If you’ve been paying attention the buzz out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, you’ve probably heard about the “weak” slate of narrative films – and it’s true, there was no obvious commercial breakout like The Big Sick or Manchester by the Sea. But that’s an awfully limiting view of the cinema, don’t you think? Of the 16 narrative features I took in before and during my stay in Park City, I only saw a couple that were downright bad, and a couple more that disappointed. Everything else was at least good; a few were much better than that. (And did I mention the documentaries?) So here are some thoughts on what you should keep an eye out for – and what to maybe skip – in the months ahead.
WORST OF THE FEST (RUNNER-UP)
This overcooked melodrama is a clumsy mix of subpar courtroom drama and subpar crime thriller, sifted through a deadly meta-textual filter; its protagonist, a 17-year-old accused of standing lookout for a deadly robbery, is a film student and filmmaker, which means we get classroom scenes with lectures about storytelling and conflict and, so help me, a discussion of Rashomon and the elusive nature of truth. It’s ironic, you see, because that’s what the movie is about! Director Anthony Mandler tries to elevate the material by cranking the shooting, cutting, and scoring up to frenetic levels, but it just looks desperate; Monster is earnest and well-acted (particularly by Jeffrey Wright and Jennifer Ehle), but that’s about it.
WORST OF THE FEST
Set within the foreclosures, reductions, and short sells of suburban Arizona gated communities in the aftermath of the housing crisis, this would-be midnight movie from director Jonathan Watson begins like a dark cousin of The Big Short before careening wildly between pitch-black comedy and slasher movie. Danny McBride stars as an angry homeowner who accidentally kills his real estate agent (Seth Rogen); Rosemarie DeWitt, who deserves far better than this, is a fellow agent who witnesses the crime, and the many, many more he commits after kidnapping her. McBride does his best to find a balance between blustery character humor and genuine menace, but the movie’s just too graphic in its gore and smug in its violence, which throws the whole thing out of whack, and the inconsistencies of the script don’t help; by its closing scenes, it’s become a grim slog. There are some laughs, and some clever ideas. But somewhere along the line, someone needed to decide what the fuck this movie was going to be.