John Cameron Mitchell

Christopher Nolan at Sundance

The Sundance Film Festival is one of the largest independent fests in the country, but it probably has the best reputation for launching filmmaking careers and being the only thing in January that will be remembered around Oscar time 13 months later. It’s debatable just how “indie” it is — especially with studio shingles routinely picking up audience favorites for distribution — but it’s difficult to deny the raw directorial power that’s moved through Park City over the years. Names like Christopher Nolan, Kevin Smith, The Coen Brothers and Steven Soderbergh can count themselves amongst the Sundance ranks, but there are many, many more. In that (independent) spirit, here’s a double-size list of tips (for fans and filmmakers alike) from 12 directors who made a name at Sundance.

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Why Watch? Animation in service of a love story about intolerance, guilt and violent redemption, Seraph comes as part of Sigur Ros‘ Valtari Mystery Film Project – a challenge to a baker’s dozen of filmmakers to make a short using the music from the band’s new album. The result here from John Cameron Mitchell and Dash Shaw (whose animation work was in Rabbit Hole) is astonishing in its childlike visuals and moving in the story it tells. Wordlessly, a young man grows up questioning his sexual attractions with a father who uses his fists more than his compassion. Brutality begets brutality, and the young man’s life spins without an anchor toward the inevitable conclusion at the end of a pool cue. Fortunately and unfortunately, his actions aren’t the end of the road. Hat tip to IndieWire for featuring this excellent short. What will it cost you? Only 9 minutes. Skip work. Watch more short films.

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As the only literate Reject, it’s my duty to find the latest, the greatest and the untouched classics that would make great source material for film adaptations. I read so you don’t have to. One of the three cornerstones of Holocaust literature still hasn’t seen the big screen for an adaptation. In a way, it’s understandable. No one can even agree on whether the book is a memoir, a fiction, a fictional memoir, or a true memoir with fictional elements – so making its way to the screen would be a difficult task. On the other hand, this book is so well recognized (Oprah even loves it), that it seems blatantly obvious that a movie version would be both financially successful and garner critical Hallelujahs if done with any sort of skill at all. If you put the right pieces together, the puzzle makes for an astonishing picture.

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Sandra Oh, persona wise, couldn’t be more different from her character in Rabbit Hole. In Rabbit Hole, Oh plays a nearly all internal and damaged character. She’s a minor character, but an important one. Similar to the main couple, her character has lost a child. Rabbit Hole may have a bleak story on a paper, but tonally, it’s quite funny at times and also hopeful. It is a a serious drama, the type that Oscar fat cats love to eat up, but the film is also hilarious at times, even with its mourning characters. This is a total 180-turn from John Cameron Mitchell’s previous films, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus.

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This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr enters the grid (which is what he likes to call his local IMAX theater) to try and find an old and hairy Jeff Bridges amidst a bunch of young-looking sexy-time people in tight body suits. Afterwards, he has a pic-i-nic at Jellystone Park and faces a bear attack. It’s a good thing he had his hunting rifle with him… but he still wonders why that grizzly he shot was wearing a hat and tie. Finally, he hands out some grades on two limited release award flicks that really don’t jazz him as much as a big, dumb IMAX 3D movie.

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Rabbit Hole takes on one of the oldest artistic subjects – a family’s struggle to find some way of moving on from a devastating death. Yet, as adapted by David Lindsay-Abaire from his own Pulitzer Prize-winning play, the film avoids the overt sentimentalizing and easy stabs at the tear ducts –what one might deem “grief porn” – that have wrecked so many of its predecessors. Instead, director John Cameron Mitchell has assembled an affecting, well-acted portrait of a couple stuck in stasis, trying to reclaim normalcy where there is none to be had. The Hedwig and the Angry Inch creator demonstrates an eye for the intricacies of a strained relationship, the complex psychological burden of the lingering, pervasive specter of a terrible loss and the eerie quality of a home once occupied by a child, now hauntingly quieted.

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