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What to Watch For: Sundance Film Festival Edition: Part 2

Walker Sayen ’16/ Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

The Sundance film festival has become one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world. It is a place where new and old talent can come to present their work in the hopes of getting picked up. It is a festival that has spawned some of the best independent films of the past years. Films like Fruitvale Station, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Winter’s Bone and The Kids are All Right all began their journeys at Sundance. Many of these films started to gain Oscar buzz a year in advance. Looking at this years crop of films, it seems that while it won’t go down as one of the greatest editions of the Sundance Film Festival, there certainly were an abundance of riches on display, many from already established talents.

Ellar Coltrane in Boyhood. Photo Credit: Sundance Institute.
Ellar Coltrane in Boyhood. Photo Credit: Sundance Institute.

At this years gathering, one of the films that emerged amongst the fray to overwhelming praise is: Richard Linklater‘s one of a kind Boyhood. Linklater, director of Before Midnight , Before Sunset, School of Rock , and Dazed and Confused, has filmed Boyhood over the course of 12 years with the same 4 leads. And while filming subjects aging in real time has been done in the world of documentary filmmaking, with projects like Michael Apted’s series of 7 Up documentaries, real-time filmmaking on this scale has never been done before in the world of fiction filmmaking.

Boyhood is a literal coming of age story, portraying in real-time the evolution of its young protagonist, played by long gestating newcomer Ellar Coltrane, as he grows up in Texas.  Linklater did a similar feat with his Before Sunset and Before Midnight, taking 6-9 years off between films in order to show the evolution of a couple, but with Boyhood Linklater teamed up again with Ethan Hawke. This film showed the real life evolution of his characters within the course of one film, a grand scale time lapse, as you will. The audience sees the characters literally transform before their eyes as the actors grow up and age. This appears to be a landmark in filmmaking that could possibly be a fixture in the awards race a year from now.

Kelly Reilly and Brendan Gleeson in Calvary. Photo Credit: Jonathan Hession / Sundance Institute.
Kelly Reilly and Brendan Gleeson in Calvary. Photo Credit: Jonathan Hession / Sundance Institute.

Another highly praised film to premier at the festival that has gained some absurdly early awards buzz is John Michael McDonagh‘s Calvary. John Michael McDonagh is the brother of the more famous playwright and filmmaker, Martin McDonagh, who is the director of In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. Both John Michael and Martin have a similar darkly comic style to their writing and both love to use Brendan Gleeson. Gleeson was the crass, comic protagonist of John Michael McDonagh’s only previous film The Guard. However, in Calvary he plays an extremely different kind of character, a good priest who is intent on making the world a better place, but has to reconcile his beliefs with the harsh reality that surrounds him. Brendan Gleeson has drawn rave reviews, some calling his performance in the piece the best of his career, and one that could find traction in the awards race by the time the next Sundance rolls around.

Julie Estelle in The Raid 2. Photo Credit: Sundance Institute.
Julie Estelle in The Raid 2. Photo Credit: Sundance Institute.

Far from the subtle artistry of Linklater and McDonagh, but drawing just as much press, this year’s festival was also the premier of a highly anticipated action sequel, The Raid 2. It is an Indonesian action film directed by Gareth Evans, who directed the 2012 breakout action hit The Raid: Redemption. The second film picks up where the first one leaves of, and according to the press, offers up enough expertly choreographed old-school fight scenes, without the aid of CGI, to prove that action sequels can still pack a good punch and provide good material for film festivals.

Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbender and Domhnall Gleeson in Frank. Photo Credit: Lorey Sebastian / Sundance Institute.
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbender and Domhnall Gleeson in Frank. Photo Credit: Lorey Sebastian / Sundance Institute.

This year, Sundance also had some well-received films from lesser-known sources, even if high profile actors stared in them. Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank is one such offering. A film about a band and its mysterious front man Frank played by Michael Fassbender. Except Fassbender’s face is never seen, because his character hides behind a giant fake head. A quirky, unique film that’s been described as tackling ideas about artistic expression and creating identity.

Michael C. Hall in Cold in July. Photo Credit: Ryan Samul / Sundance Institute.
Michael C. Hall in Cold in July. Photo Credit: Ryan Samul / Sundance Institute.

Then there is Maya ForbesInfinitely Polar Bear. Starring Mark Ruffalo as a bi-polar man who has to take care of his elementary school age girls. It is a simple premise but one that has spawned a small film that has sparked praise. Another film starring a known actor in a small film is  Jim Mickle‘s Cold in July starring Michael C. Hall in his first post Dexter role. It has been described as a captivating thriller in the aesthetic of a John Carpenter film from the ’80s.

Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler in They Came Together. Photo Credit: Sundance Institute.
Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler in They Came Together. Photo Credit: Sundance Institute.

On the lighter side of things Sundance showcased a new comedy from David Wain, the creator of Wet Hot American Summer, called They Came Together starring Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler. It is supposed to be a hoot and a half. Just as Wet Hot American Summer mocked the teen genre, They Came Together plays around with and pokes fun at the obvious, and less obvious tropes of the romantic comedy.

Then there is Land Ho!, a road film with no stars and directed by relative unknowns Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz. However, it still managed to be picked up by Sony Pictures Classics, which is quite a feat.

Thus, from big name amateurs, to small projects with well known actors, to small projects without any of those attributes, this years Sundance crop seems to have produced, if not the best bunch of films compared to recent years, certainly a slew of interesting and deserving titles.

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