The Five Best Films At Sundance
Mr Jon Hamm in Marjorie Prime, 2017. All photographs courtesy of Sundance Film Festival
The standout films and TV shows from this year’s Sundance Film Festival, featuring Messrs Jon Hamm, Armie Hammer and Kumail Nanjiani.
And so ends another Sundance. The US’s largest independent film festival, founded by Mr Robert Redford in 1978 in Utah’s Park City, has career-launched the likes of Messrs Paul Thomas Anderson, Jim Jarmusch and Darren Aronofsky. In this age of walls and alternative facts, Sundance’s spirit of inquiry only grows in significance and 2017 has been a particularly strong vintage: Ms Cate Blanchett plays 13 different characters in Manifesto, Mr Nicholas Hoult channels the camera-shy Mr JD Salinger for Rebel In The Rye and Amazon have picked up Mr Martin Scorsese’s four-hour documentary on The Grateful Dead for a cool $6m. Here, however, are the five films that caught our eye:
Call Me By Your Name
Messrs Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg in Call Me By Your Name, 2017
Mr Luca Guadagnino’s follow-up to Mr Ralph Fiennes romp A Bigger Splash is an intellectual coming-of-age tale set in 1980s Italy. Co-written by 88-year-old Mr James Ivory (of Merchant Ivory fame), it focuses on Mr Armie Hammer’s young academic and a professor’s smitten son, played by Homeland’s Mr Timothée Chalamet.
What critics say: The Guardian’s five-star review hailed it as “masterful… a major entry in the canon of queer cinema”. One scene near the end is “one of the best exchanges between father and son in the history of cinema. We’ll all be quoting from it for the rest of our lives.”
What we say: The spirit of Mr Éric Rohmer is alive and well. A cerebral heartbreaker, this is the best film yet from one of Europe’s classiest directors.
Messrs Tim Robbins and Jon Hamm in Marjorie Prime, 2017
Mad Men’s Mr Jon Hamm plays a hologram of Ms Lois Smith’s dead husband in a near-future exploration of grief, memory and technology. Mr Tim Robbins and Ms Geena Davis co-star.
What critics say: The Hollywood Reporter calls it an “exquisitely acted chamber drama… Not since Spike Jonze’s Her has humanity’s uneasy embrace of seductive technology been given such soulful contemplation… The added value of Jon Hamm in his best role since Don Draper won’t hurt either.”
What we say: Black Mirror meets About Schmidt in a rare film better than the original play, scored by Ms Mica Levi, visionary composer of Under The Skin and Jackie.
The Big Sick
Ms Zoe Kazan and Mr Kumail Nanjiani in The Big Sick, 2017
Based on the relationship between Silicon Valley’s Mr Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Ms Emily Gordon (and written by the pair), The Big Sick is a comedy drama in which Mr Nanjiani has to mediate between his traditional Muslim parents and American in-laws when Ms Gordon (here played by Ms Zoe Kazan) falls ill.
What critics say: Vanity Fair praised its “sharp, warm, wise” mix of belly laughs, daring (like a joke about 9/11 that caused volcanic laughter at its premiere) and the “gravitas of real life”.
What we say: Mr Nanjiani is the finest purveyor of deadpan pathos since Mr Steve Carell. Intriguingly cast (Ms Holly Hunter and Mr Ray Romano play Emily’s parents) and produced by Mr Judd Apatow, this charming take on love and race has just been sold to Amazon Studios for a hefty $12 million.
A Ghost Story
Ms Rooney Mara in A Ghost Story, 2017
Mr Casey Affleck and Ms Rooney Mara reunite with Ain’t Them Bodies Saints director Mr David Lowery for a spare, disquieting twist on the supernatural genre.
What critics say: Variety called A Ghost Story an “art-film curio… like an Apichatpong Weerasethakul movie translated for Western audiences… sure to haunt those who open up to the experience.”
What we say: Poetic, full of clever touches (like ghosts communicating via the subtitles on a TV screen) and favouring suggestion over jumps, this is an enigmatic, slow-burn diptych for two of the subtlest superstars in American cinema.
Mses Danika Toolson, Emma Winslow, Elle Walker, Aeona Cruz, Hannah Cagwin, Liv Bagley, Shylee Sagle and Nicole Hamilton in Casting JonBenét, 2017
From a stellar field of documentaries (including the trans YouTuber bio This Is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous and Ferguson jeremiad Whose Streets?), this study of the unsolved 1996 murder of six-year-old child pageant beauty queen Ms JonBenét Ramsey entices the most.
What critics say: another five stars from The Guardian, who called it a “magnificent provocation to the very notion of truth…. Is it a crime documentary? A satire of prurient crime documentaries? A drama? A piece of avant-garde theatre? Casting JonBenét is all of these, and a brilliant original in multiple dimensions.”
What we say: Like The Act Of Killing or Mr Louis Theroux’s Scientology Movie, this post-truth era investigative doc uses actor reconstructions to explore the darkest recesses of the human mind, a poke in the thickets of picket-fence US worthy of Mr David Lynch. Netflix have already snapped it up, so fans of Making A Murderer need look no further for their next fix.