Sundance 2016 Film Highlights: Part Two

Another amazing Sundance comes to an end. I'm always in awe of the curation of the film programmers: so many amazing films. 11 days, 28 films, 26 Q&As, average 4-5 hours sleep, countless bagels, pizza & Luna bars on the run, 20 lbs. of fleece layers and daily sunrise walks down the snowy mountain to catch a morning screening. Magical. My favorites:
  1. Agnes Dei
    What a film. 1945 post war Poland, a young female French Red Cross doctor discovers seven nuns in a nearby convent are pregnant due to being raped by occupying Russian soldiers. Based on a true story. Mesmerizing, sad and intense. French subtitled.
  2. Ali & Nino
    Great screenplay by Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons), based on a novel by the same name, this is the beautiful love story about a Muslim man who falls in love with a Christian princess in Azerbaijan. Romantic fairy tale, great casting and gorgeous cinematography make this one of my faves.
  3. American Epic
    I was lucky to get into this 45 min preview of T Bone Burnett, Jack White and Robert Redford produced 6-part doc focused on the history of recorded music and folk, blues and other early forms of music. Great interviews and performance, this was an exciting premiere of another great music doc. Introduced by Robert Redford, and followed by a Q&A with TBone, Jack and Taj Mahal, with special performances by Taj Mahal and the Avett Brothers. What a special night.
  4. Birth of a Nation
    By now you've all heard about the record setting $17.5 mill sale to Fox Searchlight, the highest price paid for a film at Sundance, also winning Grand Jury and Audience Awards. It's hard to meet such hype, but the film is beautifully made. Great casting with a great story about Nat Turner's 48 hr revolt. It's not easy to witness the suffering or feel the shame of the cruelty of humans, yet we must be reminded of our history and contemplate how injustice prevails throughout world. Nate Q&A.
  5. The Intervention
    Lauded as the new Big Chill, written and directed by Clea DuVall. A funny premise and script, a great cast including Natasha Lyonne, Alia Shawkat, Jason Ritter and standout Melanie Lynskey, this was a welcome break from the heavy intense films this year. On many friends' favorite film list.
  6. The Land of the Enlightened
    An impressive and memorable documentary shot on 16mm in remote parts of Afghanistan over 7 years. Justifiably winning the jury award for best cinematography, the film combines documentary and narrative storytelling techniques following young Afghan soldiers who scavenge and arm trade for survival.
  7. Love & Friendship
    Kate Beckensale is hilarious as Lady Susan Vernon, the wicked protagonist of this Jane Austen adaptation by Whit Stillman. Set in 18th century London and the nearby countryside, recently widowed Lady Susan does her best to find another husband before its too late. Great casting, fantastic script, art design and costumes, this is a fun and perfectly delightful film.
  8. Michael Jackson's Journey From Motown to Off the Wall
    Spike Lee knocks it out of the park with this purely delightful doc, starting with the Jacksons' humble beginnings in Indiana through the release of Off the Wall, arguably MJ's best record. Using unseen-before footage, an impressive list of interviews (David Byrne, Stevie Wonder, Quincy, etc.), this thoroughly researched biopic tracks how one of the most talented humans became a star. I cried, laughed and danced in my seat. I will watch this film for the rest of my life. Watch on Showtime.
  9. Nuts
    Using mostly animation and tongue-in-cheek narration, this unusual documentary by director Penny Lane is one of my new faves. Based on the mostly-true story of Dr. John Romulus Brinkley, who becomes world renown during the Depression for a goat testicle impotence cure and a million watt radio station. Inventor, healer, savior or menace, this film challenges us to question the status quo, and idolatry. See it.
  10. Spa Night
    An 18 year old Korean American boy struggles with his closeted homosexuality in the wet environs of Koreatown's spa culture. An interesting look at immigrants fighting to maintain their cultural identity while trying to assimilate to reach the American dream. Special interest to see my hood, as it was all shot in Ktown. Lead actor Joe Seo won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Performance, so we'll probably be seeing more of him.