to find contentment combing through the reviews of outlets with better financial support than my own. Based on that, these are the movies that seem the most exciting, most innovative, and most attention-worthy coming from the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

1. Boyhood is a film 4,027 days in the making. Shot in short periods every year for 12 years, Boyhood sees its star Ellar Coltrane literally grow up before the audience’s eyes from a 6-year-old to young adulthood. It’s an extremely ambitious project from director Richard Linklater, a director unafraid of extremely ambitious endeavors. But in creating a story that chronicles one boy’s life, Linklater has effectively created a unique type of time capsule. “Boyhood is filled with recent history that now plays like nostalgia,” writes Jordan Zakarin of BuzzFeed. “Midnight Harry Potter book release parties, colorful iMacs, and the Gameboy Advance, while Mason Sr. lectures his kids on the lies behind the nascent Iraq War.”

2. While his brother Martin McDonagh has received most of the accolades, John Michael McDonagh has more quietly established himself as a formidable filmmaker. His last film The Guard was a biting black comedy with Brendan Gleeson in the lead, but his follow-up Cavalry is getting praised for its levity and sincerity. IndieWire’s Katherine Kilkenny describes the film as “a hybrid of the small-town whodunit with religious drama… to McDonagh’s cheeky wordplay.” That prospect, along with the reuniting of Gleeson with a McDonagh Brother, makes Calvary worth keeping an eye out for.

3. Sundance has traditionally been a place for first-time filmmakers with dynamic, new voices to emerge. Such is the case with Dear White People‘s writer/director Justin Simien. Beginning his film with a disclaimer that reads “For all the white people in the audience, on behalf of all the black people in the world, you most definitely have permission to laugh,” Simien’s movie is voicing minority frustrations that ring uncomfortably true, and it’s actively anti-Tyler Perry. “DWP is most definitely a front-runner to take home the festival’s Audience Award,” according to Vulture’s Jada Yuan.

Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbender and Domnhall Gleeson in "Frank."

Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbender and Domnhall Gleeson in “Frank.”

4. “Of all the acting challenges Michael Fassbender has faced, none quite compares to performing without the use of his face,” writes Variety’s Peter Debruge of the quirky musical comedy Frank. A movie that apparently has something to say about viral videos, social media and hashtags, Frank is poised to become a cult hit with young people well-versed in fan culture. HitFix’s Guy Lodge writes, “Frank also works as a wicked satire on our own fixation with tortured artistry.” This is bound to hit close to home for some “fangirl” types but for the rest of this, Frank promises to ask some interesting questions about modern society.

5. Lynn Shelton has become a rising force in understated comedies, but her latest might be her most accessible feature yet. As described by /Film’s Germain Lussier, “Ask someone what the quintessential Sundance movie is and they might say something with well-known stars, directed by a popular independent filmmaker, in a story about finding one’s place in the world.” Starring Keira Knightley as a 28-year-old who moves in with a teenager and her father, Laggies has been described as a female response to the Apatowian man-boy, which should be a refreshing take on coming-of-age. With highly praised performances from Knightley, Chloe Grace-Moretz and Sam-I-Need-An-Oscar-Nomination-Rockwell, Laggies is poised to be one of the Sundance movies that breaks through and finds a small audience.

6. Gillian Robespierre’s debut feature Obvious Child has already been compared to other heavily discussed narratives featuring flawed young women like Girls and Frances Ha; however, those familiar with Jenny Slate, either through her short run on SNL or her various TV appearances, will know that with Slate comes a sharper edge than those of actresses like Lena Dunham and Greta Gerwig. In Obvious Child, slate is “wince-worthy” as writes Guy Lodge (again), “lovably gawky, casually relatable and very, very funny.” And he speaks from the perspective of someone unfamiliar with the rising comedienne. Pregnancy comedies have long skirted the edges of abortion, so it will be exciting to see what Obvious Child has to say of the process and its effect on people (or at least Slate’s character) over the course of a full film.

Miles Teller and JK Simmons in "Whiplash."

Miles Teller and JK Simmons in “Whiplash.”

7. When a movie about a musician’s pursuit of perfection gets referred to as, “Full Metal Drumkit,” the statement is large enough to make you take notice. Whiplash, the second feature from Damien Chazelle, casts Miles Teller as an aspiring jazz drummer and J.K. Simmons as the instructor who berates and torments him in the process. “The movie gets at the insanity of wanting greatness,” writes Wesley Morris of Grantland.com. Miles Teller’s stock is rising, but J.K. Simmons, who can be brilliant in the right role, might have found himself the perfect part (and an outside shot at an Oscar) here for his unique brand of tongue-lashing. This “jazz-drumming psychological thriller” was also the winner of both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at this year’s festival.

8. Zach Braff’s new movie is already being widely discussed for the $3.1 million raised by fans on Kickstarter, but now that it had its premiere, the dialog can shift to the film itself. Fortunately, it seems like Wish I Was Here is living up to the hype that’s been building around Braff during the 10 years he’s taken to make his second feature. The story seems tonally similar to his first film, but Braff is set to tackle larger themes with an extended cast including Josh Gad and Kate Hudson. The Hollywood Reporter‘s review calls it “Garden State for grown-ups” and most reports suggest that Braff has matured as a filmmaker.

8 More Movies That Made Me Wish I Was At Sundance (COMING SOON)

 

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