With Sundance all done, the buzz is strong for certain films and deafeningly quiet for others. After an ungodly amount of movie-watching, we offer five superlatives from Park City—and a few busts.
Five of the best:
1. Blue Valentine — Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling are a couple whose marriage is disintegrating in this depressing-in-a-good-way film. It's powerful because it's subtle—through flashbacks, director Derek Cianfrance creates windows to the beginnings of a love that is slowly dying. It's also one of Gosling's best performances ever.
2. Nowhere Boy — Rock biopics can fall victim to their own facile depictions of sex, drugs, and—well—rock and roll (see another Sundance film, The Runaways), but British actor Aaron Johnson's portrayal of a pre-Beatles John Lennon is a much deeper look at the complicated upbringing of a legend. And, unsurprisingly, the music is pretty darn good.
3. Cyrus — A dark comedy powered by unyielding awkwardness, Cyrus tells the story of a man (John C. Reilly) who can't quite figure out the motivations of his new girlfriend's grown-up son (Jonah Hill). It's Apatow meets Oedipus, courtesy of mumblecore gods Jay and Mark Duplass.
4. The Extra Man — Louis (Paul Dano) is a lonely writer with the urge to cross-dress. Henry (Kevin Kline) is an anachronistic eccentric worthy of a Fitzgerald novel, who collects Christmas tree ornaments and knows how to urinate in public. The two share a cramped apartment and bond over escorting geriatrics to social events. We expect no less from a film based on based on the delightfully loopy novel by Jonathan Ames.
5. Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work — Trailblazing comedienne; plastic surgery addict; fame-obsessed reality TV star—Joan Rivers is all of these things. A Piece of Work succeeds because Rivers is too brutally honest and hilarious to hold anything back. The only thing artificial about the woman is her face.
1. Hesher — Joseph Gordon-Levitt was the prince of Sundance last year for his film (500) Days of Summer. Lightning doesn't strike twice for Hesher, a disjointed movie about a mysterious loaner who moves in (uninvited) with a grieving family. For a movie that essentially tackles the Charles Manson-as-youth-mentor angle, it should be more entertaining.
2. The Killer Inside Me — Director Michael Winterbottom's adaptation of a pulp crime novel from the 50's about a murderous west Texas deputy sheriff crosses a line with its off-putting violence towards women. The answer to a question you've never asked yourself: What would it be like to watch Casey Affleck beat Jessica Alba's face into an unrecognizable pulp? Excruciating.
3. The Company Men — It was a tough festival for the Affleck brothers. Older brother Ben joins an ensemble cast of Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper, and Kevin Costner in a film that explores the collapse of the job market from the perspective of a few white-collar casualties. It should feel appropriately timely, but it trips over the audience schadenfreude it creates with the the-rich-get-slightly-less-rich premise.
4. Howl — James Franco plays controversial beat poet Allen Ginsberg in a film that's admirably unique but ultimately uneven. Courtroom scenes from the infamous Howl obscenity trial are compelling thanks to Jon Hamm and David Strathairn. Animated sequences juxtaposed with the repeated reading of the poem, however, become monotonous. We'll exercise our First Amendment right to say we thought this one would suck less.
5. Jack Goes Boating — Philip Seymour Hoffman's directorial debut was originally written for the stage, and it would probably be better suited staying there. Hoffman's Jack, an awkward, dread-locked limo driver likes the nearly as awkward Connie (Amy Ryan). It's an offbeat love story that's too subdued to be memorable.