ENJOY THE SHOW
Would you be a better guard or a better prisoner? How would you act? Most of us are inherently familiar with the "Stanford Prison Experiment", the infamously legendary psychology experiment conducted in the 1970s involving a mock prison testing the limits of prisoners against the guards. Many have been trying to adapt this for years, and we finally have a take on it - literally called The Stanford Prison Experiment. Director Kyle Patrick Alvarez (of C.O.G. from Sundance 2013) along with screenwriter Tim Talbott bring to life the intense, brutal mock prison setup in the basement of a Stanford building. It's riveting to watch, and will be divisive just based on how crazy it gets. But we all knew it would go this far, right? Right?
As the high school auditorium converted to a movie palace begins to fill, I glance around. Behind me sits the entire executive team of Fox Searchlight, in front of me the entire cast & crew of the movie we're about to see. A few seats over are two writers for Rolling Stone; amongst the crowd are all of my other critic/blogger/movie friends – from the lead reviewers at industry trade magazines like Variety and Hollywood Reporter, to my pals Peter from SlashFilm and Neil from Film School Rejects, and Ethan Anderton, too. We're all here, sitting together, all about to experience the world premiere of a movie no one has seen yet. This is what I love about film festivals. It puts us all on the same level, and together we get to experience cinema.
Yes! This is great news. Following his Oscar nomination, Norwegian director Morten Tyldum has lined up his next project - the sci-fi script Passengers written by Jon Spaihts. This films has been in development for years and years, it was one of the first scripts that Spaihts wrote, and has gone through numerous development changes. One version last year with "Game of Thrones" director Brian Kirk attached fell apart before it could go into production, but thankfully the project ended up at Sony with ambitious producers involved, giving it new life and preventing it from dwindling further. Now it's official - Tyldum is on board.
It's best not to get too sappy, but I can't help it with this film. It had me, and almost everyone in the theater, wiping away tears. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is another wonderful surprise gem from Sundance 2015 that is inspiring, entertaining, moving and made for anyone who has a heart (which is, technically, everyone but you know what I mean). It's a film made by die-hard film lovers that tells a very heartbreaking but sincere story not of young romance, but of young enthusiasm, a love for people and the joy of making them smile. It's built around sadness yet inspired by the pursuit of happiness, and it will make everyone cry.
A few years ago at Sundance, director Craig Zobel unleashed his film Compliance upon audiences, earning rave reviews and critical responses from those who felt it went too far. Zobel, who has a steady hand and refined vision, returns to Sundance this year with Z for Zachariah, and adaptation of a book that takes place in a very small town with the few remaining people that have survived after a nuclear apocalypse. The central character is Ann, played by the astonishing Margot Robbie (from The Wolf of Wall Street), who ends up in a bit of a love triangle after two different men show up. This invigorating sci-fi is my kind of film.
Wow. This was the film I was waiting to discover at Sundance 2015. Rick Famuyiwa's Dope is one of the best films I've seen at Sundance so far: refreshingly unique, incredibly smart, hilarious throughout, edgy, and subversive in the way it challenges typical cliches of urban storytelling. Dope is a coming-of-age film about a kid from "the bottoms" in Inglewood, California who is a big geek, not the expected thug, and in his final year of high school ends up in a wacky debacle that may help him end up right where he belongs. It's awesome, really, this film rules and everyone is going to be talking about it. I loved it, from the soundtrack to the performances, it's a breakout from this year's festival and should connect with many movie lovers.
Let me say this upfront because I must confess: it is very hard to analyze a documentary on its technical merits when it is so excruciatingly emotional. The first documentary world premiere I caught at Sundance 2015 was The Hunting Ground, the new doc from acclaimed filmmaker Kirby Dick (of This Film Is Not Yet Rated and The Invisible War). This is such an important documentary that two senators were in the audience, but it's also important because it's showing the truth in the face of resistance, it's allowing us to actually hear from and listen to real people. The Hunting Ground is a film that explores the epidemic (yes) of campus rape occurring for decades at the most prestigious universities in America. And it's appalling.
Why do we act the way we do, why has modern culture become so obsessed with entertainment, why is fame such a primal desire for so many people? Films that make you really think, that make you consider ideas and reflect upon your own life, are most often the ones I find myself connecting to the most. The ones with big thoughts presented in understandable sentences, crafted with intelligence and empathy, and yet they're still heartfelt and human. The End of the Tour, the latest from director James Ponsoldt (of Smashed and The Spectacular Now from previous Sundances), is another masterful creation in that vein journeying deep into the mind of brilliant author/writer David Foster Wallace, who wrote the book Infinite Jest.
It's time. We've packed our winter jackets, long underwear, a pair of boots and gloves/hats galore. The 2015 Sundance Film Festival is about to kick off in the mountains up in chilly Park City, Utah and we're back, ready to fire up the festival and watch films. This is FirstShowing's ninth year in a row covering Sundance. It all started back in 2007, when I made the trek to Park City by driving from Colorado, seeing an impressive 31 films by the end of my first year. I've returned here ever since; I can't help it, I love this festival with all my heart and have grown to appreciate films of all kinds by coming back every year. And I'm ready for more.
Almost a year ago we featured a trailer for a short film called Confusion Through Sand, which was set to premiere at the SXSW Film Festival. The short is hand-drawn on recycled paper, and looks nothing like anything we've ever seen before. Not only that, but the camera movements are amazing. It tells the story of a young soldier "in a hostile desert, scared as hell and trained to react," no doubt referencing the Iraq war. The director tipped me to let me know the short is now available online in full. Suffice it to say, it's a must watch, well worth the wait. One last warning: "this gets loud and intense and may be hard for some people."
"The Best of the Best is Back." Your last chance to see these in theaters! AMC has unveiled details for their latest version of the Best Picture Showcase. For years, AMC has been hosting marathon screenings of all of the Best Picture nominees at the Academy Awards, so moviegoers of all kinds can catch up before the big show next month. This year, with eight nominees including Boyhood, Selma and Whiplash, AMC is splitting the screenings across two consecutive Saturdays, " so you can attend one day, or both days. Or, enjoy all the films in one day with the 24-hour marathon in select markets." More info on the films and theaters below.
Nothing like seeing movies in the mountains. Kicking off this week in snowy Park City, Utah is the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, where both Ethan and I are headed for 10 days to see fresh new indie films non-stop. To help get everyone up to speed on some of the films we're interested in, here are 10 Sundance 2015 films that we're excited for, a small look at some of the films we're keeping an eye on and will be seeing at any earliest opportunity. Alex has chosen five he's interested in, and Ethan has also chosen another five he's ready to enjoy from the diverse and hopefully impressive 123-film line-up this year. Whether it's horror or drama or comedy or a documentary or something else entirely, we seek great movies to fall in love with.
The best of the best - that you didn't see last year. We have returned with another set of worth watching, underseen films from 2014. Back by popular demand is our eighth annual list of the 19 Best Movies That You Didn't See in 2014 (past lists: 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007). Featured below is a hand-picked line-up of the best independent and/or mainstream films that were either quietly dumped, ignored by audiences, or just not marketed well enough. So to give them extra attention in the spotlight, and to support some of the finest filmmakers out there, here is our best of 2014 recap. Read on for the full list!
"It's not where you take things from—it's where you take them to." (-Jean-Luc Godard) There is a moment in Xavier Dolan's film Mommy, officially my #1 film of 2014, that took my breath away. It's the kind of moment all cinema enthusiasts live for, the kind of visceral surprise that leaves you in such awe that you end up holding your breath until that moment – the scene – ends. The more I think about it, the more it grows in my mind, and upon further reflection I believe it is one of the defining moments in cinema in 2014. That no one is talking about… yet. I can't get it out of my mind, and out of everything I saw in 2014, it's one of the most brilliant cinematic decisions any filmmaker made. Xavier Dolan showing the rest how it's done.