BreakThru Radio made its first appearance at Sundance this year, and the result was a week full of good movies, good music, and good cocktails. Though the snow hit hard, there were enough events and captivating films to keep you warm and help you live your Sundance life to the fullest. From the talk of the critics, here are a few features that not only panned well with audiences, but most were also buzzed about enough to get distribution deals. You’ll probably be seeing them on movie screens across the country sometime this year, so just remember we called it.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
This story about Hushpuppy, a little girl in the Louisiana Delta, fulfills all the prerequisites of a spectacular picture: magic, mystery, apocalyptic premonitions, and the appearance of an army of prehistoric creatures called ‘aurochs.’ The feature debut of Benh Zeitlin, a New Orleans resident, Beasts of the Southern Wild won the Grand Jury Prize and best cinematography awards at the festival and was of the first to be snatched, acquired by Fox Searchlight. From day one, the crowd in Park City was buzzing about the supernatural think piece. It was brilliant, well-made, or, as one reviewer comments, “a story bursting with life and death, rage and tranquility, fear and bravery, and all of it delivered through a magnificent score, thoughtful cinematography, and on the shoulders of its child star.”
A newfound talent, under the alias of Southern delicacy.
The funny, yet tragic and endearing, true story of Mark O’Brien, a journalist in Berkeley living off an iron lung, and on a mission to lose his virginity at the age of 38, was the audience favorite of Sundance. To conquer the task, O’Brien hires a sex surrogate, who signs on for six sessions to walk the physical-impaired writer through a series of sexual practices leading to intercourse. The film was also acquired by Fox Searchlight, reportedly for $6 million, and will likely do well at the box office. For one, it stars John Hawkes, William H. Macy, and Helen Hunt, a trio of quirky, sophisticated actors who can embody a variety of characters within one persona. Furthermore, the tale itself is quite unusual. Who knew a sex surrogate even existed?
The Surrogate was one of the first features by filmmaker Ben Lewin, who’d been absent from the industry for over a decade, and worked as a BBC writer and criminal lawyer, respectively, prior to his career in movies. Lewin told BTR, the film was a process, a measure of love and inspiration that went down over five years.
Hawkes explained the hardest part of his process as a actor was living day after day with his body arched over a ball to embody O’Brien’s diminished curvature.
“I still ache from it,” commented Hawkes.
Sleepwalk with Me
Mike Birbiglia teamed with Ira Glass – what could be better? The UCB comic and writer and the NPR stalwart of This American Life took the autobiographical tales of Birbiglia’s own sleepwalking disorder and turned them into a humorous, sentimental journey of a burgeoning stand-up comedian struggling with the stress of a stalled career, and psychological mood-swings that lead him astray in the night. Winner of the Best of NEXT Audience Award, Sleepwalk With Me stars, was directed and co-written by Birbliglia. It was co-written and produced by Glass.
For now, the movie remains up for grabs, but you can follow Birbiglia on his blog, My Secret Public Journal for any updates and for other random anecdotes, like his take on romantic holidays. “Today is Valentine’s Day, a holiday invented by a man who was really secure in his own relationship but knew that if he could put other men’s relationships in jeopardy, he could really make some cash.”
Let me tell you why most people went to see Compliance – there was a debacle at the premiere Q&A session. A film about coerced rape, based on real-life circumstances, Craig Zobel’s second feature drew both positive and negative attention, with one woman in the opening night audience shouting out, “Sundance, you can do better!”
After that, everyone had to see it, and while the dark qualities of the context did prove chilling, the story was good; it was real and kind of unbelievable. Basically, a girl working at a fast food restaurant gets put on the phone with an unknown voice professing to be a policeman. The man makes the accusations she stole from a customer, threatening her and playing into the power of authority to eventually lead her into a forcible rape. It seems farfetched, and from the time the movie begins, everyone was wondering, “How could someone be so stupid to fall for this?”
But turns out, a lot of people fell for it. There were a reported 70 incidents over a ten-year span in the U.S.
Compliance keeps it simple. It stars no one famous; was filmed in some paltry town and takes place almost solely at one franchise. Nevertheless, it’s a critical take on vulnerability and an interesting one. It was bought by Magnolia features and will likely reap similar reactions when it goes nationwide.
For A Good Time Call
A film by writer-actress and producer, Lauren Ann Miller (and Seth Rogan’s wife), For A Good Time Call is based on a business her old roommate drummed up in college – a sex hotline – created to make some cash between studies. The movie was bought by Focus Features for several million, and was actually financed by Miller’s Wall Street brother, as she revealed on a panel during the festival. For many reasons, it will be a hit. It’s a comedy and it’s actually funny. Plus, the story chronicles two roommates reaching a break in their relationship when the discovery of one’s new venture leads to a profitable experience for both. Unique and subtly hilarious, it works to balance a raunchy situation with humanistic revelation. It also stars Justin Long, who provides a nice male counterpart to the passage.
Celeste and Jesse Forever
Celeste and Jesse Forever was all the rage at Sundance and sold almost immediately to Sony Pictures Classics. The plot doesn’t seem all that extraordinary, but often that’s what makes for great humor. What’s funny is life – plain and simple – and this film capitalizes on all our idiosyncrasies. Starring Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Chris Messina, Ari Graynor, Emma Roberts, and Elijah Wood, it’s about – take a guess – Celeste and Jesse, two kids who met in high school and married young. They’re perfect for each other, yet they’re not. They know everything about each other, but they see life from different vantage points. They decide to get divorced, but is that really the solution? If you ever think back wondering about the person you dated in high school or college even, it’s often an amusing concept. This movie plays that out for you, and the diverse ways the world leads our souls. Like the best of the best movies, you laugh, your cry and you think.
We highly, highly recommend.