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Sundance 2011: The Good, the Bad, the Weird

The Sundance Film Festival has drawn to a close, and a year's worth of cinematic buzz has been set in motion. After a week spent in darkened Park City theaters, we offer the best of the fest—and a few notable busts.

Five of the Best

1. Like Crazy
Last year, director Drake Doremus made only a blip on the Sundance radar with the micro-budgeted, dubiously titled Douchebag. This year, he delivered perhaps the most buzzed-about film of the festival. Starring Anton Yelchin and newcomer Felicity Jones, Like Crazy explores the highs and lows of long-distance relationships and deserves the inevitable Blue Valentine comparisons (and the Grand Jury Prize it won).

2. Another Happy Day
Familial dysfunction is a well-trodden topic at film festivals and megaplexes alike, but this emotionally charged drama, about a woman (Ellen Barkin) dealing simultaneously with a sick father, a judgmental mother, a drug-abusing son, and self-mutilating daughter, manages to up the cinematic ante without dipping into melodrama.

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3. Reagan
Filmmaker Eugene Jarecki (Why We Fight, The Trials of Henry Kissinger) takes on conservative demigod in a documentary that spans the Gipper's life and presidency, from Hinckley to Grenada to Iran-Contra and everything in between. Ronald Reagan's most compelling screen time since Bedtime for Bonzo.

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4. My Idiot Brother
Paul Rudd is a long-haired hippie screw-up who, after going to prison for selling pot to a uniformed police officer, crashes with his sisters and creates some problems (ultimately solving most of the big ones). Broader than your average Sundance comedy, but also funnier.

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5. Win Win
Paul Giamatti plays a struggling lawyer and high-school wrestling coach who assumes the guardianship of an elderly client and ends up raising his grandson in this touching, smart comedy. Plenty of spandex singlets but, mercifully, none worn by Giamatti.

Five Disappointments

1. Salvation Boulevard
It's a sin that a film with such a quirky premise (a Deadhead turned born-again Christian finds himself on the run from the followers of a mega-church after he's blamed for a shooting his pastor committed) and such a hefty cast—Pierce Brosnan, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Greg Kinnear—could be so light on laughs. Director George Ratliff should repent.

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2. Red State
Sundance's hottest ticket—a highly secretive horror film about a group of teens who encounter Christian fundamentalists—was discussed for all the wrong reasons after director Kevin Smith held a "live auction" for the distribution rights, which merely involved "selling" the film to himself for $20 and then ranting for 30 minutes about the state of independent film. Silent Bob, we miss you.

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3. KNUCKLE
Ian Palmer's documentary about the Joyces and the Quinn McDonaghs, two Irish families whose longstanding feud has led to countless bare-knuckle street brawls, should have been a glimpse into the curious and indefatigable pride of the traditionally nomadic Irish Travellers (think Brad Pitt in Snatch). Instead, it resembled a compilation of backyard punch-up videos you'll find on YouTube.

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4. I Melt with You
Kudos to director Mark Pellington for casting the story of aging college friends who endure a weekend reunion of hard drinking, hard drugs, and self-destructive behavior with actors (Rob Lowe, Thomas Jane, Jeremy Piven) who (we'd imagine) have lived pretty hard themselves. But this bleak film—call it a bromantic tragedy—never gets as deep as it does dark.

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5. Bobby Fischer Against the World
It's not easy to make a documentary about chess interesting—especially when you're relying on the scintillating anecdotes of a bunch of chess players—but director Liz Garbus almost succeeds. But then there's the problem of Bobby Fischer himself. History remembers him as a reclusive, unstable anti-Semite, and—spoiler alert—yep, that's pretty much what he was.

—David Walters

Read More:
The 9 Most Insane Sundance Movies We Haven't Seen Yet
Why Superstars Keep Bringing Their Heroes Back
Three Must-see Documentaries

Photos courtesy of www.sundance.org
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