Sundance 2012: Our Final Recap & 10 Favorite Films of the Festival

January 30, 2012

Sundance Film Festival 2012

The 2012 Sundance Film Festival has finally come to an end and to put a wrap on things and finalize our nearly two weeks of coverage, we've got a recap and list of our favorites. I know I've said this before, but 2012 was a truly outstanding year, and it got even better as it came to an end. Between Ethan and I, we saw over 50 films, some good, some bad, some incredible, and we're here to tell you about the best of them. We tend to run reviews mostly for films we truly enjoy, the ones we want to tell everyone about, which is what our coverage has focused on. As a final recap we present our favorite films, plus a rundown of our posts.

Let's start at the top and take a look at our favorite films from Sundance 2012. While I saw a lot of films that I totally loved (my full list here), there were many I missed that I might've also enjoyed, perhaps too many to name, but these are indeed our top 5 favorites from this year's fest that we did see. Let's get right into it:

Alex's Top 5 Favorite Films:
#5: I Am Not a Hipster - Even though this was the second film I saw at the festival, it stuck with me all the way through 22 more films, remaining one of my top favorites. I had no idea what to expect going in, but was surprised and incredibly happy to find a beautifully crafted film made by passionate, talented people, all giving their hearts to a film that at the core focused on something very sweet. It's as entertaining as it is touching, the music is great, and I can't stop thinking about seeing it again. It's the one I keep telling people to see, despite the name, because it's a wonderful discovery.
#4: West of Memphis - The lesson I learned from this year's festival is that the film that really takes you an emotional journey and makes you feel things you didn't imagine possible is the one that truly leaves an imprint. While I saw a few great docs (The Imposter, Room 237), the anger, frustration, sadness that I felt watching West of Memphis as my final film of the festival made me realize how moving, how powerful, and how important this film is. That's exactly why this documentary is one of my favorites of the fest.
#3: Arbitrage - The more I think back to this film and it's story, the more I love it. It's the "billionaire" thriller that becomes very intense after a big plot point in the middle, and the way the script unravels from there is fascinating. Richard Gere is incredible in it, so are Nate Parker and Tim Roth, it has an excellent score from Cliff Martinez, it was just a solid thriller that left me thinking and thinking. Another one I kept recommending and will definitely be revisiting as soon as I get the chance.
#2: Smashed - The top performance of the Sundance 2012 in my opinion - Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Smashed. She is absolutely amazing in this, one of her greatest performances ever, I truly mean it. This film balances comedy/drama perfectly and addresses alcoholism in an intelligent, brave, even entertaining, way. I love this film for everything it stands for, on top of the performances and the filmmaking, and I'm excited for it to get released. Everyone involved should be very proud of what they've made.
#1: Beasts of the Southern Wild - As I referenced in my review, watching this reminded me of the first time I City of God, just the way it had an impact on me, how incredible the world it plays in is, the visuals, the characters, how real it all seems, how beautifully made it is. This is the film of Sundance 2012, in my opinion, the biggest discovery of the fest, and even though I saw it well after the hype had started, it still surpassed all my expectations. It's incredibly hard to describe, but it's an experience you just have to have. Be open to exploring this wonderful world, and you'll be blown away, too. My favorite film of the fest.

Ethan's Top 5 Favorite Films:
#5: Smashed - Many films chronicle the ugliness of alcoholism and the triumph of sobriety, but rarely does one focus on the consequences of both in such a practical way. It's Mary Elizabeth Winstead's performance, a great supporting cast and a real and honest script from a former alcoholic that made this one of my favorite films of the festival.
#4: Sleepwalk With Me - Rarely does a comedian successfully translate a stand-up act so well to television or film, let alone for a directorial debut, but the hilarious Mike Birbiglia does both effortlessly. Charming, funny and full of life, Sleepwalk with Me is better than most of the studio comedies that hit theaters nowadays, and makes me excited to see what else Birbiglia has up his sleeve.
#3: Save the Date - With a realism that hits close to home, and a complete lack of cliches that usually populate romantic comedies, Save the Date stands out as a real genuine story about different stages of love and relationships. Complete with a great quartet of performances from Lizzy Caplan, Alison Brie, Mark Webber and Martin Starr, not to mention one of the most authentic pieces of writing, this should make romantic comedies rethink their strategy.
#2: The End of Love - Mark Webber starred in three films at Sundance this year (unfortunately I missed For a Good Time Call…), and while it's clear I loved the actor in Save the Date, it's his work behind the camera as well as in front of it that made The End of Love a surprise treasure. What makes the story truly special is the blurred line between Mark the actor, and Mark the character in this film who struggles with telling his real-life 2-year old son about death. Raw, intimate and heartbreaking, it's an absolute must-see.
#1: Safety Not Guaranteed - Take time travel and wrap a quirky indie comedy around it, and you get this awesome, hilarious and original flick starring Mark Duplass, Aubrey Plaza, Jake M. Johnson and newcomer Karan Soni. What's most entertaining about Safety Not Guaranteed is that it keeps you guessing all the way through as the characters discover themselves and do a little bit of existential time traveling as they try to unravel the pieces of a potential time traveler who may or may not be absolutely crazy. The end will likely have audiences stand up and cheering.

Other Best of Sundance 2012 Lists:
Raffi, Jordan & Dan of The Film Stage's Best of Sundance 2012 - Simon Killer, Compliance
Germain Lussier of SlashFilm's Best of Sundance 2012 - #1: Beasts of the Southern Wild
Matt Patches of's Best Movies of Sundance 2012 - Beasts, The Comedy
Ben P & Venkman of GeekTyrant's Top 10 Favorite Films - #1: The Raid
Edward Douglas of ComingSoon's Best of the Fest - #1: West of Memphis
Michael & Jeremy of Paste Magazine's 10 Best Movies - #1: Beasts of the Southern Wild
Roya Rastegar of Huffington Post's Top Picks - #1: An Oversimplification of Her Beauty

As a recap, you can find two lists below of ALL reviews of Sundance films published over the last two weeks. They are organized by the score they were given in the review in order to easily find the best Sundance films.

Alex's Sundance Reviews:
Beasts of the Southern Wild10/10 - Beasts of the Southern Wild (dir. Benh Zeitlin)
9/10 - I Am Not a Hipster (dir. Destin Cretton)
9/10 - Frank and Robot (dir. Jake Schreier)
9/10 - The Imposter (dir. Bart Layton)
8.5/10 - Arbitrage (dir. Nicholas Jarecki)
8/10 - Safety Not Guaranteed (dir. Colin Trevorrow)

Ethan's Sundance Reviews:
9/10 - West of Memphis (dir. Amy Berg)
8.5/10 - Celeste and Jesse Forever (dir. Lee Toland Krieger)
8.5/10 - Sleepwalk With Me (dir. Mike Birbiglia)
8.5/10 - Smashed (dir. James Ponsoldt)
8/10 - Save the Date (dir. Michael Mohan)
8/10 - Indie Game (dir. Lisanne Pajot & James Swirsky)
8/10 - Meaning of Robots (dir. Matt Lenski)
7.5/10 - Liberal Arts (dir. Josh Radnor)
5/10 - Red Hook Summer (dir. Spike Lee)

Sundance Video Reviews:
The End of Love (dir. Mark Webber)
V/H/S (dir. Bruckner, McQuaid, Swanberg, West, Wingard, Radio Silence)
Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie (dir. Tim and Eric)

Our Sundance Interviews:
Tim and Eric - Writers/Directors of Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie
Mark Webber - Writer/Director/Star of The End of Love
Bart Layton & Dimitri Doganis - Producer/Director of The Imposter

Sundance Blogs + More:
Top 10 Movies to Keep An Eye On
What Films Will We Fall in Love With?
In It for the Long Run - All the Way to Sunday!
Sundance Film Festival 2012 Awards Revealed
TGB Episode 95: Recovering From Sundance

For those interested, Alex is also part of indieWire's criticWire and I've submitted rankings and reviews as part of their coverage of Sundance. You can find my scores and a complete rundown with rankings for all of the films playing at Sundance right here. They've got the best overall look at all the buzz from the festival.

Well, that's all from Sundance folks. We have a few more interviews to be posted this week (one with Mark Webber from The End of Love, another with the director and producer of The Imposter) but besides those, this concludes our coverage of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. We had a remarkable time this year, a rather unforgettable year, I would say. We met so many wonderful people, from filmmakers to publicists to bloggers, trekked miles through snow, but it was all for the love of cinema. We'll definitely be back in Park City next year, but for now, it's time to get some much needed rest and relaxation. Until Sundance 2013…!

Find more posts: Editorial, Feat, Sundance 12



No John Dies at the End? :/

Philip J. Fry on Jan 30, 2012


No Tim and Eric's billion dollar movie>!??

Jjwest on Jan 30, 2012


I saw the film (John Dies at the End), but caught it at a midnight screening after a long day and was VERY tired. It's good, but wacky and weird, I can't say I loved it, but I enjoyed it, had a good time watching. Didn't make the cut unfortunately.

Alex Billington on Jan 31, 2012


Yeah Ethan. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED sounds like a gem of gems.

DAVIDPD on Jan 30, 2012


no Surrogate?

Michael Gessendorf on Jan 30, 2012


Performance-wise, John Hawkes is the star of Sundance, but the film wasn't my favorite of the fest. Just felt a bit standard in its style/structure, despite the otherwise outstanding lead performances.

Alex Billington on Jan 30, 2012


Will you guys do a podcast with the feature topic solely focused on the Sundance films?

Charles Ritter on Jan 30, 2012


Did nobody see Oslo, August 31st?? I saw it at CIFF and it was one of my favorites of last year!

Samp on Jan 30, 2012


Actually, I saw Oslo August 31st at the Cannes Film Festival last year. Not a fan. It's very well-made, I'll give it that, tells a story about Norwegian culture that I wasn't familiar with, but it's so incredibly depressing and just dark and sad, that by the end I was just angry, and I didn't like where it lead us. It's an okay film, but after that experience in Cannes, I've never wanted to see it again and just can't recommend it to anyone, too depressing for anyone to see.

Alex Billington on Jan 31, 2012


Perhaps I have just grown accustomed to such things (one of my favorite directors is Michael Haneke). I can understand your reasonings for not liking it, though. Thanks for the response!

Samp on Jan 31, 2012


I Live for SUNDANCE! Now retired and have time to research to find your latest films and the ratings help be know where to begin.I can live without Cinemax, HBO, etc as long as I have Sundance.Your movies speak volumes and they all have a story that is relatable. Keep up the excellent work!

KartWillis on Jun 15, 2013

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