Jay Meehan: Short list II
January 15, 2014
Sifting through the mountains of feature-length films, panel discussions, music events, and assorted other possibilities from this year’s Sundance Film Festival online Film Guide to come up with a manageable "short list" is not (and never has been) an easy proposition.
This is due, of course, to the sheer volume of festival-related cultural candy available in Park City during film fest. It’s a gluttonous world out there and, when it comes to films in general and Sundance in particular, I’m very much part of the problem — constantly in a famished condition and totally lacking in time-management skills!
But if you think we’ve got problems, imagine the time and energy Sundance programmers put in to come up with 121 feature-film selections out of the 4,057 submissions that arrived on their desks. So with us film buffs only choosing from the best of the best, there’s not much reason to whine.
Some of the categories left un-pondered in last week’s column were Premieres, Next, Spotlight, Midnight, New Frontier, and the Sundance Collection, so we’ll start there and see where we end up. Remember, these are films I want to see. You will definitely need a Film Guide to see what’s out there for you.
First of all, I’m a longtime John le Carré fan. A couple of years back on the opening day of the festival I went out to the junction to catch "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," even though it wasn’t part of the Sundance lineup. I just felt it was the perfect way to get my game face on for what was to follow.
This year, a film based on another one of his bestsellers, "A Most Wanted Man," is screening as part of "Premieres." Not that cinematic interpretations of le Carré’s psychological spy thrillers tend to be deep and dark, but I truly can’t remember the last time I blinked or made a sound while watching one. Actually, I don’t recall exhalation coming into play. Three words for this one: Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
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Other films in the Premieres category that caught my attention are "Calvary" (Brendan Gleeson), "Frank" (Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gyllenhaal), "I Origins" (Michael Pitt), "Laggies" (Keira Knightley), and "Rudderless" (Billy Cradup).
NEXT is a festival category for those of us who like our films concocted "out of the box," a step or two away from the mainstream, a bubble-and-a-half off, so to speak. Also, being an indigenous film fan, it was no surprise that "Drunktown, USA," a story of Gallup, N.M., and its reputation as a town of alcoholics just off the Navajo Reservation, immediately made my list.
In travels, I’ve seldom been able to get enough of the Big Rez or the gorgeously haunting landscape of New Mexico, the land of enchantment. So, when coupled with filmmaker Sydney Freeland’s ethos of "film as a form of prayer," I feel a real need to see this one. Plus Robert Redford is on board as Executive Producer.
Spotlight, a category for films Sundance staffers happen upon and are duly impressed by during their world travels is another grouping to which I always pay special heed. The one that’s a "must see" for me this year is "Only Lovers Left Alive," the latest from independent-cinema legend Jim Jarmusch and a premiere at the Cannes Film Festival last May.
The category "Park City at Midnight," as might well be imagined, has cut a wide and somewhat radically "horrific" swath through the twenty-some years it has been in existence. This time around, my pick is the indigenous vampire film out of New Zealand, "What We Do in the Shadows." Let’s just say, this is not your father’s Transylvania.
As they say in the Film Guide, "New Frontier champions films that expand, experiment with, and explode traditional storytelling." Admittedly not a category I bond with on a regular basis, I, once again, have made a resolution to include at least one of these quite-eclectic celluloid improvisations in my wanderings this year.
And, having been a fan of New Frontier veteran Joseph Gordon-Levitt since he portrayed the young Norman Maclean in "A River Runs Through It" and, especially, since his romp in the high-school noir classic "Brick," I’m going to reach out for his "HITRECORD ON TV" and see what all the buzz is about.
And now we come to the Sundance Collection, a comfort zone wherein, each year, a ghost or two from Sundance past, having spent restorative rehab sessions at the UCLA Film and Television Archive, are once again put on public display. The films this year are two Sundance classics from 1994, "Clerks" and "Hoop Dreams."
The fun part of Sundance, of course, is that the film I will most likely remember this year’s festival for will not be from the short lists I have put together over the past weeks. But I’m ready for whatever comes! Dim the lights and roll film!
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.
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