The Best Movies of Sundance 2011 – Benji’s List

After getting locked out of the press screening for this year’s Grand Jury Prize Dramatic Winner, Like Crazy, I skipped over to the next theater, which sadly played the worse film I saw at the festival this year, The Ledge. Despite that mishap, there were a lot of great films at Sundance. Here are my top 5 in no particular order, alongside the best film I saw at this year’s festival (which may surprise you).

I felt that each film had the most impact during my stay at the festival and introduced us to some fantastic new voices that will be coming to a cinema near you.

6. The Cinema Hold Up

A slow burning teen drama from fresh-faced Mexican director Iria Gomez-Concheiro. Her work with the cast of teenagers seems to be more in line with Larry Clark and Jim Jarmusch than Alejandro Gonzlez Inarritu, showing a world of misfit teens whose souls wander in and out of the skate parks and alleyways . The critical cinema heist is taut and intense but is more of a cinematic afterthought to the real drama issues that these particular modern Mexican teenagers go through. Concheiro is someone, like her Mexican New Wave peers, to look out for in the future.

5. Knuckle

A blunt and brutal documentary that takes on a 12 year journey through the lives of Irish Travelers from filmmaker Ian Palmer. At once an observational piece about the bloody rivalries between the MacDonughan and Joyce clan to a reflexive document about Palmer’s relationship to this underground society and how it slowly swallows him up in his journey over 10+years. The same hypnotic feel will happen to you, as you are invited to view this world of tough as nails people and their never ending cycle of violence.

4. Beats, Rhymes, Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest

Although anyone who has followed A Tribe Called Quest might not learn anything new about the group in this film, the soundtrack and free-flow form made it the most fun at this year’s festival. Director Michael Rapport shows that he has done his homework with his mentor Spike Lee, the sharp angles and vibrant color palette of credits and story boards. The dynamic lives of Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Muhammad, and Jarobi White show that this group was not just another crew, but a ground-breaking and now-lost tribe of 90s hip-hop.

3. Tyrannosaur

From the first few minutes it’s either get on the ride and go or puke your bleeding guts out all over the floor. If you stay on after the brutal dog beating, you’ll find a film that is coarse and rough like a Brillo pad but rewarding due to amazingly brazen performances from Peter Mullan and Olivia Coleman. The woolly Mullan and the dough-faced Coleman are pitch perfect in Paddy Considine’s bittersweet directorial debut of two people that most likely would live happily ever after in any Hollywood movie. But since this a film about the harsh reality of suburban England, they’ll have to form serenity and friendship in the most unlikely places. Not to forget the great jackal face actor, Eddie Marsen, doing another great spit spewing performance as Coleman’s brutish husband.

2. Pariah

This was a very tender and 90s type of independent film from Sundance. It has all the clichés – the Brooklyn setting, the minority teen lead performance, and the plot focusing on an identity crisis. The factors that make Pariah stand out from previous years are the incredible digital cinematography by Bradford Young (Sundance Winner 2011) and fearless portrayals by Adepero Oduye and Pernell Walker. These two elements uplift us from the bad taste of stereotypes that Precious left two years ago at Sundance.

And My Favorite Film at Sundance…

1. The Woman

Well, this was one of the most hated and talked about films at this year’s festival. Check out the hollering older audience member on Youtube. On my way back from Park City, a couple behind me on the plane would not shut up about how this film should not have been in the festival, that it denied another better film entry and that the director Lucky McKee should have been ashamed of himself for making this kind of film.

But fuck them and fuck that old fucker on Youtube.

With this film, McKee has made a film that is on par with Todd Solondz’s Happiness – a masterpiece for the horror genre crowd. The story of the Cleek family is like a Norman Rockwell painting doused in blood, gore, and sex. Each performance, from devilish patriarch Chris (Sean Bridgers) to docile wife Belle (Angela Bettis) and their teenage daughter Peggy (Lauren Ashley Carter) and son Brian (Zack Rand) is layered through episodic touches of music and Americana portraits. As they try to ‘civilize’ an anonymous feral woman (Pollyanna McIntosh, in a great psychically demanding performance), they find out about secrets about themselves, and her, that no one saw coming.

The violence slowly creeps into the story giving way for a climax that is jaw dropping and horrendous but shows a touch of feminist revenge, which is quite rare in a genre filled with malicious violence towards women. McKee’s commentary as filmmaker and political commentator is a much-need to breath of fresh air in a modern day horror genre.

Check out Robert’s List of the Best of Sundance for more great flicks to watch out for

Benji Carver is a fetus of many great 80s action movies, that is trying to escape his Sam Shepard past. (Don't believe him? Just ask his ex-girlfriend.) Benji claims to be from the wild streets of Oakland, CA but really is from the rolling hill of Morgan Hill-which currently supplies much of the non-magic mushrooms of the West. Now a recent transplant to LA, where he is yet awaiting his first high speed chase and shoot out, a make out session with some celebrity chick, throwing a type writer out a window, and meeting his idol Jean Claude-Van Damme.

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