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At Sundance, the many film-going possibilities are overwhelming, but due to lack of time, we couldn’t make it to every movie. Still, the best of the fest will be coming to a theatre near me (and you) eventually, so there’s still hope! Here are some of the films that were hot, hot, hot this year, some we saw and loved, and some others saw and loved. Watch your local movie listings, because you do NOT want to miss them!

Feature Films (Premieres)

Director: Marc Webb
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel

500 Days of Summer never descends into ordinary romance. The typical premise of the love story—that we want what we can’t have—is fueled here by a role reversal (it’s the woman who doesn’t want to commit) and energized by dance numbers, split screens, and two dynamic performances from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. For a new generation of storytellers, 500 Days of Summer is destined to be a template for the future of romantic inspiration.

Director: Greg Mottola
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds, Martin Starr, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig
Adventureland follows James Brennan, an uptight, recent college grad, whose plans to travel through Europe are cancelled when his parents can’t afford to foot the bill. Instead, he has to take a lowly job at a local amusement park. Luckily for James, what should have been his worst summer ever turns into quite an adventure when he discovers love in a most unlikely place. Adventureland is hilarious, a coming-of-age tale that will speak to anyone who ever had the job from hell but still wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

Director: Antoine Fuqua
Starring: Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, Ethan Hawke, Wesley Snipes, Ellen Barkin

Brooklyn’s Finest tells the story of three police officers who are losing faith in their jobs. Richard Gere leads the ensemble cast, playing a cynical and disenfranchised officer facing imminent retirement. Fate brings the three men to the same Brooklyn housing project as each takes the law into his own hands. Crosscutting between multiple subplots, Brooklyn’s Finest unfolds violently and passionately.

Directors: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Starring: Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro

I Love You Phillip Morris tells a true story that seems stranger than fiction and showcases a love story that will not be denied. Larcenous police officer Steve Russell (Jim Carrey) turns to cons and fraud to make his way in the world, masquerading as a lawyer and a CEO, passing bad checks, and commiting bank fraud, insurance fraud and credit card fraud. After he is finally caught, his subsequent stay in the state penitentiary results in his meeting the love of his life, a sensitive fellow inmate named Phillip Morris, perfectly portrayed by Ewan McGregor. What ensues can only be described as a relentless quest, as Russell attempts escape after escape and executes con after con, all in the name of love.

Director: Michael Polish
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Téa Leoni, Kyle MacLachlan

In Manure, the founder of a successful manure company dies, and the livelihood of its loyal fleet of salesmen is threatened. Enter estranged daughter Rosemary (Téa Leoni), a high-class-cosmetics salesgirl who steps in to take control. Little does she know that a ruthless, slick-talking fertilizer rep (Kyle MacLachlan) is plotting a takeover. She must trust her top salesman, Patrick Fitzpatrick (Billy Bob Thornton), to devise a plan to regain Rose’s rightful position at the top of the heap.

Director: Adam Elliot
Starring: Toni Collette, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Humphries, Eric Bana

(Mary and Max) is a unique foray into the realm of claymation animation. Mary, a little girl from Melbourne, Australia, and Max, a curmudgeonly man in New York City, begin an unlikely correspondence that spans 20 years. This intriguing true story, which was Sundance’s opening night film offering this year, explores friendship, autism, taxidermy, psychiatry, alcoholism, where babies come from, obesity, kleptomania, trust, copulating dogs, sexual and religious differences, agoraphobia, and more, and is rooted in a very personal relationship. Films like this explain why we go to movies, and is a truly exceptional portrait of compassion and love.

Director: David Mackenzie
Starring: Ashton Kutcher, Anne Heche
In Spread, Ashton Kutcher plays Nikki, a somewhat inept lothario trying to sleep his way to wealth and success. The film is a morality tale in a very-modern sense, with its characterization of a sycophantic younger man and his middle-aged, well-to-do client (played by Anne Heche), his various dubious associates and conquests, and a waitress whom he begins to really care about (but unbeknownst to him, she is playing the same game). Guilty pleasure or not, it’s irresistible.

Feature Films (U.S. Dramatic Competition)

Director: John Hindman
Starring: Jeff Daniels, Lauren Graham, Lou Taylor Pucci, Olivia Thirlby, Kat Dennings, Nora Dunn
Arlen Faber tells of the famous and reclusive author of Me and God, a book that has redefined spirituality for an entire generation. When he falls for an overprotective single mother (Lauren Graham) and a young man just out of rehab, both of whom are looking for answers, Arlen Faber must come to terms with the fact that he is just as lost as they are. The dialogue is clever and insightful, and the eccentric group of characters makes this a unique and ultimately inspiring story.

Director: Robert Siegel
Starring: Patton Oswalt, Michael Rapaport, Kevin Corrigan, Marcia Jean Kurtz, Matt Servitto

Big Fan follows Paul Aufiero (Patton Oswalt), a 35-year-old parking-garage attendant from working-class Staten Island. Paul is the self-described “world’s biggest New York Giants fan.” One night he and his best friend Sal, spot star Giants linebacker Quantrell Bishop at a gas station in Staten Island and follow his SUV to a strip club. What starts out as a dream come true turns into a nightmare as a misunderstanding ignites a violent confrontation. Big Fan resonates with truth and insight, and the result is a film that will make you laugh and wince at the same time.

Director: John Krasinski
Starring: Julianne Nicholson, John Krasinski, Bobby Cannavale, Timothy Hutton, Dominic Cooper, Christopher Meloni

John Krasinski, best known for playing the charming everyman Jim Halpert on The Office, adapted and directed Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, a caustic and darkly comedic exploration of the hideous nature of men. When her boyfriend leaves her with little explanation, Sara Quinn (Julianne Nicholson) is left looking for answers. A doctoral candidate in anthropology, she thinks she can remedy both her heartache and her academic challenges with a new research project about men, and begins conducting a series of interviews with several of them. As she records the disquieting experiences of various subjects, Sara discovers much more about men—and herself—than she bargained for.

Director: Sophia Barthes
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Dina Korzun, David Strathairn, Emily Watson, Katheryn Winnick, Lauren Ambrose

Cold Souls presents Paul Giamatti as someone perhaps like himself, an actor agonizing over his interpretation of Chekhov’s play Uncle Vanya. Giamatti enlists the services of a high-tech company which promises to alleviate humanity’s suffering by deep-freezing souls. After the procedure, a Russian “mule” absconds with his soul, and he is left with no choice but to follow the trail to bleak St. Petersburg, in hopes of finding what is his. With this dazzling accomplishment, her debut feature, Sophie Barthes establishes herself as an auteur to reckon with.

Director: Jay DiPietro
Starring: Jason Ritter, Jess Weixler, Jesse L. Martin, Tracie Thoms

Peter and Vandy is a story about love with no beginning and no end. The story shifts back and forth in time, juxtaposing Peter and Vandy’s romantic beginnings with the slow deterioration that follows. As the film jumps around, the contrast is jarring at times, enlightening at others, but it always enhances the viewing experience. By rearranging the pieces of the puzzle, the film gives each piece a different meaning and offers the viewer a new experience in reflecting on what it means to fall in—and out of—love.

Director: Lee Daniels
Starring: Gabourey Sidibe, Paula Patton, Mo’Nique, Mariah Carey, Sherri Shepherd, Lenny Kravitz

Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire follows a young girl who is pregnant with her father’s child for the second time, who is also abused by her mother, illiterate, and teased by her schoolmates for being fat. Precious Jones (incredibly talented Gabourey Sidibe) is a high-school girl with nothing working in her favor. She has a chance to break from the chains of ignorance by enrolling in an alternative school, but she will have to dig deeply into her own resources to succeed. This film won three prestigious Sundance awards- Grand Jury Prize U.S. Dramatic, the Audience Award (presented by Honda) U.S. Dramatic, and A Special Jury Prize for Acting.

Director: Emily Abt
Starring: Louisa Krause, Sonequa Martin, Silvestre Rasuk, Leslie Uggams, Gaius Charles, Ally Walker

Toe to Toe tells the story of a love/hate relationship between lacrosse mates Tosha and Jesse, two senior girls at a competitive Washington, D.C. prep school. Tosha is a fiercely determined African American scholarship student from one of Washington’s poorest areas, while Jesse is a privileged, but troubled, white girl from Bethesda, who deals with promiscuous tendencies that pull her toward self-destruction. The two forge a close and genuine friendship on the field, but that bond is tested when the obstacles presented by societal circumstances threaten to tear them apart. Inspired by the disturbing fact that interracial friendships end at age 14 for 87 percent of American teenagers, Toe to Toe is a strong reminder of the transforming power of honesty and the way that those who test us often make us better.

Feature Films (World Cinema Dramatic Competition)

Director: Kanji Nakajima
Starring: Mitsuhiro Oikawa, Eri Ishida, Hiromi Nagasaku

The Clone Returns Home is art cinema at its best. Kohei, a young astronaut, agrees to participate in an experimental cloning program that will “regenerate” his body and memory should he die. But when he’s killed during a space mission and scientists regenerate his clone, its memory regresses to Kohei’s youth and the accidental death of his twin brother. Distressed, the clone flees the lab in search of his childhood home. Along the way, he finds his own lifeless body in a space suit, mistakes it for his brother, and continues his journey carrying the body on his back. Enriched by spiritual conceptions of life and death and the soul, the film’s emotional center and its poetry lie in the reincarnation of Kohei, who wanders in search of a home that no longer exists.

Director: Alexis Dos Santos
Starring: Deborah Francois, Fernando Tielve

Unmade Beds follows wide-eyed Spaniard Axl who comes to London and lands in the middle of a creative hotbed—an underground polyglot squat filled with colorful free spirits. Among them is Vera, a beautiful Belgian girl recently dumped by her boyfriend, who seeks to restore her faith in romantic destiny after meeting a charismatic stranger. As Axl and Vera separately pursue these bittersweet and elusive connections, they circle each other’s orbits—their fates almost inevitably intertwined.

Feature Films (Spectrum)

Director: Peter Callahan
Starring: Joseph Fiennes, Justin Kirk, Elizabeth Reaser, Mary Tyler Moore, Michelle Trachtenberg, Pell James

Against the Current tells the story of Paul Thompson (Joseph Fiennes), a financial writer struggling with a tragic past, who decides to do something special and unique to distinguish himself. Having always wanted to swim the 150 miles of the lower Hudson River, he recruits his best friend, Jeff (Justin Kirk), and new acquaintance, Liz (Elizabeth Reaser) to accompany him on a physical and emotional journey that explores friendship, grief, and how we cope when what we lose is greater than what life has to offer.

Director: Tze Chun
Starring: Cindy Cheung, Michael Chen, Crystal Chiu

In Children of Invention, single mother Elaine Cheng struggles to support her two young children, Raymond and Tina, by juggling various sales jobs. When one falls through, the family finds itself homeless and must seek refuge in an unfinished apartment building. This latest predicament seems all too familiar to precocious Raymond, who dreams of taking care of his mother and sister with the fortunes garnered from his inventions. Meanwhile, Elaine finds herself drawn into a pyramid scheme, one that will jeopardize the welfare of the two things that matter the most: her children.

Director: Sandra Nettelbeck
Starring: Ashley Judd, Goran Visnjic, Lauren Lee Smith, Alexia Fast, Alberta Watson, David Hewlett

Featuring a riveting performance by the gifted Ashley Judd, Helen transcends the usual limitations that besiege film portraits of mental illness and depression. Helen focuses on a woman with an apparently perfect life. But we witness her sudden breakdown, and a journey that is enigmatic and heartbreakingly real. Told with poignancy and insight—and ultimately concluding with as much courage as inevitable sadness—Helen is the work of artists whose craft and sensibility are special.

Director: Derick Martini
Starring: Alec Baldwin, Kieran Culkin, Rory Culkin, Jill Hennessy, Timothy Hutton, Cynthia Nixon, Emma Roberts

In Lymelife, Scott Bartlett’s suburban existence is primarily marked by his nerdy interests, fending off bullies at high school, his longtime crush on neighbor/best friend Adrianna Bragg, and navigating the dysfunctional terrain of his parents’ rocky marriage. When his brother returns home from army training and confronts his father about his less-than-discreet adultery, both the Bartletts and the Braggs are forever changed by the devastating consequences.

Feature Films (Park City at Midnight)

Director: Tommy Wirkola
Starring: Vegard Hoel, Stig Frode Henriksen, Charlotte Frogner, Jenny Skavlan, Jeppe Beck Laursen, Lasse Valdal

Dead Snow is a film about eight medical students fighting for their lives against fabled Nazi zombies in the snowy, isolated hills outside of Øksfjord, Norway. This is a wickedly gory, yet somehow delightful, tale of zombie terror.

Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Starring: Chloë Sevigny, Peter Stormare, Clea DuVall, Timothy Hutton, Nick Cannon, Shea Whigham

In The Killing Room, four unwitting volunteers in a paid research study are presented with a series of questions and a finite window of time in which each of them must submit a unique numerical answer. Presumably, the subject who is furthest from the correct response will be “removed” from the experiment. Behind the scenes, the mysterious and brooding Dr. Phillips (Peter Stormare) deviously pulls the strings as the most recent addition to his team, military psychologist Ms. Reilly (Chloë Sevigny) is emotionally torn by her first assignment.

Director: Ryan Shiraki
Starring: Amy Poehler, Parker Posey, Rachel Dratch, Amber Tamblyn, Jane Lynch, Missi Pyle

For three tragically unhip bosom buddies pushing 40, “make-your-own-pizza night” constitutes the pinnacle of revelry. Realizing there’s more to life, the trio heads for South Padre Island. What they don’t know is that spring break has sprung, and in Spring Breakdown, there’s no turning back. This is an outlandish, quick-witted romp that chews up our geeky gals and spits them out as triumphant powerhouses—confident that being who they truly are is way cooler than fitting in.

Click Here for PART TWO: Sundance Documentaries / Issue 99 - March 2018
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