Sundance 2016: Looking Back at 34 Films in 9 Days in Snowy Park City
by Alex Billington
January 31, 2016
Here we are at the bitter end once again. I don't know how I did it, but I hit 34 films for my 10th year the Sundance Film Festival. Have I mentioned how much I love Sundance? Yes, I definitely have. The more films I get to see at Sundance, the better, as the festival sets the pace for the rest of the year, introducing the world to a selection of movies that will likely earn even more acclaim as 2016 continues on. I've heard some of my colleagues say this wasn't a great year, but they're wrong. Sundance 2016 was a great year, and I saw some amazing films. Maybe they didn't see enough good films? Maybe they're too picky? I don't know. The Birth of a Nation and Manchester by the Sea will end up being two of the best films of the year, most critics will agree on that. But there are plenty other films I loved, and many more that I certainly enjoyed watching.
The good news is that pretty much every film I initially included on my Top 10 Most Anticipated list before the festival I was able to see (and I liked almost all of them, except for Equity unfortunately). However, the best screenings at Sundance are the real discoveries. I almost didn't go to Captain Fantastic and only got a ticket a few hours before the screening - it turned out to be one of my favorites of the fest. Same with Morris from America. I could only fit in the documentary Tickled later in the festival, and I ended up at the (now infamous) screening where one of the subjects of the movie was there taking notes (read my review for more info). The Eagle Huntress is a doc I only heard about during the festival (because it was programmed in the kids section) and ended up being one of my favorites as well. It's impossible to predict or plan films like this.
How did I pull off seeing 34 films? Essentially, I forget about anything else except going to films. There were a couple of days during the festival where I saw 5 films in one day, starting at 8:30AM and ending with a screening at 11:30PM (or midnight). It's exhausting, for sure, but I love doing it. The key is eating a good breakfast in the morning (at 8AM) and then focusing on the screenings without worrying about anything else (any news or other concerns). At Sundance I'm completely focused on getting into screenings and giving my complete attention to the film I'm watching. Seeing 30+ films over 10 days does mean that some of them begin to blur together, but it also means the best films really stand out, and whatever remains in my mind by the end is worth noting. Those films that stick are the films that truly affect me and should be mentioned.
I try to write my reviews while I'm waiting for another film to start, or right before I go to sleep, which is the only time I really have to stop and think. Often I end up in lengthy conversations with friends while in line for the next film, or over quick lunches, and I'd rather discuss and argue about cinema with them then keep to myself. The go-to question to start up most conversations is: "what have you enjoyed?" Even though my fellow critics don't always like hearing this, I'm honestly a champion of good films. I would much rather tell you about the films I loved and why I loved them than write an essay on why I hated something. While that's fun for some, I am genuine movie lover. I go to Sundance to fall in love with great films, and then tell everyone else about them so that they can experience them, too, and hopefully enjoy them as much as I did.
I get satisfaction in knowing brought attention to a film that deserves it. So many of these filmmakers, and their cast and crew, are passionate storytellers. They just want their work to be recognized, and that means putting it in front of a crowd that might adore it. Thankfully most of the moviegoers at Sundance are also movie lovers, and they just want to see amazing movies, too. There's nothing like hearing a crowd explode into rapturous applause and jump to their feet for a standing ovation at the end of an unforgettable film. That was the case this year with Captain Fantastic (which received 3 consecutive standing ovations) and The Birth of a Nation (which had a standing ovation that lasted all the way through the credits). Some critics write off these standing ovations, but honestly these are very defining moments in cinema history.
Not every film I see is going to be good, and there are always a few duds, but I know my tastes well enough to steer clear of anything I'm destined to hate (e.g. Kelly Reichardt's films, or Jane Austen adaptations). The most miserable films I ended up seeing at Sundance this year were: Todd Solondz's Wiener-Dog (did anyone like this crap?), Meera Menon's Equity (its message is "greed is good" which is not okay ugh), and Tim Sutton's Dark Night (a film about absolutely nothing with nothing to say). Everything else I saw I enjoyed or appreciated in some way. I even had fun at Kevin Smith's Yoga Hosers, which pretty much everyone else I know hated. Thankfully I saw enough films that I loved and I'm happy to say some of them will probably end up on my Top 10 list at the end of the year. Only time will tell. Goodbye for now, Sundance, until next year.
Up next I'm headed to the Berlin Film Festival starting February 12th. Until then, my full list of films that I screened at Sundance 2016 is included below - in the order in which I saw them during the fest. Sayonara!
Here's my final list of all the films I saw at the 2016 festival with quick reaction. Links go to reviews/tweets.
Alex's Sundance 2016 Films:
1. Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You (dirs. Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady) - Liked It
2. Other People (dir. Chris Kelly) - Liked It
3. Morris From America (dir. Chad Hartigan) - Loved It
4. Swiss Army Man (dirs. The Daniels) - Liked It
5. Wiener-Dog (dir. Todd Solondz) - Hated It
6. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (dir. Taika Waititi) - Loved It
7. Operation Avalanche (dir. Matt Johnson) - Liked It
8. Tallulah (dir. Sian Heder) - Liked It
9. Sleight (dir. J.D. Dillard) - Loved It
10. Captain Fantastic (dir. Matt Ross) - LOVED It
11. Manchester by the Sea (dir. Kenneth Lonergan) - Loved It
12. Southside With You (dir. Richard Tanne) - Loved It
13. Indignation (dir. James Schamus) - Liked It
14. Sing Street (dir. John Carney) - LOVED It
15. Yoga Hosers (dir. Kevin Smith) - Just Okay
16. Holy Hell (dir. Will Allen) - Liked It
17. The Birth of a Nation (dir. Nate Parker) - Loved It
18. Little Men (dir. Ira Sachs) - Liked It
19. As You Are (dir. Miles Joris-Peyrafitte) - Loved It
20. Under the Gun (dir. Stephanie Soechtig) - Loved It
21. Jacqueline (Argentine) (dir. Bernardo Britto) - Liked It
22. Equity (dir. Meera Menon) - Hated It
23. Christine (dir. Antonio Campos) - Just Okay
24. Frank & Lola (dir. Matthew M. Ross) - Just Okay
25. NUTS! (dir. Penny Lane) - Loved It
26. How to Let Go of the World (dir. Josh Fox) - Liked It
27. Life, Animated (dir. Roger Ross Williams) - LOVED It
28. Tickled (dirs. David Farrier & Dylan Reeve) - Loved It
29. Under the Shadow (dir. Babak Anvari) - Loved It
30. Audrie & Daisy (dirs. Bonni Cohen & Jon Shenk) - Just Okay
31. The Fundamentals of Caring (dir. Rob Burnett) - Liked It
32. The Hollars (dir. John Krasinski) - Just Okay
33. Trapped (dir. Dawn Porter) - Loved It
34. The Eagle Huntress (dir. Otto Bell) - LOVED It
(I also screened the following films below either before the festival or via screener so I don't count them.)
0. Dark Night (dir. Tim Sutton) - Hated It
0. Green Room (dir. Jeremy Saulnier) - Loved It
0. First Girl I Loved (dir. Kerem Sanga) - Liked It
0. Newtown (dir. Kim A. Snyder) - Liked It
0. Sonita (dir. Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami) - Loved It
0. Cameraperson (dir. Kirsten Johnson) - Loved It
Those are the
34 40 films I saw this year. If you're interested in any, ask me for more thoughts on a specific film, as there were so many I watched and I can discuss more pretty much any of them. Another great year.