In years past, the Sundance festival has helped to break the movies that we've wound up falling in love with. Movies like Robot & Frank and Upstream Color. So with this year's Sundance in full swing, which movies are you going to be hearing more about? We've rounded up some early reviews.
Top image: Young Ones.
No, it's not a movie based on the British sitcom about weird bohemian young people — it's a Western directed by Gwyneth Paltrow's brother Jake, set in a terrible, drought-stricken future. Starring Michael Shannon, Nicholas Hoult and Kodi Smit-McPhee. Shannon plays a man with a disabled wife (who walks with an exoskeleton), who buys a robot to replace his dead donkey and then discovers his daughter's boyfriend has betrayed him.
The verdict: Hollywood Reporter seems to speak for a lot of critics, calling the movie "ponderous, self-important and thematically narrow," plus a "lethargically-paced, dehydrated update of There Will Be Blood." Variety says it gets "bogged down" and its futuristic trappings don't rescue its thinly drawn characters. Collider says almost everything in the movie works perfectly, but it still leaves you cold because it's not about anything. Indiewire says it wants to be an epic tale but falls short. The New York Post calls it "disappointing and dull." HitFix calls it "inert" and says it "never quite finds the happy medium between B-movie splatter and literary elevation." But for a dissenting view, Tim Grierson writes in Screen Daily that Young Ones is "distinctive" and praises its stark story that builds to a "stunningly simple payoff," and appreciates its lack of political message or heavy-handed symbolism. Everyone agrees the cinematography is lovely and Shannon and Hoult turn in great performances
A documentary about the most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton ever found, and the researchers who had to battle to keep their find after the U.S. government swooped in and tried to accuse them of stealing it. Basically, a gripping David-vs-Goliath story with dinosaur bones.
The verdict: Variety calls it "gripping" and praises this story of "the little guy being screwed by big government." Hollywood Reporter finds it fascinating, but worries the "byzantine" legal battles will turn off some audiences. They also worry it's too slanted in favor of the little guy, something that also bothers Indiewire. Badass Digest also worries the film doesn't delve enough into the gray areas raised by this dinosaur find, and finds it too reliant on talking heads and goofy recreations. Slashfilm warns the film feels "long and unfocused." Film School Rejects has a similar complaint that this film "strays from the meat and emotion of its story," and can't quite make the naturally compelling underdog story work. Ion Cinema is even harsher: "the film's victims begin to grate in their despair... due to an over emphasis of personal misery and a lack of narrative focus." So maybe, expect to see an edited version hit cinemas and CNN later this year or next.
Mike Cahill scored a lot of buzz in 2011 with Another Earth, the indie movie about a parallel Earth that appears in our sky. Now he's back with the story of a molecular biologist who studies the eye, to prove that humans evolved without any need for Intelligent Design, and has a fling with a supermodel whose face is covered up except for his eyes. Years later, the biologist has a son, and discovers an uneasy secret that reopens the "science versus God" debate.
The verdict: Tim Grierson with Screen Daily praises the "engaging and unpredictable" storytelling and says this film has a stronger focus and clearer philosophical exploration than Another Earth did. Collider also likes the strong emotion in the story and the fact that it juggles so many different ideas but still manages an "emotionally powerful conclusion." Hollywood Reporter also praises the balance of emotional and intellectual elements, and also loves the "tactile, glowing Terrence Malick-like visuals." Indiewire says the faith-vs-science themes are sometimes too "on the nose," but says the movie overcomes its shortcomings to become "an intelligent and ambitious adult drama" in the vein of a young Christopher Nolan or Danny Boyle. But then there are a couple of dissenting views — Variety feels that the movie tries too hard to impress you by dragging out its spooky reveals, while glossing over huge plot holes. "The film amounts to a lousy sort of magic show, schematically pulling strings to prove its own points," Variety adds. And Hitfix agrees with Variety, saying the film telegraphs its ending an hour ahead of time and then spins through slow-motion plot mechanics to get there.
Marjane Satrapi (Chicken With Plums) directs this film in which Ryan Reynolds is a murderer who hears his cat and dog speaking to him and giving him advice.
The verdict: Indiewire says this movie doesn't have much to say, but it's always hilarious, and you never stop sympathizing with Reynolds even after he does terrible things. The Hollywood Reporter says the mix of horror and black comedy is a risky one which pays off because Satrapi and writer Michael R. Perry find the right tone for the material. Screen Daily praises Reynolds' performance as a guy who "never quite recognizes how demented he is" who just happens to find that killing gets easier the more you do it. US Magazine doesn't like the film as much, saying it falls short and "appeals to the movie mavens in Park City, Utah — but in the mainstream, it's destined for cult classic status at best."
Elijah Wood is a struggling novelist who goes to work as a substitute teacher at his old school, where he tries to romance an old flame (Alison Pill) before discovering she's already dating the boorish P.E. teacher (Rainn Wilson). Oh, and some of the kids have eaten tainted chicken nuggets and are turning into face-eating zombies... and it's spreading.
The verdict: Hollywood Reporter compares it to Zombieland and praises the "well-paced and very funny" zom-com.Indiewire agrees, calling it a "solid midnight movie, where the laughs outnumber the body count tenfold." Hitfix calls the film "tremendous fun" but also says it gives the proper amount of weight to the moment when the teachers have to start fighting back against the zombie kids. Screen Daily warns that it loses a lot of its bite in the last act, but is a solid zombie comedy before then. Says Film School Rejects, "Cooties is horror comedy done right. It's laugh out loud funny but never shies away from the gory, violent bits involving adults and children. See it with a child you love." The one dissenting opinion comes from Fangoria, which complains the film's satire never has any bite and it never manages to deliver "true carnage."