Editor’s Note: In a fevered rush to get straight to the movies he loved, intrepid reviewer Robert Levin didn’t write an intro. In fact, he might not even believe in them. Maybe he believes you’d rather dig into the movies than read one.
So without any ado, here’s Robert’s list of the best movies he saw at Sundance. Look out for a few of them coming to a theater near New York and LA and On Demand throughout the year.
A movie filled with an authentic, affecting sweetness, Azazel Jacobs’s take on the proverbial high school movie is imbued with a mature recognition of how much shit really does go on during those awkward secondary school years. Newcomer Jacob Wysocki, playing the lead, is the discovery of the fest as far as I’m concerned, an actor of uncommon strength and grace.
Eugene Jarecki continues his essential, career-long insiders’ exploration of the American political system with this terrific doc about the 40th president that explores how a sub-par actor and General Electric salesman simultaneously became one of America’s most revered and most despised statesmen. It’s a comprehensive, persistently fair-minded (and surprisingly emotional) work that strips away at the mythology engulfing Ronnie to paint a portrait of a man whose love for his country could never be questioned, even if his ways of showing it could.
4. The Mill and the Cross
Lech Majewski’s painstaking recreation of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s extraordinarily detailed 1564 painting Christ Carrying the Cross is quite simply one of the most awe-inspiring technical feats ever put to film, a masterful blend of digital imaging and old-fashioned technique that’s so packed with dense detail it demands to be seen multiple times.
3. Higher Ground
Fundamentalism was a major trope at the 2011 festival, and though Red State got most of the attention, it was Vera Farmiga’s directorial debut that offered a careful, studied portrait of the true, complicated effects of life under the spell of a cult and the stark personal challenge of pulling away. The film is directed with such maturity, such an eye for nuances of tone and structure, that you’d swear Farmiga was an old pro.
2. Gun Hill Road
A compelling slice-of-life drama set in the Bronx that stands out in large part for the sensitivity with which it regards the awful burdens faced by teenage protagonist Michael (Harmony Santana), whose burgeoning sexuality and desire for gender transition starkly conflicts with his tough, ex-con father (Esai Morales). Filmmaker Rashaad Ernesto Green is one of the fest’s major discoveries.
And my top film from Sundance…
1. Another Earth
I’ve never seen a movie quite like this genuinely haunting, beautifully composed science-fiction romance, in which the discovery of a satellite earth parallels a tumultuous period in the life of an MIT-bound high school graduate (Brit Marling). Mike Cahill’s film, co-written by Marling, deftly balances some gritty content with a heartfelt, earnest tone and an eye toward deep philosophical questions of fate, and the mysteries of the cosmos. The picture, picked up for release by Fox Searchlight, is not for everybody, but if you surrender to it, it stays with you for days.