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Criticwire at Sundance: What Films Have the Highest Ratings?

Photo of Steve Greene By Steve Greene | Criticwire January 24, 2013 at 1:02PM

Just like that, Sundance 2013 is already 50% over. We take a look at some of the Criticwire response for a dozen of the most notable films of the first five days of Park City.
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"In a World..."
"In a World..."

The First Features

After a decade of TV/film acting, Lake Bell's first feature film "In a World..." may not be as widely reviewed as other festival entries, but a large majority of those who have written about it are enthusiastic supporters.

Austenland Keri Russell Bret McKenzie

Less successful in the overall humor/satire department is the adaptation of Shannon Hale's "Austenland," the first film from "Napoleon Dynamite"/"Nacho Libre" scribe Jerusha Hess. Following a woman through her cathartic exploits amidst a Jane Austen fantasy camp of sorts, most reviews center on the inconsistency of the humor intended to give the story momentum. Eric Snider takes issue with the presentation of Jane, our heroine (Keri Russell) in his Twitch review, explaining that "Hess stripped the book of its characterization and exposition, which were rudimentary but serviceable, and instead gives us an inscrutable protagonist who can't be said to achieve or not achieve her goals because we don't know what they were." Nevertheless, Kyle Smith of the New York Post explains that despite its cohesion problems, there are those who will find an undeniable appeal in the fluffiness of "Austenland." Smith writes that Hess "could have made the movie weirder on the one hand or more believable on the other, but as it is this is a light, forgettable offering with a good heart and a smattering of laughs."

But the feature in this category that graced more than a few Most Anticipated lists over the past weeks is Joseph Gordon-Levitt's "Don Jon's Addiction," a look at modern relationships to pornography that is one of this year's most polarizing entries. Many reviewers seized on Gordon-Levitt's willingness to try to depict his titular central character as representative of 21st male psyches. Writing at Cinema Blend, Katey Rich decries the film's overall attitudes, explaining that it "doesn't do nearly enough to walk away from Jon's rampant misogyny, suggesting that the only thing he needs to do to enjoy real sex is to look a woman in the eyes-- not value her pleasure or wisdom or personality."  (For a bonus, check out Movies.com for Erik Davis' audio review of the film, imagining what Don Jon would think of his own depiction.)

CRITICWIRE AVERAGES (Click the film titles to see individual grades and reviews)

In a World...: A-

Austenland: B-

Don Jon's Addiction: B

Reliving History

Critics dig the cast of John Krokidas' Beat Generation picture "Kill Your Darlings," singling out Dane DeHaan and Daniel Radcliffe, who play young versions of Lucien Carr and Allen Ginsberg. "DeHaan’s Bowie-esque stare would have set the Warhol factory ablaze, and Radcliffe’s developed a strong sense of confidence. [Ben] Foster’s [William] Burroughs gets a lot of the laughs, but there is a sadness behind his crisp suits and otherworldly poise," Jordan Hoffman explains in his Film.com review, crediting much of their success to Krokidas' direction. Hollywood.com's Matt Patches hammers home the effectiveness of Krokidas' stylistic choices.

Another movie based on a true story, "Blue Caprice," involves the Washington DC sniper attacks of late 2002. Variety's Justin Chang describes how the film is "responsibly handled" and that "the filmmakers' aim is transparently to illuminate rather than to exploit, to bring a measure of sobering clarity to the question of human evil." Like Chang, Eric Kohn also gives credit to Isaiah Washington's central role as John Allen Muhammed. "An unexpectedly eerie Washington constructs an authentic movie monster made all the more menacing by the mounting tension as his plan comes together," Kohn writes.

In a different vein, Ryan Coogler's "Fruitvale," a profile of the last day of Oscar Grant, the victim of a BART station shooting in the early moments of New Year's Day 2009. Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter salutes Coogler's handling of the real-life drama, writing that the first-time filmmaker "stages the chaos with a breath-shortening combination of frenzy and ambiguity...it’s an awful tale, fraught with political, social and moral weight symbolic of numerous contemporary ills, and one with an unshown ugly aftermath of violent protests that further sullied Oakland’s reputation."

CRITICWIRE AVERAGES (Click the film titles to see individual grades and reviews)

Kill Your Darlings: B

Blue Caprice: B+

Fruitvale: A-

The Notable Docs

The non-fiction arena proved to be a fertile ground at last year's festival, with "The Imposter," "Searching for Sugar Man," "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" and "5 Broken Cameras" all sustaining an overall positive critical response and a significant place in the film world discussion all the way through the end of the year. With a trio of entries already holding strong with "A-" averages, it's looking like another high quality year.

Martha Shane and Lana Wilson's "After Tiller," about doctors who perform third trimster abortions, has become one of the most well-received of the festival. Reviews are quick to point out that the film isn't attempting to give all sides of the issue a voice. Brian Tallerico admits in his overall positive write-up that "'After Tiller' allows for no alternate arguments. In fact, the pro-life movement is seen almost entirely in news footage and on the sidewalks in front of the clinic."  Ray Pride at Movie City News concludes his thoughts on the film with this: "The position of the filmmakers is never in doubt, but in detailing the daily choices, acts, and emotions, Shane and Wilson have made an assured, incisive humanistic nonfiction film to admire." 

"Twenty Feet from Stardom"
"Twenty Feet from Stardom"

Morgan Neville's documentary "Twenty Feet From Stardom," profiling the overlooked lives of studio backup singers, is gaining some strong endorsements. Peter Debruge at Variety salutes the director's ability to give each of his subjects a distinctive quality. "Neville's approach establishes a real intimacy with the half dozen singers he follows most closely, varying the camerawork and editing just enough among them to capture the distinct personality of each," Debruge writes. Film Threat's Michael Nordine is less enthusiastic about the overall film. Regardless, with the Weinstein Company's backing, this will be one crowd-pleaser that audiences around the country will likely have the chance to catch before the year is over.

Another entry in the music doc field is "Sound City" the directorial debut of Foo Fighters frontman (and occasional Satan portrayer) Dave Grohl. A Park City concert helped to increase the good vibes around the film's premiere, but the film itself has been well-received. Erik Davis gives credit to Grohl's approach, describing that "while there's definitely a conversation running throughout the film about the digital age and how it hurt the art of recording live music, Grohl never gets preachy about it…and ultimately serves up a film that's more about the importance of preserving history for the next generation of musicians than anything else." =

CRITICWIRE AVERAGES (Click the film titles to see individual grades and reviews)

After Tiller: A-

Twenty Feet From Stardom: A-

Sound City: A-

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For additional coverage of Sundance on Criticwire, featuring more reviews and social media feedback, check out our daily Sundance Review Reports. Curious about the stories behind the filmmakers who've brought their creations to Park City? Indiewire's list of Filmmaker Interviews can be found here. And, as always, to keep apprised of when these films might make it to your city, be sure to browse Jay Fernandez and Anne Thompson's reports on all of the festival acquisitions.

This article is related to: Sundance 2013, Sundance Film Festival, Criticwire, After Tiller, 20 Feet From Stardom, Kill Your Darlings, Blue Caprice, Fruitvale Station, V/H/S/2, We Are What We Are, Austenland, Interior. Leather Bar.


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