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Sundance 2012: The Great, the Good, and the Blah

by Anthony Kaufman
January 26, 2012 12:14 PM
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I'm finished with Sundance 2012. And despite some painfully frustrating circuitous shuttle rides, this year's American independent movie brouhaha was a fairly good one. As I have mentioned before: some strong docs, as always, and a number of bold indie films that dared to go against the commercial grain.

"Searching for Sugar Man"
"Searching for Sugar Man"

I count a total of four movies—two from U.S. directors—that I believe are powerful works of cinematic storytelling that spoke to my personal tastes. Which, as I also mentioned previously, is just enough to make it a memorable festival. And there are probably a handful of New Frontiers films I should have seen and would have appreciated, but didn't have the time to seek out. Ay, that's the rub of Sundance.

Indeed, I feel sorry for all those reporters who had to attend the glossy films in the Premieres section every night—nearly every one of them a more tiresome and banal reflection of what middlebrow movies can be. For all those who loved "The Surrogate," I say look past the tender subject matter, and at the movie more closely and you'll begin to see its faults, its slim character development, its awkward intercutting. And this is a movie that should have everyone in the audience bawling by the end. But it's just not that good.

Anyway, here's my evaluative breakdown of the 18 films I saw from Sundance 2012:

Top of the heap…

"Searching for Sugar Man" - blurb
"Compliance" - review
"Simon Killer" - review
"The Law In These Parts" - blurb


"Safety Not Guaranteed" - review
"The End of Love" - review
"Beasts of the Southern Wild" - review

Strong Docs…

"The Imposter"
"Under African Skies" - review
"Playback" - review
"The House I Live In" - review

Solid, but not for me…

"Keep The Lights On" - review
"The Surrogate" - review

Still wrestling with…

"Nobody Walks" - review

Watcheable mainstream blah…

"Robot and Frank"
"Arbitrage" - review

Just plain annoying….

"2 Days in New York" - review

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  • Jon Haskell | January 30, 2012 8:19 PMReply

    I'm enjoying the blog. I was wondering if u can take credit for declaring "Celeste+Jess Forever"
    Is an "Overwhelming underwhelm"?

  • jimbo | January 27, 2012 2:56 PMReply

    agree with most but the american tendency to lop onto imitation euro films still astounds me. while technically ok, simon killer was mostly just a bore--compliance pushed more buttons in a much more nuanced way. moreover if you have issues with character development in the surrogate, id dare you to rewatch SK--although I don't especially want to.

  • bob hawk | January 27, 2012 3:54 AMReply

    Ooops! There's unintentional humor in your using the word "balling" (rather than "bawling"), since THE SURROGATE is about a 38-year-old guy in an iron lung attempting to lose his virginity with a sex surrogate.

    Your evaluations are interesting, albeit, with 21 films under my belt, I've only seen three of the films you have -- and I have six or seven more to go, which include three more in your list. I'll save my evaluations 'til after it's all over.

    Always enjoy ReelPolitik!

  • jingmei | January 27, 2012 3:22 AMReply

    your taste is kinda not bad ;

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