The Best Films of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival

Forbidden Room

11. The Forbidden Room 

Guy Maddin and co-director Evan Johnson have created a psychic reimagining of lost films from the ’20s. Their images swirl and pulse on the screen, short stories blurring into one another like the slipstream links between dreams. Characters imagine and dream their own stories, until at some points in the film we’re three or four Inception layers deep in a fantasyland of genre movie plots and backstabbing character. (Ever see the Rick and Morty episode ‘Lawnmower Dog‘? This is similar, but far more insane.) The Forbidden Room is a history of a cinema that never was, told in deep color and shadow, with wildly strange characters such as skeletal insurance defrauders, explained through flat-out silly intertitles. There’s nothing else like this. (Russ)

99 Homes

10. 99 Homes

At the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, I happened to see a screening of Ramin Bahrani‘s Man Push Cart and was blown away by the lonely mood piece centering around a New York City food vender. I’ve followed Bahrani’s career over the last decade through various film festival premieres. While I personally admired his early work, they might feel too “slow” for mainstream audiences. Bahrani’s films have attracted some big name actors in recent years, and the filmmaker has taken big steps in recent years to reach a larger audience without sacrificing the powerful messages at his film’s core.

99 Homes is his latest, a story set in the aftermath of the housing crisis. Andrew Garfield plays a father who struggles to somehow buy back the home that his family was evicted from by working for the real estate broker who foreclosed on his home. 99 Homes does for the economic crisis what Oliver Stone’s Wall Street did for the world of stockbrokers. Garfield delivers an amazing vulnerable performance in this tense moral drama. Michael Shannon plays the film’s nasty yet magnetic antagonist Rick Carver. A poignant tear-jerker which mirrors the realities of times. (Peter)

Cop Car review

9. Cop Car

Cop Car has the brutal elegance of old-school crime fiction. Two young kids find a seemingly abandoned sheriff’s cruiser in a stand of trees. One thing leads to another, and soon they’re off on a joyride through the countryside. But the sheriff wants his car back, and there’s another wild card factor, too, which draws a noose around all their necks.

Few deeds go unpunished in this daylight noir. Yet even through the increasingly grim action an innocence is maintained that sets Cop Car apart from recent companion films such as Cold in JulyThe Guest, and Blue Ruin. Getting reductive for a moment, Cop Car is like an Amblin film filtered through the twisted vision of the Coen Brothers. It’s a midnight movie blast.

That’s an excerpt from Russ’ full review. Read it here.


8. The Witch 

In 1600s New England, an exiled family comes apart at the seams when their infant son disappears into the woods. Was he taken by an animal, or, as the family’s oldest daughter believes she saw, was he taken by a witch? Tensions mount as the deeply religious family tries to make sense of the situation. Costumed, scripted and shot with a keen and patient sense of detail, The Witch is an excellent blend of family psychodrama and creeping terror that contains some of the weirdest and most shocking sights of this year’s Sundance. (Russ)

Slow West

7. Slow West 

This film is to the western as Hanna was to the espionage thriller — a meditative journey shot through with scenes of violence and characterized by allegorical storytelling that constructs its own reality so throroughly that it has the feel of a fairy tale. The allegory here is primarily Biblical as a young man (Kodi Smit-McPhee) journeys west through the US to find Rose, his lost love. He’s protected by Silas (Michael Fassbender), a skilled gunslinger with a shady past and dubious intentions. Gorgeously filmed and enlivened by a deep sense of gallows humor, Slow West features yet another great performance from Michael Fassbender, and culminates in one of the most stylish and memorable sequences I’ve seen in a long time. (Russ)

Best of Enemies

6. Best of Enemies

A nostalgia piece that actually reflects on the past to find some illumination about the time we’re living now, this documentary about the “debates” between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr. looks back at a time when the American political conversation had not yet been dominated by extremes and incessant punditry. The debates in question were televised by ABC during the 1968 party conventions to nominated candidates for the US Presidential election, and directors Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon use footage of the debates, modern interviews, and essays from each participant (voiced by John Lithgow and Kelsey Grammar) to bring to life not only the debates, but the characters of Vidal and Buckley, and the vibrant animosity that bloomed between them. It’s rare that we get to see a specific moment in time that could be the origin of much of our current reality; this film shows us that point, and puts it in valuable and tremendously entertaining context. (Russ)

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