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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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They Came Together

"They Came Together"
Director: David Wain ("Wet Hot American Summer," "Role Models," "Wanderlust")
Cast: Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Max Greenfield, Melanie Lynskey, Cobie Smulders
What's It About: Romantic comedy spoof about a candy shop owner who falls for the corporate worker that's threatening to put her out of business.
Why Is It Worth Seeing? The spoof genre has been given a terrible name in recent years, thanks to the likes of "Epic Movie" and "Meet The Spartans," but roaring back to rescue it, thirteen years after they turned the summer camp movie on its head with "Wet Hot American Summer," are former "The State"-ers David Wain and Michael Showalter, with this riff on the formulas and cliches of the romantic comedy. According to James Rocchi's review, the script "combines broad, ludicrous potshots with precise, devastating sniper-fire," straddling "the line between homage and satire superbly." Paced just about perfectly ("it's in, out and over with in a sprightly 85 minutes, moving swiftly and leaving scorched earth in its wake"), it sees Rudd navigate "the comedy with game, goofiness and good humor" and Poehler rise "to the challenge with authority, verve and a great Dickensian costuming joke" ahead of a "ludicrously talented cast." Not every joke lands, but on the whole, the film has both "a silly, goofy smile and a sharp, savage bite."
When Can I See It? Lionsgate will open it on June 27th.
Our Review: James Rocchi’s B+ take on the comedy

Life Itself

The 5 Best Documentaries

“Life Itself”
Director: Steve James (“Hoop Dreams,” “The Interrupters”)
What's It About? A portrait of venerable film critic Roger Ebert, centering on the last few months of his life.
Why Is It Worth Seeing? Many film critics said going to see “Life Itself” was like going to church, paying our respects to one of the greats. But we choose to see it as something about more than just film criticism and writing. James’ portrait is about a man, warts and all, and the experiences that shaped him. Based on Ebert’s memoir of the same name, James’ doc is moving and insightful, but doesn’t paint the lauded film critic as a god. Instead he draws a portrait of a collective life of experiences that shaped the person that so many loved for myriad reasons, beyond just his accessible and perceptive writing. For anyone that grew up watching “Siskel & Ebert” every week like clockwork, gaining access to a world of cinema you might not have otherwise known, “Life Itself” is a mandatory watch and an essential document of a fascinating film critic.
When Can I See It? A theatrical release is pending via Kartemquin Films, and it will air on CNN as well.
Our Review: Chase Whale’s A grade take on the doc

WHITEY: United States of America v. James J. Bulger

"Whitey: The United States vs. James J. Bulger"
Director: Joe Berlinger (the "Paradise Lost" trilogy, "Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster")
What's It About? The story of legendary Boston Irish mobster Whitey Bulger, and his eventual capture and trial after nearly twenty years on the run.
Why Is It Worth Seeing? Whitey Bulger has already inspired movies both directly (Ben Affleck has been developing a biopic with his brother and Matt Damon, and Johnny Depp is loosely attached to a rival project), and indirectly (he inspired Jack Nicholson's character in "The Departed"). But this true-crime tale, from documentary veteran Joe Berlinger, is about as compelling a version of his story as you could ask for, resembling, according to our Drew Taylor, "a first-rate James Ellroy adaptation" more than anything else. Focusing, in part, on the alleged corruption in the FBI and Justice Department that could have helped Bulger evade capture for so long, it weaves a "'Rashomon'-like prism of conflicting stories," and "each and every character that Berlinger talks to, from the assorted goons to the slick lawyers defending said goons, has a vitality and charge all their own." Reminiscent of "a '70s paranoid thriller or the very best American crime fiction," but with the "antsy, activist spirit" present in Berlinger's "Paradise Lost" movies, it seems that the director's delivered once again with 'Whitey.'
When Can I See It? CNN have the rights, so it remains to be seen if this gets a theatrical release as well.
Our Review: Drew's A grade review can be found here

Web Junkie

"Web Junkie"
Director: Shosh Shlam ("Last Journey Into Silence") and Hilla Medalia ("Dancing In Jaffa").
What's It About? A look at contemporary Chinese web culture, through the prism of a treatment facility designed to cure teenagers of their addiction to online life.
Why Is It Worth Seeing? We can probably all identify with feeling in thrall to email and social networks (he said, pausing mid-sentence to check Twitter...), but China has been taking it more seriously than other countries, recognizing Internet addiction as a national health crisis and setting up 400 rehabilitation camps for the country's youth, many of whom are taken there against their will. "Web Junkie" takes a look at these teens, many of whom spent most of their time on "Warcraft"-esque online games, and their parents, who can stay at the camp that the movie focuses on (leading to what Drew Taylor called "some of the movie's most wrenching scenes" in his review). As Drew says "the specificity of the documentary, staying within the walls of the boot camp for virtually the entire movie, is one of its biggest strengths, since it is able to place you right alongside these kids," and the result is a film that's genuinely "heartbreaking... rich and emotionally rewarding."
When Can I See It? No U.S. distributor yet, though U.K. company Dogwoof are selling it around the world.
Our Review: Drew's A- take is here

The Overnighters

"The Overnighters"
Director: Jessie Moss ("Full Battle Rattle," "Speedo: A Demolition Derby Love Story")
What's It About? Fracking in North Dakota causes a huge number of economic migrants to descend on the small town of Williston, and Lutheran pastor Jay Reinke sets out to look after the new arrivals.
Why Is It Worth Seeing? One of the major non-fiction talking points of the festival, and picking up a special jury prize, "The Overnighters" is, according to our Katie Walsh, "a true tragedy... a tale that weaves together deeply human elements but doesn't offer a single easy answer." Focusing on the truly good, even Christlike Pastor Reinke, who helps immigrants, drug addicts and sex offenders try to find new lives, against the wishes of his congregation, it's a dense, stuffed film that Katie acknowledges isn't "going to hold your hand and walk you through itself step by step." But she says it'll also "leave you stunned, questioning, and unsure of what is right and what is wrong—as most great docs do." "Starkly bleak and devastatingly humane," this is definitely one to keep an eye on as the year goes on.
When Can I See It? No distribution yet, as far as we're aware: hopefully that changes soon.
Our Review: Katie's A- review is here

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)


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