Best of Fest: Jordan’s Top Five Films of Sundance 2014
5. The Guest (Adam Wingard)
Having not seen A Horrible Way to Die, You’re Next or either editions of V/H/S, I had not a clue what I was in for with Adam Wingard’s latest, but I am sure as hell glad I was willing and able to squeeze in its midnight showing after 5 other eventful screenings earlier that day. The Guest is some kind of amazingly reworked Universal Soldier, retrofit with perfect servings of camp, revenge, charm and an 80s-tinged synthesizer soundtrack that’s only topped by Dan Steven’s stunningly charismatic superman performance. Over-the-top in all of the best ways and still coolly calculated in its brazenly stylized choices, The Guest is a hilarious action throwback that has future midnight classic written all over it.
4. Obvious Child (Gillian Robespierre)
I did not expect that a comedy about abortion would be one of the best films I’d see over the course of my 10 days in Park City, but alas, Jenny Slate’s hilarious and touching portrayal of a stand-up comic exactly my age getting dumped, fired and pregnant in only few weeks time is a freshly life affirming bit of pro-choice cinema. Slate, along with first time feature director Gillian Robespierre, manage to ground their hot topic and gallows humor with a set of emotionally sound performances that navigate within classic rom com tropes that feel fresh under the fluorescent waiting room light of their sometimes grim material. Picked up by A24, I expect this one to take some political flak, but it should still be a quirky, liberal summer hit.
3. The Overnighters (Jesse Moss)
Jesse Moss’s densely layered portrait of a pastor and his growing parish trying to work their problems away in the face of communal rejection could not have been more of a captivating surprise at this year’s Sundance. As men flock to Williston, North Dakota in search of employment and prosperity, others drift away, often disillusioned after realizing they may have created more problems than they solved in their exploits. In each of these weary men Moss finds rich new thematics to investigate, not muddling, but always expanding upon the idea of man searching for one’s self through labor and good hearted intentions. Moss allows his characters to bloom and implode in pensively cyclic form, yielding astonishment and emotional awe as the shockingly dramatic, sometimes tragically funny events unfold. Of the 19 docs I saw in Park City, this was far and away my favorite.
2. Ernest & Celestine (Stéphane Aubier , Vincent Patar & Benjamin Renner)
After Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar’s batshit bananas stop motion epic A Town Called Panic, who knew that teaming with Benjamin Renner and settling on Gabrielle Vincent’s charmingly innocent source material would foster one of the most beautifully rendered, socially significant animated adaptations of recent memory? With an awe-inspiring watercolor aesthetic that honors Vincent’s original illustrations while echoing the beauty of Disney’s hand drawn 100 Acre Wood, the film looks like a classic and feels even more so. Mice and bears subtly stand in for mixed race or bisexual relationships, and in doing, triumphantly herald the good word of love and equality for a new generation of kids and aging souls alike.
1. The Better Angels (A.J. Edwards)
If someone showed you this gorgeous new film on Abe Lincoln’s upbringing without credits and told you it was the work of Terrence Malick, you would have no doubts of their honesty, for first time director A.J. Edwards seems to have wholly absorbed his mentor’s style, talent and tone, pared down the sometimes exasperating experimentalism and tied it all together with his own sense of historical authenticity to form an organically prodigious debut all his own. Wholly experiential, we feel the physical impact of cutting wood and the weight of Lincoln’s empathy and education in equal measure, his father’s brow beatings and his mothers’ loving endorsements in delicate harmony. No other film at Sundance felt so completely composed, vastly interpretive, visually ravishing and yet, above all else, intensely personal. The Better Angels is an absolutely stunning piece of filmmaking and it’s a shock that this is only the first of (hopefully) many to come.