After four frantic days at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, I somehow managed to flee the polar blast zone of Park City—a swashbuckling escape of epic proportions.
Sundance 2016 has been the most exhausted I’ve been in the entire two decades that I’ve been going to the Festival. It’s no surprise why—I’ve been pulling quintuple duty, scrambling around town like a whirling dervish on angel dust, writing movie reviews for BP and producing videos for day job at Film Independent.
So there’s that, not to mention keeping up with an ambitious social calendar that has me going all over Park City, meeting up with local Utah friends and logging face time with colleagues visiting from out of town. Plus carving out time to help my parents move into their new house—just down the street from the Prospector Theater!
Point is, please forgive my sloppy typing and rotten brain—Sundance fever has me punchier than Blake Griffin drinking fisticuffs juice on Tornado alley.
That was a dumb sentence. You deserve better than that. Luckily the finish line is within sight and I’m determined to drag myself across it like a Warby Parker-wearing Hugh Glass. So hang in there—we’ll get through this together.
It would be simple to reduce James Schamus’ directorial debut, Indignation, to a “screenwriter’s movie.” This intelligent and classically-minded period piece is, after all, based on a novel by noted man of letters Philip Roth. To say such a thing, though, would be to ignore Schamus’ considerable formal efforts, which are at times so meticulous as to risk choking the air out of the film but are ultimately more rewarding than not.
Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women consists of three stories about three women. The most obvious connective tissue (other than some characters making brief appearances in others’ stories) is that everything takes place in Montana. Beyond that, though, you’ll find that each segment of the whole takes place in the friction between what these characters expect of the world and what the world expects of them, both as individuals and as women.
For the first time in a long time Park City looks like it should during Sundance. It’s been storming steadily, and the entire city has been coated with an aesthetically pleasing, Revenant-esque top layer of gleaming, cocaine-white snowfall.
But that’s not the only thing that’s different this year. For the first time since I started covering this beat for our cruel Battleship Pretension overlords I’ve been joined in Park City by my hated BP rivals Scott Nye and David Bax. No doubt you’ve already been thrilling to David and Scott’s (the latter for our pals over at Criterion Cast) only partially mescaline-fueled film reviews and been thinking, “This is all well and good, but where’s Matt’s coverage?”
Well—no wine before its time, children. But lo, you’ve waited long enough. Here’s the first installment of my 2016 Sundance Diary, conjured into existence via blackest magic for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!
Babak Anvari’s politically and socially minded Iran-set horror film, Under the Shadow, begins atypically for its genre, with lengthy text detailing the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war and the repeated missile strikes the two countries delivered upon one another’s citizens. Set sometime during that struggle, Under the Shadow explores the life of a leftist, secularized woman in post-revolution Iran. The specter of hardline Islamism soon becomes embodied by, well, actual specters as our heroine struggles to keep her daughter safe both from bombs and from the malevolent supernatural forces that have invaded her home.
With Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan has made another great film. This one exists somewhere between his intimate debut, You Can Count on Me, and his operatic Margaret in terms of scope but, with its closely observed humanity and consistent levity, Lonergan has made a picture about common and uncommon grieving that cements his status as one of America’s most reliable filmmakers.
Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin was such a masterful atom bomb of a debut feature that his follow-up was bound to be watched with close scrutiny. With Green Room, he’s made an arguably more conventional thriller but, nevertheless, has announced that he’s a talent who’s here to stay. This hyper-tense, ultra-violent punk rock Rio Bravo is already on its way to becoming a new classic of the thriller genre.
There’s a strain of comedy that we’ll call so-dumb-it’s-smart (think Paul Rudd protesting cleaning up his mess in Wet Hot American Summer) that came out of the 90s and early 2000s alt-comedy scene. Jim Hosking’s The Greasy Strangler is a hollow echo of that brand. It’s so dumb that it wants you to think it’s smart. But this is not highbrow comedy masquerading as lowbrow. It’s just empty and gross and pointless.