The Best (and Worst) of the Dance


Combining Sundance and Slamdance, I saw somewhere between 15 to 20 features this year in Park City. I went to a lot fewer parties than last year and not once did I get in a fight with someone over anything, which is really saying something. I also figured out which bartenders at the free events will ignore the menu and just give you Johnnie Walker Black on the rocks if you ask nicely.

The easiest way to start a conversation with someone in Park City is to ask them what they’ve seen and what they’re favorites are. Sometimes a person will start gushing about a film and then you make sure you add it to your schedule. That’s how I ended up seeing Concussion (pictured above).

So in that spirit, here’s my favorites (and my least favorites).

5 UP

Before Midnight

This is really on everyone’s favorites list, and for good reason. Richard Linklater finishes off his trilogy with the strongest film of the three. By now we’re so heavily invested in Jesse and Celine and their lives have gotten so much more…complicated, which is exactly how it should be. A common refrain in town was that we all kind of see ourselves in this relationship. There’s something universal about it. I’m already in line for part 4 (please please please do another one in 2022).

[Review on Letterboxd]

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

There aren’t very many filmmakers with the confidence and maturity to make a film like Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and one of them is Terrance Malik. Another is David Lowery, who’s second feature (yes, second) is a masterful film about Casey Affleck breaking out of prison to rejoin his wife and daughter. It’s a film full of strong performances and glorious cinematography, a film that takes chances, a film that should be around for a long, long time.

[Review on Letterboxd]

Upstream Color

In the line for Upstream Color, I tweeted that I was already confused. I didn’t really get less confused after the film started. And even so, I think I understood it better than some people. I’d tell you about the plot, but there’s no point. Carruth’s film is enigmatic and then some, but it’s also very well shot and edited and Amy Seimetz isn’t getting nearly enough credit for a performance that anchors the film in some sort of something. I found the film mesmerizing, even if I only understood some of it. Your experience may vary. It almost definitely will.


Robin Weigert has been one of my favorite actresses since she started cussing up a storm in Deadwood. And I actually didn’t even know she had a film in Sundance this year until I saw her across the room at a party (I try to know as little as possible about a film before I see it). In Concussion she plays a bored lesbian housewife who takes up prostitution as something of a hobby. I know, that sounds either horrible or like the plot of some pornography or both, but Weigert sells it, infusing her character with sensuality and fear and joy and sorrow. It’s a fantastic performance.

Joy de V.

From the top of the hill at Slamdance comes Joy de V., Nadia Szold’s debut feature about a guy who’s wife goes out in the morning and doesn’t come back. He goes looking for her. The first act plays like the movie Cosmopolis was trying to be, and lead actor Evan Louison is basically Robert Pattinson but with acting ability. It’s a unique look at New York City. It’s almost as if the film just organically came to be on a sidewalk somewhere, it feels that authentic. And hey, it features a nice supporting performance from the one and only Claudia Cardinale.

And now, the flip side.


Kill Your Darlings

A complete and utter miscalculation, made by people who don’t seem to understand a damned thing about the Beat Generation. It’s clinical and stale when it should be sporadic and vibrant. I can’t fathom how people let it happen. If Jack Kerouac were still alive, he’d burn every copy he could find and have a really wild party around the flames and everyone would just go go go with girls and wine and great music and just look at them swing blow man blow all night long until we passed out in piles on the bed on the floor just everywhere and then get up the next day and do it all again.


My mom will love Fruitvale. Thing is, my mom has terrible taste in movies. Fruitvale is based on the true story of Oscar Grant, a black guy who was killed by a white cop in the vicinity of a bunch of camera phones. It’s a terribly complex situation and the title suggests the film will take a multi-faceted look at the different perspectives and issues behind the tragedy. It doesn’t. Instead, Fruitvale is white-washed bio pic, a Lifetime Movie of the Week with better acting and more uses of the n-word. The film is littered with mistakes. The script is so blatantly manipulative. There isn’t an ounce of subtlety in the film. Everything is completely on the nose, full of cliches and coincidences and a hundred other crutches of mediocre filmmakers. The story is endlessly compelling. The film is not. A lot of very smart people can’t seem to tell the difference.

The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman

And I liked it more than most people. This movie by commercials director Fredrik Bond stars Shia LeBeouf as a guy who has some weird pixie thing go into his chest or something and then talks to his dead mother who tells him to go to Romania. Or something. And people hated it. Go figure. It’s a super-stylish thing that’s way too long and essential pointless and has no business whatsoever being at Sundance in any capacity. It’s wafer-thin and makes more mistakes than I can count. But if I were drunk and it was on TV? I’d probably watch it again. At least I’d watch some of it, assuming Duck Dynasty isn’t on.

Lucas McNelly is a filmmaker best known for sleeping around (the country).