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2012 Sundance Film Festival Wrap-Up

7 days, 22 film screenings and an average of 4 hours of sleep per night – My 2012 Sundance Film Festival experience in a nutshell. It was an amazing we

ek at the world’s premier independent film festival in Park City, Utah, the place to be for Hollywood producers, filmmakers and stars (both industry veterans and up-and-comers) for two cold weeks in January each year. The festival has almost around-the-clock screenings of a variety of movies: dramas, genre flicks, documentaries, experimental films, and shorts (most of which are premieres). After each screening, the director and other filmmakers, sometimes cast members, take the stage for a short but insightful Q&A session. Fortunately many of my classmates and I got to catch several of the award winners (full list here). It was an unforgettable experience and one I hope to return to on numerous occasions in the future.

I divided up this wrap-up article into three main sections: 1) the films I saw, 2) the films I wanted to see or thought about seeing, and 3) the films I heard were good or interesting – the second and third sections are on PAGE 2. I also ranked the films I saw and listed their brief summaries in the order in which I saw them. The listings have links to my full reviews for each respective film. Many of the movies do not have specific release dates yet, but I will update the post as need be.


  1. Beasts of the Southern Wild – 9/10* (asterisked films required viewings for class)
  2. The Imposter (documentary) – 9/10*
  3. Six Sessions (The Surrogate) – 9/10
  4. Shadow Dancer – 9/10
  5. Room 237 – 9/10
  6. The Raid – 8.5/10
  7. Save the Date – 8.5/10
  8. Safety Not Guaranteed – 8.5/10*
  9. My Brother the Devil – 8.5/10
  10. Smashed – 8/10
  11. LUV – 8/10
  12. The Pact – 8/10
  13. Simon Killer – 8/10
  14. Wish You Were Here – 7.5/10
  15. Grabbers – 7/10
  16. Red Lights – 7/10
  17. Goats – 7/10
  18. Middle of Nowhere – 7/10*
  19. Wuthering Heights – 7/10
  20. For Ellen – 6.5/10
  21. Finding North – 6.5/10*
  22. Shorts Program IV – 6.5/10


Sunday, January 22



My Brother the Devil [Full Review]



Release Date: TBA

IMDB Synopsis: Two teenage brothers must face their prejudices head on if they are to survive the perils of being young, British Arabs on the streets of gangland London.

Director: Sally El Hosaini

Stars: James Floyd, Fady Elsayed, Saïd Taghmaoui, Letitia Wright

Score & brief review: 8.5/10

  • Seeing My Brother the Devil (2012), winner of the World Cinema Cinematography Award (Dramatic category), was an excellent way to begin my experience at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. It featured everything you might expect from a movie screening at the world’s most prominent independent film festival. From the exceptional production value, especially given the limited budget and shooting schedule, and top-notch acting, largely from newcomers, to the gritty, at times challenging story, writer-director Sally El Hosaini’s bold feature-film debut is a creative wonder. My Brother the Devil is a raw yet sensationally gripping and energetic coming-of-age tale that delicately treads surprising ground on top of its street gang genre roots. [FULL REVIEW]




The Raid: Redemption [Full Review]



Release Date: April 13, 2012 (limited)

IMDB Synopsis: A SWAT team becomes trapped in a tenement run by a ruthless mobster and his army of killers and thugs.

Director: Gareth Evans

Stars: Iko Uwais, Ananda George, Ray Sahetapy

Score & brief review: 8.5/10

  • If you think The Expendables 2 will be the coolest action movie of 2012, then think again; that honor without a doubt belongs to the Indonesian action epic The Raid: Redemption. In fact, it is one of the best straight-up action/martial arts films in decades and perhaps the most violent movie you are likely ever to witness. It plays out like a kick-ass combination between Die Hard, Assault on Precinct 13, any John Woo classic martial arts flick, and deliciously inventive South Korean revenge thrillers like Oldboy and I Saw the Devil. Although The Raid is light on story, it is a relentlessly exhilarating action movie that never ceases to amaze and has already become a cult classic since its TIFF and Sundance premieres. [FULL REVIEW]



Monday, January 23



Red Lights [Full Review]



Release Date: July 13 (limited)

IMDB Synopsis: Psychologist Margaret Matheson and her assistant study paranormal activity, which leads them to investigate a world-renowned psychic who has resurfaced years after his toughest critic mysteriously passed away.

Director: Rodrigo Cortés

Stars: Cillian Murphy, Robert De Niro, Sigourney Weaver, Toby Jones, Elizabeth Olsen, Joely Richardson, Craig Roberts

Score & brief review: 7/10

  • Red Lights, Rodrigo Cortes’ follow-up to the solid claustrophobic Ryan Reynolds-led thriller Buried (2010), was probably my most anticipated film of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Sadly, it turned out to be perhaps the biggest disappointment of the week. Most of Red Lights is actually quite engaging and suspenseful, but it is virtually ruined by an overwrought, pretentious mess of an ending. Hopefully reports of Cortes re-shooting and/or re-editing the ending are true as doing so could tighten the focus and pace and make this decent paranormal investigation thriller more satisfying. [FULL REVIEW]



Tuesday, January 24



Save the Date [Full Review]



Release Date: TBA

IMDB Synopsis: A comedy centered on two very different sisters.

Director: Michael Mohan

Stars: Lizzy Caplan, Alison Brie, Mark Webber, Martin Starr, Geoffrey Arend

Score & brief review: 8.5/10

  • Not all critics have had kind words regarding the Sundance romantic dramedy Save the Date, as it has received mixed reviews thus far, but I thoroughly enjoyed the film primarily for its honesty. What I thought might be a simple guilty pleasure of a rom-com turned out to be far more engaging than just amusement. In a culture saturated with disingenuous, misleading romantic shows and movies, this one turns the typical scenario on itself and largely successfully strives to be more than just a good laugh. Also, contrary to many of the negative reviews, the humor is pretty funny and even laugh-out-loud hilarious at times. The real triumph of the movie is in its down-to-earth, sweet but honest portrayal of its struggling characters that should especially relate to the generations born in the 80’s or later. Some of the characters can be quite unflattering at times, but so are real people sometimes; besides, with such a likeable cast, the movie is still quite entertaining. Overall, Save the Date is everything a romantic dramedy should be: funny, charming, lively, relevant, heartfelt and, most importantly, honest (and therefore refreshing). Unfortunately and surprisingly, this commercially viable movie has yet to secure a release date as of early June but once it does, make sure to save the date for when it hits theaters! [FULL REVIEW]




Shadow Dancer [Full Review]



Release Date: TBA (UK release date: August 24)

IMDB Synopsis: Set in 1990s Belfast, an active member of the IRA becomes an informant for MI5 in order to protect her son’s welfare.

Director: James Marsh

Stars: Andrea Riseborough, Clive Owen, Gillian Anderson, Aidan Gillen, Domhnall Gleeson, Stuart Graham, Brid Brennan

Score & brief review: 9/10

  • If you liked Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), then you will love Shadow Dancer (2012). Oscar-winning director James Marsh (Man on Wire) has created a challenging, methodical and tense thriller similar to the look and feel of Tomas Alfredson’s slow-burning spy thriller last year and the coiled but always ready to snap tension of Steve McQueen’s Hunger (2008), which also involved a story regarding Irish Republican Army (IRA) members. However, patience and concentration is necessary for viewing, so it may not interest mass audiences (just as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy has been too deliberate for casual moviegoers). While this film is just as carefully paced, it is a bit more taut and less dense. Exceptional lead actress Andrea Riseborough summed up the film in one sentence during the short Q&A session after the screening: “[It’s] like being in a constant state of anxiety.” Shadow Dancer is an intricate but intelligent, gripping and wholly engrossing political thriller that will meticulously get under your skin and make you think. Indeed, I have thought a lot about it ever since seeing it that cold night in Park City, Utah; it remains one of my favorite films from Sundance 2012. [FULL REVIEW]




Goats [Full Review]



Release Date: TBA

IMDB Synopsis: Fifteen-year-old Ellis is getting ready to leave his luxurious home in the foothills of Tucson for his freshman year at Gates Academy, an East Coast prep school. This means leaving behind Wendy, his flaky, new age mother and the only real father he has ever known, Goat Man.

Director: Christopher Neil

Stars: Graham Phillips, Vera Farmiga, Ty Burrell, David Duchovny, Dakota Johnson, Justin Kirk, Keri Russell, Anthony Anderson

Score & brief review: 7/10

  • Few other films at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival were as divisive between critics and audiences than the quirky coming-of-age dramedy Goats. Critics argue it is inconsequential, unexceptional and insipid, whereas casual moviegoers, which made up a majority of the audience members at the Sundance premiere, absolutely loved the movie and have described it as pertinent, original, and lively. Truthfully, it is a quality film that is somewhere between the two contrary critiques. Personally, it was not terribly stirring or applicable but it is not hard to imagine this crowd-pleasing flick could be a decent commercial success, similar to Our Idiot Brother, one of 2011’s Sundance indie dramedies. Although it is fairly indistinctive of similar movies and somewhat episodic, Goats is an easily digestible coming-of-age dramedy that deals with issues relevant to many in our post-modern culture. Sadly, the story has little drive and ends with minimal significance for the audience to take away from the movie other than an enjoyable time and basic, albeit valuable, lessons that viewers should already know. [FULL REVIEW]



Wednesday, January 25



Wish You Were Here [Full Review]



Release Date: TBA (Already released on April 26 in Australia)

IMDB Synopsis: Four friends lose themselves in a carefree South-East Asian holiday. Only three come back. Dave and Alice return home to their young family desperate for answers about Jeremy’s mysterious disappearance. When Alice’s sister Steph returns not long after, a nasty secret is revealed about the night her boyfriend went missing. But it is only the first of many. Who amongst them knows what happened on that fateful night when they were dancing under a full moon in Cambodia?

Director: Kieran Darcy-Smith

Stars: Joel Edgerton, Felicity Price, Teresa Palmer, Anthony Starr

Score & brief review: 7.5/10

  • From the Australian studio Blue Tongue Films, which brought audiences the crackling crime drama Animal Kingdom (2010) and the remarkable shorts by Nash Edgerton Lucky, Spider and Bear, comes another smoldering crime drama called Wish You Were Here. Perhaps the universally acclaimed aspect of the film is its across-the-board remarkable performances, notably the lead one by rising Hollywood star Joel Edgerton. Critics have given the film generally positive to mixed reviews, indicating it is a slow-burn thriller but underwhelming in the end. Despite a deliberate pace, somewhat frustrating non-linear

    narrative structure, and an anti-climactic ending, Wish You Were Here is a tense, engaging crime drama that should keep your attention throughout most of the movie even if the simple payoff is a bit underwhelming. [FULL REVIEW]




U.S. Short Films Program IV [Full Review]

Release Date: N/A

Sundance Synopsis: This is the program guaranteed to leave its audience soul searching. These seven unique and powerful films exist in the gray area between the ethical borders of black and white. Shorts Program IV is full of characters contemplating the consequences of their actions, learning to look at the world through a more mature lens, and digesting some painful truths that steer the transition from carefree innocence to political and personal consciousness. But don’t worry; laughter and levity are there for balance. Whether it’s discarded youth, privileged teenagers, angst-ridden adults, or entire planets, established artists and fresh young voices illuminate their subjects with a level of artistry that promises to leave you speechless.

Director: N/A

Stars: N/A

Score & brief review: 6.5/10 (individual scores for each short in FULL REVIEW)

  • Each year the Sundance Film Festival hosts a number of noteworthy short films. Out of the hundreds of thousands of applicants, only 48 made the cut into the official Shorts Programs (a few more made it into other categories like the New Frontier). They are broken up into different shorts programs: five fictional narrative programs, one animation spotlight program, and a documentary spotlight program. I had the opportunity to catch Shorts Program IV late Wednesday night. Unfortunately, the group I was with was not overly impressed with this particular program, none of which won a shorts award this year. The seven films we screened were really hit or miss for us, so overall I only give the program an average score of 6.5/10, but continue reading to read a brief review of each specific film. [FULL REVIEW]



Thursday, January 26



Beasts of the Southern Wild [Full Review]



Release Date: June 27 (limited)

IMDB Synopsis: Faced with her father’s fading health and environmental changes that release an army of prehistoric creatures called aurochs, six-year-old Hushpuppy leaves her Delta-community home in search of her mother.

Director: Benh Zeitlin

Stars: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly

Score & brief review: 9/10

  • Wonderful. Magical. Poetic. – Three words that certainly describe Beasts of the Southern Wild, the 2012 Sundance U.S. Grand Jury Prize Dramatic winner. Director Benh Zeitlin’s feature film debut took Park City by storm, and has wowed audiences at Cannes as well. It features a magnificent musical score, Terrence Malick-quality visuals, and incredible performances (most notably young Quvenzhané Wallis’ lead one). It is one of the most cinematic independent films ever crafted. Although the film can be demanding narratively speaking and occasionally fails to grasp its terrific ambition, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a truly fantastic, inspiring work of art and heartfelt entertainment. It is a sure-fire must-see for art-house fans and cinephiles, though with a little bit of patience casual moviegoers may easily become enchanted with the splendor of the film as well. [FULL REVIEW]




Finding North [Full Review]



Release Date: TBA

IMDB Synopsis: A documentary that investigates incidents of hunger experienced by millions of Americans, and proposed solutions to the problem.

Director: Kristi Jacobson, Lori Silverbush

Stars: N/A

Score & brief review: 6.5/10

  • Participant Media, the company behind notable documentaries An Inconvenient Truth (2006) and Food, Inc. (2008), helped produce yet another provocative documentary regarding a food issue in America: Finding North. It is not as manipulative and divisive as the former nor is it as scathing as the latter, but this Sundance documentary is quite effective in exposing some alarming socio-economic problems afflicting millions of Americans. While it advocates a number of “solutions,” it is rather uneven in its presentation of the crisis and fails to provide a clear and effective answer on how to solve the widespread hunger issue. Moreover, the film attacks political policies and the limited effectiveness of bureaucratic involvement, yet it asks for more governmental assistance and intervention. Despite some logical inconsistencies, the statistically staggering Finding North is a passionate, albeit stylistically standard, documentary that works better as an exposé than a true call to action. [FULL REVIEW]




For Ellen [Full Review]



Release Date: TBA

IMDB Synopsis: A struggling musician takes an overnight long-distance drive in order to fight his estranged wife for custody of their young daughter.

Director: So Yong Kim

Stars: Paul Dano, Jon Heder, Shaylena Mandigo, Margarita Levieva, Jena Malone, Dakota Johnson

Score & brief review: 6.5/10

  • What an unrelentingly grueling experience it is to watch For Ellen (2012). Though I have never seen director So Yong Kim’s other films (yet), other critics have noted a minimalist plot and slow-pacing is her style, which is certainly on display here. In theory and retrospect, the film seems rather promising given a terrific performance from Paul Dano, who is beyond perfect for the lead role, and the wonderfully stark cinematography. However, in experiencing it, this bleak film is tough to endure, to say the least; mass audiences would check out, literally or figuratively, well before the midpoint and find it beyond boring. Nonetheless, For Ellen is a fine example of an extremely low-budget, deliberately directed independent film that is more densely layered than at first glance. It may feel cold and distant most of the time, but the story and characters are so naturalistic that the difficulty they experience is powerful in a raw and honest sense. [FULL REVIEW]




The Pact [Full Review]



Release Date: July 6 (limited) – already on VOD as of May 25

IMDB Synopsis: As a woman struggles to come to grips with her past in the wake of her mother’s death, an unsettling presence emerges in her childhood home.

Director: Nicholas McCarthy

Stars: Caity Lotz, Casper Van Dien, Agnes Bruckner, Haley Hudson, Sam Black

Score & brief review: 8/10

  • Writer-director Nicholas McCarthy’s The Pact (2012) began as a short film at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, which garnered enough attention to produce a feature-length adaptation. I had skipped my first opportunity to see it early in my week at Park City, but heard pretty positive things about the movie from others, so I caught it at a midnight showing late in the week. Suffice to say, I was hardly disappointed. While it is clearly low-budget and somewhat thin on story and emotional connection, The Pact is an unabashedly straightforward (oftentimes clichéd) but fun, effective horror flick that features thick atmospheric tension and enough scares to satisfy fans of the genre. [FULL REVIEW]




Room 237 [Full Review]



Release Date: TBA

IMDB Synopsis: A subjective documentary that explores the numerous theories about the hidden meanings within Stanley Kubrick‘s film The Shining (1980). The film may be over 30 years old but it continues to inspire debate, speculation, and mystery. Five very different points of view are illuminated through voice over, film clips, animation and dramatic reenactments. Together they’ll draw the audience into a new maze, one with endless detours and dead ends, many ways in, but no way out.

Director: Rodney Ascher

Stars: N/A

Score & brief review:

  • Rodney Ascher’s sensational documentary film Room 237 is the most fascinating film I saw at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. It is perhaps one of the best movies about movies; film lovers will adore this documentary. It explores several theories about the hidden meanings, symbolism and conspiracies involving Stanley Kubrick’s controversial horror film The Shining (1980). Most of the theories are simply absurd, but some are strikingly relevant and profound. As such, Room 237 is a brilliant and wildly fresh and entertaining documentary that simultaneously criticizes and celebrates film criticism with a highly original way of presenting its ideas. [FULL REVIEW]



Friday, January 27



The Imposter [Full Review]



Release Date: July 13 (limited)

IMDB Synopsis: A documentary centered on a young Frenchman who convinces a grieving Texas family that he is their 16-year-old son who went missing for 3 years.

Director: Bart Layton

Stars: N/A

Score & brief review: 9/10

  • Could a documentary be my favorite film of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival? It is definitely in the top three. The Imposter is the best documentary to come out in several years. It plays more like a thriller with numerous reenactments intercut with interviews. While the intricate plot can get a bit convoluted at times and may have viewers questioning the veracity of certain events and testimonies afterwards, the film is completely captivating for its gripping drama and layers of depth. It is an exhilarating exploration of denial and lies. The Imposter is a gripping, unforgettable and surprisingly cinematic docudrama in the vein of The Thin Blue Line (1988), Man on Wire (2008), and Dear Zachary (2008) that will have you on the edge of your seat throughout its entire runtime, riveted by the countless twists and turns in this stranger than fiction true-life story. [FULL REVIEW]




Wuthering Heights [Full Review]



Release Date: TBA (various screening dates on IMDB)

IMDB Synopsis: A poor boy of unknown origins is rescued from poverty and taken in by the Earnshaw family where he develops an intense relationship with his young foster sister, Cathy. Based on the classic novel by Emily Bronte.

Director: Andrea Arnold

Stars: James Howson, Solomon Glave, Paul Hilton, Shannon Beer, Kaya Scodelario

Score & brief review: 7/10

  • As a big fan of director Andrea Arnold’s last film Fish Tank (2009), starring Katie Jarvis and Michael Fassbender (pre-Inglorious Basterds stardom), I was very much looking forward to catching her third film Wuthering Heights at the festival. Furthermore, Cary Fukunaga’s adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre was my second favorite film of 2011, so I had high hopes for Arnold’s re-interpretation of Emily Brontë’s novel Wuthering Heights. Unfortunately, it fell short of expectations. With such a minimalistic style and vindictive, self-serving main characters, connecting to the story and romance can be difficult at times. Yet, that is what Arnold’s Wuthering Heights is all about: providing a sparse, cold, painful anti-romance romance. Her bare-bones revisionist method may alienate and bore most audiences, but it is a visually stunning and emotionally raw arthouse wonder. [FULL REVIEW]




Smashed [Full Review]



Release Date: TBA

IMDB Synopsis: A married couple whose bond is built on a mutual love of alcohol gets their relationship put to the test when the wife decides to get sober.

Director: James Ponsoldt

Stars: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Octavia Spencer, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally

Score & brief review: 8/10

  • Addiction stories often saturate the movie market, but few accurately portray the rough road to sobriety. Smashed is one such film that is just bleak enough to truthfully illustrate the nasty descent into addiction and demanding path to recovery without becoming either utterly depressing or cheaply uplifting. Instead, it is simply honest. Although this diminishes some of the visceral impact some addiction films strike, such as Leaving Las Vegas (1995), Requiem for a Dream (2000), and Shame (2011), Smashed still packs an emotional punch largely thanks to Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s remarkable performance. It is a low-key, heartfelt and important film that many recovering addicts can relate to and functions as a warning or wake-up call to viewers who think they have their behaviors under control rather than calling them what they are: a sinful addiction, a lack of self-control and possibly a lack of self-respect. [FULL REVIEW]
  • *For a slightly different approach to reviewing this film, see my brief rhetorical analysis of the film on and/or (WARNING: SPOILERS these linked reviews).




Middle of Nowhere [Full Review]



Release Date: TBA

IMDB Synopsis: A drama that follows a woman who changes her life in order to contend with her husband’s 8-year prison sentence.

Director: Ava DuVernay

Stars: Emayatzy Corinealdi, David Oyelowo, Omari Hardwick, Lorraine Toussaint

Score & brief review: 7/10

  • Middle of Nowhere may seem like just another typical “black film” on the surface, what with a majority of the cast filled by African-American actors. However, writer-director Ava DuVernay’s measured approach helps keep it real rather than catering to the Tyler Perry crowd and mass appeal (she won the directing award for US dramatic category). The result is both refreshing and dreary. The movie occasionally meanders and slows to a sluggish pace at times with an overall somber tone that is sometimes difficult to connect with and stay engaged to. Nevertheless, Middle of Nowhere is a frank, emotional journey full of soul thanks to some remarkable performances from its cast, particularly Emayatzy Corinealdi’s leading one. [FULL REVIEW]




Simon Killer [Full Review]



Release Date: TBA

IMDB Synopsis: A recent college graduate travels to France, where he becomes involved with a prostitute.

Director: Antonio Campos

Stars: Brady Corbet, Mati Diop, Michaël Abiteboul

Score & brief review: 8/10

  • Borderline Films, a production company created by Sean Durkin, Josh Mond, and Antonio Campos, have presented several extremely dark character studies, such as Durkin’s 2011 Sundance hit Martha Marcy May Marlene. Campos, who also directed Afterschool (2008), a harrowing indie film starring We Need to Talk About Kevin’s Ezra Miller, came to the 2012 Sundance Film Festival with yet another sharply divisive film: Simon Killer. It is unlikely to find much of a market in the U.S. due to its unhurried pace/minimalistic plot, grim subject matter, and graphic sexual nature that would ensure an NC-17 rating. Nonetheless, Simon Killer is a remarkable, albeit dark, demanding, and polarizing character study featuring a great lead performance from Brady Corbet and a solid female lead from Mati Diop. Other reviewers have likened the film as a modern day Last Tango in Paris (1972), Midnight Cowboy (1969), or an “American Psycho in Paris,” though Simon Killer is perhaps the most unsettling of the bunch. [FULL REVIEW]




Grabbers [Full Review]



Release Date: TBA

IMDB Synopsis: When an island off the coast of Ireland is invaded by bloodsucking aliens, the heroes discover that getting drunk is the only way to survive.

Director: Jon Wright

Stars: Richard Coyle, Ruth Bradley, Russell Tovey, Bronagh Gallagher, Stuart Graham, Ned Dennehy

Score & brief review: 7/10

  • With a title like Grabbers (2012), one should not expect extremely compelling drama. Yet, this film could not care less since it strives to be something else: a crowd-pleasing horror-comedy in the vein of Tremors. The filmmakers have stated it borrows a lot from the 1990 creature movie, and succeeds for the most part in giving the audience what it wants – a rather fun diversion. Grabbers is an amusing horror-comedy that should delight fans of the subgenre or comedy fans in general, as it generally favors eccentric humor over a semi-serious tone (though it certainly has its share of fun-filled monster-movie tension). [FULL REVIEW]



Saturday, January 28



LUV [Full Review]



Release Date: TBA

IMDB Synopsis: Over the course of one day, a shy 11-year-old forms a bond with his troubled uncle.

Director: Sheldon Candis

Stars: Common, Michael Rainey Jr., Dennis Haysbert, Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton, Meagan Good, Lonette McKee, Michael Kenneth Williams

Score & brief review: 8/10

  • Baltimore was given an excellent TV series in the form of HBO’s The Wire, which chronicled the city’s drug scene through both the dealers and the authority’s perspectives. Young director Sheldon Candis sheds light on the oft-underused metropolitan area in LUV, primarily a coming of age tale set in the criminal underbelly of Baltimore. The film boasts an outstanding cast despite some archetypical characterization. Overall, LUV is a well-acted, thrilling and emotionally engaging coming of age tale that unfortunately suffers from some sluggish sequences and mild-to-major stretches in credibility. [FULL REVIEW]




Safety Not Guaranteed [Full Review]



Release Date: June 8 (limited)

IMDB Synopsis: Three magazine employees head out on an assignment to interview a guy who placed a classified ad seeking a companion for time travel.

Director: Colin Trevorrow

Stars: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake M. Johnson, Karan Soni, Jeff Garlin, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Krisen Bell

Score & brief review: 8.5/10

  • The quirky, oddball romantic dramedy Safety Not Guaranteed became a hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It even garnered the screenwriting award. While I was not as enamored by the film as others were, it was still a highlight of the festival. Filled with charismatic, endearing performances and featuring a surprisingly layered screenplay, Safety Not Guaranteed is a humorous and heartfelt dramedy with crossover appeal to charm both indie and mass audiences. [FULL REVIEW]




The Sessions (The Surrogate) [Full Review]



Release Date: October 26 (limited at first)

IMDB Synopsis: A man in an iron lung who wishes to lose his virginity contacts a professional sex surrogate with the help of his therapist and priest.

Director: Ben Lewin

Stars: John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy, Moon Bloodgood, Annika Marks, Jennifer Kumiyama, Ming Lo

Score & brief review: 9/10

  • Six Sessions (formerly titled The Surrogate) certainly deserved to win the Audience Award and Special Jury Prize for ensemble acting in the U.S. Dramatic category. Character actor and now Sundance veteran John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone, Martha Marcy May Marlene) turns in an Oscar-worthy performance despite the physical limitations of the role (only being able to move his head and change facial expressions). Director Ben Lewin and his exceptional cast take a potentially disastrous subject matter and turn it into a tender memorial of one man’s life-long struggle with polio and his desire to lose his virginity. It has everything a film should have, amply providing comedy while striking the right dramatic notes; it should have widespread appeal at least amongst adults given the probable hard-R or possibly NC-17 rating. Six Sessions is a wonderful, albeit morally challenging, film with a perfect balance of humor and heart; viewers will find themselves in all sorts of tears: joy, laughter and heartbreaking emotion. Fear not though, it is one of the more accessible, uplifting and life-affirming tales ever to come out of a typically edgy, gritty and downbeat Sundance Film Festival. Indeed, it was an excellent way to end the week. [FULL REVIEW]






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  1. 2013 Sundance Film Festival Preview | The Modern Allegory - [...] I saw 22 films in one week; you can read my complete 2012 Sundance Film Festival Wrap-Up article here.  …

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