Director Lenny Abrahamson creates a movie that just felt like it would be fun to film. Rising star Domhnall Gleeson plays a relatively untalented wannabe musician who gets sucked into the cult of personality and the world of a weird, metal-ly prog-rock band led by Frank. Frank wears a papier mâché head and is based on a character created by Chris Sievey. (Abrahamson lends authenticity to the tale by having people who worked with Sievey work on the script.) The story tackles the weirdness of musicians, plus the nature of creativity, all while letting Michael Fassbender exercise his bizarro-comedy chops.
White Bird In A Blizzard
Here is another family drama by the new princess of family dramas, Shailene Woodley. Sounds like typical Sundance fare, except it is directed by cult auteur Gregg Araki, who celebrates the ugliness and reality of teen angst in a fantastic fashion. Eva Green plays Woodley's wildly immature mother who up and disappears, sending Woodley's character Kat spiraling. The film is a smart, nay, genius move (and performance) from Woodley, who uses this opportunity to destroy her teen idol status before it starts with Divergent. It's her own Winter's Bone, if Winter's Bone had dirty sex, dry Araki-isms, and a very foul mouth. Though the amazing soundtrack might make viewers feel like this film is all style and no substance (because it is so good), Araki seems to have left his teen rage behind to dig into something more meaningful.
So, this film stars Ryan Reynolds as a guy whose dog and cat (the latter with a dirty Scottish brogue) talk to him. But, instead of it being some sort of weird throwback to Dr. Dolittle, Marjane Satrapi, who directed the stellar Persepolis, creates a nightmarish scenario where the cat has a filthy mouth and asks Reynolds to kill people — which he does. With that in mind, we are SOLD.
Here we have a good, old-fashioned "things that go bump in the night" style horror. Except, of course, it is written and directed by Jennifer Kent, an Aussie who lends a distinctive female bent to the fright narrative. The story is about a mother on the verge and a child's fears made quite real, and features a kick-ass performance by actress Essie Davis. The bottom line: Don't mess with a kid with an imagination and definitely don't mess with his protective, powerful mama bear, either.
The Skeleton Twins
Ah, yes, the old transition from comedy to bittersweet drama. While the reteaming of SNL alums Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader would have us expecting belly laughs, The Skeleton Twins is a melancholy family film about two twins who have fallen out. Fortunately, thanks to the closeness of the leads, the chemistry between Wiig and Hader lend a feeling of authenticity to the relationship between the two — which is certainly the high point of the movie. While there are some fun moments (including a great scene with nitrous oxide), the nuanced sadness and mid-life crisis both twins endure will certainly silence fans who are clamoring for that Stefon movie.
God Help The Girl
One of the big trends to emerge out of Sundance this year was the musical film. Movies are celebrating and integrating music and musicians into their movies, and Stuart Murdoch's directing debut is perhaps one of the most talked about. Murdoch, who is the lead singer of Belle & Sebastian, took inspiration from his own project, in which he wrote songs to be sung by women. The film stars Emily Browning and Hannah Murray as the girls in question, and embrace the musical genre, breaking into song as the mood strikes them. Charmingly twee, fans of Belle & Sebastian will find this breezy story of a Scottish summer absolutely adorable. (Note: The film picked up the "World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for the Delightful Ensemble Performance," which is apparently a real award.)
Oh, Lord, is this movie delightful. Filled with whip-smart dialogue and uncomfortable situations, this Aubrey Plaza-helmed movie is about a young girl who comes back to life and goes back to leading her normal life with her slightly obsessed boyfriend. Dane DeHaan, Aubrey Plaza, and Anna Kendrick all lend their comedic chops — and DeHaan does wonderfully as poor lovesick Zach, who was Plaza's pre-death boyfriend. As zombie movies have taught us, there is no better lesson in being careful of what one wishes for than the old coming-back-from-the-dead schtick.
With an incredibly strong first act, Young Ones imagines a dark, desolate future (shot in South Africa), where the state has taken control and cows become mechanical. Dusty, reminiscent of a Cormac McCarthy novel and soaked in Western tropes, the visuals presented by Jake Paltrow are astounding. The plot is not where the film shines, even though stars Nicholas Hoult, Elle Fanning, and Michael Shannon do the best they can, but atmosphere is imaginative and new. We'd love to return to this particular apocalypse.
The director behind another Sundance hit, Another Earth, adds another heavy hitter to the realm of pseudo sci-fi, where an imaginative and scientifically based scenario changes what it means to be human. To be honest, the less you know about this movie, the better, but the magic and possibility woven in Mike Cahill's story left Sundance audiences reeling. The chemistry between the three main characters — Michael Pitt, Brit Marling, and Astrid Bergès-Frisbey — is palpable and real. The story itself is meaningful and spooky, and at the end, we are left hopeful, sad, and moved. Don't read about it. Just see it.