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The Best Films Of The 2014 Sundance Film Festival

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist January 27, 2014 at 3:02PM

The film writing community is still catching up on sleep, getting over festival flu and showering off the stink of their blogger condos, but there's no escaping it: the Sundance Film Festival is over for another year. For over thirty years, the festival has provided a welcome opportunity to shake off awards season, and to start to look over some of the movies and faces that we'll be talking about for the next twelve months.
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Boyhood

"Boyhood"
Director: Richard Linklater (“Dazed & Confused,” “School Of Rock,” “Before Midnight”)
Cast: Eller Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette
What’s It About?
The life of two children in the twelve years following their parents’ divorce.
Why Is It Worth Seeing?
A candidate for the longest duration between the start of a production and its eventual completion in the history of cinema (the film shot a few weeks every year for the last 12 years), the arrival of Richard Linklater's intimate epic "Boyhood" proved to be very much worth the wait. Tracking young Mason (Eller Coltrane) from childhood to college, the near-three-hour picture "feels much less like a greatest hits package and more analogous to being in the moment," according to Rodrigo Perez's review, proving to be "warm, soulful, funny and quietly insightful," and something of a crowning achievement for the filmmaker, beginning "disarmingly light on its feet, sweet, funny and playful in the early years not unlike the director's movies about kids, but as they mature, so does the movie." Rod's take wasn't as unqualified a rave as those who called it the director's masterpiece, admitting it sags "a little bit in the unremarkable years," but the "cumulative result of 'Boyhood is rather touching and stunning," and it proves to be "a remarkable accomplishment that won't be forgotten anytime soon."
When Can I See It? IFC have the rights, and will release the film later this year.
Our Review: Rodrigo Perez’s B+ take

Whiplash

"Whiplash"
Director:
Damien Chazelle (“Guy And Madeline On A Park Bench”)
Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons
What’s It About? A 19-year-old drummer arrives at music college dreaming of greatness, only to butt heads with the talented but terrifying drum teacher.
Why Is It Worth Seeing? Impressively, and somewhat unusually, one of the biggest sensations of the festival came on opening night: even ten days on, "Whiplash" was the talk of Park City, not least because it was the rare film to pick up both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for the dramatic competition. And rightly so, according to James Rocchi's review: Damien Chazelle's film (based on a short of the same name), which pits aspiring drummer Miles Teller against near-psychotic teacher J.K. Simmons, might sound familiar on the surface, but manages "a deeply and richly different take on that journey -- not only examining the cost of struggle but the reward of it." Teller continues to prove that "he's the best young male actor in America," while Simmons has "rarely been given the chance to go off the leash and run flat-out like he has here." Chazelle makes something "more notable for its lack of compromise than any aspect of technique or craft," and shoots "the performance scenes in a way where our expectations are both met and subverted." James acknowledges in his review that the movie's a tough sell, but with Sony Pictures Classics scooping it up, this definitely has the chance to cross over to a wider audience.
When Can I See It? SPC haven’t set a date yet, but look out for it in the late summer or early fall, we guess.
Our Review: James Rocchi’s take on the Sundance crowdpleaser

The Raid 2

"The Raid 2"
Director: Gareth Evans ("Merantau," "The Raid")
Cast: Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, Arifin Putra, Oka Antara
What's It About? After surviving a brutal battle in a tower block, Officer Rama goes undercover in prison to befriend the convict son of a mob boss.
Why Is It Worth Seeing? Of everything in the lineup this year, it was "The Raid 2" that most promised to have the geek crowd wrapped around its little finger, given the positively orgasmic reactions to the first film, Gareth Evans' kick-ass Indonesian actioner that marked the Welshman out as a leading light in the action cinema world. True to form, the hyperbole flew after the Park City premiere of the sequel, was some calling the film the best action movie ever, and Evans one of the best living filmmakers. Our Mr. Rocchi was, thankfully, more measured in his praise in his B+ review. He wrote that "the fights, action and stunt choreography in the sequel are all a quantum leap forward," and that "It's also that rare action film precisely as beautiful as it is brutal." Compared to its lean predecessor, the film "feels shaggy and shapeless, plumped up with filler that drags it down as a thriller," but the ass-kicking, "with its long takes, clear camera work, sublime set design and how-did-the-stuntmen-live? action-scene insanity," is more than worth the price of admission.
When Can I See It? The films opens March 28th.
Our Review: James Rocchi’s B+ review

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

"Kumiko the Treasure Hunter"
Director: David Zellner (co-written by his brother and producer Nathan)
Cast: Rinko Kikuchi with co-starring support by Nobuyuki Katsube, David Zellner, Nathan Zellner, Shirley Venard
What's It About? An Japanese girl disenfranchised with her life finds a buried VHS copy of "Fargo" (yes, the 1996 Coen Brothers film) and travels to the U.S to track down the hidden money in the snow that she believes is real.
Why Is It Worth Seeing? Myriad reasons. Rinko Kikuchi is fantastic in a mostly silent performance. It has beautiful aesthetics, not least the cinematography and score (the latter winning the Sundance prize), and all in all, it’s just a thoughtfully-directed and absorbing portrait of loneliness wrapped in a superficially quirky story. Meaning, yes it's a little offbeat and odd, but it’s also quite engrossing and well-considered.
When Can I See it? No distributor yet, but Alexander Payne attached his name to the film before the festival got underway, so that should help it pick up a buyer before too long.
Our Review: Rodrigo Perez's B+ review

The Sleepwalker

"The Sleepwalker"
Director: Mona Fastvold (video and short filmmaker turned feature debut helmer)
Cast: Gitte Witt, Christopher Abbott, Stephanie Ellis and Brady Corbet, (who also co-wrote the picture)
What's It About? The secluded peace of a rural Massachusetts couple is interrupted and fragmented upon the arrival of the wife's younger, mentally disturbed, sister and her uptight boyfriend.
Why Is It Worth Seeing? Because it’s haunting and challenging and features terrific performances by the entire cast. An unnerving look at family dysfunction and secrets, it has a European chill to it, like a Lynch-ian take on an Ingmar Bergman chamber drama. Featuring a discordant Sondre Lerche-co-written score, "The Sleepwalker" isn't the most comfortable viewing experience; it’s unsettled and disturbed, but that's the point, and its controlled level of fractiousness is something to behold.
When Can I See it? "The Sleepwalker" has no distribution yet, but that will likely soon change.
Our Review: Rodrigo’s B+ review

This article is related to: Features, Sundance Film Festival, Frank, Listen Up Philip, Love is Strange, Calvary, Boyhood, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, They Came Together, Whiplash, The Sleepwalker, The Raid 2: Berandal, Concerning Violence, Roger Ebert (1942-2013)