Braving the snowstorms was not easy this year but certain Sundance entries – and the joy of discovering them – made it all worthwhile. Documentaries were strong and at a time when real life voices desperately need to be heard, that’s probably a good thing. It was also wonderful to see so many Aussie women doing their thing.
The Aussie Women
Interestingly Kitty Green, Polly Staniford and Alethea Jones all studied at Victorian College of the Arts and are the best of friends.
Casting Jon Benet
A kind of documentary hybrid, Kitty Green’s second feature after Ukraine is Not a Brothel was a hot ticket at the Festival. Interviewing folk from Boulder Colorado as potential cast members for the story of the unsolved death of six-year-old American beauty queen, JonBenét Ramsey, was more about discovering the people and their attitudes than the actual auditions.
Fun Mom Dinner
A big bold women’s comedy by first-time director Alethea Jones, first-time screenwriter Julie Rudd, (the wife of Paul Rudd) and produced by Naomi Scott, (the wife of Adam Scott) the film has the rebellious tone of Bridesmaids as four mums, played by Toni Collette, Molly Shannon, Bridget Everett and Katie Aselton, have an outrageous night out. The film played to an appreciative crowd, especially mums who could totally relate.
(April 27, EntertainmentOne)
After Lore, Cate Shortland has returned to Germany to film this adaptation of Melanie Joosten’s novel even if it was half-filmed in Melbourne replicating the Berlin locations – and you’d never know. Max Reimelt, a rising star of German cinema plays Andi, a Berlin teacher who has a one-night stand with Australian backpacker Clare played by Teresa Palmer (Hacksaw Ridge) and then locks her in his apartment. Palmer delivers one of her strongest performances ever.
I don't feel at home in this world anymore
The winner of the festival’s Grand Jury dramatic prize stars last year’s best actress winner Kiwi Melanie Lynskey and former hobbit Elijah Wood. It was written and directed by first-timer Macon Blair, who acted in Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin and Green Room. The film offers Lynskey one of her juiciest roles as a nursing assistant who after a gloomy day at work comes home to find her laptop and heirloom silverware missing. When the police can’t be bothered to investigate, she chases after the petty criminals herself.
Ingrid Goes West
Sundance indie queen Aubrey Plaza produces and stars as the titular character in this satire on fame as her crazed Instagram fan stalks Taylor, a professional “influencer”, Elizabeth Olsen, who promotes products via social media. Ingrid manages to ingratiate her way into Taylor’s life, but once uncovered all hell breaks loose. In only his second role after Straight Outta Compton O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Ice Cube’s lookalike son) has won praise for his role as the guy who loves Ingrid for who she is. Director Matt Spicer and co-screenwriter David Branson Smith shared Sundance’s Waldo Salt screenwriting award.
Yet another movie focusing on social media and this time on dating aps. Following in the footsteps of his emotionally wrenching Like Crazy, which starred the late Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones, Drake Doremus made Newness in 19 days as a tribute to his late friend only this film’s a lot sexier. Nicholas Hoult (Mad Max: Fury Road, X-Men) comes to Newness after romancing Kristen Stewart in Doremus’s Equals and here via an online dating site meets his match in Laia Costa, the remarkable Catalan actress from Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria. The kid from About a Boy gets sexy.
Rebel in the Rye
In his second starring role in Sundance, Nicholas Hoult plays J.D. Salinger, and they are big shoes to fill. Kevin Spacey, who seems to only get better with age, ultimately steals the film as Salinger’s eccentric mentor, Whit Burnett, who advises the young writer to reel in his clever voice for the sake of the story. Ultimately the post traumatic stress Salinger suffers after World War Two gives him the edge to write his monumental novel, Catcher in the Rye, even if he was tormented and lived as a recluse for the rest of his life. The film was directed by Danny Strong, co-creator of the TV series Empire.
A Ghost Story
In Sundance, Oscar favourite Casey Affleck was nowhere to be seen except on screen reteaming with his Ain’t Them Bodies Saints co-star Rooney Mara and director David Lowery. Despite the title, this not a scary story. Affleck is the ghost of Mara’s husband who died in a car crash and returns to the home they shared. Lowery creates a minimal mood piece about relationships between people and the meaning they give to the places they treasure. Variety calls Affleck a “rare performer who can convey as much with a sheet over his head as he does without.”
Lois Smith, 86, is a treasure of the New York theatre. So what a treat it is to see her revisiting the role she played on stage in Jordan Harrison's Pulitzer-shortlisted 2014 play. In Michael Almereyda's movie she steals the show from Mad Men hunk Jon Hamm who plays a digitally simulated version of her husband in this futuristic meditation on death and the mysteries of memory. The film won the Sundance Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Feature Film Prize for an outstanding feature film focusing on science or technology. "The future will be here soon enough, you might as well be friendly with it," Smith’s titular character says.
Last Men in Aleppo
Winner of the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize, this Danish/Syria production co-directed by Feras Fayyad and Steen Joannessen follows three men who after five years of war in Syria prepare for a siege. As founding members of The White Helmets they have remained in Aleppo to help their fellow citizens.
Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower
Winner of the audience award in the World Documentary section, the film follows the inspiring story of teenage Hong Kong dissident Joshua Wong from the age of 13. A David and Goliath story, it shows how at age 17 Wong was the face of the Hong Kong student protests against the Chinese regime and who at 20 is still too young to run for an elected position. Though he will. The passionate Hong Konger hopes the film will have an impact leading up to the 20th anniversary of the British handover to China on July 1. “Wong’s indomitable spirit is what lends the film such an appeal,” writes Screen international.
Jeff Orlowski (Chasing Ice) follows a team of divers, photographers and scientists as they set out to discover why the coral reefs around the world are vanishing at such an alarming rate. As Australian Hollywood Reporter critic David Rooney writes in his review, “If you’ve ever snorkeled on the Great Barrier Reef or dived among the other major underwater wonderworlds across the globe, don't be surprised to find yourself getting misty-eyed during Chasing Coral.”
The filmmakers spent 3½ years on the project, which ultimately is like a horror movie. “Hard evidence reveals that 22 percent of the Great Barrier Reef died in 2016, which one American scientist equates to losing most of the trees between Washington, D.C., and Maine,” Rooney notes.