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The Best Movies We Saw at Sundance 2021

Of the more than 70 features at the festival, these are our favorites, including the latest from Ben Wheatley and the first from Questlove.
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Sundance Institute (Photo by Jonathan Hickerson)
By  · Published on February 6th, 2021

On The Count of Three

On The Count Of Three

In Jerrod Carmichael’s On the Count of Three, a horrifically depressed Christopher Abbott screams the lyrics to the legendary Papa Roach song “Last Resort” as he plans on killing himself. This combination of ridiculous situations is just one example of the dark, dark comedy that moves throughout the film. The premise is centered on two friends who have decided that at the end of the day, they will kill themselves. It’s an exceptionally depressing subject matter cut with a dry humor that has the viewer inexplicably laughing at how these friends cope with and process their trauma.

But besides its comedy, On the Count of Three, is a poignant portrayal of a close male friendship and what sacrifice for a friend looks like. This is also a film that wants to interrogate a completely broken mental healthcare system that abandons those who need it the most. Their journey is a perfect combination of hilarious and heart-breaking, making you laugh one moment and cry the next. (Mary Beth McAndrews)

Check out Brianna’s review of On the Count of Three.

The Pink Cloud

Sundance 2021: The Pink Cloud
Sundance Institute

Perhaps the reason why Iuli Gerbase’s The Pink Cloud executes such a tasteful, horrifically affecting interpretation of our pandemic life is that it was never intended to be one at all. The film opens with a disclaimer explaining that, despite how similar the events depicted might seem to real life, The Pink Cloud was shot in 2019, and was conceived a whole two years prior to that.

Still, the narrative surrounding two strangers who are forced into lockdown together when a rose-hued cloud of unknown origin and substance descends upon the atmosphere – killing humans within ten seconds of exposure – ends up chillingly accurate to our experiences with COVID-19. Although a far more extreme scenario than our own, sentiments of “this will all be over soon” harken back to early 2020 when many could not imagine the world would still be overwhelmed by this disease nearly a year later. The Brazilian sci-fi drama is a tense, exacting look at the capabilities and limits of human adaptation when our world no longer exists beyond what we individually create for ourselves. (Brianna Zigler)

The Sparks Brothers

Sundance 2021: The Sparks Brothers
Sundance Institute

Longtime fans of Edgar Wright may have been uncertain how the director would tackle a documentary wedged between one highly-acclaimed and one highly-anticipated narrative feature after the other. But it should come as no surprise that the inventive filmmaker behind the “Three Flavours Cornetto” trilogy accomplished a film as wildly entertaining as his popular comedies. The Sparks Brothers further solidifies Wright as a director to never miss, as he dynamically weaves charming anecdotes from a who’s-who of famous musicians, actors, authors, and comedians, plus creative animated sequences and testimony from the titular band members themselves, to craft a prolific account of the most celebrated band that nobody knows.

The film traces Sparks’ Ron and Russell Mael’s roots in mid-20th century Los Angeles through to their eventual stronghold in the UK music scene and their consistent inability to maintain popularity throughout their career. Wright paints a portrait both of quietly influential musicians and of artistic, interpersonal integrity and commitment. Throughout their fifty-year career, Sparks has only ever looked to the future with their music, and The Sparks Brothers crafts a moving story of pure love for one’s art. (Brianna Zigler)

Check out Brianna’s review of The Sparks Brothers.

Summer of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

Summer Of Soul

Questlove’s debut “jawn” (as they say in Philly) is as engrossing a concert film as Stop Making Sense and as significant as a leather-bound historical text. America has a vile tradition of erasing Black history, but this presentation of footage of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, which has been sitting in a basement unseen for the past fifty years, is a concentrated, star-studded, and compelling example of what it looks like to sew Black consciousness back into the tapestry of American history.

With performances by Nina Simone, B.B. King, David Ruffin, Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder, and many more, it is a remarkable moment in history that simply cannot be missed. The grainy, pristine color footage is divine, and the experience is the closest one can get to a concert in 2021. Plus, Questlove infuses context that draws out the larger narrative at play. Make no mistake, the musician’s mastery of storytelling stretches across mediums. That’s why his first go at filmmaking took home the Grand Jury and Audience prizes at Sundance in the US Documentary category. (Luke Hicks)

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