The Best of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival

Wildest Movie

Assassination Nation

Ethan Anderton – Assasination Nation

This movie from writer/director is absolutely bonkers. A small town called Salem tears itself apart when an unknown hacker starts uploading all the most intimate texts, pictures and internet searches of its residents. It starts with the mayor, moves on to the high school principal and slowly but surely the entire town has their online activity exposed. The result is an explosion of hate and aggression, the likes of which are usually only spewed from behind the anonymity of our computer screens. The insanity of the internet spreads like a wildfire through this town, and the result is all hell breaking loose.

Bodied

Steve Prokopy – Bodied

Although technically shown at an invite-only screening event, this festival favorite (which was recently picked up for distribution by YouTube) is an exciting and powerful movie about not only rap battling, but also the truth behind the supposedly hardcore men and women of all races who face off and sling vicious bars at each other. Veteran music video director Joseph Kahn (who has worked regularly with, among others, Eminem, who produced the movie) and co-writer Alex Larsen tell the story of Adam, a white graduate student (Calum Worthy) who is writing a thesis on the art of the rap battle and gets pulled into the world when it turns out he’s got a flair for the art form. Jackie Long plays battle champion Behn Grymm, a supporter and mentor to Adam, who eventually becomes his toughest adversary.

Mandy review

Ben Pearson – Mandy

Long before Nicolas Cage samples LSD that belongs to a demon, Mandy establishes itself as Sundance’s clear winner in this category. Director Panos Cosmatos, the son of Rambo: First Blood Part II and Cobra director George P. Cosmatos, follows up his 2010 movie Beyond the Black Rainbow with this psychedelic, kaleidoscopic nightmare of a thriller, a movie doused in bright red and green lighting that laughs in the face of realism and looks like the cover of a high fantasy novel blended with a heavy metal album cover. There’s a slow burn aspect here (and in the movie’s most disturbing scene, someone actually gets burned alive), but when it kicks into the next gear, Nic Cage is let loose in a way you’ve rarely seen before. Imagine Cage starring in Hobo with a Shotgun and you may come close to approximating the level of violence, gore, and ass-kicking ridiculousness on display here.

Movie That Made Us Cry

Won't You Be My Neighbor Review

Ethan Anderton – Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Having grown up with Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (like several other generations of kids who grew up between the late 1960s and late 1990s), Fred Rogers has always held a special place in my heart. But even I was not prepared for how touching this tribute to a true icon of television could be. What makes this documentary so lovely is that you see that Rogers was such a pure soul who only wanted to help children understand the complicated world around them and feel love. There are so many beautiful moments in this documentary, both from archived episodes and emotional talking heads looking back on the life of Fred Rogers. The end of this movie will have tears streaming down your face just as they did mine. Honestly, I’m tearing up now just thinking about it.

Hearts Beat Loud Review

Steve Prokopy – Hearts Beat Loud

Sometimes, simply being sweet and good hearted is enough to win the day. Director/co-writer Brett Haley follows up last year’s sensational Sundance look at actors growing old (The Hero) with this moving tale of a vinyl record store owner (Nick Offerman) preparing to send his pre-med-bound daughter (Kiersey Clemons) to college. This seismic shift in his life comes as he’s preparing to give up his store and devote most of his time to taking care of his mother (Blythe Danner), while likely working a job he doesn’t love. In a last ditch effort to bond with his daughter, the two turn their nightly jam sessions into an actual band and record a few songs, one of which becomes a modest Spotify hit. She’s resistant to taking the band any further, while he clings to the possibility that this might be an opportunity calling. Whatever happens, big changes are ahead, and we hope their relationship survives. The perfect blend of music, family and emotion.

Search - Still 1

Ben Pearson – Search

Sundance movies can often lean into their characters’ despair, so you can sort of become inured to depictions of sadness and misery after a few days packed with screenings. That’s a caveat to say that while I didn’t full-on cry during any movie at this year’s festival, the one that made me come much closer than anything else was also my favorite film at the fest: Search. As I mentioned in my review, the film opens with an extended montage that’s reminiscent of Pixar’s Up in the way it tells a concise and heartbreaking story in just a few minutes, and the fact that this loss of a family member is depicted only through computer screens doesn’t make it any less heart-wrenching. When I see this again later in the year, far from frozen tundra of Park City, perhaps I’ll have thawed enough for the tears to properly flow during this segment.

Favorite Documentary

Mr. Rogers

Ethan Anderton – Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Can you blame me for naming this as my favorite documentary of the festival after how emotional it made me (as described above)? I was expecting the Robin Williams documentary to pull at my heartstrings a little more since the comedian was a little closer to my childhood and adult heart, but it simply doesn’t hit the emotional sweet spots of Won’t You Be My Neighbor?. And while there may be more important documentaries that screened at the festival, I can’t help but highlight this film, if only because it profiles a TV legend that we need now more than ever. It’s a reminder that Fred Rogers was a treasure the likes of which we may never have in pop culture ever again.

Hal Review

Steve Prokopy – Hal

A documentary about a subject one is familiar with is great, but one that serves as a reminder and refresher of an artist that is in serious danger of being forgotten, even by cinephiles, is essential stuff. From veteran editor and first-time direct Amy Scott comes Hal, a fitting portrait of humanist filmmaker and humanitarian activist Hal Ashby, whose output in the 1970s (Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Shampoo, Coming Home, Being There) is as crucial a filmography as any director of the period. Using deep-dive archival behind-the-scenes footage, interviews, and personal letters, along with newer interviews by peers and admirers alike, this movie traces not only Ashby’s rise from Oscar-winning editor (for In The Heat of the Night) to his rapid decline in the 1980s. Sadly, the film is also a reminder that being a maverick artist often comes at a price, but it’s that brutal honesty that separates this work from other star-driven biopics.

Generation Wealth review

Ben Pearson – Generation Wealth

A quick caveat: I desperately wanted to see Three Identical Strangers, but couldn’t fit it into my screening schedule. But I’m more than happy to list Lauren Greenfield’s outstanding documentary Generation Wealth as my favorite documentary I saw at Sundance 2018. It’s a disturbing, sobering look at the impact our pop culture can have on the human psyche; if you don’t keep your guard up, the film seems to say, you could turn into one of these people: a broken former porn star who’s dreams of stardom didn’t exactly come to pass the way she imagined, a high-powered finance executive who’s obsessed with money, a pageant mom who paraded her child in front of the world for the promises of fame and fortune. But it’s more than just a depressing warning: it’s also a revealing portrait of Greenfield herself, a photographer whose 25-plus-year career has explored the themes of wealth and excess over and over again. We already know our collective societal values have gone to hell, so the most interesting aspect of this movie is watching Greenfield come to terms with the choices she’s made over her career and explore why she’s been so fascinated with this topic for decades.

2018 Sundance Film Festival Awards

Individual Top Five Lists

Ethan Anderton

  1. The Tale
  2. Blindspotting
  3. Won’t You Be My Neighbor
  4. Bodied
  5. The Kindergarten Teacher

Steve Prokopy

  1. Leave No Trace
  2. The Kindergarten Teacher
  3. Blindspotting
  4. Hereditary
  5. Hearts Beat Loud

Ben Pearson

  1. Search
  2. Lizzie
  3. Sorry to Bother You
  4. Generation Wealth
  5. Mandy

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