Sundance 2012 is just around the corner, and I am gearing up for my third trip to Park City, Utah. While visiting Park City each year, I have run into friends and colleagues. Some of these Sundance attendees work for the festival, some volunteer for the festival, and some support the festival. No matter what the reason, if you have a chance to attend the Sundance Film Festival, it is a great opportunity to observe passionate and thoughtful entertainment professionals debut their work. It truly is an unforgettable experience.
In this special holiday blog, Fanboy Comics Contributor Ellen Tremiti shares her Top 10 Perfect (Offbeat) Holiday Movies.
10.) Reindeer Games: A guilty-pleasure holiday movie. Need I say more? There’s a bit of a convoluted plot mixed into this sensual thriller, but, honestly, who cares? Bundle up under the covers and check out the acting talents of Ben Affleck and Charlize Theron this holiday season.
9.) Die Hard 2: Christmas Eve + an airport + a blizzard + terrorists who have taken control of said airport’s communication system X Bruce Willis = an action-packed holiday film with lots of thrills and holiday spirit! Don’t forget the fight scenes on a moving airplane wing and, of course, an explosive, fiery finish to cap off this second enjoyable installment in the Die Hard series.
The Dish and the Spoon played at AFI Fest 2011. It is a wonderfully indie film with characteristics similar to the “Mumblecore” movement. Mumblecore is an indie film genre that came about at the turn of the century. Its defining characteristics include low production value, character-driven stories, unconventional plots, middle class/twenty-something characters, naturalism in performances, and improvisation. All of these attributes are found in The Dish and the Spoon, and its star, Greta Gerwig, is no stranger to the genre. Although written and directed by Alison Bagnall, both Gerwig and English co-star Olly Alexander have “additional material” credits, thanks to the improvisational nature of the film.
For the second year, I was fortunate to attend a world premiere gala at AFI. Last year I saw Black Swan, and this year I saw J. Edgar, a film directed by Clint Eastwood and written by Dustin Lance Black, who won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in 2009 (Milk). J. Edgar boasts a huge cast, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench, and Armie Hammer (The Social Network). The film follows the life of J. Edgar Hoover, the first Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Hoover sought a war against gangsters, he influenced the implementation of forensics in criminal cases, his achievements in forensics affected the Lindbergh trial-of-the-century, and his warped views on Communism affected a generation. Also, he very well may have lived his entire life as a closeted gay man. A life this controversial and important to American history begs to be told on the big screen; yet, this is precisely why it is so very disappointing and surprising just how amateur, monotonous, and sluggish this film turned out to be.
I was first introduced to The Hammer, previously titled Hamill, at AFI Fest 2010, where the film took the Audience Award. I met some of the crew and cast at an AFI reception honoring their win, and I was instantly struck by the passion the filmmakers and actors had for this film. The Hammer is a family-friendly, based-on-a-true-story, underdog-sports-story, and it opened last Thursday in limited theatrical release.
Coming-of-age films have a tendency to skirt clichés and follow predictable character and plot arcs; however, if done right, a bildungsroman can still feel new, and it can evoke empathy from its audience. Unfortunately, The Art of Getting By (previously titled Homework) does none of these things. The select redeeming scenes and character performances are vastly overshadowed by the underwhelming plot. Sadly, the story gets caught up in cliché after cliché which builds to a predictable and unsatisfying outcome.
Terri is a story about an overweight fifteen-year-old of the same name (played by Jacob Wysocki) who doesn’t fit in at school. That may sound like many other teen coming-of-age films—Super Bad comes to mind—but there are key differences between Terri and other movies about not-so-attractive loners on the outskirts of social acceptance. The differences are in the writing, style, and tone of this film. Without bells and whistles, Terri, directed by Azazel Jacobs, is remarkably realistic and honest in its portrayal of teenage life.
Win Win played at the Sundance film festival as a FoxSearchlight non-competition premiere. Paul Giamatti stars in this dramedy as family man Mike Flaherty. Flaherty runs a failing elder law practice, has two young girls, a loving, practical wife (Amy Ryan, The Office, Gone Baby Gone), and he coaches the unimpressive local high school wrestling team. His doctor recently told him to exercise as a form of stress relief, but, with money troubles piling up, and the future for himself and his family hanging in the balance, his worries increase. After enduring a panic attack while jogging with friend Terry Delfino (Bobby Cannavale, Will & Grace, The Other Guys), Flaherty knows something’s gotta give; so, when an opportunity presents itself for Flaherty to cheat the legal system in order to benefit himself, he jumps at the chance. Writer and director Thomas McCarthy (The Visitor, The Station Agent) wrote this heartwarming film that proves that some filmmakers still put their story and its characters above all else.
When I reviewed The Troll Hunter, I mistakenly identified it as the only foreign film I saw at Sundance 2011. I’m not sure how the very first film I saw that week slipped my mind, especially one so crude and darkly humorous, but it’s about time I reviewed it. Irish black comedy The Guard is an immersive character study with an underlying thriller plot line. Brendan Gleeson (In Bruges, The Harry Potter Series) stars as unorthodox Sergeant Gerry Boyle. His offensive, lazy, and naïve façade make him an unlikely protagonist, but Gleeson’s performance lends this film its best attributes. The supporting cast assists him with a mixture of quirky and straight-man performances, making The Guard a colorful film despite an average plot.
What I remember from the opening moments of Drive: wide shots of glittery Los Angeles taken in the black of night, opening credits scribbled in thick pink font, electronic pop music that sounded like it could belong in a Brett Easton Ellis novel, and the feeling that I was about to witness an auteur’s breakout American film. I was not disappointed. Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson) took home the “Best Director” award from this year’s Cannes Film Festival for Drive, an invigorating, raw crime thriller with a loaded cast, including Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, and Bryan Cranston. The beauty of this film, as a whole, is that it is purely the vision of its director, and it does not appear to be related, in any way, to the monotonous cookie cutter films that Hollywood can churn out by the dozen. Although Drive has its flaws, it is a work of art, a film that can actually be digested and dissected, scene-by-scene, with moments that are exhilarating, shockingly elegant, and beautifully brutal.