Some of us discover what the year’s most exciting indie films are likely to be by tromping around festivals. The rest of us do it by polling the people who tromp around festivals. Out of the 14 films I was able to catch this year at the Sundance Film Festival, here are some of my favorites that are worth checking out in 2014.
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Director Berit Madsen’s first feature documentary is an inspiring portrait of a young Iranian woman’s fight for an education. 17-year-old Sepideh wants to study astronomy and become an astronaut. But her family fights her at every turn and does everything in their power to suppress her desires to study; Her uncle even threatens to kill her if she dishonors her family. Sepideh is an astonishing film with impressive access to its subjects and a powerful message about women’s rights that deserves to be heard. Sepideh is now available for rent on iTunes and marks the first time Apple distributed a film while it was still playing at Sundance.
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Only Lovers Left Alive
Jim Jarmusch’s much-anticipated film Only Lovers Left Alive first premiered at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival to rave reviews. Starring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as two decadent vampires who spend their nights gorging on literature or experimenting with exotic musical instruments, Only Lovers Left Alive is a lucid fever dream of a world where time and romance have no end. Only Lovers Left Alive is being released by Sony Pictures Classics and is slated to hit U.S. theatres on April 14, 2014.
If you haven’t hopped on the Jenny Slate bandwagon yet, her hilarious and refreshingly honest performance in Obvious Child will convert you. Slate plays a 20-something Brooklynite who, despite her crowd-pleasing gigs as a stand-up comedian, can’t seem to get her life in order. Writer/director Gillian Robespierre delivers a romantic comedy that tackles issues like abortion in a daring way that audiences have never seen before. The film also stars Gaby Hoffman, David Cross, Richard Kind and Gabe Liedman. A24 acquired North American distribution rights to Obvious Child and it will have a theatrical release in 2014.
The One I Love
Charlie McDowell’s inventive directorial debut The One I Love is a romantic comedy that recontextualizes the troubles of marriage by placing a bickering couple in a mysterious secluded cabin that brings out their innermost desires and anxieties. The One I Love showcases the versatility of its two leads—Elizabeth Moss and Mark Duplass—who are the only actors onscreen for most of the film. Though it is as consistently funny and emotionally truthful as you’d expect any good romantic comedy would be, The One I Love is also unique in its high-concept approach to exploring human behavior. Radius-TWC has acquired worldwide rights to the film for a release this year.
The most acclaimed film to come out of Sundance this year is U.S. Grand Jury Prize winner and Audience Award winner Whiplash, written and directed by Damien Chazelle and starring Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons. Teller plays a 19-year-old aspiring drummer who gets selected to perform in an elite jazz band lead by brutal instructor Terence Fletcher, played by Simmons. Teller finds himself in an emotional mine field performing under the guidance of the abusive Mr. Fletcher, but is determined to succeed at any cost. Chazelle’s confident, bold and utterly gripping direction marks him as a new artistic voice to be reckoned with. Whiplash will be released this year by Sony Pictures Classics.
If you’re a fan of ‘80s John Carpenter movies, you’ll love The Guest. Director Adam Wingard (You’re Next, V/H/S/2) delivers an outrageous, hilarious, blood-splattered genre movie that is full of surprises. Having graduated from his Downton Abbey days as the sweet-natured Matthew Crawley, Dan Stevens is almost unrecognizable as the titular mysterious badass with a Southern drawl and chiseled abs who visits a family in New Mexico and turns their lives upside down. Icon Film Distribution just acquired it for release in the U.K., and I’m sure we will be hearing about a U.S. release date very soon.
Documentarian Jesse Moss won a U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Intuitive Filmmaking at Sundance this year and The Overnighters is one of the most buzzed-about documentaries at the festival. When an energy boom in North Dakota drives desperate men to flock to the tiny town of Willison for work in the oil and natural gas industry, the influx of newcomers is more than the town is equipped to handle. A local Pastor spearheads a movement to house and care for these broken migrants who are seeking refuge, but he must fight against unforeseen opposition from the townspeople in order to do so. Although The Overnighters hasn’t been officially picked up yet, I’m sure Indiewire’s memo isn’t going unnoticed with buyers.
By Lee Jameson / Film Education Coordinator