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SUNDANCEdaily | Our Critics' Favorite US Competition Dramas

Photo of Bryce J. Renninger By Bryce J. Renninger | feelingsoblahg.blogspot.com January 28, 2010 at 8:57AM

After collecting a number of reviews from our team of highly esteemed and respected critics here in Park City, there are three clear favorites in the fest's U.S. Dramatic Competition. Today's SUNDANCEdaily culls the Internet to find out what the critics are saying about these three films: Debra Granik's "Winter's Bone," Derek Cianfrance's "Blue Valentine," and Drake Doremus's "Douchebag." For a complete list of criticWIRE ratings at Sundance, visit iW's Sundance Critic's Poll.
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After collecting a number of reviews from our team of highly esteemed and respected critics here in Park City, there are three clear favorites in the fest's U.S. Dramatic Competition. Today's SUNDANCEdaily culls the Internet to find out what the critics are saying about these three films: Debra Granik's "Winter's Bone," Derek Cianfrance's "Blue Valentine," and Drake Doremus's "Douchebag." For a complete list of criticWIRE ratings at Sundance, visit iW's Sundance Critic's Poll.

Winter's Bone

On HitFix, Daniel Fienberg discusses the ways in which the film reminded him why he comes to the fest, "Even if I spent the day trudging around in wet, slushy shoes and even if I didn't have a single real meal, experiences like catching "Winter's Bone" on Saturday (Jan. 23) evening are the reason you go to festivals like Sundance..."Winter's Bone" is the story of 17-year-old Rhee Jessup (Jennifer Lawrence), who lives in a remote corner of the Ozarks raising her brother and sister and caring for her troubled mother. When her father, a crystal meth dealer and general ne'er do well, skips bail and vanishes, Rhee faces the possibility that her family might lose their home and land. Only able to rely upon herself, Rhee attempts to track down her father. Soon, though, she's asking the sorts of questions that threaten the hierarchy of her mountain clan, where everybody's related by blood and everybody's got secrets to hide."

Tim Swanson, in the L.A. Times, notes the film's ability to transport the audience, "There are plenty of movies at this year’s Sundance film festival that take audiences into new and unexpected places...but no Park City offering transports viewers to as distinctive and haunting a place as director Debra Granik’s 'Winter’s Bone,' which some Sundance patrons have called the best movie in the festival so far...The naturalistic thriller is saturated with small, telling details that collectively create an undeniable authenticity and regional authority; one set of neighbors is dressing a recently slaughtered deer, and more than one rusted-out car litters the otherwise bucolic landscape. "

Add the A.V. Club's Noel Murray to the list of people who endorse the film: "Half mountain noir, half mythological odyssey, Winter’s Bone is my favorite kind of detective story: the kind with no detective, per se...'Winter’s Bone' never missteps as a crime movie or as a regional film; it has the feel of one of those small genre films of the ‘70s and ‘80s that came and went without much fuss, only to rediscovered by movie buffs decades later. My advice? Discover this one now."

Debra Granik's interview with indieWIRE can be found here. To hear from the source novel's author, Daniel Woodrell, listen to this 2006 NPR interview.

Blue Valentine

Owen Gleiberman says exactly what about the film he found so effective, "A lushly touching, wrenching, and beautifully told story, directed by Derek Cianfrance with a mood of entwined romantic dreams and romantic loss, ['Blue Valentine'] stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as Dean and Cindy, a young, semi-working-class couple who meet, fall in love, get married, raise a little daughter, and lose their spark, though not necessarily in that order. Among other things, the movie fractures time with elegant originality."

In the L.A. Times, Steven Zietchik is relieved that he has finally seen a drama that works, saying,"The coup here doesn't come in the way of dialogue or story -- though both are strong. (Filmmaker Derek Cianfrance will enjoy a fruitful career after leaving the land of Joe Smith and John Stockton -- he cited both "The Godfather II" and D.W. Griffith in discussing his influences at a post-screening Q&A.) No, the real coup is Ryan Gosling, one of the best actors of his generation and consistently part of the most interesting story lines to emerge from Park City."

We do have a dissenter in S.T. Vanairsdale at Movieline, who complains, "'Valentine' never does get rolling. To the contrary, it squeals and belches and stalls time and again, scene after scene, held hostage by Cianfrance’s lack of discipline and Gosling’s surfeit of self-satisfaction. Poor Williams occupies the base of this top-heavy creative triangle, once again playing the topless victim and struggling to anchor the boys’ brooding as it stagnates and rots into the present day. Indeed, her Cindy represents the lone ambition in the story itself."

"Such a blank slate creates an actor’s playground. Gosling and Williams put on some of the best performances of their careers, conveying a series of complex sentiments with subtle movements and gestures. These are raw performances," notes indieWIRE's Eric Kohn in an unenthusiastic review. Anne Thompson has an interview with Gosling and Cianfrance on Thompson on Hollywood. Read the iW interview with Cianfrance here.

Douchebag

Erik Davis at Cinematical sees big things in the small-scale film. "Two estranged brothers reunite right before one of them is to be married, only to wind up embarking on a bizarre road trip that will once and for all determine whether or not these two will remain a part of each other's lives. Directed by rising star Drake Doremus, 'Douchebag' is great in its delivery of awkward, relatable humor – the kind that only presents itself when two somewhat shlubby, disheveled brothers are forced to spend some quality time together even though they hate each other's guts. Its low-budget, shot-on-the-fly vibe may not make it appealing to the big studios, but 'Douchebag' could easy find its audience once out there thanks to a catchy title and accessible situational comedy."

Reuters' John DeFore is likewise impressed by the film, "Along the way, the screenwriting team rations out little ways for Andrew Dicker to expose Sam's selfishness and unreliability. Dickler fills the role with insight, aiming for believability instead of the broadness of the film's title -- as a result, we don't flinch when the brothers seem to be enjoying each other's company and don't find it impossible to believe when the script grants Sam some abrupt insights. In the end, the douchebag isn't the star of the show, but he's an essential part of making it work."

"'Douchebag,' thank God, isn’t ersatz-mumblecore, like last year’s middling twentysomething Sundance attention-getter, Humpday," says a suprised Owen Gleiberman. "As directed by the gifted Drake Doremus, whose first film was last year’s Spooner, this is more like talky-core...'Douchebag' is a touching love story. It’s just not the love story you expect."

Doremus's interview with indieWIRE is here.

This article is related to: Features, cinemadaily