"This is a shared story. So you have my permission to tell it." My favorite film of 2018, my #1 film of the year (which I first saw at the Venice Film Festival last fall), was The Nightingale, directed by Australian filmmaker Jennifer Kent. This harrowing, intense, but beautiful story is about a woman who ventures out into the forest on the island of Tasmania seeking revenge. She befriends an Aboriginal guide along the way, and the story becomes as much about their friendship as it is about her revenge. The Nightingale is Kent's second feature film, her first being the world famous horror hit The Babadook. I caught Kent in Park City, Utah in January for an interview, as The Nightingale also premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year.
The apocalypse is coming, and there's no better way to prepare for that future than to build an overstocked fallout shelter in your home. Right? That's not crazy, is it? Totally sane. Some people think that this is just being properly prepared. The Tomorrow Man is a dramatic comedy from writer & director Noble Jones that just premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. It's an eccentric, amusing film with a romantic twist that is about an aging man who lives a quiet, lonely life in a small town. Jones' film is kinda-sorta mocking these "doomsday preppers", as they're known - the people who build special shelters and fill it with all kinds of extra food and supplies and survival equipment - because the media (and others from the internet) have made them think something is about to happen and they should be ready for everything to fall apart - soon.
The 2019 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 44 films across 10 days, but I couldn't catch everything and missed a few films getting lots of good buzz from critics (e.g. The Souvenir, Them That Follow, Queen of Hearts, Monos). I saw around 12 documentaries this year, so instead of separating docs and features this year, I decided to present one big list of my 8 favorite films - a mix of docs and features. All of these films below are worth seeing, and I highly recommend seeking them out. I am so happy that Sundance continues to program some of the best films all year, as well as more innovative, unique, challenging, fascinating, and enchanting features from all over the world. Below are my favorites, the films that stuck with me and have remained on my mind throughout the festival. Let's dive in.
"What I want out of art is to be disturbed. I want to be confused… I want the same thing out of a movie as a painting or a book or a conversation with someone smart." This quote, from director Penny Lane given at the "Power of Story" discussion at Sundance this year, is exactly how I feel as well. There's so many safe, middle-of-the-road films that cover stories and topics we've seen covered so many times before. But every once in a while someone comes along and shakes things up, challenging us with something that breaks the mold, goes against the grain, and forces us to confront our own prejudices or demons or fears. With the 2019 Sundance Film Festival finally wrapped up, I wanted to recap my experiences in snowy Park City this year and briefly chat about how I'm always impressed by the films that play this extraordinary festival.
Family is everything. We must never forget them. One of the most wonderful, heartwarming, beautifully-made films of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival The Farewell. Written and directed by filmmaker Lulu Wang, her second feature after making Posthumous in 2014, The Farewell tells a very personal (and true) story from Wang's own life - about the time she had to fly from NYC all the way China to visit her grandma when they thought she was close to dying, but nobody was allowed to tell her this. The film is filled with heartfelt humor, genuine emotions that give the story so much life, along with confident filmmaking from Wang - who has an impressive grasp on managing an ensemble of memorable characters. It is a genuinely wonderful film, and one that has only grown on me more after first seeing it at the beginning of the festival.
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.
The official awards for the 2019 Sundance Film Festival were announced this weekend at a ceremony in Park City, Utah. We've all been curious to see who's taking home awards at Sundance this year, and now we know - it's not many of the films most people have been buzzing about. Like last year. These are unexpected but nonetheless worthy picks from audiences and each jury. The big Audience Award winners are: Brittany Runs a Marathon, about an overweight young woman who pushes herself to train for the NYC Marathon, starring Jillian Bell; Knock Down the House, a documentary about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other underdog politicians; and The Infiltrators, a doc-feature hybrid about children detention centers. Other winners include filmmakers Joanna Hogg, Chinonye Chukwu, and Nanfu Wang. View all the winners below.
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.