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Reviewed: ten great films from Sundance Film Festival 2014

Posted at 4:30 pm, January 29, 2014 in Arts & Entertainment
Sundance 2014

America’s indie-est film festival, Sundance, has just concluded, and a sterling selection of films were screening there. Here are some you should check out if and when they’re screened in the UK – keep an eye on the lineup for Sundance London (happening in April) to see which ones make the jump across the pond.

love is strange - sundance review

LOVE IS STRANGE 

The premise: Alfred Molina and John Lithgow are loving partners who encounter headaches after they formally tie the knot.

Our review: This sensitive domestic tragedy is a total triumph for director Ira Sachs and his co-leads, Lithgow and Molina, who, despite lengthy filmographies, turn in career-topping work. The supporting cast is superb too. ★★★★★

Boyhood sundance review

BOYHOOD

The premise: Director Richard Linklater shot this family drama over 12 years, to capture the characters naturally ageing. Teenage voices drop, waists thicken and, in one benefit nobody could have predicted, moppet Ellar Coltrane, playing the younger child of a divorced couple (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke), develops into a magnetically internal student and heartbreaker.

Our reviewThis long-game gimmick doesn’t automatically guarantee profundity, but by letting the years play out in an uninterrupted, three-hour flow, Boyhood feels unprecedented for its intimacy. Unshakable, witty and deeply felt. ★★★★★

the babadook sundance review

THE BABADOOK

The premise: Widow and single mother Amelia, and her six year-old son, Samuel, discover a children’s book called Mister Babadook, rife with illustrations of toothy terrors peering around bedroom doors…

Our review: A slow-building, expertly unsettling horror film, ‘The Badabook’ is  female-centric in ways that other horror movies rarely are. A commanding first film from debut director Jennifer Kent. ★★★★★

the trip to italy sundance review

THE TRIP TO ITALY

The premise: The sequel to ‘The Trip’ sees Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon once again play fictionalised versions of themselves, this time dining in style along the Amalfi coast.

Our review: The real richness of the movie comes well in, as the improvised script gets around to deeper anxieties of ageing and avoidance. But yes, the dueling Michael Caine impressions are back. ★★★

the raid 2 - sundance review
THE RAID 2

The premise: Delirium awaits action fans with British director-writer-editor Gareth Evans’s intoxicating sequel to 2011′s ‘The Raid: Redemption‘ – another Indonesian gangster film that alternates sequences of groundbreaking (and bonebreaking) combat with scenes of the most boring conference meetings imaginable.

Our review: No other filmmaker on the planet can touch Evans for long-take beatdowns and wildly inventive flourishes that call to mind Jackie Chan’s heyday with 1992′s ‘Supercop’ and little since. Only viewers with zero appreciation for the genre will leave unimpressed. ★★★

whiplash - sundance review

WHIPLASH

The premise: Miles Teller plays a young drumming hopeful, tutored and tortured by J.K. Simmons’s  impossible-to-please jazz teacher at an elite NYC music program.

Our review: An electrifying drama that scrapes the far edge of crazed passion and never apologises. ★★★

infinitely polar bear sundance

INFINITELY POLAR BEAR

The premise: Bipolar Cam succumbs to a full-on mental breakdown in 1978. Emerging from treatment on shaky but better ground, unemployable Cam is faced with a tricky proposition from his wife: she’ll move to New York and get her MBA in 18 months, while he will summon the responsibility to care for Amelia and her sister, Faith.

Our reviewPrecocious kids, a dad out of his depth, the overtly funky fabrics of late-’70s furniture and clothing: these are often the stuff of indie nightmares. But ‘…Bear’ largely avoids these pitfalls, arriving at a comic tale that is movingly heartfelt and fresh. ★★★

roger ebert film - life itself - sundance review
LIFE ITSELF

The premise: This keen profile of the late, great Roger Ebert works both as a compact appreciation of the reviewer’s vast public impact, as well as an unflinching peak into a cancer patient’s final months, fraught with pain, hope and constant treatment.

Our review: An unusually moving portrait with a universal impact. ★★★

Frank Movie: Sundance

FRANK 

The premise:  Michael Fassbender plays a mysterious, socially dysfunctional pop musician (based on real life character Chris Sievey / Frank Sidebottom) who wears a papier-mâché head.

Our review:  Too loaded with provocative ideas to settle for mere indiedom.  If you’ll pardon the cleverness, Frank takes time to wrap your own cranium around, faults and all, and that’s a wonderful thing. ★★★☆☆

i origins sundance review

I ORIGINS 

The premise: Molecular biologist Ian (Michael Pitt) likes to take digital photos of dilating pupils. When he meets foxy Sofi (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) at a NYC costume party, her red-flecked irises turn him on and he can’t help but ask for a snap. Persuasive sci-fi tech talk, soulful romance and an earnest stab at metaphysics ensue.

Our review: If you don’t go in with at least a smidgen of cosmic open-mindedness, the film’s big what-if (involving the singular nature of the soul) is going to give you a case of the giggles. But director Cahill has become an ambitious stylist with an improving command of pace – fingers crossed this won’t just be his early M. Night Shyamalan phase. ★★★☆☆

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