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Sundance 2014: Rest of Fest

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This was my fifth year covering the Sundance Film Festival for Blogcritics and every year it feels like the same old whirlwind. Am I tired of sitting through endless Press & Industry screenings yet? Never. I love living close enough to sleep in my own bed every night — even if having to trek down Parley’s Canyon around midnight after if I stay for a late screening. Between bus shuttles back and forth between Main Street and the Holiday Village Cinemas, and standing in line between screenings, it’s the best way to kick off every new year.

MostWantedManI managed to squeeze in a few more films, including two starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. In A Most Wanted Man, Hoffman plays German spy Gunther Bachmann in an adaptation of John Le Carre’s novel. Director Anton Corbijn (Control, The American) keeps the proceedings dour and slow-paced, surrounding Hoffman with a supporting cast including Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, and Daniel Bruhl. The acting is great, but the plot just slogs along to the final scene that never pays off and renders the entire movie moot.

In God’s Pocket, Hoffman (again) gets his hands dirty in a black comedy that, at its most scrutinized, could be called, “the worst film the Coen Brothers never made.” But God’s Pocket is at least better than that. There are plenty of laughs to be had in co-writer/director John Slattery’s (Mad Men) tale of Mickey (Hoffman) looking into the death of his stepson Leo (Caleb Landry Jones), whose mother (Christina Hendricks) doesn’t buy his passing being an “accident.” Slattery keeps the dark shenanigans plowing along and there are some laughs to be had, but you’d never call the movie fun — something most black comedies at least attempt. Richard Jenkins as a boozy journalist trying to make the moves on Mickey’s wife gets some of the biggest laughs, but John Turturro’s mother steals the whole show.

Writer/director Mike Cahill returns to Sundance after winning a Special Jury Prize for Another Earth back in 2011 with another Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize winner in I Origins. This year, Cahill brings us the story of scientist Ian Gray (Michael Pitt) who has a sexual encounter with a mystery woman at a party. Ian is working on discovering ways to help colorblind mice see correctly, but what they really want is to find an organism without eyes to help them develop sight. Meanwhile, Ian discovers his mystery woman is Sofi (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) and he tracks her down and they fall in love. The main plot revolves around an eye database that records people’s irises, but when Ian’s son’s iris matches that of a deceased man in Idaho, and Sofi’s winds up in a scan in India, Ian sets off on a new quest to find out if there’s more to the windows of the soul than meets the eye.

Cahill tries to have it both ways: esoteric and exoteric, and the film will surely find an audience — it’s already been picked up by Fox Searchlight — but Cahill tries a little too hard at times and winds up pounding viewers over the head with his case of science vs. spirituality. I Origins is also a tad too long with at least one scene that could have been completely cut out. The performances from Bergès-Frisbey and Brit Marling are better than Michael Pitt’s, even the young Kashish playing the young Salomina performs better than he does. Pitt has never been leading man material and still isn’t quite there yet. Here’s to hoping Fox Searchlight can find the right marketing ploys to get butts in the seats.

It’s not all movies during the festival; we can’t forget the lounges lined up and down Main Street. This year I visited fewer than ever — a total of three, actually — which I’m sure is how I wound up seeing far more movies than previous years. Avocados from Mexico took over the Blue Iguana restaurant and featured desserts and cocktails revolving around the green wonder fruit including some delicious brownies and cookies. Recipes can be found on their website, but I was told that all they did was replace the butter with avocado.

Also found inside the lounge was an amazing new wine called Eppa SupraFruta Sangria. Available in both white and red, and made with organic super fruit juices including pomegranate, blueberry, Mediterranean blood orange, and acai, it’s impossible to have one glass. Look for it in stores, you won’t be sorry. The only other lounge I visited was the Stella Artois Cidre National Launch Party. My wife really likes the Red’s Apple Ale but I think it still tastes far too much like beer. Not being a beer drinker, I was surprised to find the Cidre tasting more like a sparkling wine with absolutely no beery aftertaste. The host of the party was Elizabeth Banks, but I had made my way back to the press screenings before she arrived. Apparently I also missed out on seeing Lea Thompson and Jorge Garcia.

With my five year anniversary in the bag, and 20 films under my belt, all I can say is that I can’t wait to do it again in 2015. And finally, here’s a complete list of this year’s Sundance Film Festival feature film awards:

The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary was presented by Tracy Chapman to:
Rich Hill / U.S.A. (Directors: Andrew Droz Palermo, Tracy Droz Tragos) — In a rural, American town, kids face heartbreaking choices, find comfort in the most fragile of family bonds, and dream of a future of possibility.

The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic was presented by Leonard Maltin to:
Whiplash
 / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Damien Chazelle) — Under the direction of a ruthless instructor, a talented young drummer begins to pursue perfection at any cost, even his humanity. Cast: Miles Teller, JK Simmons.

The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary was presented by Andrea Nix Fine to:
Return to Homs
 / Syria, Germany (Director: Talal Derki) — Basset Sarout, the 19-year-old national football team goalkeeper, becomes a demonstration leader and singer, and then a fighter. Ossama, a 24-year-old renowned citizen cameraman, is critical, a pacifist, and ironic until he is detained by the regime’s security forces.

The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic was presented by Nansun Shi to:
To Kill a Man
 / Chile, France (Director and screenwriter: Alejandro Fernández Almendras) — When Jorge, a hardworking family man who’s barely making ends meet, gets mugged by Kalule, a neighborhood delinquent, Jorge’s son decides to confront the attacker, only to get himself shot. Even though Jorge’s son nearly dies, Kalule’s sentence is minimal, heightening the friction. Cast: Daniel Candia, Daniel Antivilo, Alejandra Yañez, Ariel Mateluna.

The Audience Award: U.S. Documentary Presented by Acura, was presented by William H. Macy to:
Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory
 / U.S.A. (Director: Michael Rossato-Bennett) — Five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia—many of them alone in nursing homes. A man with a simple idea discovers that songs embedded deep in memory can ease pain and awaken these fading minds. Joy and life are resuscitated, and our cultural fears over aging are confronted.

The Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic Presented by Acura, was presented by William H. Macy to:
Whiplash
 / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Damien Chazelle) — Under the direction of a ruthless instructor, a talented young drummer begins to pursue perfection at any cost, even his humanity. Cast: Miles Teller, JK Simmons.

The Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary was presented by Felicity Huffman to:
The Green Prince 
/ Germany, Israel, United Kingdom (Director: Nadav Schirman ) — This real-life thriller tells the story of one of Israel’s prized intelligence sources, recruited to spy on his own people for more than a decade. Focusing on the complex relationship with his handler, The Green Prince is a gripping account of terror, betrayal, and unthinkable choices, along with a friendship that defies all boundaries.

The Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic was presented by Felicity Huffman to:
Difret
 / Ethiopia (Director and screenwriter: Zeresenay Berhane Mehari) — Meaza Ashenafi is a young lawyer who operates under the government’s radar helping women and children until one young girl’s legal case exposes everything, threatening not only her career but her survival. Cast: Meron Getnet, Tizita Hagere.

The Audience Award: Best of NEXT <=> was presented by Nick Offerman to:
Imperial Dreams 
/ U.S.A. (Director: Malik Vitthal, Screenwriters: Malik Vitthal, Ismet Prcic) — A 21-year-old, reformed gangster’s devotion to his family and his future are put to the test when he is released from prison and returns to his old stomping grounds in Watts, Los Angeles. Cast: John Boyega, Rotimi Akinosho, Glenn Plummer, Keke Palmer, De’aundre Bonds.

The Directing Award: U.S. Documentary was presented by Morgan Neville to:
Ben Cotner & Ryan White
 for The Case Against 8 / U.S.A. (Directors: Ben Cotner, Ryan White) — A behind-the-scenes look inside the case to overturn California’s ban on same-sex marriage. Shot over five years, the film follows the unlikely team that took the first federal marriage equality lawsuit to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic was presented by Lone Scherfig to:
Cutter Hodierne
 for Fishing Without Nets / U.S.A., Somalia, Kenya (Director: Cutter Hodierne, Screenwriters: Cutter Hodierne, John Hibey, David Burkman) — A story of pirates in Somalia told from the perspective of a struggling, young Somali fisherman. Cast: Abdikani Muktar, Abdi Siad, Abduwhali Faarah, Abdikhadir Hassan, Reda Kateb, Idil Ibrahim.

The Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary was presented by Sally Riley to:
Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard
 for 20,000 Days On Earth / United Kingdom (Directors: Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard) — Drama and reality combine in a fictitious 24 hours in the life of musician and international culture icon Nick Cave. With startlingly frank insights and an intimate portrayal of the artistic process, this film examines what makes us who we are and celebrates the transformative power of the creative spirit.

The Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic was presented by Sebastián Lelio to:
Sophie Hyde
 for 52 Tuesdays / Australia (Director: Sophie Hyde, Screenplay and story by: Matthew Cormack, Story by: Sophie Hyde) — Sixteen-year-old Billie’s reluctant path to independence is accelerated when her mother reveals plans for gender transition, and their time together becomes limited to Tuesdays. This emotionally charged story of desire, responsibility, and transformation was filmed over the course of a year—once a week, every week, only on Tuesdays. Cast: Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Del Herbert-Jane, Imogen Archer, Mario Späte, Beau Williams, Sam Althuizen.

The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic was presented by Peter Saraf to:
Craig Johnson & Mark Heyman
 for The Skeleton Twins / U.S.A. (Director: Craig Johnson, Screenwriters: Craig Johnson, Mark Heyman) — When estranged twins Maggie and Milo feel that they’re at the end of their ropes, an unexpected reunion forces them to confront why their lives went so wrong. As the twins reconnect, they realize the key to fixing their lives may just lie in repairing their relationship. Cast: Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Luke Wilson, Ty Burrell, Boyd Holbrook, Joanna Gleason.

The Screenwriting Award: World Cinema Dramatic was presented by Sebastián Lelio to:
Eskil Vogt 
for Blind / Norway, Netherlands (Director and screenwriter: Eskil Vogt) — Having recently lost her sight, Ingrid retreats to the safety of her home—a place she can feel in control, alone with her husband and her thoughts. But Ingrid’s real problems lie within, not beyond the walls of her apartment, and her deepest fears and repressed fantasies soon take over. Cast: Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Henrik Rafaelsen, Vera Vitali, Marius Kolbenstvedt.

The Editing Award: U.S. Documentary was presented by Jonathan Oppenheim to:
Jenny Golden, Karen Sim
 for Watchers of the Sky / U.S.A. (Director: Edet Belzberg) — Five interwoven stories of remarkable courage from Nuremberg to Rwanda, from Darfur to Syria, and from apathy to action.

The Editing Award: World Cinema Documentary was presented by Sally Riley to:
Jonathan Amos
 for 20,000 Days On Earth / United Kingdom (Directors: Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard) — Drama and reality combine in a fictitious 24 hours in the life of musician and international culture icon Nick Cave. With startlingly frank insights and an intimate portrayal of the artistic process, this film examines what makes us who we are and celebrates the transformative power of the creative spirit.

The Cinematography Award: U.S. Documentary was presented by Kahane Cooperman to:
Rachel Beth Anderson, Ross Kauffman
 for E-TEAM / U.S.A. (Directors: Katy Chevigny, Ross Kauffman) — E-TEAM is driven by the high-stakes investigative work of four intrepid human rights workers, offering a rare look at their lives at home and their dramatic work in the field.

The Cinematography Award: U.S. Dramatic was presented by Peter Saraf to:
Christopher Blauvelt
 for Low Down / U.S.A. (Director: Jeff Preiss, Screenwriters: Amy-Jo Albany, Topper Lilien) — Based on Amy-Jo Albany’s memoir, Low Down explores her heart-wrenching journey to adulthood while being raised by her father, bebop pianist Joe Albany, as he teeters between incarceration and addiction in the urban decay and waning bohemia of Hollywood in the 1970s. Cast: John Hawkes, Elle Fanning, Glenn Close, Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, Flea.

The Cinematography Award: World Cinema Documentary was presented by Caspar Sonnen to:
Thomas Balmès & Nina Bernfeld
 for Happiness / France, Finland (Director: Thomas Balmès) — Peyangki is a dreamy and solitary eight-year-old monk living in Laya, a Bhutanese village perched high in the Himalayas. Soon the world will come to him: the village is about to be connected to electricity, and the first television will flicker on before Peyangki’s eyes.

The Cinematography Award: World Cinema Dramatic was presented by Carlo Chatrian to:
Ula Pontikos
 for Lilting / United Kingdom (Director and screenwriter: Hong Khaou) — The world of a Chinese mother mourning the untimely death of her son is suddenly disrupted by the presence of a stranger who doesn’t speak her language. Lilting is a touching and intimate film about finding the things that bring us together. Cast: Ben Whishaw, Pei-Pei Cheng, Andrew Leung, Peter Bowles, Naomi Christie, Morven Christie.

U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Use of Animation was presented by Charlotte Cook to:
Watchers of the Sky
 / U.S.A. (Director: Edet Belzberg) — Five interwoven stories of remarkable courage from Nuremberg to Rwanda, from Darfur to Syria, and from apathy to action.

A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Intuitive Filmmaking was presented by Charlotte Cook to:
The Overnighters
 / U.S.A. (Director: Jesse Moss) — Desperate, broken men chase their dreams and run from their demons in the North Dakota oil fields. A local Pastor’s decision to help them has extraordinary and unexpected consequences.

A U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Musical Score was presented by Dana Stevens to:
The Octopus Project
 for Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter / U.S.A. (Director: David Zellner, Screenwriters: David Zellner, Nathan Zellner) — A lonely Japanese woman becomes convinced that a satchel of money buried in a fictional film is, in fact, real. Abandoning her structured life in Tokyo for the frozen Minnesota wilderness, she embarks on an impulsive quest to search for her lost mythical fortune. Cast: Rinko Kikuchi.

A U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent was presented by Dana Stevens to:
Justin Simien 
for Dear White People / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Justin Simien) — Four black students attend an Ivy League college where a riot breaks out over an “African American” themed party thrown by white students. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, the film explores racial identity in postracial America while weaving a story about forging one’s unique path in the world. Cast: Tyler Williams, Tessa Thompson, Teyonah Parris, Brandon Bell.

World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for the Delightful Ensemble Performance, and How the Director Brought His Own Unique Universe into Cinema was presented by Carlo Chatrian to:
God Help the Girl
 / United Kingdom (Director and screenwriter: Stuart Murdoch) — This musical from Stuart Murdoch of Belle & Sebastian is about some messed up boys and girls and the music they made. Cast: Emily Browning, Olly Alexander, Hannah Murray, Pierre Boulanger, Cora Bissett.

World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Cinematic Bravery was presented by Caspar Sonnen to:
We Come as Friends 
/ France, Austria (Director: Hubert Sauper) — We Come as Friends is a modern odyssey, a science fiction–like journey in a tiny homemade flying machine into the heart of Africa. At the moment when the Sudan, Africa’s biggest country, is being divided into two nations, a “civilizing” pathology transcends the headlines—colonialism, imperialism, and yet-another holy war over resources.

The Short Film Audience Award, Presented by YouTube, based on web traffic for 15 short films that screened at the Festival and were concurrently featured on www.youtube.com/sff, was presented to:
Chapel Perilous
 / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Matthew Lessner) — Levi Gold is paid an unexpected visit by Robin, a door-to-door salesman with nothing to sell. The ensuing encounter forces Levi to confront his true mystical calling, and the nature of reality itself. A metaphysical comedy trip-out with Sun Araw.

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About Cinenerd

A Utah based writer, born and raised in Salt Lake City, UT for better and worse. Cinenerd has had an obsession with film his entire life, finally able to write about them since 2009, and the only thing he loves more are his wife and their two wiener dogs (Beatrix Kiddo and Pixar Animation). He is accredited with the Sundance Film Festival.