No. 210 | January 28, 2011
Our theme this week
Indie films of the Sundance Film Festival
FIVE FEATURE FILMS
You Can Count on Me (2000)
2000 Sundance Festival (Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award)
Kenneth Lonergan, writer-director
Stephen Kazmierski, cinematographer
Laura Linney, Mark Ruffalo, Matthew Broderick, Jon Tenney, Rory Culkin
Kenneth Lonergan’s film centers on relationships within the Prescott family, primarily between Sammy and Terry, a single mom and her drifter brother, who arrives back in town for an extended visit. It’s a wonderful examination of the push and pull of family ties and the trials of growing up. Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo play the leads, with not a false moment between them. It’s a small film, and in the best of ways, one with a big heart.
2001 Sundance Festival (Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award)
Christopher Nolan, director
Jonathan Nolan (story), Christopher Nolan (screenplay), writers
Wally Pfister, cinematographer
Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano
Thrillers tend to be plot-driven, and in the case of Memento, the plot is sliced in two and moving in different directions, one of them in reverse. It’s a novel gimmick and deftly executed. We see a few days in the life of Leonard Shelby, a man suffering amnesia but also lacking the ability to store new memories. Makes it hard to tell friend from foe and to unravel the mystery of the revenge killing at the beginning of the film.
American Splendor (2003)
2003 Sundance Festival (Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic)
Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini, writer-directors
Based on a book and comics by Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner
Terry Stacey, cinematographer
Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis, Harvey Pekar
An autobiographical film about Harvey Pekar, the creator of a series of autobiographical comics about Harvey Pekar, the everyman hero who works as a clerk at a V.A. hospital. Paul Giamatti play Pekar, and Pekar plays the Real Harvey. As you can imagine, there’s a blend of fiction and reality, and it all works very nicely for great comic and dramatic effect.
2009 Sundance Festival (Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic; Audience Award: Dramatic; Special Jury Prize for Acting, Mo’Nique)
Lee Daniels, director
Geoffrey S. Fletcher, writer
Andrew Dunn, Darren Lew, cinematographers
Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz
Poor, obese, abused, and pregnant again, Precious Jones is an illiterate junior high student sent to an alternative school for a chance to change her life. Miraculously, she does. Nothing comes easy, though. Hardly a pretty story, but an affecting one.
Winter’s Bone (2010)
2010 Sundance Festival (Grand Jury Prize: Drama; Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award)
Debra Granik, director
Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini, writers
Michael McDonough, cinematographer
Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Garret Dillahunt
The search for the father is about the oldest story around. Telemachus, meet Ree. She’s a 17-year-old living in the dirt-poor hills of Missouri. She has a sick mother, a couple of younger siblings to care for, and a father nowhere to be found. Unless she finds him in a few days—dead or alive—her family will lose their home. The hunt is on. First-rate performances from Jennifer Lawrence as the fearless teen and John Hawkes as her uncle, Teardrop. The film won awards at Sundance, wide critical acclaim during its run in theaters last summer, and this week, nominations for four Oscars, including picture, screenplay, and the two acting performances.
OTHER NOTABLE FEATURES
Chuck & Buck (Miguel Arteta, director, 2000)
The Tao of Steve (Jenniphr Goodman, cowriter-director; Special Jury Prize for Acting, Donal Logue, 2000)
American Psycho (Mary Harron, cowriter-director, 2000)
The Believer (Henry Bean, cowriter-director; Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic, 2001)
Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, writer-director, 2001)
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (John Cameron Mitchell, cowriter-director, 2001)
In the Bedroom (Todd Field, cowriter-director; Special Jury Prize for Acting, Sissy Spacek, Tom Wilkinson, 2001)
L.I.E. (Michael Cuesta, cowriter-director, 2001)
Bloody Sunday (Paul Greengrass, writer-director, 2002: Audience Award: Dramatic, 2002)
Personal Velocity: Three Portraits (Rebecca Miller, writer-director; Grand Jury Prize, Cinematography Award, Ellen Kuras, 2002)
The Station Agent (Thomas McCarthy, writer-director; Audience Award, Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award, Special Jury Prize for Acting, Patricia Clarkson, 2003)
Whale Rider (Niki Caro, writer-director; Audience Award, World Cinema, 2003)
Maria Full of Grace (Joshua Marston, writer-director; Audience Award: Dramatic, 2004)
Garden State (Zach Braff, writer-director, 2004)
Napoleon Dynamite (Jared Hess, cowriter-director, 2004)
The Woodsman (Nicole Kassell, cowriter-director, 2004)
The Motorcycle Diaries (Walter Salles, director, 2004)
Hustle & Flow (Craig Brewer, writer-director; Audience Award: Dramatic, 2005)
The Squid and the Whale (Noah Baumbach, writer-director; Dramatic Directing Award, Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award, 2005)
Junebug (Phil Morrison, director; Special Jury Prize for Acting, Amy Adams, 2005)
Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck, cowriter-director, 2006)
Little Miss Sunshine (Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris, directors, 2006)
Once (John Carney, writer-director; World Cinema Audience Award: Dramatic, 2007)
Starting Out in the Evening (Andrew Wagner, cowriter-director, 2007)
Frozen River (Courtney Hunt, writer-director; Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic, 2008)
In Bruges (Michael McDonough, writer-director, 2008)
An Education (Lone Sherfig, director; Audience Award, Cinematography, World Cinema, 2009)
Sin Nombre (Cary Fukunaga, writer-director; Directing Award, Cinematography Award: Dramatic, 2009)
Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance, cowriter-director; Grand Jury Prize: Drama; Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award, 2010)
Animal Kingdom (David Michôd, writer-director; World Cinema Jury Prize: Dramatic, 2010)
The Kids Are All Right (Lisa Cholodenko, cowriter-director, 2010)
Long Night’s Journey Into Day (Deborah Hoffmann, Frances Reid, directors; Grand Jury Prize, 2000)
Dogtown and Z-Boys (Stacy Peralta, director; Directing Award, 2001)
Startup.com (Chris Hegedus, Jehane Noujaim, directors, 2001)
Capturing the Friedmans (Andrew Jarecki, director; Grand Jury Prize, 2003)
Super Size Me (Morgan Spurlock, director; Directing Award, 2004)
The Corporation (Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott, directors; World Cinema Audience Award, 2004)
Murderball (Henry Alex Rubin, Dana Adam Shapiro, directors; Audience Award, Special Jury Award for Editing, 2005)
Why We Fight (Eugene Jarecki, director; Grand Jury Prize, 2005)
The Aristocrats (Paul Provenza, director, 2005)
An Inconvenient Truth (Davis Guggenheim, director, 2006)
An Unreasonable Man (Henriette Mantel, Steve Skrovan, directors, 2006)
Wordplay (Patrick Creadon, director, 2006)
No End in Sight (Charles Ferguson, director, 2007)
Man on Wire (James Marsh, director; World Cinema Jury Prize, 2008)
I.O.U.S.A. (Patrick Creadon, director, 2008)
The Cove (Louie Psihoyos, director; Audience Award, 2009)
The September Issue (R.J. Cutter, director; Excellence in Cinematography Award, 2009)
Tyson (James Toback, director, 2009)
Waiting for “Superman” (Davis Guggenheim, director; Audience Award, Directing Award, 2010)
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (Ricki Stern, Anne Sundberg, directors; Editing Award, 2010)
The Tillman Story (Amir Bar-Lev, director, 2010)
Restrepo (Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger, directors; Grand Jury Prize, 2010)
GasLand (Josh Fox, director; Special Jury Prize; 2010)
Waste Land (Lucy Walker, Karen Harley, João Jardim, directors; Audience Award, 2010)
Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy, director, 2010)
The line between Hollywood movies and independent films has blurred over the years. Independent once meant low-budget, with the focus on story and character, and production values a second thought. Today, there’s nothing cheap about the best of indie films. The budgets may be bigger than before, but still not big. Technology has changed, though, and filmmakers can get a better bang for their buck.
The personal vision of a filmmaker remains the key defining trait of independent films. Look at the number of writer-directors associated with the Sundance films highlighted this week. The hyphenates dominate. Contrast that with Hollywood product, increasingly more franchise-driven, where the writer, the director, and everyone down to the best boy is on a work-for-hire basis.
Once upon a time, the best an indie could hope for was a small audience, and maybe an award at Sundance. Sex, Lies, and Videotape made big news in 1989 when it won a single nomination for an Academy Award. Times have changed. Of the Oscar nominations announced this week, fourteen went to films that came out of Sundance last year, including two Best Picture hopefuls, six acting nominees, and four of the five documentaries.
Next year’s Oscar winners may be playing this week in Park City. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that be the pattern of the future.
1. The name Sundance comes from Robert Redford’s character in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. What was the real name of the outlaw known as the Sundance Kid?
Robert LeRoy Parker
2. Aside from documentary and short films, a couple of movies have won awards both at Sundance and on Oscar night. The first was Hustle & Flow, which in 2005 won twice at the film festival (audience and cinematography awards) before winning an Oscar for original song (“It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp”). What other film was a dual winner?
3. Several documentary films have won both Sundance and Academy Awards. Which of the following did not win both?
The Times of Harvey Milk
When We Were Kings
Man on Wire
4. Jeff Bridges earned a Best Actor nomination this week for his performance as Rooster Cogburn in the remake of True Grit. John Wayne won his only Academy Award, as Best Actor, playing Cogburn in the original 1969 western. Several times before, two actors earned Best Actor nominations for playing the same character in different films. Name the two actors who played each character below.
Cyrano de Bergerac, Cyrano de Bergerac (1950), Cyrano de Bergerac (1990)
Henry Higgins, Pygmalion (1938), My Fair Lady (1964)
Henry V, Henry V (1944), Henry V (1989)
Henry VIII, The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), Anne of the Thousand Years (1969)
Joe Pendleton, Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), Heaven Can Wait (1978)
Mr. Chips, Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939), Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)
Norman Maine, A Star is Born (1937), A Star is Born (1954)
Richard Nixon, Nixon (1995), Frost/Nixon (2008)
5. Only once has the same character been played by different actors in two Oscar-winning performances. Name the role, the actors, and the films.
No. 209 | January 26, 2011
Our theme this week
Indie films of the Sundance Film Festival
Featured this week
(See Monday post for theme introduction)
Monday — Sundance in the 1980s
FIVE FEATURE FILMS
Straight Out of Brooklyn (1991)
1991 Sundance Festival (Special Jury Recognition)
Matty Rich, writer-director
John Rosnell, cinematographer
George T. Odom, Ann D. Sanders, Larry Gilliard Jr., Barbara Sanon
Life in the projects never looked so bleak as it does in Matty Rich’s hard, bitter urban drama. Dennis is a black teen who wants out, but there’s no escape. Abuse, crime, and racism conspire against him. Matty Rich was just nineteen when he made this debut, and his career prospects seemed bright at the time. But his follow-up, the poorly received The Inkwell, in 1994, has been his only other film to date.
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
1992 Sundance Festival
Quentin Tarantino, writer-director
Andrej Sekuła, cinematographer
Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi, Chris Penn, Michael Madsen, Lawrence Tierney, Quentin Tarantino
A heist film with no heist. That was different. Meet Quentin Tarantino. He didn’t win the Grand Jury Prize, and with under $3 million at the box office, Reservoir Dogs didn’t win a big audience in theaters. Yet the film and its director won a bigger prize—icon status in pop culture unlike anything else ever to come out of Sundance, or anything else in indie film.
El Mariachi (1992)
1993 Sundance Festival (Audience Award: Dramatic)
Robert Rodriguez, writer-director-cinematographer-editor
Carlos Gallardo, Consuelo Gómez, Peter Marquardt, Reinol Martínez
Nothing is safe for the mariachi here, not even falling in love. Set in violent, crooked town run by thugs—the Mexican tourist board would not approve—El Mariachi is a Spanish-language film made on a micro-budget, seven grand and change. That’s not the usual calling card for filmmakers hoping to impress Hollywood, but when the virtual one-man film crew named Robert Rodriguez made his film, everyone took notice. Rodriguez had unmistakable talent, an eye for action, and energy to burn. He got money for an English-language remake, and later added a third segment to his “Mariachi Trilogy,” yet his bare-bones, take-no-prisoners debut remains the most watchable.
Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995)
1996 Sundance Festival (Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic)
Todd Solonz, writer-director
Randy Drummond, cinematographer
Heather Matarazzo, Matthew Faber, Daria Kalinina, Brendon Sexton Jr., Eric Mabius
Movies often have characters faced with terrible ordeals. Few have to endure what Dawn Wiener (young Heather Matarazzo, in a fine performance) must go through to survive seventh grade—neglect, teasing, abuse, a boy who wants to rape her. Todd Solonz’s film showed a knack for twists that no one else dared to consider, and a keen sense for the dilemmas and pains endured by victims in society.
Run Lola Run (1999)
1999 Sundance Festival (World Cinema Audience Award)
Tom Tykwer, writer-director
Frank Griebe, cinematographer
Franka Potente, Moritz Bleibtreu
Lola has twenty minutes to get 100,000 marks to save her boyfriend. She has to run. We get the story three times, with different encouters and different outcomes—an unusual twist, but very effective. Tom Tykwer showed he knows how to put the thrill in a thriller, and Franka Potente will get your heart pumped like you’ve run a marathon.
OTHER NOTABLE FEATURES
To Sleep with Anger (Charles Burnett, writer-director, 1990)
Poison (Todd Haynes, writer-director; Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic, 1991)
Slacker (Richard Linklater, writer-director, 1991)
Gas Food Lodging (Allison Anders, writer-director, 1992)
Swoon (Tom Kalin, cowriter-director; Excellence in Cinematography Award, Ellen Kuras, 1992)
Public Access (Bryan Singer, cowriter-director; Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic, 1993)
Clerks (Kevin Smith, writer-director; Filmmakers Trophy: Dramatic, 1994)
Spanking the Monkey (David O. Russell, writer-director; Audience Award: Dramatic, 1994)
What Happened Was… (Tom Noonan, writer-director; Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic, 1994)
The Brothers McMullen (Edward Burns, writer-director; Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic, 1995)
Living in Oblivion (Tom DeCillo, writer-director; Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award, 1995)
The Usual Suspects (Bryan Singer, director, 1995)
I Shot Andy Warhol (Mary Harron, cowriter-director; Special Jury Prize for Acting, Lili Taylor, 1996)
Big Night (Campbell Scott, Stanley Tucci, directors; Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award, Joseph Tropiano, Stanley Tucci, 1996)
Citizen Ruth (Alexander Payne, cowriter-director, 1996)
The Full Monty (Peter Cattaneo, director, 1997)
Ulee’s Gold (Victor Nunez, writer-director, 1997)
In the Company of Men (Neil LaBute, writer-director, 1997)
π (Pi) (Darren Aronofsky, writer-director; Directing Award: Dramatic, 1998)
Smoke Signals (Chris Eyre, director; Sherman Alexie, writer; Filmmakers Trophy: Dramatic, Audience Award: Dramatic, 1998)
Buffalo ’66 (Vincent Gallo, cowriter-director, 1998)
Blair Witch Project (Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez, writer-directors, 1999)
American Dream (Barbara Kopple, director; Audience Award, Filmmakers Trophy, Grand Jury Prize, 1991)
A Brief History of Time (Errol Morris, director; Grand Jury Prize, 1992)
Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer (Nick Broomfield, director, 1993)
Hoop Dreams (Steve James, director; Audience Award, 1994)
Crumb (Terry Zwigoff, director; Grand Jury Prize, 1995)
When We Were Kings (Leon Gast, director; Special Jury Recognition, 1996)
American Movie (Chris Smith, director; Grand Jury Prize, 1999)
No. 208 | January 24, 2011
The Sundance Film Festival is a key chapter in the film history of our time. Its history, though, actually predates the name Sundance. Founded by Sterling Van Wagenen, John Earle, and Cirina Hampton Catania, the festival was originally organized as the U.S. Film Festival, holding its first event at three theaters in Salt Lake City in September of 1978. Over the next several years, the festival went through a number of changes, changing its name (often) and changing its venue (it was director Sydney Pollack’s advice to move the event to Park City during ski season as a way to attract more interest). The focus of the festival changed as well, with more attention paid to new American films, particularly those made independently, outside the Hollywood system.
Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute, founded in 1981, took over management of the festival before the 1985 event. The institute is designed to promote independent filmmaking, offering funding, labs, and a variety of other resources for new filmmakers. As manager of the festival, it expanded award categories as the number and kind of films grew year after year. As independent film boomed in the 1990s, the name Sundance became synonomous with the movement. The Sundance Channel was launched in 1996, and more recently, Sundance cinemas have opened in several cities.
Greater popularity brought new challenges. Celebrating small films is harder when their success brings attention from the big players in the industry. The indie movement has seen both its rise and fall over the past couple of decades, as major studios purchased the smaller production companies, ran them as subsidiaries for a while, and then shut them down in recent years.
The Sundance festival went from catering to unknown filmmakers to catering to celebrities. Park City became known for its deal-making as much as for its screenings. The Sundance festival is aware of the contradictions, as it has tried recently to put renewed focus on films. It is the films, after all, that established Sundance as the premiere festival in the U.S., and it’s the new ones, more than anything else, that keep the crowds coming.
This week, as the crowds take in the new movies at this year’s event, we’ll look at many of the prominent films that played the festival in years past.
Our theme this week
Indie films of the Sundance Film Festival
FIVE FEATURE FILMS
Blood Simple (1984)
1985 Sundance Festival (Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic)
Joel & Ethan Coen, writer-directors
Barry Sonnenfeld, cinematographer
John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, M. Emmet Walsh
A neo-noir about a rich bar owner, his cheating wife, and a double-crossing private detective. Smart, stylish, filled with black humor and unforgettable shots (a knife pinning M. Emmet Walsh’s hand to a window sill, a drop of water falling from a bathroom faucet). This debut established the Brothers Coen as filmmakers to watch.
Stranger Than Paradise (1984)
1985 Sundance Festival (Special Jury Prize: Dramatic)
Jim Jarmusch, writer-director
Tom DeCillo, cinematographer
John Lurie, Eszter Balint, Richard Edson
The most exciting film about boredom you’ll ever see. A New York hipster gets an unwelcome visit from his Hungarian cousin, a pretty teenager whose presence he comes to appreciate. He and his friend then follow her to Cleveland, and finally the three set off on a road trip to Florida. Jim Jarmusch’s movie is a minimalist mini-masterpiece. The low-budget affair became a landmark in the indie film movement.
Paris, Texas (1984)
1985 Sundance Festival
Wim Wenders, director
L.M. Kit Carson, Sam Shepard, writers
Robby Müller, cinematographer
Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski, Dean Stockwell
A haunting film about a man who once ran away from everything in his life and then tries to rescue himself from the black hole of his existence. German filmmaker Wim Wenders brings a European eye to the American West, in a film featuring starkly beautiful photography and a memorable score from Ry Cooder.
Smooth Talk (1985)
1986 Sundance Festival (Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic)
Joyce Chopra, director
Joyce Carol Oates (short story), Tom Cole (screenplay), writers
James Glennon, cinematographer
Laura Dern, Treat Williams, Mary Kay Place
Laura Dern plays a flirtatious 15-year-old whose sexual awakening is at times enticing and often unsettling. Treat Williams is the older man who comes to seduce her. Mary Kay Place is the mother who can’t control her daughter. The film offers first-rate performances, an ambiguous ending, and a story based on Joyce Carol Oates’s “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”
Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)
1989 Sundance Festival (Audience Award: Dramatic)
Steven Soderbergh, writer-director
Walt Lloyd, cinematographer
James Spader, Andie MacDowell, Peter Gallagher, Laura San Giacomo
The film delivers exactly what you’d expect from its provocative title. Combining an attractive cast and a new director with a penchant for dialogue-driven storytelling, Sex, Lies, and Videotape was a hit—proof that independent film could be good and successful. The movie went on to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes, an Oscar nomination, and a good return at the box office. His first feature, the film launched the career of Steven Soderbergh. It established Miramax as a powerhouse for small, quality filmmaking. And more than any film before, it made a name for Sundance as the place to go for the soon-to-explode indie film movement.
OTHER NOTABLE FEATURES
The Brother from Another Planet (John Sayles, writer-director, 1985)
River’s Edge (Tim Hunter, director, 1987)
Working Girls (Lizzie Borden, writer-director, 1987)
Stand and Deliver (Ramón Menéndez, cowriter-director, 1988)
The Times of Harvey Milk (Rob Epstein, director; Special Jury Prize, 1985)
Sherman’s March (Ross McElwee, director; Grand Jury Prize, 1987)
Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam (Bill Couturié, director; Special Jury Prize, 1988)
For All Mankind (Al Reinert, director; Grand Jury Prize, 1989)
Entr’acte | January 20, 2011
More ballet (dancing with—who else—Death).
Entr’acte | January 18, 2011
More ballet (someone, it seems, is always dying).