Independent Cinema Never Looked So Good
From humor-filled absurdities to mysterious, cosmic horrors, the Sundance Film Festival went above and beyond this year.
By Payton Ramey, University of Central Florida
The Sundance Film Festival has been killing the game lately.
From panels discussing the newest trends in independent cinema, to the festival’s very own “Power of Story” series on culture and storytelling, there is, without a doubt, something for every single human being on this earth to enjoy.
And while there hasn’t been, as of yet, any major movie milestones like last year (“Swiss Army Man” and “Manchester By The Sea” for those who live under a rock), it’s impossible to say that this year’s group of films weren’t incredibly mind-blowing.
Here are the top 6 movies from the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, rated, reviewed and categorized for your viewing pleasure.
1. “A Ghost Story” (David Lowery)
Cast: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara
An eerily poetic contemplation on time, memory and spirituality, David Lowery beautifully combines cosmic storytelling and hauntingly strange humor to bring forth a new take on the supernatural.
Following the journey of one nameless couple through the perils of death, Lowery invites film viewers to embrace a broader understanding of peace and acceptance. And, while taking a definite leap away from the more traditional narrative approaches, the film’s emphasis on stillness and slow motion perfectly captures the mind in the aftermath of tragedy.
It’s hard to say whether you should be reeling from the fragility of the characters, or snickering throughout the obviously strange rendition of ghostly encounters (Casey Affleck does seem like an oddball dressed under a bedsheet with eyeholes TBH). Either way, it’s one worth viewing.
2. “Where is Kyra?” (Andrew Dosunmu)
Cast: Michelle Pfeiffer, Kiefer Sutherland
Following the ever-continuous downward spiral of desperation and loneliness, Andrew Dosunmu creates one of the most stunningly accurate portrayals of living life on the fringe of New York society.
With masterfully shot scenes and shadowy images, “Where is Kyra?” is an incredibly intimate dedication to the psychologically pained. Though by no means a thriller, the suspenseful actions and steely resolve of each character gives hope to the viewers that the always miserable protagonist will somehow find her way out of the dark.
This is certainly a film that, as opposed to some others in Sundance’s history, you have to be in the right mindset to watch. It is an incredibly raw and eye-opening experience that plunges you straight into the gritty truth of reality.
3. “Mudbound” (Dee Rees)
Cast: Garrett Hedlund, Carey Mulligan, Jason Mitchell, Mary J. Blige
Largely considered the smash hit of this year’s Sundance Festival, “Mudbound” takes on the racial demons of American history in an emotional journey of confrontation, violence and tragedy.
With poetic voiceovers and gorgeous cinematography, the film intimately portrays the complexities of life between the white owners of a dismal farm in Mississippi, and the black sharecroppers who spend their life on it.
As an adaptation for Hillary Jordan’s novel, the film had a lot to live up to. And while I can say that Dee Rees almost perfectly intertwines horror and hope as an embodiment of racial injustice, the film itself is quite a bit less sensational than the traditional indie vibes of the festival. But, to be honest, it’s kind of a breath of fresh air, and the Oscars would be lucky to have it.
4. “Thoroughbred” (Cory Finley)
Cast: Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Anton Yelchin
Dark-witted and dangerously comedic, “Thoroughbred” follows two faux-innocent (and incredibly amoral) suburban teens who exploit their life of luxury in hopes of ensnaring the local lowlife into a world of deceit and, ultimately, murder.
Though exploding with charmingly vicious dialogue, it’s the enhanced visual and sound cinematography that truly gives viewers a thrill. With the use of traditional neo-noir film techniques, the gradual transformation of each scene and character develops the story into one hell of an ominous piece.
Admittedly, it’s alarming to watch two angelic young girls uncaringly discuss the desire to kill. But, somehow the eeriness of the entire performance is one of the most darkly pleasurable things I have ever watched.
5. “Oklahoma City” (Barak Goodman)
Sticking and provocative, this documentary on the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing seeks to shed light on the white nationalist movement of anti-government extremism that led to the death of 168 individuals, 24 of whom were children.
Barak Goodman creates perhaps the most gripping documentary at Sundance this year through his focus on human tragedy in the aftermath of hatred. With real recordings of the explosion, as well as interviews with those directly affected, Goodman powerfully sends the unnerving message that the rage and hatred of these extremists’ actions were certainly not isolated ideologies.
“Oklahoma City” is an incredible film about a harrowing event and it is, without a doubt, the start to a discussion long overdue. With such a difficult topic to film, it is incredibly apparent that Goodman refused to lose sight of the emotion and tragedy in the wake of such an event.
6. “Walking Out” (Alex Smith, Andrew Smith)
Cast: Josh Wiggins, Matt Bomer, Bill Pullman
An incredible combination of backwoods hunting and soulful bonding plunges this film into the spotlight, leading critics to hail it as both incredibly captivating and moving. At first sight, the film follows father and son duo, Cal and David, on an attempted bonding session in the woods, which (as per usual) leads to some unexpected survival story.
But, despite the grand performance of the characters amidst their dangerous fight for survival, it was the father’s relationship with the wild that gave viewers something to think about, as a large part of the film focuses on the distinction between killing and hunting.
Taking the film for what it was originally meant to be, a simple drama, is enough to warrant its success and is a riveting experience in its own. But, the film also acknowledges differing opinions on both hunting and guns, and while it may not have started out as a political talk, it certainly created a discussion. Worth a quick little view.
The Sundance Film Festival displayed some of the most amazing stories and ideas this year, as it did in basically every year before, and it’s fairly obvious that the festival continues to represent the epitome of everything magical in the creative industry right now. So, whether you’re into eye-opening documentaries or just some down-right strange ghostly encounters, you’re bound to enjoy something the festival has to offer.