At a film festival, critical roundups are tricky: Some choose to ruminate before making their grades public knowledge, while others choose to publicize them as soon as possible. At Sundance, with critics seeing a variety of films at different times, gauging critical consensus can add to the confusion.
To combat the disparity (and to keep everything in one place), we’ve compiled a short primer on the films that have garnered the most attention so far from our Criticwire community.
THE DARLING: “BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD”
“Beasts of the Southern Wild” is not only the film with the most submissions among Criticwire participants, it has the highest composite score of any Sundance film yet. No one has given it anything lower than a B- and it’s even received a rare A+.
Chase Whale, from TwitchFilm, said, “We go to film festivals to see films like ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild,’ a brilliant and daring example of independent cinema.”
Even if some critics, like our own, argue that the premise is too difficult to maintain, most agree the sheer attempt to construct a film through the eyes of a six-year-old is breathtaking.
THE OVERWHELMING UNDERWHELMS: “WISH,” “CELESTE” AND “HELLO”
“Wish You Were Here” is also being heavily attended, but is not receiving the same lavish praise. No one seems to be trashing the new film starring Joel Edgerton, but all scores seem to point somewhere in the vicinity of mediocrity.
Other films receiving voluminous feedback but middle-of-the-road reviews are “Celeste & Jesse Forever” and “Hello I Must Be Going,” with the latter receiving some stronger feedback on the low end.
THE EMERGING GEMS: “COMPLIANCE,” “SIMON”
“Compliance” and “Simon Killer” are the high performers among the middle-volume feedback films. In his ScreenDaily “Compliance” review, Tim Grierson describes the film as “a beautifully wrought high-wire act.” Indiewire’s review of “Simon Killer” (from “Afterschool” director Antonio Campos) praises the film for taking elements of the con-artist genre, adding a bleak tourist element and firmly planting it all into one deranged central figure.
Simon Killer: B+
THE EMERGING DOCS: “MARINA,” “MEMPHIS,” “DETROPIA”
As narrative sometimes steals the spotlight at Sundance, documentary reviews have a slightly smaller sample size. But of those films that have more than a couple votes, three of them seem to be distancing themselves early: “Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present,” “Detropia,” and “West of Memphis.”
Marina Abramović: B+
West of Memphis: A-
THE DISAPPOINTMENT: “RED LIGHTS”
After “Buried” seemed to be an underground hit back in 2010, director Rodrigo Cortes’ follow-up “Red Lights” did not review well despite a rash well-respected actors including Robert De Niro, Sigourney Weaver, Cillian Murphy, Toby Jones and last year’s Ms. Sundance, Elizabeth Olsen. So far, this paranormal-tinged thriller hasn’t gotten anything higher than a C.
Red Lights: D+
THE POLARIZERS: “BLACK ROCK,” “TIM AND ERIC”
It makes sense that the film with the widest range of feedback would be “Black Rock,” from director-writer team Katie Aselton and Mark Duplass. As with the pair’s “Humpday,” Criticwire’s average for “Black Rock” is in the positive range, but with some strong, noticeable outliers. It’s the only film at Sundance 2012 to receive both an A and an F so far.
Also receiving the wide pendulum swing of applause and indifference is “Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie.” The comedic sensibilities behind the film are an acquired taste, one that some critics seem to be finding slower to acquire than others.
Black Rock: B-
THE BIG REDISCOVERY: “THE RAID”
Finally, no Sundance recap would be complete without a strong mention for “The Raid,” the latest from director Gareth Evans. The film premiered at Toronto last year, but effusive is the acclaim coming from the critics who are seeing it for the first time in Park City. Chase Whale, in a synthesis of critical and audience reaction, told us, “Count me on board the Holy-Shit-THE-RAID-Is-Fucking-Incredible train.”
The Raid: A-
Are you a critic at Sundance and want to contribute our Criticwire network? Shoot us an e-mail with your grades and/or links to your reviews at firstname.lastname@example.org.