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Julian Rosefeldt’s Manifesto Leads Nicholas Bell’s 2017 Sundance Film Fest Top Ten

In what ended up being one of the snowiest and coldest editions of Sundance in recent memory, there was no shortage of pleasant cinematic surprises revealed throughout the 2017 program. Despite the usual number of alumni offered coveted premiere slots, obvious pains to unveil new quality projects across nearly all the various line-ups was clearly evident, including a number of challenging projects within its Premieres selections as well as several notable entries in the usually under-the-radar World Dramatic Competition program, which showcased two notably queer and uncompromising new works everyone should be talking about.

10. Lady Macbeth – Dir. William Oldroyd (Spotlight)
Beneath its violent and favorably feminist slant, this feature debut from William Oldroyd (which premiered in 2016 at TIFF) is also a vicious little study on white privilege, and features a stellar performance from Florence Pugh who stars in a role best described as a toxic mix of Madame Bovary and the Shakespearean villainess it so bluntly conjures.

9. Beach Rats – Eliza Hittman (US Dramatic Competition)
Director Eliza Hittman revealed her debut It Felt Like Love at Sundance 2013, and returns with a similar tale of sexual awakening, although this time reversing both gender and sexual orientation for a sometimes troubling yet compelling coming-of-age tale of a young man in Brooklyn. Hittman’s well-researched exploration of a closeted white teen feels remarkable authentic, partially thanks to a lead performance from Harris Dickinson.

8. Newness – Drake Doremus (Premieres)
Drake Doremus returns with another melancholy tone poem about twentysomethings navigating tricky relationships, this time with his most relevant film to date. Read review.

7. Get Out – Jordan Peele (Secret Midnight Screening)
The surprise midnight screening was revealed to be Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, Get Out, a horror film which plays like a meaningful metaphor on how black male sexuality and worth is weighed in a white heteronormative world where one’s usefulness potentially (and terrifyingly) outweighs hatred and racism. Read review.

6. Call Me by Your Name – Luca Guadagnino (Premieres)
The Italian auteur mounts a warmly attenuated sexual awakening of a young man in 1983 Italy (we’re a long way from the sensationalism of his 2005 title Melissa P.) and features some excellent period detail to support the performances of Armie Hammer, Timothee Chalamet, and Michael Stuhlbarg. Read review.

5. The Wound – John Trengove (World Dramatic Competition)
South African director John Trengove, who has been working in television for the past decade, unveils a brave and incredibly moving portrait of repressed sexuality amongst a group of men in a dwindling rural mountain community. The film features singer Nakhane Toure in an exceptional screen debut. Read review.

4. Where is Kyra? – Andrew Dosunmu (Premieres)
Andrew Dosunmu reunites with DP Bradford Young on his third title, the strikingly photographed and acted Where is Kyra?, which features Michelle Pfeiffer in one of her the most effective performances of her celebrated career. Lovers of alienation cinema should fall in love with this gloomy portrait of a decayed Brooklyn, where the borough absorbs these lost souls like shadows in the dark. Read review.

3. A Ghost Story – David Lowery (NEXT)
Although it sounds twee to describe, David Lowery’s A Ghost Story is everything but. A haunting exercise on the passage of time, your conception of pie will never be the same for either you or Rooney Mara. Read review.

2. Mudbound – Dee Rees (Premieres)
For her third film and second theatrical feature, Dee Rees blazed over Sundance with this rich, textured narrative of two families struggling to survive in early 1940s Mississippi. Strong ensemble performances (including Mary J. Blige and Jason Mitchell) round out a narrative which feels like Otto Preminger’s 1967’s Hurry Sundown if someone like William Faulkner had been acquired to adapt it.

1. Manifesto – Julian Rosefeldt (Premieres)
Yes, Cate Blanchett plays thirteen different characters in this installation piece adapted by German director Julian Rosefeldt into somewhat of a cohesive cinematic counterpart. Notable figures from 20th century intelligentsia cast long shadows over this highly intelligent, often campy exercise which serves to poke as much fun at historic vitriolic manifestos as it does reinforce their worth and rage in a world where art and creative integrity are no longer required or appreciated in either the art world or mainstream cinema multiplexes. But for those who want to see Blanchett howl her way through pithy diatribes from Dziga Vertov, Lars Von Trier, and even Jim Jarmusch (to name bait with a slight few), and you already know who you are, this experimental breath of fresh air should be the stiff but thoughtful inoculation for your cinematic apathy.

Films viewed list: A Ghost Story, Beach Rats, Beatriz at Dinner, Berlin Syndrome, The Big Sick, Burning Sands, Bushwick, Call Me by Your Name, The Discovery, Family Life, Get Out, God’s Own Country, The Hero, Lady Macbeth, Ingrid Goes West, Landline, The Little Hours, Manifesto, Marjorie Prime, Mudbound, Newness, Walking Out, Where is Kyra?, Wind River, The Wound, The Yellow Birds.

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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