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The Best Films of Sundance Film Festival 2019

Written by on February 4, 2019 

Raise Hell: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins (Jance Engle)

Often hilarious and always a delight, Raise Hell: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins is the conversational, down-home story of the Smith College-educated Texan who found herself bouncing around the country to find her voice. When she landed at the New York Times in the late 70s after a stint at the Texas Observer her colorful language became too much for the conservative editors of The Gray Lady. She found herself running the paper’s one-woman Rocky Mountain bureau, concluding that best job at the Times is one away from New York City. – John F. (full review)

The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg)

The Souvenir melds two well-trodden subgenres and through Joanna Hogg’s refreshingly unique vision makes each feel entirely original. Her much-anticipated return after 2013’s Exhibition tells both a painful addiction story and a behind-the-scenes look at film school struggles as we follow Julie (a beautiful debut performance by Honor Swinton Byrne). The daughter of Tilda Swinton (who also briefly turns up), Swinton Byrne is in every scene, and steals them all. Akin to the revelatory introduction to Tom Hiddleston in Hogg’s first two films, Unrelated and Archipelago, she is the lifeblood of The Souvenir, which follows doomed lovers in a story that is conveyed with feels mined from achingly personal memories.Jordan R. (full review)

This is Not Berlin (Hari Sama)

It opens in slow motion with teenage bodies wrestling and punching inside chaotic dust swirls, one boy (Xabiani Ponce de León’s Carlos) caught isolated in the middle of the frame. He’s not looking to hit any of the others. In fact he’s barely dodging out of the way when they come too close. It’s almost as though Carlos isn’t even there, his mind and body separated as two halves of the same conflicted whole. He knows he should be present with his friends to show his machismo and do Mexico proud like the soccer team soon to hit the 1986 World Cup pitch, but something is calling him in the distance that he can’t quite see. It’s punk metal versus new wave blues, hetero-normative conformity versus queer counter-culture. – Jared M. (full review)

To the Stars (Martha Stephens)

If today’s political landscape is any indication, much of the world is living in a conservative past, seething with disgust for another perspective they fail to empathize with, and emboldened by leadership that encourages such viewpoints. In her striking new drama To the Stars, Martha Stephens takes a character-focused look at such a small-town community full of repression, but rather than setting it in the present day, we’re placed in 1960s Oklahoma, a decision that speaks volumes for the ways we have and haven’t evolved as a country. – Jordan R. (full review)

Velvet Buzzsaw (Dan Gilroy)

How does one review the movie about the murderous paintings? Velvet Buzzsaw, written and directed by Dan Gilroy, looks and sounds like some kind of satire; a takedown of art, critique, etc. After a few minutes, that’s how it plays. We meet Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal) at Art Basel in Miami, an art critic of some influence who proceeds to rip apart an installation piece called “Hoboman,” a robotic rendering of a man asking for change and lamenting his invisibility. At the same show do we meet – deep breath – ex-punk rocker-now-gallery-owner Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo), her assistant Josephina (Zawe Ashton, very compelling), competing gallery owner Joe Don Don (Tom Sturridge), legendary artist Piers (John Malkovich), up-and-coming artist Damrish (Daveed Diggs), installation man Bryson (Billy Magnussen), and museum curator Gretchen (Toni Collette). – Dan M. (full review)

The Rest

Birds of Passage (A-)
The Nightingale (A-)

The Biggest Little Farm (B+)

Apollo 11 (B)
Brittany Runs a Marathon (B)
Clemency (B)
The Death of Dick Long (B)
The Disappearance of My Mother (B)
The Last Tree (B)
The Lodge (B)
MEMORY—The Origins of Alien (B)
Ms. Purple (B)
Photograph (B)
The Report (B)
Share (B)
The Sharks (B)
Where’s My Roy Cohn? (B)

After the Wedding (B-)
Big Time Adolescence (B-)
Dirty God (B-)
Greener Grass (B-)
Honey Boy (B)
I Am Mother (B-)
Judy & Punch (B-)
Monos (B-)
Sonja – The White Swan (B-)
Stieg Larsson: The Man Who Played with Fire (B-)
Paddleton (B-)
Sweetheart (B-)

Adam (C+)
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (C+)
Give Me Liberty (C+)
The Last Black Man in San Francisco (C+)
Little Monsters (C+)
Mope (C+)
The Sound of Silence (C+)
We Are Little Zombies (C+)
Wounds (C+)

Blinded by the Light (C)
Corporate Animals (C)
Late Night (C)
The Mountain (C)
Official Secrets (C)
Shooting the Mafia (C)
Troop Zero (C)

Them That Follow (C-)

The Brink (D+)


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Dan Gilroy on Velvet Buzzsaw as Pop Art, Why He Teamed with Netflix, Superheroes, and The Square

Jim Gaffigan on Faith, Ghosts, and Seeking a New Complexity in His Career

Where’s My Roy Cohn? Director Matt Tyrnauer on How His Documentary Illuminates the Rise of Donald Trump

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