On the Eve of Sundance 2013, The Best and Worst Reviewed Films of Sundance 2012

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by Matt Singer
January 17, 2013 12:44 PM
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"Detropia."

The 2013 Sundance Film Festival kicks off in a few hours with a sampling of films from this year's U.S. and World Dramatic and Documentary competitions. Most of Indiewire's staff is already at the festival, and will be bringing you tons of interviews, reviews, videos, and deal reports from on the ground in Park City. I, on the other hand, am not in Utah. I'm currently sitting at my kitchen table in Brooklyn, where I'll be rounding up some of the notable reviews and tweets that come out of the festival. But don't worry; I'm going to open all my windows, soak my boots in cold water, drink five gallons of Airborne, and pay a stranger to cough on me while he talks loudly about the movie he almost made with Scott Speedman. So it'll feel just like I'm there!

Before this year's Sundance got underway, I wanted to look back and see how things turned out, critically speaking, for the Sundance Class of 2012. I asked Criticwire's unflappable assistant editor Steve Greene to comb through the Criticwire Network and compile a list of every single Sundance 2012 movie, along with its final Criticwire grade. From there, I assembled separate lists of the best and worst reviewed movies. To make things fair and eliminate statistical anomalies, only movies that received a minimum of ten Criticwire grades were considered.

So let's start with the good news. Clicking any of these thirteen titles will take you to that film's Criticwire Network page, where you can see all its grades, find out which critics reviewed it, and find links to their work. These were:

The Best Reviewed Movies of Sundance 2012

-"Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" - A- (out of 38 critics)
-"Detropia" - A- (30)
-"Elena" - A- (32)
-"5 Broken Cameras" - A- (22)
-"The House I Live In" - A- (24)
-"How to Survive a Plague" - A- (43)
-"The Imposter" - A- (45)
-"The Invisible War" - A- (25)
-"Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present" - A- (29)
-"Middle of Nowhere" - A- (14)
-"Searching For Sugar Man" - A- (36)
-"Under African Skies" - A- (13)
-"West of Memphis" - A- (25)

Of those thirteen critical favorites, eleven were documentaries. One of the other two, "Elena," previously played the Cannes Film Festival, making "Middle of Nowhere" the only narrative premiere at Sundance 2012 to score an A- average with Criticwire contributors. 

And now, for these eight films, the bad news:

The Worst Reviewed Movies of Sundance 2012

-"Nobody Walks" - C+ (out of 39 critics)
-"The Pact" - C+ (11)
-"Price Check" - C+ (14)
-"Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie" - C+ (27)

-"The Words" - C+ (31)
-"Red Lights" - C (24)
-"Filly Brown" - C- (10)

-"Lay the Favorite" - C- (20)

On the worst side of things: eight films with a C+ or worse, all narratives. Whether that's merely a fluke of last year's particularly strong documentary slate, or further evidence of a critical bias against narratives in favor of docs (which Steve Greene has covered on Criticwire before) is tough to say. But it's definitely something to look for in 2013.

One other interesting note: half of the eight -- "Price Check," "Red Lights," "The Words," and "Lay the Favorite" -- came from the Premieres section, suggesting that your risk of wandering into a stinker in Park City goes up the longer you dwell in that category (the implication here, though it's not always true, is that the films in Premieres are booked for their movie stars, rather than their aesthetic qualities). If you're gearing up for Sundance today you should be wary of two things then: the Sundance Flu and star-laden Premieres of questionable creative pedigree. If you're not gearing up for Sundance today, you can check out "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry," "Elena," "5 Broken Cameras," "How to Survive a Plague," or "The Invisible War" on Netflix Watch Instantly, or "The Imposter" and "Searching For Sugar Man" on Amazon Instant Video. Open your windows, soak your boots, bathe in Purell, and invite obnoxious strangers (and maybe Scott Speedman) over to check their cell phones constantly during the movie. It'll feel just like you're at Sundance too!

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