We're currently in the Golden Age of documentaries, with so many outstanding films premiering every year. Sundance always hosts some of the best filmmakers, who bring some of the best documentaries to premiere in the mountains every January. American Factory, the latest doc by filmmaking team Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, is a documentary masterpiece - plain and simple. This is an exhilarating, impressive-in-every-way film that rivals the work of Frederick Wiseman, utilizing a similar style with massive amounts of captivating fly-on-the-wall footage. American Factory is about Dayton, Ohio and what happens when a Chinese billionaire buys a GM factory that recently shut down and re-opens it as a Chinese glass company, hiring back all the workers who were laid off. They exquisitely capture the modern culture clash that ensues.
For the times, they are a changin'… What a world we live in these days. So many things are coming apart. And this documentary is one of the most eye-opening, magnificent looks at what is happening. The Edge of Democracy is a captivating documentary made by Brazilian filmmaker Petra Costa, taking us deep inside the end of democracy and remarkable political upheaval in Brazil over the last decade. It's an astounding inside look at the recent political shake up in Brazil, examining and showing us directly how democracy is collapsing thanks to political power grabs. There's a phenomenal amount of jaw-dropping footage in this, combined with very personal filmmaking from Petra Costa, that make it an extraordinary documentary. This film really blew me away - I didn't expect to be impressed this much, but there's so much to admire about it.
This is the film I was waiting to discover at the Sundance Film Festival. Something that's superb right from the start and sticks the landing. The Last Black Man in San Francisco is the feature directorial debut of filmmaker Joe Talbot, a San Francisco native, telling a very emotional and honest story about how the city has changed over time. The film is co-written by and stars Jimmie Fails (who's also a good friend of Talbot), playing himself and telling his own story, about what it's like to be a black man in San Francisco - pushed out of the city so rich white people can live there instead. But this film is so much more than that, so much more in every sense, in every way. It's an authentic and moving study on finding your place in this modern world. It pulled me in with its gorgeous visuals and heartfelt vibes - one of the best films of the fest.
There are always a few documentaries every year that deserve to be categorized under the "holy shit" section of cinema. This is one of them. Cold Case Hammarskjöld is the latest compelling documentary feature made by Danish filmmaker Mads Brügger, follow his other provocative films Kim Jong-Il's Comedy Club and The Ambassador. This time he stumbles upon something incredible, something profound and horrible, something scary and unbelievable. Yet it is believable - as seen in this film. It's easy to brush off everything as a conspiracy theory, but I'd rather believe that it's more convenient to ignore the truth than to accept that this kind of trickery and manipulation is really, truly real. But that's the discussion you will be having after seeing the film - a two hour investigation into what happened to UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld.
Not everything is about falling in love, and being physical. Sometimes just spending time with someone can mean more than anything, and remind us we're not always alone. I adore Indian filmmaker Ritesh Batra's films about the random connections that mean the most to us. His sweet, touching storytelling lets emotions build through the moments and interactions - not just dialogue or story beats. Photograph is Batra's latest film after making two English-language features (Our Souls at Night, The Sense of an Ending) which were his follow-up films to his breakout hit The Lunchbox (which I fell in love with at Telluride 2013). Batra goes back to his roots for this film, telling a story about a friendship between two quiet people in Mumbai, India.
There's nothing like a great film that challenges your own prejudices and feelings, in an engaging and mind-blowing way. Luce, the third feature directed by Julius Onah (after The Girl Is in Trouble and The Cloverfield Paradox), is hands down the most provocative film of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. It's an intelligent, clever, compelling drama that challenges us to rethink what we think we know - and does so with phenomenal performances and one hell of a smart script. The pitch for this film doesn't sound that enticing when you first hear it, but it's an experience that you won't soon forget, proving that cinema still has the ability to provoke and shake up even the most jaded viewers. One of the best films of the festival, a must see for anyone who appreciates challenging, bleeding-edge cinema. And a defining film for Kelvin Harrison Jr.
Sound the alarm! There's a new monster movie in town and it's awesome. Sweetheart is the latest feature made by filmmaker J.D. Dillard, who launched his career in 2016 with a film at Sundance titled Sleight - about young magician with some special powers. Sweetheart is an entirely different feature from Dillard, but just as impressive - perhaps even moreso considering how much he has achieved on such a small scale. This contained horror thriller starts with a woman washing up on shore on a deserted island in the middle of the ocean. It's not the elements that will kill her, but something that comes out of the water at night that is much more dangerous. I loved this, it's one of the best new introductions to a cinema monster in a while.
"If you place an object in a museum does that make this object a piece of art?" After the first viewing of this film (on the big screen at the Sundance Film Festival world premiere), it's hard to make sense of it. That's not a criticism, just a statement. The first time watching a murder mystery that unfolds in front of you as you are watching is always an eye-opening, rivting experience. With this one, it's even more exhilarating because there's so much going on - bouncing back and forth between dark comedy, freaky horror, wacky art world satire, and just regular relationship drama. Dan Gilroy's latest feature, that he wrote and directed, is titled Velvet Buzzsaw and it's trippy and weird as fuck and totally hilarious and funky and engaging. Not everyone will agree (or like it), but I dug the hell out of this film, as massively weird & insanely wild as it is.
This might just be the feel-good film of the year. And it's definitely the best British indie musical since Sing Street. The latest film by Gurinder Chadha (of Bend It Like Beckham, Bride & Prejudice, It's a Wonderful Afterlife, Viceroy's House), titled Blinded by the Light, just premiered at the Sundance Film Festival to a well-earned standing ovation and plenty of cheers. This 1980s rock musical inspired by and integrating the music of Bruce Springsteen, will leave you with that euphoric feeling of wonder and happiness. At least that's how I felt as soon as it ended. This joyful, upbeat, optimistic film is about a Pakistani teen living in a small town in Britain in the 80s who instantly falls in love with Springsteen the moment a friend introduces him to his music. As he struggles with family and racism, he lets the music guide him through adolescence.
It's time to meet your new Mother. There's a surprise, original sci-fi film premiering at the Sundance Film Festival this year titled I Am Mother, an impressive creation that is worth your time if you're a sci-fi geek like me. I really love that there's original, epic sci-fi projects like this being made out there without us even knowing, getting funded somehow, with the ability to go all-out with crazy ideas and make something new and unique. Then the film shows up at Sundance and while it's an odd fit for the festival, I'm still all for it, bring on the sci-fi goodness, please. It's best to see this film knowing as little as possible, so I won't reveal anything major and only give a fairly vague description. All you really need to know is this sci-fi film packs a punch, plays around with some big ideas, and features a crazy cool practical robot built by Weta Workshop.
Great comedy requires great writing. And great writing comes from honest, intelligent people, who take all they've experienced in life, and figure out how to make us laugh. Late Night is a new comedy premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, directed by Nisha Ganatra (Chutney Popcorn, Fast Food High, Cake), from a screenplay written by the talented comedian / actress / writer Mindy Kaling. Kaling borrows from her own real life experiences working as a writer for television, and gives us a story about a sodden, compassionless, aging, bitchy late night talk show host named Katherine Newbury - played perfectly by the always-incredible Emma Thompson. She's the only female late night host in town, something she is very proud of, but her ratings have going down. And she's nearing the end unless hiring a female writer might make a difference.
Later this year, we will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission and Moon landing. Back in July of 1969, NASA successfully sent a team of three astronauts safely to the Moon (238,900 miles away) and back, a monumental achievement in human history that is still just as mind-blowing today as it was 50 years ago. Apollo 11 is a brand new documentary directed by filmmaker Todd Douglas Miller, and it is truly spectacular a cinematic event. One of the films this year you absolutely must see on the big screen this year, as the footage and technical aspects of this film are extraordinary. Miller and his filmmaking crew, along with archivists and others, helped restore and re-scan tons of footage from NASA to put this together.