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July 31st, 2014

The Best of Sundance 2011

The Best of Sundance 2011Today the Sundance Institute released its lineup for the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. I’ve never paid much attention to what was screening at Sundance (I’m more of a Cannes guy) but I decided to look through the list and see what potentially excites me. Cannes is easy to get excited about because of all the international auteurs showing off their shiny new films, but Sundance takes actual work to get into: 115 films? FORTY first-time directors? That’s a lot to take in.

So I’m going to read through the in-competition lineup and share with you my favorites.

I’ve learned a lot from reading this list. First of all, American filmmakers for the most part seem utterly capable of the most boring, unimaginative material possible. It’s all quirky high school this and mental problem that. It seems like the most diverse competitions are either documentaries, foreign or both. No wonder I prefer Cannes.

Abraxas (Japan)

  • Talent: Directed by Naoki Kato from a screenplay by Dai Sako and Naoki Kato
  • Plot: “After botching a speech on career guidance at a local high school, a depressed Zen monk with a heavy metal past realizes that only music can revive his spirit.”
  • Thoughts: Abraxas is a badass title, taken from the name of a Gnostic archon. But if this were called Heavy Metal Monk it’d be my favorite movie ever. Anyway, I’m excited for Abraxas because it combines a few of my interests, mainly Japan and movies about music.

Another Earth (USA)

  • Talent: Directed by Mike Cahill from a screenplay by Cahill and Brit Marling
  • Plot: “On the eve of the discovery of a duplicate Earth, a horrible tragedy irrevocably alters the lives of two strangers, who begin an unlikely love affair.”
  • Thoughts: I’m sorry did you say A DUPLICATE EARTH? If it’s even remotely sci-fi, I’m in. If it’s anything like I assume based on a vague plot description, it could be an awesome philosophical sci-fi piece like Duncan Jones’ Moon.

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey (USA)

  • Talent: Directed by Constance Marks
  • Plot: The Muppet Elmo is one of the most beloved characters among children across the globe. Meet the unlikely man behind the puppet – the heart and soul of Elmo – Kevin Clash.”
  • Thoughts: I’d so watch a documentary about a Muppet, even if a Muppet’s involvement is tangential. And even if that Muppet is Elmo, who is cute but of little personality. But especially if the doc is about Kevin Clash, who played Splinter in the live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies.

The Bengali Detective (India/USA)

  • Talent: Directed by Phil Cox
  • Plot: “Chubby, dance-obsessed private-detective Rajesh Ji and his motley band of helpers tackle poisonings, adultery and the occasional murder on the frenzied streets of Kolkata.”
  • Thoughts: The only thing I love more than detectives are interesting detectives. Even more so with The Bengali Detective considering it’s a documentary.

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (Sweden/USA)

  • Talent: Directed by Göran Olsson
  • Plot: “From 1967 to 1975, Swedish journalists chronicled the Black Power movement in America. Combining that 16mm footage, undiscovered until now, with contemporary audio interviews, this film illuminates the people and culture that fueled change and brings the movement to life anew.”
  • Thoughts: Not only do I want to learn more about the Black Power movement, but I find it totally fascinating that a bunch of Swedish journalists covered it. Also, extra points for the use of “mixtape” in the title.

If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (USA)

  • Talent: Directed by Marshall Curry
  • Plot: “The Earth Liberation Front is a radical environmental group that the FBI calls America’s ‘number one domestic terrorist threat.’ Daniel McGowan, an ELF member, faces life in prison for two multi-million dollar arsons against Oregon timber companies. But who is really to blame?”
  • Thoughts: I find ecoterrorists fascinating since they’re taking extreme measures not for religious beliefs, but for something concrete like saving the environment. I’d love to watch an entire documentary about them, so this is right up my alley.

The Ledge (USA)

  • Talent: Written and directed by Matthew Chapman, starring Charlie Hunnam, Liv Tyler, Patrick Wilson and Terrence Howard
  • Plot: “Perched on a ledge, a man says he must jump by noon, while a cop races against time to get to the bottom of it.”
  • Thoughts: “Pulse-pounding thrills from the screenwriter of Runaway Jury!” All sarcasm aside, the plot sounds okay. I’m just picking this because I dig that Charlie Hunnam fellow. He was a lot of fun as the British prettyboy on Undeclared and awesomely violent in the silly but totally enjoyable Green Street Hooligans, so I’m excited to see him in movies. He also looks a bit like Heath Ledger, which gives me an idea for an article that will piss a few people off.

The Guard (Ireland)

  • Talent: Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, starring Don Cheadle Brendan Gleeson and Mark Strong
  • Plot: “A small-town cop in Ireland has a confrontational personality, a subversive sense of humor, a fondness for prostitutes and absolutely no interest whatsoever in the international drug-smuggling ring that has brought a straight-laced FBI agent to his door. However, a surreal chain of events pulls him into the action.”
  • Thoughts: Unless the idea color-blind casting has made a monster, you know Brendan Gleeson is playing that mouthy, confrontational whoremonger. And that’s going to be awesome just for that character. If I’m wrong and Don Cheadle is playing the Irish cop, then we’re totally screwed as a civilization. Which I only say because I’ve seen Ocean’s Eleven and heard Mr. Cheadle’s attempt at an English accent.

Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest (USA)

  • Talent: Directed by Michael Rapaport
  • Plot: “The story of the rise and influence of one of the most innovative and influential hip hop bands of all time, the collective known as A Tribe Called Quest.”
  • Thoughts: A documentary about Tribe? Shit’s gonna be DOPE.

On the Ice (USA)

  • Talent: Written and directed by Andrew Okpeaha MacLean
  • Plot: “On the snow-covered Arctic tundra, two teenagers try to get away with murder.”
  • Thoughts: Those two phrases read like somebody wrote a script via the cut-up technique. I’d watch that SO HARD.

Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles (USA)

  • Talent: Directed by Jon Foy
  • Plot: “An urban mystery unfurls as one man pieces together the surreal meaning of hundreds of cryptic tiled messages that have been appearing in city streets across the U.S. and South America.”
  • Thoughts: Just read that plot synopsis again and tell me that doesn’t sound amazingly creepy.

The Redemption of General Butt Naked (USA)

  • Talent: Directed by Eric Strauss and Daniele Anastasion
  • Plot: “A brutal warlord who murdered thousands during Liberia’s horrific 14-year civil war renounces his violent past and reinvents himself as an Evangelist, facing those he once terrorized.”
  • Thoughts: What do I like besides ecoterrorism and detectives? Weirdly founded countries (Google Seeland and see what I mean). Liberia is an African country founded in 1822 by freed American slaves who were just dropped in this country instead of returned to their actual homes. So a bunch of people of differing nationalities trying to have a unified country? That sounds like a recipe for disaster, much like those weird country divides the Allied powers made post-World War One that eventually led to civil war in the 1990s. Granted, The Redemption of General Butt Naked isn’t specifically about Liberia, but it’s related enough for me to be interested.

Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure (Australia/USA)

  • Talent: Directed by Matthew Bate
  • Plot: “When two friends tape-recorded the fights of their violently noisy neighbors, they accidentally created one of the world’s first ‘viral’ pop-culture sensations.”
  • Thoughts: I like documentaries like this, that take a look at the real living people behind memes. Documentaries like Winnebago Man or the upcoming Eli Porter documentary. If you can get a compelling doc out of a five-minute YouTube video or recordings of alcoholic neighbors arguing, I’m interested.

Senna (United Kingdom)

  • Talent: Directed by Asif Kapadia, written by Manish Pandey
  • Plot: “The story of the legendary racing driver and Brazilian hero Ayrton Senna takes us on the ultimate journey of what it means to become the greatest when faced with the constant possibility of death.”
  • Thoughts: I’m sorry, did you say “legendary racing driver and Brazilian hero?” I’m totally imagining some kind of real-life Speed Racer here, and will do so until I actually see the movie. And possibly during and after.



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