Exit Through the Gift Shop

Exit Through the Gift Shop
2010 Sundance Film Festival
Directed By: Banksy
Budget: unknown
Box Office: $5.3 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%

Other films at Sundance that year: Animal KingdomWinter’s BoneBlue Valentine, Catfish, The Company Men

Exit Through The Gift Shop is one of my favorite documentaries of all time. A surprise film at the 2010 Sundance film festival, Exit is a provocative and subversive look at the creation and value of art and a marathon race through the world of street art. As wish Catfish, another “documentary” at that year’s fest, Exit left many people questioning the authenticity of the characters and story. The mystery behind the creation of the documentary and the filmmaker, anonymous street artist Banksy, just adds to the spectacle.

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey
2011 Sundance Film Festival
Directed By: Constance Marks
Won: Special Jury Prize Documentary
Budget: unknown
Box Office: $304,000
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%

Other films at Sundance that year: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Win WinSound of My VoiceLike Crazy

Being Elmo is one of the best documentaries about the craft, obsession and art of puppetry. The film was one of the audience favorites at the 2011 festival, but allegations that puppeteer Kevin Clash had improper sexual conduct with minors has tainted the film.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild
2012 Sundance Film Festival
Directed By: Benh Zeitlin
Won: Grand Jury Prize Dramatic, Excellence in Cinematography Award Dramatic
Budget: $1.8 million
Box Office: $21.9 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%

Other films at Sundance that year: The Raid: RedemptionSafety Not GuaranteedThe Queen of Versailles, Smashed, Searching For Sugarman

Beasts of the Southern Wild was the big phenomenon of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. It won both the grand jury prize in the dramatic competition but also an award for excellence in cinematography. The film went on to get four Academy Award nominations at the 85th Academy Awards, in the categories Best Picture, Best Director (Benh Zeitlin), Best Adapted Screenplay (Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin), and Best Actress (Quvenzhané Wallis). Director Benh Zeitlin has yet to produce a follow-up, so its hard to say this film launched his career as we don’t know what will become of the filmmaker — but the film shows high promise.

before midnight

Before Midnight
2013 Sundance Film Festival
Directed By: Richard Linklater
Budget: $3 million
Box Office: $20.7 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%

Other films at Sundance that year: The Spectacular NowThe Kings of Summer (originally titled Toy’s House), BlackfishDon Jon’s Addiction, Mud

Before Midnight is the latest evolution of Richard Linklater’s Before… series, this time taking us from the one day meet-up to the next step in the relationship of Jesse and Celine. /Film’s Germain Lussier wrote the following in his 2013 Sundance review:

Over the course of the film the emotions and stakes of this conversation continue to rise, which makes Before Midnight feel more weighty than the previous entries. Everything that’s said somehow feels so significant now that the courting is over. These are simply two adults working out their issues. Add a slight tension on top of that and you’ve got something special. One moment you’re contemplating art or masculinity, the next their relationship is on the brink. That’s derived from three things: the writing and the two lead performances. Everything in the movie feels incredibly rich, real and unscripted when it’s actually anything but (the director and two stars co-wrote). Also, this being their third time around, Delpy and Hawke are so beyond comfortable together you’d swear they’re actually a couple. Linklater’s camera is simply there to capture their electric chemistry, giving the film a consistant vibrancy.


2014 Sundance Film Festival
Directed By: Richard Linklater
Budget: $4 million
Box Office: $43.5 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%

Other films at Sundance that year: Whiplash, Life Itself, The Raid 2, The Babadook

Boyhood is not only my favorite film of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, but my favorite film of that year. I wrote the following in my review at the 2014 festival:

Richard Linklater has truly created something special with his new film Boyhood —  a remarkable, beautiful, cinematic achievement, like nothing you have ever seen before. Filmed over short periods from 2002 to 2013, the film chronicles a family over the course of 12 years, with the actors reprising their roles through the progression of time. … Boyhood is a small epic.

Boyhood is insanely relatable and the timeless quality is sure to make it a film that will be revisited for decades to come — a modern classic.

It Follows

It Follows
2015 Sundance Film Festival
Directed By: David Robert Mitchell
Budget: $2 million
Box Office: $15 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%

Other films at Sundance that year: Me & Earl & the Dying Girl, Dope, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Brooklyn, The End of The Tour, Cop Car, It Follows, Tangerine, The Witch

Sundance 2014 had a lot of great films but not a huge breakout movie. People thought it could be Me & Earl & the Dying Girl, but its hard to sell a movie about a girl dying of cancer. Tangerine got a lot of buzz because of how it was filmed (on iPhones), Brooklyn is getting awards buzz, while Cop Car was enough to get the director on Marvel’s Spider-Man reboot. But I feel like It Follows might have the longest legacy of the batch because it was one of the most striking horror films in years. Here is an excerpt from Germain Lussier’s /Film review from 2014:

Sometimes, the scariest thing isn’t what’s around the corner. It’s what’s right in front of you. In It Follows, writer director David Robert Mitchell has created a simple, perfect, and bone-chillingly terrifying horror conceit that doesn’t need blood or jump scares. It doesn’t even, necessarily, need special effects. In It Follows a normal person, walking, is enough to scare the living crap out of you. … As good as It Follows is on a surface level, it’s also got social commentary good horror does so well. It’s about the consequences of sex and how a wrong decision can follow you forever. … When I judge a horror movie, the #1 criteria is how scary is the film. After that, we can look at everything else. It Follows scared me. A lot. Like, more than probably 90% of the other horror movies I’ve ever seen. So that seems like a fair raiting. If you like to be scared, there hasn’t been a better film in years.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Hunt for the Wilderpeople
2016 Sundance Film Festival
Directed By: Taika Waititi
Budget: $2.5 million
Box Office: $5.2 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%

Other films at Sundance that year: Manchester By The Sea, Sleight, Sing Street, Life Animated, Swiss Army Man, Green Room

It was declared the best reviewed limited release of the year by Rotten Tomatoes, and while Manchester By The Sea has gotten more attention due to the award season, I believe this film will have a longer shelf life and be a film that most people cite as the breakthrough film of Taika Waititi (even though he has directed a substantial slate of great indie films prior to this one). Here is how Angie described the film in our best of Sundance 2016 round-up:

Hunt for the Wilderpeople feels like a throwback to ’80s adventure films in some ways, but it mostly just feels like a new childhood classic. It has all the makings of one: it’s got wonder and adventure and loads of humor, and ultimately winds up on the side of optimism — but it also has moments of genuine tragedy and danger. It’s not tough to imagine kids falling this movie today and feeling nostalgic about it 10 or 20 years down the line, the way Millennials and Gen Xers today wax rhapsodic about The Goonies. Unlike a lot of those movies, though, it’s one the parents won’t mind either. (Read Angie’s full review here.)

The Big Sick Review

The Big Sick
2017 Sundance Film Festival
Directed By: Michael Showalter
Budget: $5 million
Box Office: $55 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%

Other films at Sundance that year: Call Me By Your Name, A Ghost Story, Ingrid Goes West, Get Out, An Inconvenient Truth

The Big Sick was one of the best-reviewed films of the year and an audience favorite, winning audience awards at festivals such as SXSW. It was the second largest acquisition of the 2017 festival, declared one of American Film Institutes 10 best films of the year and is currently in consideration for award season.

Here is how Ethan Anderton described the film in his review from the festival:

The Big Sick tells the story of up and coming Pakistani-American comedian Kumail Nanjiani (who just so happens to be played by the Silicon Valley star of the same name, Kumail Nanjiani), living in Chicago and trying to land a gig at the Montreal Comedy Festival. After one of his sets at a local comedy club, he flirts with a woman named Emily (Zoe Kazan), and what starts as a one night stand eventually turns into real romance, and we all know how that goes. But the true story of how real life comedian Kumail Nanjiani met this woman has quite the curveball, making this one of the most unique and authentic romantic comedies I’ve seen in years. … I don’t remember the last time a movie was able to have this much hilarity one moment and pure emotion from me, back and forth throughout the entire film.

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