The Best and Worst of Sundance 2015 (Documentary Edition)

Still image from "Listen to Me, Marlon"


4. Listen to Me, Marlon

Sometime towards the end of his life, Marlon Brando envisioned “a highly personalized documentary on the activities of myself,” and we know that because we hear him describing it, on tape. Steven Riley’s innovative documentary portrait is filled with those recordings — autobiographical notes, interviews, even “self-hypnosis” for relaxation and weight loss — so many that Brando is able to narrate his own life story, from grave. He tells his story with the accompaniment of carefully chosen archival footage and hypnotic music, speaking eloquently about his approach to spontaneity in acting (“Never let the audience know how it’s gonna come out — get them on your time”), his relationships with women (when he too often indulged “the beast aspect of my personality”), his politics and causes, and the film business itself (“There are no artists. We are businessmen, we’re merchants, and there’s no art“). The approach transcends the typical profile picture — like its subject, Marlon is a little odd, a little unconventional, and endlessly fascinating.

3. Going Clear

Alex Gibney’s documentary adaptation of Lawrence Wright’s scorching Scientology exposé hits all of the expected flashpoints, digging up dirt on Church founder L. Ron Hubbard’s shady past, the allegations of bullying, brainwashing, and
abuse from past members, and the organization’s involvement in the personal matters of its celebrity members. That stuff is all flashy and attention worthy, but what Gibney’s film does best is examine exactly how such an organization works — the promise that draws someone in, the tactics of intimidation and isolation that keep them there. Gibney’s cutting, narration, and narrative sense are as smooth and persuasive as ever; he’s become our go-to filmmaker for speaking truth to power, and his latest does not disappoint. (Read more here.)