The 2014 Sundance Film Festival ends this Sunday after eleven days of fantastic independently produced films. Professional and amateur filmmakers from around the globe submitted films made with their own blood, sweat and money. Major studios have already picked up quite a few films, while some filmmakers anxiously await an offer. While there have been many, many fantastic films showcased at this year’s Sundance Festival, we at Eventful have chosen seven of our favorites that we’d like to tell you about.
It’s Sundance knowledge that not many films shown on the festival’s first night end up making a splash. This year’s runaway hit, Whiplash, has officially put an end to that stigma. The film was written and directed by 29 year-old Harvard graduate Damien Chazelle, who presented a short version of the film at last year’s festival. It stars Miles Teller (who was a hit in The Spectacular Now at last year’s festival) as a jazz drummer attending one of the top music schools in the country. In his quest to become the best, he finds himself under the tutelage of the school’s unhinged maestro (J.K. Simmons). The student experiences psychological and physical torture at the hands of the teacher, with training closer to Rambo’s than a drummer’s.
This film from writer/director Kat Candler was also featured in an abridged version at the 2012 Sundance Festival. Set against a stark, modern Texas backdrop, Hellion stars newcomer Josh Wiggins as a 12 year-old obsessed with metal and motocross. His rebellious behavior after his mother dies takes a toll on his younger brother and emotionally destroyed father (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul). When Child Protective Services removes his little brother from the fractured home to live with his aunt (Juliette Lewis), father and eldest son come to the stark realization of their damaged personalities and search for a way to reunite their motherless family. Hellion has already been praised for the performances of its young actors, as well as an emotionally wrenching performance by Paul.
The latest project from acclaimed director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Before Trilogy) has been spoken of in Hollywood circles for twelve years; not because of production problems, but because it’s a chronicle. While Boyhood sounds more like a documentary, it’s the story of a boy (Ellar Salmon) growing up with divorced parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) in Austin, Texas, from Grade 1 to his high school graduation. Linklater filmed the cast for a few months a year for twelve years to transcend any journey seen on film. The film has received rave reviews for its daring concept and grueling dedication, and has already been purchased for release in theaters by late 2014.
The Raid 2: Berandal
Anyone who has seen 2011’s The Raid: Redemption know what a violent and thrilling ride it was: think Assault on Precinct 13 mixed with Game of Death. Critics who witnessed the film’s sequel at this year’s Sundance are saying that it surpasses the original in every way. The Raid 2 takes place just minutes after rookie Officer Rama finished fighting through a thug infested apartment block and confronting his criminal brother. As the film begins, he finds out that the rest of his family is in danger from his activities and must go undercover in a Jakarta crime syndicate. To do that, he must first spend months in a horrible prison to befriend the son of the syndicate’s leader. The Raid featured spectacular cinematography, great fight choreography and direction and tons of blood; its sequel far outperforms that.
Wish I Was Here
Zach Braff’s film career had its beginnings at the 2004 Sundance Festival with the acclaimed premiere of Garden State. Braff is back at Sundance this year with the smart and emotional Wish I Was Here, which he directed and co-wrote with his brother, Adam. Braff stars as a father, husband, slacker and out of work actor, supported mainly by his wife (Kate Hudson) and father (Mandy Patinkin). But, when his ailing father can no longer pay for his kids’ expensive Jewish school, he takes on the role of homeschool teacher — to the disappointment of his uptight daughter, and the delight of his rambunctious son. Wish I Was Here also features terrific performances by Josh Gad, Jim Parsons, and James Avery in his final role.
They Came Together
From the men who brought you The State, Wet Hot American Summer and Stella comes a romantic comedy that picks up where You’ve Got Mail leaves off. I mean, Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd even resemble Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. Rudd stars as a corporate candy exec sent to shut down Poehler’s mom–and-pop candy shop, but the two quickly fall in love. Though the couple knows it’s meant to be, they’ll have to deal with their jobs, families and crazy friends to really make it work. With the team of David Wain and Michael Showalter behind the script, and appearances by comedic actors like Ed Helms, Cobie Smulders, Jack McBrayer, Kenan Thompson among others, They Came Together shouldn’t be missed. Since nearly half the cast and crew participated in Wet Hot American Summer, this also makes a good lead-in for the upcoming sequel.
The Skeleton Twins
Another acclaimed film featuring some Saturday Night Live alumni is The Skeleton Twins, starring Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as siblings Milo and Maggie, who are reunited after each experiences a near-death experience on the same day. After cheating death, each realizes how unhappy they are: Maggie unhappy in her marriage to her ingratiating husband (Luke Wilson) and Milo unhappy in his relationships with men and life in the big city. While The Skeleton Twins may feature some funny actors and moments, this film has a serious dramatic tone throughout. Critics have praised the chemistry and improvisation between Hader and Wiig, as well as the story of twins struggling to remain close despite the pratfalls of adulthood.