My Sundance 2013 wrap: 'Big Sur,' 'We Steal Secrets,' 'Prince Avalanche' and more

Posted by · 11:04 pm · January 23rd, 2013

PARK CITY – The Sundance Film Festival will push on through the weekend but for me it concluded today. It was a longer stretch than last year for me but I still don’t put in half the time some of the other folks do. I mean, 40 films in 10 days just isn’t my cup of tea. The 13 I managed in seven days is more my speed, thanks. And it was a good cross-section of early looks. My first post of capsule thoughts on this and that is here, in addition to the single write-ups I did on personal favorites “Mud,” “Before Midnight,” “Fruitvale” and “Running from Crazy.” And here are some closing considerations on more…

Michael Polish is a filmmaker I’m still quite enamored with. His and his brother’s aesthetic, owing plenty to DP M. David Mullen, is just softly beautiful and singular. And when you’re pointing that camera at central California’s landscape, that makes for a pretty, pretty picture. “Big Sur” — at a swift 72 minutes — is an interesting film, essentially Jack Kerouac’s book in potent form on the screen in a somewhat experimental fashion. Actor Jean-Marc Barr does a great job of encapsulating the Beat Generation’s prophet while Josh Lucas makes for a charismatic Neal Cassidy. I wish I had seen “Kill Your Darlings” for a nice bit of balance but this one is unique and I kind of dug it.

At this point, Alex Gibney is a well-oiled machine, able to construct involving and profound documentaries seemingly at will. “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks” is no exception. The film follows the world Julian Assange has wrought with a thorough focus and finds truly intriguing pay dirt when digging into the personal story of Assange’s most significant source, PFC Bradley Manning. It makes it clear how cleverly Assange conflated his sex crime troubles with the government siege of WikiLeaks and therefore, how truly ignorant his most impassioned followers have become. Mostly it’s just a riveting portrait of one of the most important individuals of the 21st Century.

David Gordon Green’s “Prince Avalanche” was a lovely surprise. A two-hander starring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch that presents separate but equally clueless understandings of women and relationships, it intriguingly reconciles those two things while also somewhat reconciling Green’s indie and commercial sensibilities. It’s really my favorite thing he’s done in a while and a nice palate-cleanser for the next stage in his career. The score from Explosions in the Sky and David Wingo is also rather amazing and perfectly sets the film’s atmosphere and identity. (My interview with Green here.)

I was happy to at least take in one Slamdance title this year, and that was Nadia Szold’s Euro-inspired New York noir “Joy de. V.” Szold gets a solid turn out of lead actor Evan Louison and the whole enterprise is mounted with handsome cinematography and finely tuned editorial ideas. The story eventually bogs down in confusion, but Szold has a distinct voice. She just needs to hone it. And she will.

Finally, Eliza Hittman’s “It Felt Like Love” is one that many might have missed, but it’s a delicate mood piece that effectively captures the awkward realities of coming of age. It’s rare for it’s young female perspective, and indeed, 14-year-old newcomer Gina Piersanti rounds out her character with realism and the internal confusion and humiliation of someone in her position, yearning for the sexual confidence of her more experienced friends. This has become its own sort of sub-genre, films like “Raising Victor Vargas” and “Fish Tank” filling it out, and Hittman’s film fits right in.

With that, my 2013 Sundance is a goner. Be sure to check out thoughts on potential awards players emerging from the festival here. We’ll have coverage of the jury awards this weekend.

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