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Sundance 2014 Wrap: Discoveries, Disappointments, Breakouts & Awards Contenders (TOP TEN LISTS)

Thompson on Hollywood By Anne Thompson and Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood January 24, 2014 at 4:07PM

Sundance is always about emerging talent. While many established filmmakers such as Richard Linklater ("Boyhood") are returning and evolving, the festival is crammed with agents, managers, producers and execs looking for the next Miles Teller or Shailene Woodley and the next director to watch. Who did they find?
4
'Ida'
'Ida'
Kumiko the Treasure Hunter


TALENT BREAKOUTS: 

  • Jenny Slate is infectiously charming in subversive rom-com "Obvious Child," following a twentysomething Brooklyn stand-up comedian who accidentally gets pregnant, and then decides to abort. Slate and director Gillian Robespierre deserve kudos for pulling off difficult subject matter while keeping tonal consistency. (Beth Hanna review.)
  • While Desiree Akhavan, writer-director-star of NEXT entry "Appropriate Behavior" will draw inevitable comparisons to “Girls” -- the Brooklyn setting, the unapologetic portrayal of sexual encounters, a narcissistic lead who resolutely flails around in life -- “Appropriate Behavior” has an impressively subdued quality all its own, and is unique in exploring a coming-out tale told from the Iranian-American perspective. (Beth Hanna review here.)

SPOTLIGHT MUST-SEES: 

  • "Ida." This stunning work by Pawel Pawlikowski may not have premiered at Sundance, but it was the best of the fest. Shot elegantly in black-and-white and 4:3 aspect ratio, it follows a young nun (newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska) in late 1950s Poland who, before taking her vows, visits her estranged, alcoholic aunt (Agata Kulesza) to uncover what fate befell her Jewish parents, now dead.
  • Ritesh Batra’s Sony Pictures Classics pick-up "The Lunchbox" is a warm Mumbai romance starring Irrfan Khan that cut a swath on the festival circuit from Cannes to Telluride and Toronto.
  • In Jim Jarmusch's authoritative Cannes entry "Only Lovers Left Alive," Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are well-matched vampire lovers. They are at first separated in equally exotic locations--Tangiers and Detroit, respectively--which Jarmusch hungrily exploits. Simultaneously weary and romantic, this movie marks his best work in years.

MAJOR DISAPPOINTMENTS: 

'Listen Up Philip'
'Listen Up Philip'
  • John Slattery, who's directed some of the stronger episodes of "Mad Men," misfires woefully with God's Pocket, his unfunny, casually sexist and tonally floundering comedy about the aftermath of a construction-site murder cover-up.
  • "Camp X-Ray" is a journey to dullsville. While "Twilight" star Kristen Stewart is a capable actress, she plays a lonely and callow young soldier assigned to Guantanamo Bay who responds to an articulate detainee desperate to make a human connection. Unfortunately, endless pacing and talking through a prison window imprisons the audience as well as the film's protagonists. 

Anne Thompson's Sundance Top Ten (new films only)

  • 1. "Last Days in Vietnam" 
  • 2. "Life Itself"
  • 3. "I, Origins"
  • 4. "Boyhood"
  • 5. "Finding Fela"
  • 6. "Love is Strange"
  • 7. "Whiplash" 
  • 8. "Land Ho"
  • 9. "Laggies"
  • 10. "Dear White People" 

Beth Hanna's Sundance Top Ten:

  • 1. “Ida" 
  • 2. “Kumiko the Treasure Hunter" 
  • 3. “White Bird in a Blizzard" 
  • 4. “Happy Christmas" 
  • 5. “Obvious Child" 
  • 6. “Listen Up Philip"
  • 7. “CAPTIVATED: The Trials of Pamela Smart" 
  • 8. “The Better Angels" 
  • 9. “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night" 
  • 10. “The One I Love" 

This article is related to: Sundance Film Festival, Reviews, Reviews, Festivals


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.