We're all addicted to technology - the internet, social media, messaging, news. Everything that comes with it. Documentary filmmaker Jeff Orlowski is the latest to make a film about this dilemma. His new film is literally called The Social Dilemma, and it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. For the last 10 years, Orlowski has been making extraordinary films about climate change's effects on Earth. His first feature documentary, Chasing Ice, landed him an Oscar nomination. He then followed that up with Chasing Coral, one of my favorite films of 2017. His new film isn't about the climate this time - instead, it's about how and why climate deniers still exist. What is fueling their delusion and is technology helping spread the misinformation that encourages more denialism? Of course, the answer is yes. I'm glad I had a chance to meet up with Jeff while at Sundance and talk about his latest doc film and the reasons he made it.
This is the wacky, weird, wild story of a goofy cartoon frog that became an anti-hero meme in the age of the internet. Feels Good Man is much more than a documentary about "Pepe the Frog". It's a documentary about this dangerous modern society we now live in, and how things have gotten seriously out of hand. It's a documentary about the internet, and how it has allowed billions of people to take control over anything they want, twisting stories and hijacking ideas to suit their own desires, their own ideologies. It's about how you "can't put the genie back in the bottle." It's about how hard it is to fight back against mob mentality fueled by the internet, and how hard it is to defend yourself since we seem to have reverted to the wild west online. Feels Good Man is, without a doubt, one of the best documentaries from the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
The 2020 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 40 films across 10 days, but I couldn't catch everything and missed a few films getting lots of good buzz from critics (e.g. Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Kajillionaire, I Carry You with Me). I saw a good chunk of documentaries this year, so instead of separating docs and features, I am presenting one big list of my 10 favorite films - a mix of docs and features. All of these below are worth watching, and I highly recommend seeking them out. I'm glad Sundance continues to program some of the best films all year, as well as more innovative, unique, challenging, fascinating, and thrilling features from all around the world. Below are my favorites, the films that connected with me and have remained on my mind throughout the festival. Dive in.
"I believe in you, Peter." So worth the wait. New Orleans-based filmmaker Benh Zeitlin is finally back with his second feature film at the Sundance Film Festival. He rocked the festival in 2012 with his debut Beasts of the Southern Wild, and is back again eight years later to share his latest creation. Wendy is Zeitlin's new take on Peter Pan, a re-imagining of the classic J.M. Barrie story, this time focusing on the character of Wendy as the adventurous leader of the group of boys. It follows the same story beats and themes as the original "Peter Pan" – it's all in there, including Captain Hook – but it also adds in Zeitlin's unique, gritty southern aesthetic. The film starts with kids escaping to the mythical island by hopping on top of a freight train. It's amazing. One of the most rousing, invigorating sequences in in any film from the festival this year.
It's always a sweet delight to discover a romance that gives you the chills thanks to its immeasurable charm and expressions of love. Sylvie's Love is one of those great discoveries, a classical romantic drama set in the 1950s in New York City that despite a conventional plot is still a lovely film worth swooning over. This indie romantic drama just premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, screening in the US Dramatic Competition section, and it should connect most with viewers who appreciate old school romance from the 1950s. The cinematography is exceptional, the jazz soundtrack is really wonderful. Most of all, it's going to be a calling card for a tremendously talented filmmaker - Eugene Ashe. It's his break out moment, despite being his second film, an exemplary example of how he can capture a mood and true love for the big screen.
Find your own voice! This is one of the films that deserves to break out of the Sundance Film Festival this year – a refreshingly original, totally badass, uncompromising directorial debut. One year ago at Sundance, New York native playwright Radha Blank was sitting in the audience at a screening and was encouraged by her friend Lena Waithe to stop worrying and make her damn film (Waithe went on to produce it). She also encouraged her to make it exactly the way she wanted, to tell her story, to be fearless. And she has delivered. The 40-Year-Old Version is Radha Blank's feature directorial debut - she writes, directs, produces, and stars in it. And it's awesome. She knocks this one out of the park, around the block, and back. Its a hilarious and honest story of a woman who's voice we all should be listening to already. Get in line now to watch this.
The official awards for the 2020 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 one of the most talked about of the fest. Finally, a real winner this year! The big Audience Award winners are: Minari, about a Korean-American family that movies to rural Arkansas to try and start a farm; Crip Camp, a documentary about a summer camp started in the 70s for disabled teenagers; and I Carry You With Me, about a chef leaving behind his lover to try and make a life in NYC. Other winners include filmmakers like Kirsten Johnson, Josephine Decker, Radha Blank, and Edson Oda. View the winners below.
There's nothing else like truffles! The aromatic Tuber delicacy is a specialty in Italy, a high-priced item that is not easy to find. The Truffle Hunters is an exquisite, lovable, utterly sublime documentary that takes us deep into Piedmont to meet some of the finest truffle hunters in the entire world. This doc is the BEST!! I absolutely adore this film, one of the best discoveries at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. A perfectly shot and perfectly presented love letter to the great truffle hunters and truffle dogs of Italy. There is nothing to change about it, nothing to really criticize or nitpick. Just bask in the glory of this doc film and make sure to book a table at a restaurant serving truffle because you'll definitely be hungry for some after finishing this.
The Lonely Island boys are back with one of the best films they've ever made! Palm Springs is a hilarious, easy-to-love romantic comedy revolving around a time loop concept. I was not expecting to see a new Lonely Island comedy like this showing up out of nowhere at the Sundance Film Festival, but there it is, and it's amazingly enjoyable. And it's actually an independent film that needs distribution (it was bought by Hulu & Neon for $17.5 million and .69 cents) which is strange considering I don't know how any distributor didn't buy this the moment they heard about it. The script is great, but the movie itself is even better, a reassuring rom-com about two people who end up falling for each other (but must learn to overcome their own issues).
We're driving ourselves insane! Spree is a wild ride of a film that takes that sentence and makes it literal - we follow a young rideshare app driver who gets addicted to internet popularity and goes on a crazy killing spree. It's the definitive "HOLY F**K" film of Sundance 2020, which is really a big compliment considering it's audacious and innovative and has an important message driving it. Spree is the most authentic, accurate villain origin story of these modern times - even moreso than Joker, which is a fair reference though they're quite different. It's an extremely brutally honest cautionary tale that thrilled the hell out of me. This is the kind of innovative, provocative film I love stumbling across at Sundance, and I'm glad it played at the fest.
This is it. This is the film I was waiting for. This is the one-of-a-kind masterpiece of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Nine Days is a magnificently moving, original work of art. An extraordinary film that dares us to re-examine our lives, and rediscover all the little moments that matter. It is heart-pounding cinema, soul-stirring, life-affirming cinema. It's a very ambitious, original concept that is beautifully realized by writer / director Edson Oda and his entire team on and off screen. Nine Days is one of those rare films that, to me, is perfect. There is not a single frame I would change or alter or remove. I do not need more or less. Every second of this film is perfect. Every shot important, every glance vital. It's a film that left me invigorated and exhilarated, ready to go out and tackle the world, ready to live my life with even more confidence than ever.
Sometimes a friendship can change the world. Ironbark is a film that doesn't really fit into the Sundance Film Festival, but that doesn't really matter. It's not the typical independent, quirky, contemporary work of cinema that you'd expect to see in Park City in January. But it's still a damn good film. Perhaps even better than many of the other films playing at Sundance that aren't as taut and intriguing and moving as this one. Ironbark is based on a true story, a 60s espionage thriller the same vein as Bridge of Spies about how an unlikely international friendship between two people saved the world. It's a fantastic film, better than I was expecting considering it's just about two spies, and it seriously moved me - I was almost in tears by the end.