I should say that this isn’t a comprehensive list–how does one possibly see more than 100 movies in five days, many of them playing at the same time. For that very reason, I missed some of the most talked-about and lauded movies ("Tangerine," "Diary of a Teenage Girl," I will catch up to you later), but I packed in a lot, and saw some strong independent films.
Nothing blew me away, but images, characters and feelings from the films continue to linger with me days after the fest (the socially awkward depressive antics of Jason Segal’s David Foster Wallace in "The End of the Tour"; a pecking crow sitting on a demented ladies’ lap in "The Witch"; the bittersweet coming-of-age of the long-captive Anjulo brothers in "The Wolfpack"; Gore Vidal’s shit-eating smirk in "Best of Enemies"; I could go on and on.) The fact that these movies endure in my mind is testament to their staying power.
Below, a list of my top ten films from Sundance 2015 (in rough order of preference), with additional thoughts and links, when applicable, followed by the good, the bland, and the ugly.
"The End of the Tour" – review
"Z for Zachariah" – Craig Zobel’s three-hander is a slow-burn post-apocalyptic psychological drama with terrific performances.
"Experimenter" – review
"Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief" – review
"Results" – review
"Dreamcatcher" – Astonishing in its intimacy and wrenching in its emotional rawness, this documentary about ‘interrupting’ Chicago prostitutes captures moments of such startling pain and anguish that it’s a miracle that a camera-person was sitting close-by to record it.
"Digging For Fire" – Joe Swanberg’s funny, idiosyncratic, emotionally honest and cleverly scripted portrait of young marriage
"Best of Enemies" – The film marshals a treasure trove of archival
footage to paint a portrait of America’s ideological divide. But the film’s
media analysis isn’t nearly as fun as William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal’s stinging linguistic
"The Wolfpack" – Samira Makmahlbaf’s ‘The Apple’ meets ‘Reservoir Dogs,’ this sensitive, sad and too-weird-to-believe doc profiles a group of film-savvy Peruvian-American teens who finally emerge from their New York apartment after years of being held captive by their father.
"The Witch" – An extraordinarily researched, visually stunning and creepy cinematic exercise about a witch tormenting an early American pioneer family.
"The Russian Woodpecker" – A fascinating, and utterly subjective, unreliable trip down the rabbit hole of Cold
War conspiracy theories
"The Nightmare" – review
"Western" – Rather address complicated border politics with talking heads or text on screen, the filmmakers rely on evocative images—a dying bull is dragged outside of a bullfight arena—to communicate the region’s impending threats, whether Mexican drug gangs or federal interference.
"Mississippi Grind" – review
"Welcome to Leith" – When a scary white supremacist plans to take over a small-town in North Dakota, paranoia and tensions grip the locals. The filmmakers play some interesting head-games with the sympathy and suspicion of the documentary’s characters.
"Sembene!" – Portrait of the famed African filmmaker is heightened by deep political probing.
"What Happened, Miss Simone?" – Liz Garbus’s Nina Simone bio-doc is an elegant and fluidly pieced-together portrait of the legendary singer’s highs and lows, political activism and unfortunate downfall.
"The Royal Road" – Jenni Olson’s admirable cinematic personal photo-essay examines California’s history of imperialism, Hitchcock’s "Vertigo," and her own sex life.
"Sam Klemke’s Time Machine" – Comprised of video clips from nearly every year of Sam Klemke’s life, the story ends up chronicling Klemke’s weight-gain, failed jobs, and perennially fucked-up existence.
Bland, But Effective
"The Hunting Ground" – Kirby Dick hits viewers over the head with the facts: It sucks to be a woman in college, where there’s a 16-20% chance that you will be sexually assaulted and university officials would rather protect their image than give a damn.
"Brooklyn" – review
"Knock Knock" – review