18 January 2018

Sundance Favorites

On Three Favorites that played a Sundance past

As Ari Gold said it best, "You don't come to Sundance for the cold, you come for the heat!"

Yes. America's biggest film festival, once simply called the US Film Festival, often sets the tone for the year. It is a cold, snow January movie heaven built in a Utah ski resort, and it showcases, now, hundreds of films each year, some of which become awards contenders later on down the line.

I want to go someday.

For now, here are three that came to mind for me, as part of Wandering through the Shelves' Thursday Movies Picks.

Here are three Sundance Favorites:

"Blood Simple."
dir. Joel Coen, 1984

Sundance Official Selection - 1985

Taking it back to the first "BIG" year of the festival, when it started becoming what we know it as now. Back then, it was still called the US Film Festival presented by Sundance Institute. And that very year introduced what we know of as a "Sundance Movie," which, to me, consists of movies with professional qualities from emerging filmmakers, or filmmakers without big budgets. As lore has it, the Coens actually raised the money to make the film by shooting a trailer that they shopped around to investors. And this one is a game-changer, creating the eventual genre we would come to know as simply Coen-esque. It is dark, funny, violent, and badass.

"In the Company of Men"
dir. Neil LaBute, 1997

Sundance Official Selection - 1997

Wanna have a conversation about how shitty men, especially entitled men, are to women? This is THAT movie. What's more is how LaBute layers on top how shitty some of those same men are to other men. Aaron Eckhart is the quintessential corporate hot shot, a misogynist like no other, who teams up with his schlub of a partner (Matt Malloy) to purposefully emotionally wreck a vulnerable woman, in this case an attractive, deaf co-worker, just because they can. LaBute made his name here as a totally unique and challenging writer/director.

"The End of the Tour"
dir. James Ponsoldt, 2015

Sundance Official Selection - 2015

When the news came out of Park City that Jason Segel had killed it as real-life, manic depressive genius novelist, the late David Foster Wallace, I knew I was in. What I didn't know was just how much this movie would affect me when it finally came out to zero fanfare in the late summer of 2015. A two-hander between Segel and Jesse Eisenberg as David Lipsky, a journalist and would-be novelist, who went on a week-long wintry book tour with Wallace for Infinite Jest. The script is based on the book that came of those conversations, basically a transcript called Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. Literary bliss, this movie. Full-ish review.


  1. I love End of the Tour, that was such a wonderful little film. I've never actually seen Blood Simple and I've always meant to. Someday.

  2. I haven't seen any of these but they all are on my watchlist. Hopefully I'll watch them soon.

  3. OOOOOOH BLOOD SIMPLE!LOVE that movie! It's kind of amazing how the Coens bust right out of the gate pretty much fully formed.

    Love Neil LaBute's plays but somehow I've never seen In the Company of Men. I also missed End of the Tour, but I've heard such good things about it.

  4. I remember when Blood Simple came out and was being lauded as a sleeper and the Coens as the Next Big Thing. I always take that kind of hyperbole with a grain of salt but I was nice that in this case the praise was borne out. I saw this in the theatre and while it didn't blow me away I did enjoy it very much and instantly became a Frances McDormand fan.

    I detested In the Company of Men more for my loathing of the characters than the film but it was not a pleasant experience. Thank goodness I had seen Thank You for Smoking first or I'd probably hate Aaron Eckhart.

    Haven't seen your third but it does sound worth checking out.

    Research was required for me to figure out which films I'd seen and liked that had also made an appearance at this festival!

    Silverlake Life: The View from Here (1993) - Won the Grand Jury Documentary Prize at Sundance. Mark Massi and Tom Joslin are in a long time committed relationship, they have also both been diagnosed with AIDS which at the time was a death sentence. We live through their final journey with them. The film has touches of gallows humor but it is a harrowing, heartbreaking trip to an inevitable destination that will leave you emotionally bereft.

    Big Night (1996) - Won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance. Primo (Tony Shalhoub) and Secondo (Stanley Tucci-who co-wrote and co-directed this film) are immigrant brothers who operate an Italian restaurant in America. Primo is a culinary genius, but hot tempered and determined not to squander his expertise making the routine dishes that customers expect. Secondo is the smooth front-man, trying to keep the restaurant financially afloat, despite few patrons other than a poor artist who pays with his paintings. Their friendly competitor who owns a nearby enormously successful restaurant offers a solution, a special benefit lead by a big-time jazz musician who is a friend of his. Excitedly Primo begins to prepare his feast of a lifetime for the brothers' big night. Amusing comic drama with a terrific cast alongside Tucci and Shalhoub including Isabella Rossellini, Minnie Driver and Live Schreiber.

    You Can Count on Me (2000) - Won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance. Independent, responsible Sammy Prescott (Laura Linney) is a single mother working as a loan officer in upstate New York who is at first delighted when her errant, feckless brother Terry (Mark Ruffalo) shows up unexpectedly for a visit after a long period of not being in touch. When his short visit stretches into an extended stay they both slowly begin to reexamine their lives as their childhood bond strengthens anew. Beautifully acted this is one of the best looks at sibling rivalry and connection ever made.

  5. Somehow I haven't seen any of these. I need to get on them.

  6. It's been over 2 years since I've seen all of these films, but I loved them all.

    I can definitely think of a few of my favorite films that premiered at Sundance: The Spectacular Now; Manchester by the Sea; In the Bedroom; The Big Lebowski; Call Me by Your Name; Clerks; Before Midnight; & Before Sunrise.

  7. I haven't seen any of these, and they have been on my to watch list.
    And I didn't even know the Sundance Film Festival used to go by another name.