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Sundance Wrap: The 5 Best Films Of The Festival, Plus Our Complete Coverage

by The Playlist Staff
January 28, 2013 2:09 PM
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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.

"Upstream Color"
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.

"Ain't Them Bodies Saints"
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.

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  • Mass | January 29, 2013 6:25 PMReply

    @ Shelly: You're an idiot. No one cares about black people and racism anymore, so on behalf of everyone here stfu and GTFO.

  • MASSALOU | January 30, 2013 10:55 AM

    HAHAHAHA You told him! Didn't you know this blog's readership consists mainly of highly educated white dudes with excellent cinematic taste?

  • Mass | January 29, 2013 6:25 PMReply

    @ Shelly: You're an idiot. No one cares about black people and racism anymore, so on behalf of everyone here stfu and GTFO.

  • Edward Davis | January 29, 2013 2:50 PMReply

    They were there for like 4 days. I think it's pretty well understood that this is the best of what they saw. That is, unless you're an idiot. And no one avoided Fruitvale, dummies.

  • Shelly | January 29, 2013 2:17 PMReply

    Wow this really is a white ass list

  • Lou | January 29, 2013 9:12 PM

    Keep fighting that revolution on the internet, Sister Souljah.

  • shelly | January 29, 2013 2:15 PMReply

    "Fruitvale fell between the cracks". AKA it was made by and starring black people so you didn't bother seeing it even though it had huge buzz.

  • Rafaela | January 29, 2013 9:32 AMReply

    Shouldn't it be: the best 5 films from the ones we watched? There was a lot of hype regarding the film Concussion and it didn't even get a review. It's hard to say which are the top 5 films (of the whole festival) if you only saw the list above...

  • 5673 | January 29, 2013 3:00 AMReply

    There were 117 features at Sundance 2012 -- I can't find a 2013 number, but we can probably assume it's close to 117. The guys and girls of The Playlist announce their "Five Best Film of the Festival" list, yet you didn't even see Fruitvale, one of the most hyped pics of the fest. You saw, roughly, 25 of a possible 117 features; 21%; about 1 in 5. So, given this, is it really responsible to make a list at all, or are you just blindly generating more hype for already hyped titles? Cuz honestly, this is just a prefab list of Sundance's 'most seen, liked and talked/blogged/tweeted' about features (that aren't completely commercial/assured of huge release), of a possible ten or so (you could've interchanged Breathe In or The Spectacular Now to no net effect). Not only did you miss a bunch of other 'big' titles (Fruitvale, Mother of George), you didn't even touch anything that lay off the beaten track. Surely you don't have the resources to have seen everything, can't be blamed for that, but perhaps making a list that simply reinforces the Sundance 2013 canon -- while remaining ignorant of the vast majority of what was actually offered -- isn't thoughtful, informed 'film journalism'

  • imnotcocteau | January 29, 2013 12:28 AMReply

    I've just finished reading two flawed articles on indieWire [this one and the feature on delayed films]. After I checked to see who were the culprits, I learned there was only one: Oliver Lyttelton. With titles that draw in the reader, what's follows is sophomoric banter. The content is lacking and the writing barely rating a C. Are these really the best films of Sundance? Although they may be, I'm not convinced by the tepid rationalizations. This roundup comes off as if Lyttelton were on deadline and chose 5 indieWire reviews at random. With the "delayed films" article, the writing is sloppy and the arguments unconvincing and clammy. Why not include interviews with experts in both pieces? If Mr. Lyttelton is in his teens or early twenties, I apologize, and I applaud indieWire for giving space to a neophyte, even at the expense of its well-earned reputation. [I would suggest that this scribe first polish his craft at rags like Tiger Beat.] On the bright side, Lyttelton's jargon brought back happy memories of a Richard Matheson short story: “In less than an hour I have to hold class for a group of idiot freshmen. And, on a desk in the living room, is a mountain of midterm examinations with essays I must suffer through, feeling my stomach turn at their paucity of intelligence, their adolescent phraseology." Thanks for this little joy.

  • bwaters | January 29, 2013 12:58 AM

    I love how you're mocking his writing style while writing really badly.

  • Aron Campisano | January 28, 2013 4:14 PMReply

    Aaand the most overlooked film of the festival is... We Are What We Are. Did anyone else see this movie?

  • joe | January 28, 2013 2:26 PMReply

    Just wondering, did you guys get around to "Blue Caprice"? Looks like one of the more interesting films of the festival.

  • Rob | January 28, 2013 2:17 PMReply

    It Felt Like Love got a higher grade than some of the films on your top 5. Why isn't it on there?

  • Oliver Lyttelton | January 28, 2013 2:57 PM

    Another writer saw it as a screener ahead of the festival, so we felt it wasn't quite fair to compare it to the other stuff was there -- seen in a different context etc. No slight on the film.

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