That’s how long it took for critics to declare the first great film of Sundance. Usually the fest starts off slow, but this year, it kicked off with a literal drum roll: Miles Teller killed in the tense, blood-on-the drums Whiplash, a profane film about a monomaniacal music student’s furious ambition, which remains one of the best-reviewed films of the festival five days in. The film sold to Sony Pictures Classics in double-time.
The Karaoke Performance of Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”
At every festival there’s always one scene that everyone raves about, even if the film gets mixed reviews. This year it came in Skeleton Twins, a serious drama about suicidal siblings that wasn’t so serious that it couldn’t allow a hysterical scene in which Bill Hader and Kristin Wiig perform a wild duet of Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.” Oftentimes comedians tamp down their natural humor too much when they try and go dramatic. But in this lovingly detailed film, Wiig and Hader have such natural, improvisational chemistry that their goofy humor doesn’t distract from the movie. In fact, it underscores their sibling bond. And who wouldn’t want to do karaoke with those two?
It took Richard Linklater (Before Midnight, Dazed & Confused) a painstaking twelve years to film the ultimate coming-of-age tale Boyhood. And it took film critics about twelve minutes to wipe their teary eyes and call it a masterpiece.
The crew began shooting the Texas-set film in 2001, with then six-year-old Ellar Salmon. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette played the boy’s divorced parents; Linklater’s own daughter Lorelei plays his sister. The crew shot once a year for the last twelve years: The boy’s mother remarries twice; his father floats in and out of relationships and bands. He plays with a Gameboy, then an Xbox, then an iPhone. He does his homework, washes the dishes, flirts and falls in love and out of it. Most of all, he just grows up.
Understated and mature, Linklater rides a laconic Texan vibe: never overplotting the drama or raising the stakes. There’s not one good parent and one bad one. This is never a child-in-peril film, where one bad decision could wreck the kid’s life. The film is huge-heartedly non-judgmental. The ache and pain and nostalgia is there in Eller’s face, which evolves in a kind of time-lapse progression, without dramatic cuts or too-telegraphed Big Life Moments.
The only real comparison in cinema history is Michael Apted’s monumental “Up” series, which checked in on documentary subjects every seven years. There has simply never been anything like this film – no other piece of film in which you see a child grow up from a Hogwarts-happy runt into a scruffy-faced college freshman prone to rambling on philosophical tangents, just like his father.
Often, at film festivals, you see films and think, “I never saw that before.” But this is the kind of film you see and say, “I may never see anything like this again.” Sundance gossips are waiting for the imminent sale and fully expecting a distributor to mount a 2014 Oscar campaign.
Five Significant Sales
Sundance is the cozy mountain lodge of American independent cinema, but it is also a hardcore business market. These are the five most significant sales so far:
Wish I Was Here
Zach Braff’s insufferably twee prop-dramedy stirred up stale jokes about Segways and cosplay. Funded in large part by Braff’s fans on Kickstarter, the film is – ironically enough– about an actor (Braff) who’d rather take hand-outs from his father than get a real job. Nonetheless, it sold for $2.75 million to Focus Features.
The latest improvised indie from Joe Swanberg reunited him with his Drinking Buddies star Anna Kendrick plus Lena Dunham and Joe’s adorable two-year-old son Jude. A charming and smart film about women trying to have it all, the film sold to Magnolia and Paramount.
This thriller documentary (and unexpected crowd pleaser) about a missing T Rex skeleton was picked up by CNN Films and Lionsgate
The latest film from Lynn Shelton (Humpday, Your Sister’s Sister) begins with another wild high-concept premise then somehow grounds itself in utter reality. Keira Knightley, in what may be her best performance, pulls of an American accent as a woman who disappears right after her husband proposes and hides out with a local teen (Chloe Grace Moretz). The film was picked up by A24, which will release it this summer.
The biggest film (and deal) of the festival so far sold to Sony Pictures Classics for three million dollars.
Five Great Lines
“You’re not a whore. You’re a restless housewife with whorelike tendencies.” —Bill Hader to Kristin Wiig in Skeleton Twins
“You can blame your parents until you’re 30. After that, move on.” —John Waters in Hit Record on TV‘s third episode
“Just remember: He’s my son. And I’m pulling the trigger.” —Sam Shepard as the father of a bad seed in Cold in July
“Dear White People, stop touching my hair.” —Breakout actress Tessa Thompson in the campus race satire Dear White People
“And clean the blood off my drums!” —J.K. Simmons as the sadistic jazz instructor in Whiplash