Upset over the fact that you aren’t at Sundance checking out some of the most buzzed about films of the year? It’s okay, so are we! Here are some options that may serve as consolation for the fact that you’re not in Park City.
Park Chan-Wook’s Stoker seems to be dividing audiences in Utah, which is par for the course for the controversial Korean genre auteur. I’ve always had mixed feelings about his films; Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance has an unrelenting brutality that makes it tough to swallow, and Thirst barely hangs together for all of its inspired moments. It’s difficult to deny the power of Oldboy, however, Park’s most well known film. Choi Min-sik stars as Oh Dae-su, a businessman who is imprisoned by a mysterious organization for fifteen years. Suddenly released with as little apparent cause as his incarceration, Oh Dae-su vows revenge on his captors. Park inflicts all kinds of carnage in the ensuing rampage: physical, on a hallway full of thugs; psychological, on the characters that are pushed to the limits of human endurance; and culinary, on one unlucky octopus. Oldboy is a harrowing experience, but one that’s hugely exhilarating in its go-for-broke intensity.
Before Midnight is already racking up accolades, making this the perfect time to revisit, or watch for the first time, the first two entries in Richard Linklater’s trilogy. Before Sunrise finds strangers Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) spending a day together in Vienna and developing a fragile whirlwind romance. Before Sunset picks up a decade later when the pair meets again, this time in Paris. Few films have approached Linklater’s accomplishments in capturing the thrill of romantic connection, followed by the weight of missed opportunities and personal disappointments that comes with time.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut Don Jon’s Addiction has met with a disappointed reaction from most critics, despite racking up a $4 million distribution deal. Maybe JGL’s not cut out for directing, we’ll have to wait and see for ourselves. In the meantime though, it’s worth revisiting some of his fine acting work, including his lead turn in Rian Johnson’s Brick, which premiered at Sundance back in 2005. Johnson’s debut boasts one of those three word synopses so promising it’s hard to believe nobody had ever thought of it before: High School Noir. Brick follows through too, delivering an adolescent world in which the jocks, geeks, and queen bees all talk with the clipped intensity and dexterous wordplay of Dashiell Hammett characters. Gordon-Levitt stars as an amateur sleuth investigating an ex-girlfriend’s death, responding equally well to the comic demands of the movie’s central conceit and the emotional urgency of the character, a kid in over his head at a time when every social interaction already seems ripe with melodrama.
Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color made its debut appearance at the festival following a series of enigmatic trailers, prompting excitement and confusion in equal measure. Carruth’s debut feature Primer, which won the Grand Jury Prize when it played Sundance way back in 2004, is one of the more intriguing debuts and success stories of the past decade. Shot on 16mm with the unbelievable shooting ratio of 2:1, Primer follows two small time engineers down a wormhole of their own invention when they stumble on a discovery that makes time travel possible. Fans have spent far more time than the film’s economical 77 minutes attempting to parse out the twists, loopholes, and paradoxes of Carruth’s convoluted narrative, but at its core Primer is simply an update of the Frankenstein myth for the post-Silicon Valley generation. Unlike most cautionary tales that warn against letting scientific ambition exceed ethical understanding, however, Primer shares an obsession for detail with its characters, making the wormhole of its puzzles all the more inviting. After all, the film itself is just as much a product of DIY audacity as the garage-made time machine at its core, and Carruth’s considerable talents–his credits on the film include writer, cinematographer, star, composer, and co-editor–mark him as an inventor whose future products will surely merit investigation.