After over 100 combined viewing hours, 9 days, 5 theaters, many sleepless nights, and nearly 100 posts, our first Sundance Film Festival has come to an end. Raffi Asdourian, Daniel Mecca, and I (Jordan Raup) want to share our personal favorites from the 2011 fest. Check out our top ten below and a complete wrap-up underneath.

The Best

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey (review)

The one film that really stole my heart at Sundance was Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey, the inspiring and heartwarming story of Kevin Clash, the voice and genius behind one of the world’s most iconic children’s personality. Taking you from his childhood ambitions to a chance encounter with Jim Henson, it’s hard not to be bowled over by the remarkable story of the charismatic Clash. If you grew up watching Sesame Street, then seek out Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey for an amazing journey that will leave you feeling happy like a kid again. – R. A.

Circumstance (review)

At once a star-crossed romance and a parable for the revolutionary spirit, this Iranian drama features some of the best cinematography, writing and acting around these days. It’s a story told a dozen time in a dozen ways, but rarely this good. – D. M.

The Guard (review)

Brendan Gleeson should get an Oscar for his nuanced performance as Sergeant Gerry Boyle, an Irish police office rife with contradictions and razor sharp comedic jabs. The film is a kind of mish mash of a generic crime caper wrapped in a delightful Irish comedy that feels like an Irish version of Hot Fuzz. However unlike in Fuzz where the style of Edgar Wright’s filmmaking steals the show, The Guard‘s champion is clearly Gleeson crafting an unforgettable performance that is equally comedic as it is dramatic. – R. A.

Higher Ground

Vera Farmiga‘s directorial debut is packed with wit, laughs, and strong performances led by Farmiga herself. Higher Ground tells the life story of a woman and her spiritual struggles. While the concept may seem dry, this new director is able to keep the pace moving, while still building to a heavy emotional payoff, up to the final shot. – J. R.

I Saw The Devil (review)

Every so often there comes along a foreign film that is so intense, so brutal that it quite literally leaves your jaw wide open. Such is the case with I Saw the Devil, directed by Korean filmmaker Ji-woon Kim (The Tale of Two Sisters, The Good, The Bad, The Weird) and starring the amazing talented veteran Korean actor Min-sik Choi, of Oldboy fame. Taking that same vengeance conflict cat and mouse dynamic at the center of so many classics, Kim pushes the frenetic pace of painful possibilities constantly leaving you guessing what next gruesome fate will splatter your soul. – R. A.

Life In A Day (review)

Premiering online simultaneously with the world premiere in Park City, this eye-opening doc speaks more about humanity than most narratives seen at the festival. It is a monumental achievement for crowd-sourced filmmaking and I look forward to future incarnations after Kevin Macdonald and Ridley Scott broke the ground.  – J.R.

Martha Marcy May Marlene (review)

One Sundance film stood above them all for me this year. I saw Sean Durkin‘s masterpiece early on in the fest, and it has yet to exit my mind. The striking images powered by Elizabeth Olsen‘s breakout lead performance, is an early contender for my best of 2011. – J. R.

The Nine Muses (review)

Part documentary, part experimental film, part audiobook. John Akomfrah‘s passionate work will challenge all those who watch it, but those who stick with it are in for a contemplative experience like nothing else. – Dan M.

Take Shelter (review)

After Shotgun Stories, Jeff Nichols‘ second film was my most anticipated coming into the fest. While it is slightly repetitive, Michael Shannon‘s performance, along with the the stand-out third act, makes Take Shelter one of the most memorable films coming out of Sundance. Picked up by Sony Pictures Classics pre-fest, this psychological drama will see a release by the end of the year. – J.R.

Tyrannosaur (review)

A violent love story between two incredibly scarred people, Paddy Considine’s directorial debut announces his presence as a very serious filmmaker. Featuring intense performances by Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman. – D. M.

The Rest

(click title for review)

The Honorable Mentions: The Interrupters, Win Win, My Idiot Brother, The Future, Cedar Rapids, A Few Days of Respite, The Green Wave, Senna

The Good: Margin Call, The Catechism CataclysmReagan, I Melt With You, The Devil’s Double, Beats, Rhymes, and Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest, The Last Mountain, Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Like Crazy, Project Nim, Elite Squad 2

The So-So: The Lie, Terri, Red State, Submarine, Shorts Program Volume 1, These Amazing Shadows, Hobo With a Shotgun, The Off Hours

The Bad: The Convincer, The Details, The Music Never Stopped, Homework, All Your Dead Ones

The Ugly: The Son of No One, The Ledge

The Interviews

‘Perfect Sense’ Director David Mackenzie
Building A Dream Project: ‘Nine Muses’ Director John Akomfrah

‘I Melt With You’ Filmmakers Talk Critical Response
‘The Last Mountain’ Director Bill Haney
Kevin Smith Talks ‘Red State’ Self-Distribution Model & More

‘Submarine’ Writer/Director Richard Ayoade
Sundance 2011 Opening Press Conference Highlights

View our complete coverage here (including all Sundance-related news) and we’ll see you next year in Park City!

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