The Best and Worst Movies of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival

Our reviews of 'Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,' 'The Last Black Man in San Francisco,' 'Brittany Runs a Marathon,' and more.

(Sundance Institute)


Memory – The Origins of ‘Alien’

Alexandre O. Philippe, director of the Psycho shower scene examination 78/52, is back with another deep-dive for film nerds, this time delving into the making of Ridley Scott’s influential 1979 sci-fi/horror classic. The more direct subject can make this one feel, at times, like a Blu-ray bonus feature, but Philippe keeps his fluidity and peculiarity intact, not only contextualizing the film’s creation and release, but delving into the many influences — everything from forgotten comic books to Greek mythology — that manifested themselves in Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett’s screenplay. Rich with new and archival interviews, rare footage and sketches, and enlightening comparison shots, it’s still definitely for fans (and fans with deep familiarity) of Alien. But boy are they gonna love this.

The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley

A few years back, medical “disrupter” Elizabeth Holmes was showing up on magazine covers and at presidential forums, and her company Theranos was valued at nearly $10 billion. “Four years later, it was worth less than zero,” intones director/narrator Alex Gibney, whose documentary is a post-mortem of a fraud, conducted with surgical precision. He dives deep into the specifics of this company and its CEO/founder, detailing how she fooled investors and influencers, the jaw-dropping secrecy and paranoia that kept the ruse going, and breathtaking speed with which the entire house of cards collapsed. Gibney lays it all out with his usual investigative acumen, but doesn’t stop there; this is also a sly indictment of how big tech is reported on — and often valorized. And that problem isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon.

Shooting the Mafia

Sicilian photographer Letizia Battaglia took striking, forceful images, alternating Weegee-style crime photography with portraits of the poverty and grief left in the wake of that crime. Much of it was organized by the Mafia, and Battaglia loved to upset the power dynamic therein; “Mafia men were so arrogant,” she recalls, “imagine how they felt, being photographed by a woman!” Director Kim Longinotto gives equal time to her colorful past (wittily illustrated with old movie clips) and her photographic philosophy; the result is a a thoughtful examination of this legacy of crime, told by an up-close-and-personal observer.