I had to cut out early from my perennially favourite Sundance event, the Animation Spotlight, due to a scheduling conflict (with another Sundance movie), but didn't really have any absolute favourites this year of the ones I did see: Marilyn Myller: (6 minute animated short) A black and white (primarily whitewashed) story about an artist who, in a fit of frustration one day, destroys some of her sculptures. She realizes that her audience reacts positively to such a harsh, dramatic performance and so she starts destroying her creations for their pleasure, though its clear she's reluctant to do so and even though it's, "kind of stupid, kind of stupid..."
Blame It On the Seagull: (13 minute animated short) A Norwegian documentary about Pelle Sandstrak and what it was like for him to start experiencing symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Tourette's Syndrome when he was a teenager. Interesting, sad, elegant sketches.
Passer, Passer: (5 minute animated short) Brief, colorful short that "celebrates the hidden world of background music."
The Present: (15 minute animated short) Certainly the strongest. A Taiwanese film about a man who misses the ferry and has to stay overnight at a small hotel. The landlord's seriously disturbed daughter crawls into his bed in the middle of the night and it's all downhill from there. Starkly monochromatic with the exception of brilliant red highlights like the girl's lips, and saturating blood, the images were elegant and entrancing.
Phantom Limb: (5 minutes animated short) Another strong film. A woman has lost her arm and the doctor tells her it wouldn't be unusual for her to feel the presence of the missing limb. She walks away, seemingly adjusting well and not sensing anything, but it's her boyfriend who has difficulties with the phantom limb. Only five minutes long but seemed longer, in a good way, as the emotional investment was heavy early on. You can watch the film at the link provided (as part of a larger compilation).
Yearbook: (6 minute animated short) A man is hired for a top secret project: to catalog all of the famous and important people in human history before a missile launched by aliens ends Earth - in seventeen years. He can't bear to tell his wife about it. Nice reference to Cat Stevens.
White Morning: (12 minute animated short) The synopsis for this short: "A short film about the violence of little boys and little men." Creepy. I'm completely divided as to whether I liked it or whether it was too violent for me to be okay with it.
So, yeah, I love shorts. Short films. Short animations. Short monologues (The Moth!). Short stories. So I indulged that obsession this year for about a third of my Sundance experience. But I did see five other full-length films as well...
Laggies: Chosen primarily because Keira Knightley is in it, but certainly commendable for the entire cast and the story. A woman in her late 20s still belongs to the same insular group of friends (including her boyfriend) from high school but suddenly feels smothered by them as she realizes she's either changed or better come to understand herself in the decade since high school. She runs away and stays with her new sixteen year old friend at her single father's home (sounds awkward to pull of but it's deftly done). A cautionary tale about failing to explore beyond the comforts of a reliable and safe life. I enjoyed this film very much; my second favourite of the festival.
Land, Ho!: After our Icelandic adventure last year, it was inconceivable that we'd miss a film set in Iceland. We did enjoy the scenes from Iceland, of course, some places being quite familiar, but overall the script felt uneven. Both of the main actors (Earl Lynn Nelson (sort of mostly playing himself) & Paul Eenhoorn) were really quite great and had believable chemistry. But the characterization seemed off (Eenhoorn's character seems the stable, more sophisticated one but then does silly/irresponsible things that don't really match up), some of the scenes seemed to stretch credulity (two older men goofing off on beach for a few seconds seems plausible... dancing around for ten minutes seems improbable), and some of the dialogue/script just felt like they were trying too hard to either be shockingly crass or original (this felt a bit like a re-hashed The Trip, which also frequently suffered from seeming off). I definitely feel the film could have been stronger had they not tried to be so goofy, and focused more on the relationship between the two friends instead of trying to toss in sexual one-offs, and romantic suggestions that never go anywhere in a seeming attempt to be more mainstream.
The Double: I went in to the film knowing next to nothing, but it wasn't a shock at the end to learn that it is a Dostoyevsky story. Cold, bleak dystopian (but then, I guess most dystopian stories are inherently cold and bleak, right?), claustrophobic. Beautiful cinematography, and I loved how they used sound in the film (although a friend who went with us hated that element). Definitely not what I was expecting when I went in but I'm not sure I would have chosen it had I known, and that would have been a mistake because it was a great film.
20,000 Days on Earth: Ah, what I'll do for love. I'm the first to admit that my knowledge of music and musicians is abysmal, at best, so the truth is that I knew next to nothing about Nick Cave. But my boyfriend adores Nick Cave and so that's why I waited outside the Tower Theatre on a bitterly cold night for this documentary to start... at midnight. At least it was a Friday night. And it wasn't snowing so... bonus. But the documentary was very well done: visually, musically, and with engaging discussions about the creative process. Despite knowing little of his music, and nothing about the man, and it being after midnight (I'd like to say hey, I'm old, I don't stay out late anymore! but the truth is I've never been one for staying out late), I still only felt bored or unbearably tired for a few minutes here and there. I can definitely see myself thoroughly enjoying some of Nick Cave's music, but I don't think I could ever be categorized as a fan since I have no attraction or appreciation for his punk phase.
and my favourite movie by far:
Jamie Marks is Dead: So, this is the sort of movie that affected me in the way that, grabbing the page from IMDB to link here, I noticed it's only currently rated 6.9 and that stresses me out but I refuse to go over there and read why people aren't rating this even higher because then I'll just be even more irked. I loved it and don't need other opinions, or nit-picking reviews to bring me down. This movie is actually adapted from a book I've been wanting to read for some time, One for Sorrow (Christopher Barzak).
Jamie Marks is found dead in the opening scene. He's a teenager who has been fiercely bullied by his peers, and it is assumed that one of his tormentors finally finished him off. But this isn't a murder mystery. The story is, rather, about a friendship between a dead boy and an alive boy. It's a ghost story, and there are a few slightly frightening bits, but it's not a horror story (as it's sure to eventually be marketed as). It's beautiful: stark, incredibly beautiful cinematography, friendship, loyalty, love. There were a couple of things that discounted the story to me, slightly (not included here because they could be considered spoilers), but these were negligible. I haven't yet read the book, but the actor, Noah Silver, who played Jamie and the director were there, and discussed the film afterwards, and I'm inclined to think that the slight alterations they made to the story may make me prefer the movie's storyline. The elements in the movie are certainly more supernatural than they are magical-realism but I liked them so much because they had that magical realism feel ~ the characters who are alive are not all that surprised to be communicating with the dead, and on Jamie Marks' side of the veil, the purgatory the dead have to endure is just the way it is; there's no questioning why.
Jamie Marks is Dead is one of the reasons I so appreciate and enjoy the opportunity to attend the Sundance Film Festival. Rejecting a couple of the short films I saw and detested, on the whole, I enjoyed all of the films I saw one one level or another. But even if I'd been disappointed by all the others, they would've been worth slogging through to find a gem like Jamie Marks.