BEST OF SUNDANCE 2015
Hellin Kay, stylist and editor of Champagne and Heels, picks her favorite films from this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Directed by Sean Baker and starring James Ransone, this is an old-school throwback to real indie films. The movie is shot almost entirely on an iPhone 5S, with almost no budget, but a really great story, which follows a transgender woman on Christmas Eve as she hunts down the pimp who broke her heart.
A great script, cool young cast, and a story full of heart, soul, depth, music, intelligence, and just the right touch of political undertones. Rick Famuyiwa directed this breath of fresh funny air, which Forest Whitaker produced, about young Malcolm (played by Shameik Moore) and his friends as they navigate high school through a bad neighborhood, bullies, and adults who constantly disappoint.
The Stanford Prison Experiment
Directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez, and starring Billy Crudup, Gaius Charles, Olivia Thirlby, and Ezra Miller, the film is an account of a six-day psychological study, exploring the power dynamic between prisoners and guards, that took place in 1971. It was supposed to be two weeks but the “subjects” were so traumatized that it had to be stopped. What transpires is not a good look for humanity, but definitely makes for a great film.
This is exactly the kind of raw, itchy film I love. Directed by John Mond—who is part of Borderline Films, where they take turns directing the films they produce and in the past has resulted in the incredibly brilliant and creepy Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sundance 2011)—this film stars Christopher Abbott and Cynthia Nixon. Abbott plays a twenty-something New York City kid who goes from losing a father to dealing with his mother’s (Cynthia Nixon) cancer while on a semi-nihilistic tour of post-adolescent angst and an inability to deal with reality.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Alfonso Gomez-Rejon directed this tearjerker about two high school kids (Thomas Mann and RJ Cyler) who befriend a young girl (Olivia Cooke) dying of cancer. Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, and Molly Shannon (where has this funny lady been?) star as the adults in the quirky equation, which makes this a must-see, aside from the fact that it won two of the major prizes at this year’s festival.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Alexander Skarsgård stars as a 38-year-old man who sleeps with his girlfriend’s fifteen-year-old daughter (Bel Powley), in the directorial debut of actress Marielle Heller, who also wrote the screenplay of this Sundance hit. Kristen Wiig plays the mom in this story of sexual precociousness, which turns out not to be as lecherous or salacious as the storyline may imply, set in 1976 San Francisco.
Crystal Moselle’s fascinating documentary about a family with seven kids who have essentially grown up as shut-ins, living in government housing on the Lower East Side of New York. Disturbing, yet hopeful, it is a unique view of a situation most of us have never seen before. Watching the six brothers and their sister grow into themselves and out of the cocoon built for them by their parents is at times shocking and infuriating, but anything but boring. The six boys spend a lot of time recreating Hollywood films in their living room and we get the sense that one of the boys will be bringing his own film to Sundance someday.
Digging For Fire
Joe Swanberg, the current Whit Stillman, does young privileged white people problems really well. The cast reads like a who’s who of cool young Hollywood, starring Rosemarie de Witt and Jake Johnson, both of whom I love, with Sam Rockwell, Ron Livingston, Anna Kendrick, Chris Messina, Orlando Bloom, Jenny Slate, Brie Larson, and Melanie Lynskey. It’s a fun, easy film about a married couple with a new baby trying to find their way to themselves again.
Z for Zachariah
An unconventional story directed by Craig Zobel (Compliance, 2012) of the last woman left alive in a small American town, played by Margot Robbie, who befriends two men (first Chiwetel Ejiofor and then Chris Pine) wandering a post-apocalyptic land. Although the tone grazed the surface much more than his last film, and was paced more conventionally, I was still taken in by the story, the acting, and compelling nature of it.
What Happened, Miss Simone?
This documentary, directed by Liz Garbus, gives a deeply personal view of Nina Simone’s life, work, and family throughout decades of extreme change in this country. The film is timely, packed with archival footage of the Selma march, speeches by Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael, as well as the Shabazz daughters, who grew up with Lisa Simone, Nina’s daughter and the producer of the film.
Take Me to the River
Matt Sobel wrote, produced, and directed his début film, which has a creepy, perpetually-on-the-edge-of-your-sexual-seat kind of vibe until the end of the film, when you finally find out what the big secret is and what the hell is really going on with this family. Newcomer Logan Miller plays the gay California teen that accompanies his parents on this twisted family reunion to Nebraska and is at the center of all the drama.
The End of the Tour
I can never get enough of films that delve into the perpetually haunting existential dialogue we all have as artists. The script of this quiet narrative is based on a book by David Lipsky (played by Jesse Eisenberg) about his travels on a book tour with writer David Foster Wallace, who kills himself twelve years after this particular tour ends at the age of forty-six. It’s a slow-burn film which delivers a lot of heart, soul, and depth. The film’s director James Ponsoldt also directed The Spectacular Now in 2013, which I loved.
Noah Baumbach’s latest collaboration with Greta Gerwig (they co-wrote the script and she plays the lead muse Brooke) has that cool, slightly lost, always-on-the-brink-of-a-crisis, liberal-arts-college-graduate tone that the kids from the suburbs who now live in the city tend to love. Lola Kirke plays opposite Greta as her soon to be stepsister, as the two navigate their new relationship and some unexpected adventures with ex-lovers, future business partners, and sometime friends.
Based on the book of the same name written by Lawrence Wright and published in 2013, this is the much-anticipated documentary, directed by Alex Gibney, about Scientology. Should be out in limited release on both coasts soon, and will air on HBO in March.
Welcome to Leith
Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker’s documentary spans a year the filmmakers spent covering the ridiculous antics of Craig Cobb, a white supremacist who tried to start a whites-only colony in Leith, North Dakota, by buying up plots of land and giving the deeds to other Nazis. It’s pretty disturbing to hear them talk, but worth keeping in mind that these idiots make up about 125,000 people in a country of 316 million and, thankfully, the Southern Poverty Law Center keeps them in check.