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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: DocumentaryRestrepodirected by Sebastian Junger and Tim HetheringtonJunger 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: DramaticWinter's Bonedirected by Debra Granik written by Granik and Anne RoselliniCast: 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.
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.
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 Workdirected by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundbergedited by Penelope FalkLegendary 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.
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.
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 DenmarkThe World Cinema Jury Prize: Dramatic Animal Kingdom written and directed by David Michôd Australia
The Audience Award: Documentary Waiting For Superman directed by Davis Guggenheim
The World Cinema Audience Award: Documentary Wastelanddirected 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 Touristsdirected by Christian Frei Switzerland
The World Cinema Directing Award: Dramatic Southern Districtdirected and written by Juan Carlos Valdivia Bolivia
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 AlexisGermany / Israel
A World Cinema Special Jury Prize: Dramatic for Breakout Performance Tatiana Maslany for her role in Grown Up Movie StarCanada
A Special Jury Prize: Documentary Gaslanddirected by Josh Fox
Alfred P. Sloan PrizeObselidiawritten 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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