sundance 2013

Eight Big Takeaways From the 2013 Sundance Film Festival

It’s awfully considerate of the Sundance Film Festival to come so early in the year, because from its January berth, it can often predict exactly what we’ll be talking about for the next eleven months. Sometimes those conversations are about the Sundance movies that will go on to Oscar glory — whether it’s Little Miss Sunshine or Beasts of the Southern Wild. But even more often, it’s about the trends that first emerge in Park City or the names that are destined for greater fame. So what did we learn at this year’s fest that will have us buzzing throughout 2013? Here are eight story lines that got their start at this year’s Sundance.

The 2013 Oscar race has already begun.
While announcing that Fruitvale had won the Grand Jury Prize, former 20th Century Fox co-chairman Tom Rothman got choked up, claiming this award was “for anyone out there who thinks for one second that movies don’t matter and can’t make a difference in the world.” Then, as director Ryan Coogler made his way to the stage, Rothman threw in a freebie Oscar prediction: “This won’t be the last time you guys walk up to a podium.” It’s no wonder that Academy Award soothsayer Harvey Weinstein spent north of $2 million to buy the distribution rights to this devastating tale, which tracks the last 24 hours in the life of 22-year-old Oscar Grant III, shot in 2009 by a white Oakland transit officer. Another encouraging stat: Fruitvale also won the Audience Award; the last movie to pull off that twofer at Sundance was the Best Picture–nominated Precious.

Sundance is having a summer comedy moment.
You won’t have to wait long to check out the two biggest sales of the festival, since Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut Don Jon’s Addiction and the coming-of-age comedy The Way, Way Back are both slated for summer. The former should be particularly interesting to track, since it can be marketed as an R-rated naughty-lad film in the vein of The Hangover (Scarlett Johansson in all those slinky dresses oughta help). But there’s a whole lot on its mind, too: Expect countless op-eds and feature stories tied to Don Jon’s porn-addiction plot point.

The 2013 Oscar race has already begun, part two.
Fruitvale wasn’t the only movie to take home both a Grand Jury Prize and an Audience Award: Blood Brother accomplished the same feat in the U.S. Documentary category, vaulting it to the head of the documentary class for next year’s Oscar race. Director Steve Hoover made the film about his best friend Rocky Braat, who left his life in Pittsburgh behind to work for free at an Indian orphanage for kids living with AIDS. The result is not just an illuminating social commentary but an incredibly honest character study. It also leaves one with a hopeful sense that a single person really can affect change in the world.

Female filmmakers continue to make gains.
Why was a trifle like the Jerusha Hess–directed Austenland given a prime berth in the festival’s competition lineup? We suspect that programmers couldn’t resist engineering a Sundance competition slate where half the films were directed by women, especially after last year’s Cannes lineup was so notoriously male-dominated. However, they needn’t have bothered including Austenland since the other women in competition delivered such strong work, including Stacie Passon (who helmed the intriguing lesbian call-girl dramedy Concussion) and Lake Bell (who took home screenplay honors for In a World).

Gaby Hoffmann should be invited to every party, always.
The little girl you remember from Sleepless in Seattle and Now and Then emerged all grown up (and totally nude) in Sebastian Silva’s Crystal Fairy, where Hoffmann plays a hippie who accompanies Michael Cera on a search for mescaline in the Chilean desert. Just as thrilling, though, was the revelation of Hoffmann as the uninhibited life of the party. All week long she could be found doing backbends on the red carpet, balancing a beer bottle on her head in the middle of a crowd, and starting a dance party wherever she went. Let’s make sure that she’s cast in more movies, because film festivals without her just won’t be the same.

We’re in the middle of a teen-movie renaissance.
If you swooned through The Perks of Being a Wallflower last fall and thought, Why can’t all teen movies be this perceptive and deeply felt? then just wait. James Ponsoldt’s sensational The Spectacular Now is on its way, featuring Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley (who both picked up acting awards at Sundance) as utterly real high-schoolers who drink too much, fall in love, and break your heart. Even the comparatively larky Toy’s House, where three teens escape into the woods to build their own rules-free compound, is a total pleasure.

Before Midnight is the year’s most welcome sequel.
Forget Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness, and The Fast and the Furious 6: 2013’s real franchise action comes courtesy of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, who return in Before Midnight, the follow-up to romantic walk-and-talkers Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. It’s a total pleasure to be in their company again, but this installment is deeper and more challenging than its light and airy predecessors, and the carefully timed interpersonal explosions between their characters pack far more punch than any of this year’s action movies are capable of.

Friends don’t tell friends to miss Two Mothers.
French director Anne Fontaine made the most notorious movie of the festival with Two Mothers, where Naomi Watts and Robin Wright play best friends who have lots and lots of hot sex with each other’s studly surfer sons. Even the movie’s few fans felt compelled to call it a guilty pleasure, but let’s retire that phrase! Yes, the filmmakers and stars apparently had no idea they were making such classy trash, but there’s no shame in loving this movie. In fact, the riotous premiere may have been one of the most fun screenings at this year’s Sundance.

Eight Big Takeaways From the 2013 Sundance Fest