"Feedback screenings are essential to get out of your headspace." One of my very favorite films of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival was a documentary titled Minding the Gap, made by filmmaker Bing Liu. It won over audiences and critics, and picked up the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Filmmaking at the end of the festival. Minding the Gap follows three skater kids from a small town called Rockford, Illinois as they grow up and become adults and start to realize who they really are and how they were raised. It's quite a moving, powerful, remarkably aware film about American society and masculinity, and the struggle of breaking free from the world you were raised in, and much more. I made it my mission to meet filmmaker Bing Liu, and shake his hand, and talk to him about making this film. Bing's the real deal.
The 2018 Sundance Film Festival has finally come to an end and to put a wrap on the fest and finalize our nearly two weeks of coverage, it's time to present our Best of the Fest list. I was able to see a total of 42 films across 10 days, but I couldn't catch everything and missed a few films getting lots of buzz (Burden, Madeline's Madeline, Never Going Back, Monster, Yardie). I saw a total of 10 documentaries, so instead of separating docs and features this year, I decided to present one big list of my 8 favorite films (in honor of it being 2018). There was no Call Me By Your Name this year (that one stayed my #1 the entire year), but I enjoyed so many other wonderful films and I'm happy I could see so many at the festival. Let's get into this.
Ride on, ladies. One of the biggest surprises from the 2018 Sundance Film Festival is this vibrant drama Skate Kitchen, a feature film about a group of badass female skateboarders from the New York City area. Made by filmmaker Crystal Moselle (who already won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2015 for her documentary The Wolfpack) the film follows these carefree, wild teenage girls as they deal with all the pain-in-the-ass troubles the world throws at you at that time in your life - mainly: parties, injuries, boys, security guards, parents, and other skaters. I am not a fan of The Wolfpack, so I went into this a bit concerned, but was relieved to discover it's an enjoyable, energetic portrait of NYC kids skating around the city to survive.
Every year at Sundance, there are people who try to claim that it was a bad year for films. Every year, there's critics who claim everything they saw was bad and it's a bad line-up and there's no good films and this year for cinema sucks. But they're wrong. They are always wrong. Not only do I recommend trying to see more films, since there's over 100 playing and there's no way anyone saw everything, but it's also about taking a closer look at how the films have evolved and what they represent. At the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, many of the films were very personal, very powerful, and sometimes provocative and challenging, for good reason (society today is pretty crazy). Even though some films weren't that great, or didn't turn out perfect, that does not mean they still aren't exciting, innovative, creative, original works that push cinema forward.
There is one documentary from the 2018 Sundance Film Festival that has stuck with me and remained on my mind throughout the entire fest - Minding the Gap. I first saw this film at the very beginning of the festival just before it kicked off, and I've honestly been thinking about it ever since - even after seeing 38 other films. Minding the Gap is an incredibly compelling documentary made by filmmaker Bing Liu telling a personal story of his life and the lives of two of his close friends from the small town of Rockford, Illinois. This profile of "lost youth" follows them through the years as they grow up and enter adulthood, examining who they are and figuring out where they're headed, sometimes without any answers. Bing is the real deal, and he has made one of the most refreshingly original, engaging docs about growing up in today's America.
The official awards for the 2018 Sundance Film Festival were announced tonight at a ceremony in Park City. We've been patiently waiting to see who won the awards at Sundance this year, and now we know - it's not any of the films we expected. This seems to be one of the oddest sets of winners in years, but that's the way it goes. The big Audience Award winners are: Burden, a story about a former Klansman being taken in by a Reverend starring Garrett Hedlund & Forest Whitaker, from director Andrew Heckler; The Sentence, a documentary by Rudy Valdez; and Search, the computer screen film (read my review) directed by Aneesh Chaganty. Other major winners include filmmakers Desiree Akhavan, Sara Colangelo, Christina Choe, Reed Morano, Reinaldo Marcus Green, Bing Liu, Derek Doneen, and Gustav Möller. View the full list from 2018.
I admit I have a soft spot for musicals, which means I also have big soft spot for films where people come together to make new music - either as a band, or a DJ, or a solo act. Hearts Beat Loud is the latest film from filmmaker Brett Haley (The New Year, I'll See You in My Dreams, The Hero) and it might be the best Closing Night film I've seen in the 12 years I've been coming to the Sundance Film Festival. Most films that premiere on Closing Night at Sundance are enjoyable, but ultimately forgettable, however this one breaks the mold and delivers a heartwarming, rockin', completely satisfying experience. The music they make is great, even though it does have a pop sound, it's still music I want to listen to on repeat. Most of all there's a sweet, warm feeling to this film that makes it so satisfying, as cinematic storytelling that's good for the soul.
"Let's make goodness attractive." We all know his name, we all know his show, but now we get to discover the complete story behind who this wonderful man really was. The iconic, irreplaceable Fred Rogers from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is the man who created and starred on the beloved television show "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood", which ran from 1968 to 2001. This new documentary film, Won't You Be My Neighbor? made by Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Morgan Neville (of The Cool School, Troubadours, 20 Feet from Stardom, Best of Enemies: Buckley vs. Vidal), provides an uplifting, humble look at Fred Rogers, as well as a definitive look at the show he created and its impact on the youth of America. It's so wonderful. I love watching documentaries like this that are moving and impassioned, built around the good found in us.
There's a time and place for films where nothing really happens, but this is not one of those times. Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Silva is a regular at Sundance, having brought his films Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus and Magic Magic in years past. He's back again to premiere his latest film, Tyrel, and unfortunately this film is a huge let down. I'm just going to state it right up front: nothing happens in this film. It has all this underlying tension, but none of it leads to anywhere, and none of it means anything. I'm starting to think I just do not like the films Silva makes, mostly because nothing happens. They're boring exercises in telling dull, dry stories that play well at festivals, but have no place in the bigger cinematic universe. Which is unfortunate, because I was really hoping his film Tyrel might have something to say, but alas it does not.
"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." –Maya Angelou. The official "tagline" (or motto or whatever it is) for the 2018 Sundance Film Festival is: "The Story Lives in You." This line of text is emblazoned upon all the banners, and shows up during the opening intro video before every single screening at the festival. At first I thought it was just a nice tagline, but after seeing over 30+ films here, I realize it's the very central theme of the festival. Almost every film I've seen has something to do with telling a very personal, intimate story. Yes, every film has a story to tell, that's what filmmaking is all about. But the more films I see here, the more I realize there is something unique about telling a personal story, expressing what's inside of you and your own experiences, and turning that into cinematic art. It's inspiring.
It's such a good feeling to walk in and see a film and discover something so wonderful and heartwarming and original. And I'm so happy that filmmaker Jason Reitman is back at his best again. Tully is director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody's latest collaboration (following Juno and Young Adult). It just premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival as a last-minute addition to the festival, and I loved it. This is Cody's best screenplay since Juno, hands down. It has such a lovely mix of genuine sweetness and good-hearted humor, balanced in equal measure and brought to life with a light touch by Reitman and his crew. It's a film about how sometimes you can't always take on everything in life by yourself, but there is more hidden within it that you have to see to discover yourself. Great films require this personal experience.
What a film. There are always new films made every year set in one place, as the contained thriller concept is always appealing and offers a certain amount of storytelling possibility and creativity. The Guilty, a film from Denmark, made by director Gustav Möller, is the latest contained thriller offering playing at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and it's incredible. Set entirely inside of an emergency phone line call center, the film is about a police officer assigned to the phones one night, and one of the incidents he responds to when a frightened woman calls in. The lead performance by Jakob Cedergren is phenomenal, worthy of awards recognition, since it carries the entire film and is the only real acting (aside from the voices on the phone) that provides audiences the ability to feel the emotions and concerns and worries of this pained man.