First festival of the year? Done and dusted. Every year, the movie industry heads en masse to Utah for the Sundance Film Festival, Robert Redford's celebration of independent cinema, which has become increasingly important over the years, in the hope of uncovering the next big thing. Last year's festival brought "Beasts of the Southern Wild," which went on to be one of the best-reviewed films of the year, and a Best Picture nominee at the Academy Awards, and while there wasn't a singular breakout in the same way, the festival was certainly in good form.
With a buyers' market that seems to be showing the signs of an economic comeback (deals for "The Way Way Back" and "Don Jon's Addiction" number among the biggest in the history of the festival), there was a lot of buzz, and while there few consensus titles or outright raves, there seemed to plenty to see that was worthwhile. Below, our Sundance team have picked out their five favorites of the festival (although we couldn't see everything; Grand Jury and Audience Award winner "Fruitvale" was one that fell between the cracks), and you can also find links to every review and interview we ran during the festival. Many thanks to our team who contributed coverage, which included Rodrigo Perez, Cory Everett, William Goss, Chase Whale, Kristin McCracken, Katie Walsh and Drew Taylor.
Few films in Park City were more anticipated than this one, the first picture in nine years from Shane Carruth, who made a stellar debut in 2004 with his impossibly complex, mind-bending microbudget sci-fi "Primer." After a few false starts, he was back at the festival this year with his latest, "Upstream Color," and while it's as difficult as its predecessor, few films made such an impression on our Sundance team. "Almost like a sci-fi thriller without posessing either genre trait," according to Rodrigo Perez's review, the film is "an exploration of themes and abstractions rather than a concrete narrative, but also a like a puzzle box with all the pieces laying at your feet." A love story that involves plant essence, parasitic worms, award winning sound design and Henry David Thoreau, the film is "a social and cinematic experiment with a voyage of spiritual discovery, a surreal meditation on self," one that "not easy to process," but also "breathtaking and brilliant." Carruth is self-releasing the film on April 5th.
Thanks to its Oscar-nominated stars and a growing reputation on the festival circuit for filmmaker David Lowery, "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" was one that was eagerly awaited at Sundance, and not just because it has one of the best titles we've heard in ages. A 1970s Texas-set crime tale that follows Bob (Casey Affleck), who breaks out of prison in order to reunite with his wife Ruth (Rooney Mara), an accomplice in a crime spree four years earlier, and the daughter he's never met, the film has drawn comparisons to Terrence Malick, but according to Rodrigo's review, "it would be far too simple and reductive to just pass this film off as nothing more." With visuals from rising DoP Bradford Young that are "hickory smoked and sunstroked" and a "sublime, haunting and moody" score from Daniel Hart, the film looks and sounds terrific, while "the entire cast delivers pitch-perfect turns such that there's not a false note within." It's a little long, but ultimately, the film "is a wholly engrossing and impressive piece of work that the movie world will be talking about all year." IFC picked it up, so we should be seeing it later in 2013.