Sundance '13: Alex & Ethan's Favorite Films of the Fest + Final Recap

January 29, 2013

Sundance 2013

The 2013 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 one last recap and the list of our favorites. I really had an amazing time at Sundance this year, and most of the films I caught I enjoyed. There were only a few I hated, a lot I loved, and many I can't wait to watch again. Together we saw over 30 films in total, some great, some bad, some incredible. We usually run reviews for films we enjoy, the ones we want to talk about, which is what our coverage has been. As a final recap we present our 5 favorite films, plus a rundown of everything else.

Let's start at the top and take a look at our favorite films from Sundance 2013. While I saw many films that I thoroughly enjoyed (my full list of 30 here), there were a few I missed from the line-up (Prince Avalanche, After Tiller). But these are our top 5 favorites from this year's festival that we did get to see. Let's get into it:

Alex's Top 5 Favorite Films:
#5: Ain't Them Bodies Saints - This chilling movie is one of those that has stuck with me throughout the festival. When this first premiered, it immediately reminded me of Terrence Malick's Badlands. It definitely has that feel, and I actually mean that in a good way. It's a contemporary, moving, quiet, beautiful crime flick, starring Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara. Both of whom give incredible performances as aching lovers split apart by a crime-gone-wrong. It has the cinematography of Malick, but a contemporary and fairly interesting story, and "chilling" score. I've heard some say it's derivative, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, an impressive feature debut from director David Lowery. Give it a look whenever it plays.

#4: Fruitvale - I caught this film late in the festival and had already heard the hype, but it lived up to it. This is a very powerful, remarkable, and emotionally moving film. Even more amazing that it's the feature debut of 26-year-old director Ryan Coogler, who went on to win both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize. Deserving, because it's the kind of film that's going to go far and leave an impact. I was crying by the end, just like everyone was in the audience, it's that powerful. Michael B. Jordan gives the performance of his lifetime, and I honestly expect this one to get the most nominations next awards season. Bravo.

#3: C.O.G. - This is another film I can't shake, it just wowed me from the start. Kyle Patrick Alvarez impressed the hell out of me with his film adapted from one of David Sedaris' essays. The score for it kicks so much ass, I wish I was listening to it right now it's so damn good. Lead Jonathan Groff gives a fantastic performance as a Yale student who moves to Oregon to work on an Apple farm, and gets some lessons about life and God and everything else. I was secretly expecting it to be good, but this was even better than I was expecting. It's darkly comedic, very entertaining, and explores some interesting religious concepts, with another excellent supporting performance by Denis O'Hare. I'm not sure if enough people saw it during the fest, but I suggest giving it a shot, it may impress you as much as it did me.

#2: The Spectacular Now - At the top of my most anticipated list of films to see was this one, The Spectacular Now, directed by one of my favorite up-and-coming filmmakers James Ponsoldt. Written by the two guys who wrote 500 Days of Summer, this remarkable coming-of-age romantic comedy stars two breakout leads - Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley. There is so much to love about this movie, from the two leads playing off each other perfectly, to the exquisite filmmaking including fantastic dialogue with long-takes, to how deeply layered the screenplay is touching upon popularity, alcoholism, parenting, relationships and plenty more. It's a brilliant, beautiful film, soon to be a hit and awards contender, too.

#1: Before Midnight - I can't help it. I fell for this movie just like everyone else. As I said the moment it ended, I could not stop smiling the entire movie. Richard Linklater nailed it. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy take it right to where it needed to be, and bring us on another extraordinary, gorgeous, emotional, honest, intimate journey into the lives of two soul mates. This movie is perfect, I truly mean it, complete and utter perfection on screen. Every frame of it, every conversation, the way it starts and ends, they could not have done it any better. This is cinema at its finest and I'm glad I was able to be there to experience it.

Ethan's Top 5 Favorite Films:
#5: Sound City - A true rock documentary looking back at the rise and fall (twice) of a dingy but well known music studio called Sound City. Though the directorial debut from Foo Fighters frontman / Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl isn't perfect, it was wholly satisfying and had a collection of some of the best rock music to keep it energetic and interesting. Sound City kept a smile on my face and had me tapping my foot and nodding my head with every track, especially the new songs at the end featuring some of rock's most legendary talents. Sound City will be available on VOD and iTunes on February 1st in addition to theaters.

#4: Fruitvale - Thankfully, I had the honor of being at the premiere of this directorial debut by Ryan Coogler, and the film has since become one of the most buzzed about at the fest, not to mention winning both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize. Coogler shows a great talent behind the camera and on the page (like a less audacious Spike Lee) along with spectacular performances from Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz and Octavia Spencer. This will definitely be a film to keep an eye on when awards season rolls around at the end of the year and has the potential to blow up upon release. It's a tragic, harrowing and powerful story.

#3: A.C.O.D. - Undoubtedly my favorite comedy at Sundance, this was one of the more risky choices on my anticipated films list before the festival began with a debut director. It could have been a dud, but instead the film directed by Stu Zicherman (which he also wrote with Ben Karlin) is smart, hilarious and brought to life spectacularly by a lead performance from Adam Scott ("Parks & Recreation"). It also helps that the rest of the cast is rounded out with an amazing comedic cast including Catherine O'Hara, Richard Jenkins, Amy Poehler, Clark Duke and Jane Lynch, not to mention the lovely Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Jessica Alba. Plus, the ending was just about perfect.

#2: The Spectacular Now - This is the kind of film you love to see explode out of Sundance. After being one of the early acquisitions at the festival, The Spectacular Now (from director James Ponsoldt, whose film Smashed made my favorites at Sundance last year) became one of the most loved film in Park City this year. With a star-making turn from Miles Teller, this story about a charismatic teenage alcoholic finding himself and coming to terms with his problem is endearing, authentic and thoroughly affecting. The film is also completely entertaining, and helped by another great supporting performance from Shailene Woodley (seen in The Descendants).

#1: Before Midnight - If you read my glowing review, you probably saw this coming, After being my most anticipated film at Sundance this year and also on my list of the 13 Most Anticipated Films of 2013, the odds of being completely satisfied with this unlikely threequel seemed slim. But 20 minutes into the premiere of Richard Linklater's latest endeavor with writers and stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy and I knew this was going to be special. By the end, I was laughing, on the verge of tears, and touched deeply. Before Midnight isn't just a whimsical romance; It's about real, true, raw, passionate love, for better or worse. Amazing writing, riveting performances and a satisfying ending made this perfect for me, and I went so far as to see it twice in Park City.

Other Best of Sundance 2013 Lists:
/Filmcast's The Best Films of Sundance 2013 - Before Midnight, Upstream Color, S-VHS's 15 Favorite Sundance Film Festival Movies - Upstream Color, The Spectacular Now
The Film Stage's Best of Sundance Film Festival 2013 - Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Before Midnight
The Playlist's 5 Best Films Of The Festival - Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Prince Avalanche
Jordan Smith of IONCinema's Top Five Films - Fruitvale, Upstream Color

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

Alex's Sundance Reviews:
C.O.G.9/10 - The Spectacular Now (dir. James Ponsoldt)
9/10 - C.O.G. (dir. Kyle Patrick Alvarez)
9/10 - Toy's House (dir. Kyle Patrick Alvarez)
8.5/10 - Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman (dir. Fredrik Bond)
8/10 - The East (dir. Zal Batmanglij)
7/10 - Escape From Tomorrow (dir. Randy Moore)
Jobs (dir. Joshua Michael Stern)
S-VHS (dirs. Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener, Gregg Hale, Eduardo Sánchez, Adam Wingard)
Don Jon's Addiction (dir. Joseph Gordon-Levitt)

Ethan's Sundance Reviews:
10/10 - Before Midnight (dir. Richard Linklater)
9/10 - A.C.O.D. (dir. Stu Zicherman)
8.5/10 - Fruitvale (dir. Ryan Coogler)
8/10 - Ass Backwards (dir. Chris Nelson)
8/10 - Ain't Them Bodies Saints (dir. David Lowery)
8/10 - Kill Your Darlings (dir. John Krokidas)
8/10 - Sightseers (dir. Ben Wheatley)
8/10 - Sound City (dir. David Grohl)
7.5/10 - Stoker (dir. Chan-wook Park)
7.5/10 - The Way, Way Back (dirs. Nat Faxon & Jim Rash)
7/10 - Breathe In (dir. Drake Doremus)
7/10 - In a World… (dir. Lake Bell)
5.5/10 - Crystal Fairy (dir. Sebastián Silva)

Ben's Sundance Reviews:
9/10 - Linsanity (dir. Evan Leong)
6.5/10 - The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete (dir. George Tillman Jr.)
6/10 - Lovelace (dirs. Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman)
3.5/10 - The Lifeguard (dir. Liz W. Garcia)

Sundance Video Blogs:
Jobs (dir. Joshua Michael Stern)
S-VHS (dirs. Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener, Gregg Hale, Eduardo Sánchez, Adam Wingard)
Don Jon's Addiction (dir. Joseph Gordon-Levitt)
A.C.O.D. (dir. Stu Zicherman)
Our Friends Discuss Their Favorite Film

Sundance Blogs + More:
Our Top 10 Most Anticipated Films of the Festival
Let It Begin! Time to Discover Some Cinematic Gems
Interview: Ass Backwards' Casey Wilson & June Diane Raphael
Reflecting on Self-Reflection in a World of Cinema
Sundance Film Festival 2013 Awards Revealed
Surviving Seeing 30 Films in 10 Days at a Festival
Sales Recap: 'Kill Your Darlings,' 'Fruitvale' & More
TGB Episode 142: The Sundance Game 2013

Well, that's all from Sundance folks. We'll have one more interview and a few more reviews coming over the next few days, as well as a final favorites video blog, but otherwise this once again concludes our coverage of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. As I said in my blog: "I go to Sundance every year because I want to be moved by independent film, inspired by the power of love and the tenacity of humanity, through the sadness of tragedy, moved by the enduring hope for happiness. I want to discover great cinema." That was certainly the case this year. We'll be back in Park City next year, but for now, it's time to get some much needed rest.

Find more posts: Feat, Indies, Sundance 13



Just want to say thank you for doing what you love 🙂

yolo? on Jan 29, 2013


I'm surprised Upstream Color is nowhere on here.

clinteastwoodscloset on Jan 29, 2013


Very nice. More of these lists please, of different film critics views on movies. A filmsite doesn't have to stick behind "1 score", Ethan might give a movie you gave 8/10 a 4/10, would be interesting to see more of your opinions on the same films.

David Banner on Jan 29, 2013

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