Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Sundance 2014 Summary

Sundance is over! Long live Sundance!

It was my 15th festival, and ranks highly for me as one of the best.  Was the program stronger than it ever has been, or am I continuing to get better at guessing and selecting which movies I'll like the best? Either way, a great year all around.

I set out with the same goal I've had the past few years: to see 50 films.  I'm not an accredited member of the press or the industry, as it were.  But maybe one day, the latter. 

Final stats:

Total films seen: 52
Total docs seen: 13 (25% of total)
Here's how I'd categorize my films.  It's sort of shocking to me that I really didn't see anything I hated.  Some were "fair" and these are ones I wouldn't recommend but still had a redeeming quality or two.


Life Itself
The Overnighters
Land Ho!
Love is Strange

Very good

The Green Prince
Obvious Child
War Story
Happy Christmas
The Skeleton Twins
Stranger by the Lake
Dear White People
What We Do in the Shadows
Nymphomaniac Part 1
The Babadook
Listen Up Philip
Kumiko the Treasure Hunter
They Came Together


The Guest
God Help the Girl
The Foxy Merkins
Ping Pong Summer
Doc Shorts 1
Alive Inside: Music and Memory
The One I Love
Infinitely Polar Bear
The Case Against 8
To Kill a Man
Drunktown's Finest
To Be Takei
Happy Valley
Life After Beth
The Locksmith
Appropriate Behavior


20,000 Days on Earth
I Origins
Dinosaur 13
Fed Up
My Prairie Home
Mr. Leos CaraX
God's Pocket



And now, a few photos from my adventures.

Also, here are my SXSW predictions for what'll double dip:

I think all of these would play really well at SXSW.

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
God Help the Girl
To Be Takei
The Guest
Under the Electric Sky
Land Ho!
Ping Pong Summer
I, Origins
The One I Love
The Raid 2
The Voices
White Bird in a Blizzard
Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory
The Internet's Own Boy
20,000 Days on Earth
Love Child
Web Junkie

And sadly, here is what I missed but really want to see ASAP, based on positive buzz:

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
The Voices
Rich Hill
No No: A Dockumentary
Cold in July
Fishing Without Nets
Low Down

Til next year!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Sundance Film Festival Award Predictions

Here are my predictions for the Sundance Film Festival awards tonight. I agree with Matt Patches (whose post I copied and pasted and then replaced with my own choices) when he says basically that this is really hard to guess because the slate was so damned good this year. 
U. S. Grand Jury Prize, Dramatic: KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HNTER
U. S. Grand Jury Prize, Documentary: THE OVERNIGHTERS
World Cinema Grand Jury Prize, Dramatic: BLIND
World Cinema Grand Jury Prize, Documentary: THE GREEN PRINCE
Audience Award, U. S. Dramatic: INFINITELY POLAR BEAR
Audience Award, World Cinema Dramatic: DIFRET
Audience Award, World Cinema, Documentary: SEPIDEH
Audience Award, Best of NEXT: LAND HO! 
Directing Award, U. S. Dramatic: HELION
Directing Award, U. S. Documentary: THE OVERNIGHTERS
Directing Award, World Cinema Dramatic: 52 TUESDAYS
Directing Award, World Cinema Documentary: CONCERNING VIOLENCE
Cinematography Award, U. S. Dramatic: KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER
Cinematography Award, U. S. Documentary: DINOSAUR 13
Cinematography Award, World Cinema Dramatic: VIKTORIA
Cinematography Award, World Cinema Documentary: MY PRAIRIE HOME
Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic: THE SKELETON TWINS
Screenwriting Award: World Cinema Dramatic: BLIND
Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize: I ORIGINS
Special Jury Prizes:
Lead performance for Carla Juri from Wetlands

Monday, January 20, 2014

First 20 Films of Sundance

Here's everything I've seen, and how I'd rate it on a ten point scale.

1. The Green Prince (8)
2. Dinosaur 13 (5)
3. Whiplash (8)
4. Stranger By the Lake (7)
5. God's Pocket (3)
6. To Kill a Man (6)
7. The Guest (7)
8. Frank (7)
9. Obvious Child (8)
10. Drunktown's Finest (6)
11. God Help the Girl (6)
12. To Be Takei (6)
13. Dear White People (7)
14. Fed Up (5)
15. Happy Valley (7)
16. Life Itself (10)
17. Boyhood (7)
18. Calvary (8)
19. What We Do in the Shadows (7)
20. The Foxy Merkins (7)

Some random thoughts:

It's been a great festival so far. To be 20 films in and only have two movies I gave a 5 or less rating to is pretty awesome, if you ask me.

I haven't had a six movie day yet, and I won't have one today either. This is most irregular.   Also unexpected is that despite my slower pace, I'm definitely feeling tired (though I haven't fallen asleep in a movie once).

Some strangeness - one day I saw two movies where a body was stored in a refrigerated truck. Another day I saw two movies where characters attempt to scatter ashes and end up scattering them on themselves.  The next day, I saw two movies which feature Katie Couric in some way.  

My favorites are Life Itself, Whiplash, Obvious Child and Whiplash.  So much more to see though - another 30 films left to see before my Sundance experience ends.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A love/hate rant about the childhood obesity documentary FED UP

[Forgive the typos - I typed this up in 20 minutes between movies]

I just saw the world premiere of FED UP, the new documentary narrated and executive produced by Katie Couric.  I'm happy that it exists, sad that it needs to, and looking forward to a much more nuanced, complete and spirited conversation about it in the years to come. 

The doc takes aim at childhood obesity and howe we as a nation got to where we were in the first place as well as what steps we're taking now (versus the ones we need to) to reduce it and avoid the "public health tsunami" headed our way.  It offers emotional profiles of multiple families in their attempts to eat healthy, and intercuts it with experts - doctors, public health advocates, writers, etc.  

Here's what I liked about it:

  • It exposes the "calories in/calories out" myth that all calories are created equal, and it does so with some simple animation.   
  • It includes Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan and other popular advocates from what I guess I could call the "real food" movement
  • It rightfully de-emphasizes the vital importance exercise in the weight loss conversation (though they didn't mention much of the health benefits outside of weight loss

Here's what I didn't like about it:

  • Too much time spent on the problems and not enough spent on the solutions.  I would love it if they'd followed fewer obese children and spent more time following some of the many organizations that are working on affordable and sustainable real food solutions
  • I was surprised they didn't mention any conflicts of interest in US government - but I guess Food Inc did a pretty good job of covering that
  • It was almost too basic for me.  It felt like it was 30 minutes into the film before they finished making the "our kids are fat" case and started talking about how processed foods were the issue.  Really? You think? They took so long to get into that that I was almost starting to wonder if there was going to be some other out of left field solution they were proposing, the way they were building up the mystery there.
  • I hate, hate, hate images of fat people walking around with their heads cut off.  It is exploitative and fat shaming, and it undermines what the film is trying to do.  There's a talking head wisely quoted with "The deck is stacked against healthy eating." So the film understands that the issues are systemic and supported by our government. Why do we need images shown that reinforce the exploitative, fat-shaming approach so commonly adopted by less enlightened media reports?
  • There was some time spent on the fact that thin people can be as unhealthy as fat people, but this wasn't very kindly, respectfully or clearly outlined.  Someone basically said "You might be fat and you don't know it." A term called TOFI was introduced - thin on the outside, fat on the inside. 

That last bit reinforced for me that the film was a missed opportunity.  It starts an important conversation into the idea that focusing too much on willpower and exercise is distracting us from seeking the real cause of childhood obesity and stopping it. But it doesn't go far enough at making the distinction between the way you look and the way you feel.  By using cut-off heads,  it reinforces the idea that if someone looks fat, they are fat. And fat is, you know, the worst thing.

I see a lot of movies, but I don't write reviews. Even if I did, though, It's hard for me to objectively "review" a movie like this because it's a subject on which I feel a lot of passion.   So perhaps I'm being unfairly critical of a film whose intentions are without a doubt completely noble.  And I don't begrudge the filmmakers at all . The movie isn't for me, though - it's preaching (wisely) to a less informed public and probably (hopefully) one that sees fewer than 75 documentaries a year theatrically.   When I try to remove any bias and I try to think about the merits of the film, I am left with the fact that it is a simple, familiarly-structured advocacy documentary, and those are increasingly less my favorite genre.  

And when I go back to my personal feelings, I guess can't help but wait for someone to make the movie about those same kids where we sit them down and say "yeah, you're fat.  And it isn't your fault, and there are some things you can do to change it.  But in the meantime, don't listen to a society that despite doing little to help your generation change, continues to tell you that you're worthless unless you do.  Be proud of the exercise you do because it makes you feel good, even if it hasn't caused you to lose any weight yet.  Don't get so bogged down by the focus on the way that you look that you can't find the motivation to continue seeking real, healthy alternatives to processed foods because you don't even feel like you're worth the effort because you are."

</end rant>

I still hope this film gets the widespread support it deserves as unfortunately it sounds like people still need to learn these basics, and I am looking forward to more documentaries this week that are likely more nuanced and artistic in approach.  

Friday, January 17, 2014

Sundance Day One: Doc Crazy

I think this is the first Sundance where I began things with two docs on day one.  It was sort of an accident since I'd originally picked a different first film but it was sold out.  Not to worry - I totally realize that's how some of the most exciting discoveries are made at festivals.

And how true that ended up being! I grabbed a ticket for THE GREEN PRINCE only through process of elimination - it being, you know, not sold out.  Lucky me, because it was fucking great.

Simple, direct, linear story-telling.   But you really have no idea what's coming next.  I went back and forth thinking at first the film has a solid opinion on who the good guys and the bad guys are - particularly sensitive in an Israel/Palestine doc.  But I stuck with it and was so pleased to see there was far more to it.    I found it hopeful without being sentimental, and most importantly and increasingly important in this competitive documentary landscape - it was a super compelling story.   I'd really love to see this remade as a narrative feature, too.  Great stuff.

Next up was DINOSAUR 13, which was on my original list.  This was the tale of a handful of paleontologists in the Black Hills who stumbled upon the find of a lifetime - the world's most complete T-Rex. And then, the unbelievably shitty things that happened to them as a result.  

I couldn't help but think as I watched this what a fascinating mostly untold story it was. Great access, gorgeous photography, and tons and tons of footage including shot on video stuff from the day of the actual find.  Ultimately, though, it was as missed opportunity. I'm glad I watched it - it gave me lots to think about - but there was a much tighter film in there, and a much more suspenseful way of telling that story.  I think it needs a restructuring and a little bit of trimming, and then it could do well on television.  I will say that Louie Psihoyos (director of THE COVE and renown photographer for National Geographic) had some particularly insightful contributions as an interview subject.    

Tomorrow is either five or six movies, depending on my luck with ticketing.  Fingers crossed.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

My Sundance Secret - CRUNCHERS.

How does one stay awake through 50 movies in ten days?
How does one find the time to eat?

These are two dilemmas facing me for which I have found, over the years, but one solution. And it's contained in a tiny ziploc baggie.

CRUNCHERS! That is - healthy to not-so-healthy snacks eaten slowly throughout the day, during movies, to keep me awake.  Something to bite on that keeps me awake and ensures that I actually find the time for fuel.  It's day six? Feeling like a miniature nap during the second hour of a "deliberately paced" drama? No problem.  Out come the pretzels.   Or the gummy bears. Or, okay, some carrots, mom.   Instant jolt of energy. Also, yums. 

Here's this week's stash all ready to go.   

Sunday, January 12, 2014

SUNDANCE HELP NEEDED: Anybody Have Any Extra Tickets?


I'm on a quest to see at least 50 films at Sundance this year. I've done this for the past several years (52 last year, 55 the year before), so I have no reason to think I can't achieve this again.


I'm not accredited this year.  I'm seeing only public screenings.  That's fine, because I actually prefer seeing films with a general audience.   But it means I've got some hustling to do.

I've got an Adrenaline Badge which gets me into the morning movies and the midnight movies, and guarantees very, very little sleep. But one doesn't go to Sundance to sleep, does one.

I also got a 20-pack of tickets for the first half.  I had a bit of bad luck in the ticket selection process, though.  Lots of sold out shows, even my second and third choices. Sad face. Determined face.

I'll try my luck in the public on-sale in a few days.  But I wonder now, and will continue to do so...


Maybe you thought you could go but you can't, or you got two for a friend, but your friend changed her mind?

Here's my entire schedule.  The ones in red are what I still need.   Yes, it is up to date.  I still need those ones in red.

[BUT DOR - WHY NOT TRY THE WAIT LIST?  Yes. I'll try.  But it's better to have a guaranteed ticket, especially considering that on five and six movie days there isn't enough time to wait in line.]

[CAN I SELL YOU MY TICKET FOR $100?  No, because as much as I really want to see all of these movies, I don't believe in scalping tickets at a film festival.]

Friday the 17th:

Whiplash at the Eccles at 9 AM
Stranger by the Lake at the Temple at noon
God’s Pocket at the Eccles at 3:30 PM (GODSP17CA)
Obvious Child at the Prospector at 5:45 PM (OBVIO17PE)
To Kill a Man at the Egyptian at 9 PM
The Guest at the Library at midnight

Saturday the 18th

Frank at the Eccles at 9 AM
Wish I Was Here at the MARC at 11:15 AM (WISHI18MD)
Drunktown’s Finest at the Yarrow at 3 PM
God Help the Girl at the Egyptian at 6 PM
To Be Takei at the Yarrow at 9 PM (TOBE18YN)
White Shadow at the Prospector at midnight

Sunday the 19th:

Young Ones at the Eccles at 9 AM
Fed Up at the MARC at 11:30 AM (FEDUP19MD)
Happy Valley at the MARC at 2:15 PM
Life Itself at the MARC at 5:15 PM 
Jamie Marks is Dead at the Library  at 8:30 PM (JAMIE19LN)

Monday the 20th:

Calvary at the Library at 8:30 AM
What We Do in the Shadows at the Prospector at 11:45 AM
The Foxy Merkins at the Prospector at 2:30 PM
My Prairie Home at the Prospector at 5:45 PM
No No – A Dockumentary at the Temple at 9 PM

Tuesday the 21st:

Song One at Prospector at 8:30 AM
War Story at the Library at 11:30 AM
Cooties at the MARC at 2:30 PM
Wetlands at the Prospector at 5:30 PM
The One I Love at the MARC at 8:30 PM (ONEIL21MN)
The Babadook at the Library at 11:45 PM

Wednesday the 22nd:

Hits at the Eccles at 9 AM
The Skeleton Twins at the Eccles at 12:15 PM (SKELE22CD)
Camp X-Ray at the MARC at 2:30 PM
Low Down at the Library at 9:30 PM
The Overnighters at the Library at 8:45 PM (OVERN22LN)
Life After Beth at the Library at 11:45

Thursday the 23rd:

Listen Up Philip at the Prospector at 8:30 AM
Infinity Polar Bear at the Prospector at 11:45 AM
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter at the Prospector at 2:30 PM 
Mr leos caraX at the Egyptian at 6 PM
The Internet’s Own Boy at the Prospector at 8:30 PM (INTER23PN)
Cold in July at the Library at 11:45 PM

Friday the 24th

I Origins at the Eccles at 9 AM
Appropriate Behavior at the Library at 11:30 AM 
Land Ho! At the MARC at 2:45 PM (LANDH24MA)
Hellion at the Library at 5:30 PM
They Came Together at the Eccles at 9:45 PM (THEYC24CN)

Saturday the 25th

Rudderless at the Eccles at 9 AM
Dear White People at the Prospector at 11:30 AM (DEARW25PD)
Happy Christmas at the Library at 2:30 PM (HAPCH25LA)
Laggies at the Egyptian at 5:45 PM
Love is Strange at the MARC at 8:30 PM (LOVEI25MN)

Sunday the 26th



Friday, January 3, 2014

My Favorite Films of 2013

But first, a quick review of the numbers.

·      I saw 266 films in theaters (including festivals)
·      72 of them were documentaries
·      53 of them were repertory screenings
·      52 of them were at the IFC Center (aka the best place on earth)

A few worth mentioning, honorably, that didn’t quite clear the top ten:

12 Years a Slave
Kill Your Darlings
Remote Area Medical
In a World….
Valentine Road (aka bawlfest 2013)
This Is Martin Bonner
Blue is the Warmest Color
Before Midnight

Best rep screenings - films I saw for the first time this year and loved:

Paths of Glory
Portrait of Jason
A Woman Under the Influence

Now, let’s zero in on only the best documentaries

JUST KIDDING No we will not do that! Documentaries are movies, same as the rest, and they don’t get their own list.  They are well represented in my top ten.  Sorry.

Before the list, though, one film does deserve some super special recognition:

Fair is fair. I realized I couldn't put Rewind This! on my top ten since while I do think it is a delightful informative and entertaining documentary, I should endeavor to only list films that weren't directed by my fiance and shot/edited/produced by my dear friends. 

But holy crap, will you love it! Check out my top 15 reasons you should download Rewind This! and after that, well, download Rewind This! Or buy the DVD from Amazon. Or if you like to collect things, buy the limited edition VHS (seriously!) from Amazon

And my top ten, in order:

10. All the Light in the Sky

Had never heard of this movie until we got sold out of another movie (that I ended up not caring for when we went back and caught it).   Kismet!  This Swanberg-directed slice-of-life drama reminds you that Jane Adams is and always has been awesome.   Here she is an L.A. actress of a certain age, just living life, really.  Don’t look too hard for clich├ęs though, because this movie is surprisingly without.    

9. Her

It feels weird to put such a universally-lauded film on my top ten list, especially when I saw it in theaters as part of the general release. Like there’s something un-special about saying “hey, I also loved this, too.” But, it’s great. I knew it would be great, and it did not disappoint in any way.   My favorite parts were the colors, the performances, and the pants.

8. After Tiller

Far more than an “important” film (although that, too).  Compelling and emotional story-telling.  Brave and reverent approach to a difficult topic. I’d love to show this movie to my mom.

7. Museum Hours

This is unlike any movie I have ever seen.  It has a rhythm to it that totally hypnotized me, for reasons I don’t even really understand.  I do think it works best as an immersive experience.  Watch this in the dark on as big of a screen as you can, even though you’d be used to getting that advice for a film like Gravity.   Trust me – just let this one wash over you. 

6. The Spectacular Now

All I can tell you is I loved it.   I don’t even really remember why, but I think it has a lot of heart.  Which is a good thing, in this case.

5. Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story

This one’s an explosively creative, funny and fascinating profile of Tomi Ungerer whom I knew nothing about but is now a favorite.  There’s little I can say about this criminally under-seen film that I didn’t say in this “review” I wrote where I believe Iactually purport the filmmakers are “doing God’s work.”

4. Short Term 12

Staggeringly performed, gorgeously directed, challenging piece that deserves all the awards and all the money.

3. Frances Ha

Utterly delightful.  Noah Baumbach’s best.    A role tailor-made for Greta Gerwig’s particular brand of awkward-charming.  Particularly enjoyable as a New Yorker who fondly recalls her own broke years.

2. Twenty Feet from Stardom

You, your friends, and definitely your mom will love this expertly crafted, moving story of the background singers that played a big part of making the music we all know and love. I could watch this movie once a week and not grow tired of it.  I texted a friend of mine as I was standing amongst the crowd following the Sundance premiere as all 1200 people in the audience roared with applause: ‘This is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen.” And almost a year later, I stand by that.  

1. The Act of Killing

I saw this one in 2012 at TIFF actually, but it has haunted me since then and will for a long time to come.   I do think it has fundamentally changed the documentary film world and it absolutely has impacted the way I think of filmmaking but it also has oddly shaped how I think about people in general.  There’s a scene  or two of this movie that I’ve replayed in my mind many  times since seeing The Act of Killing again this year.   I continue to wonder at how moving, shocking, and actually quite funny this movie is. Can’t wait to see the director’s cut.

BONUS LIST!  Films that I suspect will make my best of 2014 list because I saw them last year but they haven't been released yet


You’ve never seen anything like this and you never will again, you freak, you.

Finding Vivian Maier

I wanted to stand up while I was watching this and make eye contact with every person in the theater, with a knowing, “oh my god are we really watching this!!” twinkle.  I didn’t, but I will personally glance at each one of you when I see you next,  wide-eyed and persuasively encouraging you to check out this rich and satisfying portrait of a mysterious artist. 

We Are the Best!

Remember Lucas Moodyson’s Show Me Love and Together? Didn’t you love those? Yeah he made this one too, and it has the same sweetness, mixed with punk! rock!  You must not, I mean NOT, miss this sweet, funny, and original Swedish film whenever you can get your hands on it.

Jodorowsky’s Dune

A rallying cry for the artistic and independent spirit. 

Mistaken for Strangers

This is one of those films you think is going to be something and then it turns out to be another thing that’s way awesomer than you thought. I would go into this one knowing as little as possible about it. 

My Least Favorite Films of the Year

Nice try. Dor don’t play that way.  Come over and have a drink with me and I might spill,  but I don’t like to be a downer on the Internet.