After ten days of reel-to-reel screenings at the Sundance Film Festival, we're still—wait for it—reeling. The tragic drama Fruitvale—writer-director Ryan Coogler's debut about the final hours of Oscar Grant, the 22-year-old shot dead by Oakland police in 2009—took the festival's top Grand Jury prize. But it wasn't the only film that caught our attention. Here, we give a nod to some of the more offbeat and surprising moments from Park City.
Newest Kick-Ass Lady Crush
Journalist turned filmmaker Greg Barker's documentary Manhunt was a real-world Zero Dark Thirty—a riveting account of the CIA operatives that led the hunt for Osama bin Laden (coming to HBO in May). But the biggest surprise came during a panel after the film's final screening. Barker introduced two of the film's players—former CIA "targeter" Nada Bakos, one in a group of female analysts who tracked bin Laden, and retired senior Case Officer Marty Martin, who oversaw the CIA's day-to-day operations against al-Qaeda. At the end of the Q&A, Barker and Martin reminded the audience of a scene in Zero Dark Thirty in which Jessica Chastain's "Maya"—based on a still-undercover officer and an amalgam of other female analysts—debriefs CIA director Leon Panetta on the final believed whereabouts of bin Laden, saying, "I'm the motherfucker who found this place." "Just so you know," said Martin, before excitedly pointing to Bakos, "She's that motherfucker." Move over, Maya. Carrie Mathe-who? We've got a new spy to swoon over.
Most Likely to Owe Jack Donaghy Royalties
French director Anne Fontaine swears she never saw Saturday Night Live's "Motherlover" before she made Two Mothers, the controversial Sundance hit about two women (Naomi Watts and Robin Wright) who have affairs with each other's college-bound sons while on a tropical joint-family vacation. Whether Fontaine has seen 30 Rock executive Jack Donaghy's MILF Island is another story.
Ass Backwards, a Romy & Michelle-on-bath-salts road trip flick, wastes no time owning up to its title's promise. Open on: co-writers/stars Casey Wilson and June Diane Raphael squatting down in the middle of a sidewalk, butts to the wind, taking a leak.
Most Likely to Ruin All Your High School Fantasies
For most of its 75-minute runtime, A Teacher, the directorial debut of Hannah Fidell, features a hot, young high school teacher carrying on an affair with her hot, young student. But the on-edge soundtrack (which Fidell says was composed to sound "like a panic attack"), tight closeups, and the looming threat of someone walking in on some after-class canoodling make the whole experience more anxiety-inducing than those nightmares where you show up to class naked.
Most Misleading Secondhand Synopsis
The documentary kink, produced by James Franco and directed by his longtime collaborator Christina Voros, follows the inner workings of BDSM porn empire kink.com—known for their, uh, spirited use of whips, chains, ball gags, and large mechanical sex apparatuses. Overheard between two festival goers before a screening: "Have you heard anything about this movie?" "I hear there's a lot of machinery involved."
The documentary Pussy Riot–A Punk Prayer won a Special Jury Prize partly, as one of the panel's judges put it, for "the sexy fuck-you smirks" of its Russian agent provocateurs. But what do their fathers think of their troublemaking? Turns out, they think their girls rock. In one scene, Nadya Tolokno's father reveals that he came up with the chorus and title of the song "Holy Shit" that landed his daughter in a Siberian gulag, proving that you don't have to be female to raise a feminist.
Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley both won acting awards for their roles as a pair of troubled high schoolers in the coming-of-age festival hit The Spectacular Now. But the film's real heartbreaking transformation was beloved on-screen father figure Kyle Chandler's turn as a paunchy, shaggy-haired deadbeat dad. Say it ain't so, Coach!
Most Flattering Review
Based on an essay in David Sedaris' 1997 collection Naked, writer-director Kyle Patrick Alvarez's C.O.G. stars Jonathan Groff as Samuel, a preppy Sedaris stand-in, who travels to an Oregon apple farm to get in touch with his inner common man (and suppress his inner gay man). The pilgrimage seems like a bust until Curly (Corey Stoll), a forklift operator at the the apple processing plant, takes a flirty interest in him. But even that goes way, way south in the film's most cringe-worthy scene, where Curly shows his new friend his extensive dildo collection. Samuel promptly bolts, but at a post-screening panel Sedaris told the audience, "If [the real] Curly looked like Corey, I would still be living in Oregon—and be wearing adult diapers."
Most Dedicated Performance
In the oddball Americana epic The Rambler, Dermot Mulroney plays a tortured highway journeyman who encounters one grotesque, deranged, and utterly creepy lost soul after another. A sampling: a former paramedic with a fetish for injured women, a nutty professor with a penchant for blowing up people's brains, and the apparition of a former lover who keeps dying over and over in one gross-out accident after another. But the coup de gross? A scene wherein Mulroney lies tied up on a bed while a deformed woman vomits on his face for what seems like forever. We could barely sit through it, so props for Mulroney for taking it lying down.
Disqualified: 18-year-old Dakota Fanning may have appeared to reveal her bare bottom in a skinny-dipping scene in Very Good Girls, prompting an audience member at the film's premiere panel to ask how she felt about all the "nakedness," but in reality, Fanning was reportedly wearing bikini bottoms that were removed in post-production.
Winner: Richard Jenkins, who goes bottomless in A.C.O.D. You still got it, Dick.
—Nojan Aminosharei, entertainment editor at Details.