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On The Park City Trail... Sundance 2010 and more: Jan. 31

Sundance is over and that’s fine with me. I’ve been trying to recover for almost a week and I’m not sure that I have. I saw somewhere between 25 and 32 films (I’m not sure exactly) and after a week back home, I’m still a bit blurry.

While I was in the air on the way home, they announced the winners of the various awards. There have to be awards for some reason. But as to the Sundance winners, I didn’t see most of them, so I’m not going to give any commentary on those. It’s unseemly to pontificate on films I haven't seen, although that sort of thing is done all the time. But here’s what I've I did see.

The Grand Jury Prize: Documentary
directed by Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington
Junger and Hetherington spent a year dug in with the Second Platoon as they painfully push back the Taliban in one of Afghanistan's most strategically crucial valleys.

This is one of the most boring war documentaries ever. Nothing much happens. The men mostly dig holes. The Captain has a meeting with the local leadership. And there’s talk of bullets and bombs, but that’s it. The men were interviewed after their tour was over and while it should have bee interesting, it wasn’t. I slept through some of it.

The Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic
Winter's Bone

directed by Debra Granik
written by Granik and Anne Rosellini
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Kevin Breznahan, Dale Dickey, Garret Dillahunt
Ree (Lawrence) lives in the Ozarks, the Dogpatch ghetto part of Missouri where
the stereotypical Hillbilly lives. Everyone’s inbred and makes their living dealing drugs. Ree’s father, whom we never see, has abandoned his family and cooks crystal meth. Ree has to take care of her insane mother and two much younger siblings while living off the kindness of neighbors.

Then one day Sheriff Baskin (Dillahunt) comes around and tells her that Daddy jumped bail, and if he doesn’t show up, they’re going to take the house, which was put up as bond. Ree has to find him or else she’s going to wind up on the street. You see the law of the mountains is very much the same as the law of the street.

But Ree cares about her younger siblings and their fate, so she goes on a quest to find her father. Despite the fact that even her Uncle Teardrop (Hawkes) tells her not to fight it, she tries to solve the mystery of what happened to her pa. This is one of those bleak crime dramas that resembles a train wreck. You can’t take your eyes off it no matter how grim it is. Lawrence is terrific, and so is everyone else.

The Audience Award: Dramatic

written and directed by Josh Radnor
Malin Akerman, Kate Mara, Richard Jenkins, Zoe Kazan, Kate Mara, Pablo Schreiber
As the film begins,
writer Sam Wexler (Radnor) unwittingly adopts a young boy named Rasheen (Algieri). It plays cute. Sam is good friends with Annie (Akerman), who has no hair and is being sexually harassed by Sam No. 2 (Hale), who works in her office. Sam One’s distaff cousin Mary Catherine (Kazan)  has just been proposed to by her long time beau Charlie (Schreiber), something she’s reacted to in a very negative way.

Our hero has also fallen in lust with the beautiful waitress Mississippi (Mara), with whom he has a contract for a three day fling…. That’s right folks, it’s Seinfeld the Movie!, which means it’s completely about nothing, full of cute jokes and one or two insights about the meaning of life. It'ss entertaining in a sitcom kind of way, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The thing won the award because Radnor, who’s been on a TV sitcom for years, knows the genre well and got himself a good cast. This will now give him the creds to do something more ambitious.

The Best of NEXT 

directed by Todd and Brad Barnes
written by The Barneses, and Sophie Goodhart
Anslem Richardson, Ana Reeder, Stephen Rannazzisi, Cesar De Leon, Mary Beth Peil, Michelle Krusiec
With the advent of digital video camera, one can fake 35mm film for a tiny fraction of the cost of the real thing. This is how No-budget filmmaking is possible, and is how the Barnes brothers managed to get this done.

This film is about a convict (Richardson) on work release who somehow gets involved with a lunatic named Margo (Reeder), and soon the hijinks begin. Margo thinks her beau (Rannazzisi), is cheating on her or something like that.

The only reason this film comes even close to working is Reeder, who’s been on Broadway in dozens of plays and is absolutely wonderful. She’s the kind of person that has star quality all over her. I’m smitten. As for everybody else and the movie itself, eh.

The Directing Award: Documentary
Smash His Camera
directed by Leon Gast
Much has been done about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the former First Lady and international celebrity. Not much has been done about her nemesis, famous celebrity photographer and original paparazzo, Ron Galella.

Gast and Gallella have a blast making this film. The photographer is followed around by cinematographers as he goes around his daily grind and shows off his “palatial estate” in New Jersey. He’s suffered for his art, and now he ‘s just enjoying life plugging his art books and taking pictures of celebraties, some of whom don’t want to be followed and all of whom deserve it.

The tawdry tale of his “war” with Jackie O is recounted in great detail, and she doesn’t come off all that well. Of course neither does he. But  its easy to see why it won an award. And this documentary is the only film at Sundance in which Robert Redford actually appears.

The Documentary Editing Award
Joan Rivers-A Piece Of Work

directed by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg
edited by Penelope Falk
Legendary comedian and pop icon Joan Rivers is old. She should be sitting on her lawrels by now, but she’s constitutionally incapable of slowing down, and her bills are huge, what with having to support all her camp followers and all.

So we follow her around for a few months as she goes around the country doing her schtick and discussing the ups and downs of her long, long career. It’s a good documentary, and we she’s someone we can root for.

World Cinema Special Jury Prize: Documentary
Enemies of the People
directed by Rob Lemkin and Thet Sambath
Cambodia / United Kingdom

This is one of those films that actually deserves an award. Filmmaker Thet Sambath, manages to get into the good graces of the evil and aged Nuon Chea, Pol Pot's second-in-command, worms his way into the bastard's life, and films a confession. It's sort of like getting Chairman Mao or Hermann Goering to admit and apologize for what they did to the millions. What's amazing is that Thet actually does it. It takes years, and the old man, who doesn't look all that guilty, really doesn't want to do it at the beginning, but that's what makes this film so compelling.

While he's not gently going after Nuon, he discusses the genocide with two former militiamen, Khoun and Suon, who actually did some of the killing. What they have to say is chilling, to say the least. They don't want to go before the international tribunals, as the Nazis and Hutu militia monsters have done, but they come clean, and decribe their crimes in detail, including one scene where they demonstrate techniques. 

The use of some old newsreel footage is what makes the film so powerful, as we can recognize that the sweet old man being interviewed really is the monster who was responsible for the deaths of millions. Talk abou the banality of evil! This is a film that hs to be seen, which is why it's going to get on most PBS stations sometime in the fall. 

Special Jury Prize: Dramatic
Sympathy for Delicious

directed by Mark Ruffalo
written by Christopher Thornton
Cast: Orlando Bloom, Juliette Lewis, Mark Ruffalo. Christopher Thornton. Laura Linney
Around a decade ago, actor Christopher Thornton broke his back and was paralyzed, Some years afterward, he wrote an innovateive but repugnant script about a repugnant God and a bunch of repugnant people. Around six months ago, movie star Mark Ruffalo decided to use this script as his debut as a director. The result is one of those films with a fascinating concept and unfacinating characters.

Dean O'Dwyer (Thornton) is a parapalegic homeless person who at one time was a deejay known as “Delicious D”. That career is over and he’s bitter and angry but from his previous life comes Ariel Lee (Lewis), a punk rocker who’s scraping the bottom of the barrel with a band headed by a guy called The Stain (Bloom). Our hero fails again when a miracle happens. He gets the power to heal, and Father Joe (Ruffalo), who’s been tending to the homeless, decides to exploit him in order to do God’s work. Delicious and the punkers decide that his superpower could be profitable to them, and an atheist revival show is started.

Everyone works from his or her basest instincts, nobody is nice, and while the situation is fascinating, there’s no one in the whole film we could really relate to or like. Delicious is an ass; everybody is worse, and the climax and dénouement are completely unbelievable within the conceit of the film. Ruffalo’s experience as an actor makes his directorial style competent enough, but the experience just leaves you cold.

As for the rest... I've listed the winners of the rest of awards -- even though I have not seen them yet.

The World Cinema Jury Prize: Documentary
The Red Chapel
(Det Røde Kapel)
directed by Mads Brügger

World Cinema Jury Prize: Dramatic

Animal Kingdom
written and directed by David Michôd

The Audience Award: Documentary
Waiting For Superman
directed by Davis Guggenheim

The World Cinema Audience Award: Documentary

directed by Lucy Walker
United Kingdom / Brazil

The World Cinema Audience Award: Dramatic
Contracorriente (Undertow)
written and directed by Javier Fuentes-Leõn,
Peru / Colombia / France / Germany

The Directing Award: Dramatic
3 Backyards
directed and written by Eric Mendelsohn

The World Cinema Directing Award: Documentary
Space Tourists
directed by Christian Frei

The World Cinema Directing Award: Dramatic
Southern District
directed and written by Juan Carlos Valdivia

The World Cinema Screenwriting Award
Southern District
[see above]

The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award
Winter's Bone

The World Cinema Documentary Editing Award
A Film Unfinished
written and directed by Yael Hersonski
Edited by Joëlle Alexis
Germany / Israel

A World Cinema Special Jury Prize: Dramatic for Breakout Performance
Tatiana Maslany
for her role in
Grown Up Movie Star


A Special Jury Prize: Documentary
directed by Josh Fox

 Alfred P. Sloan Prize
written and directed by Diane Bell

I didn’t see any of the Excellence in Cinematography Award winners either. Sorry.

I was at the Slamdance presentation at the Red Banjo Pizza joint (322 Main St.). It was lots of fun -- think of a low-rent version of the Golden Globes®, where people make boring speeches and the recipients cry with joy as they accept. I’d met a number of them in the green room although I never saw their films (I was at Sundance for most of it), but they let me have all the free pizza and beer I could quaff down, and that’s one of the reasons I went to the damn thing. Of course I thanked them profusely between gulps.

That’s it for the time being. Even with all the notes and such, OD’ing on movies turns one’s brain to mush. It takes at least a week to recover in order to write up any more.

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