20 Best Movies Of Sundance 2012

Indie love stories and magical oddities

Beasts Of The Southern Wild

The Grand Jury Prize dramatic competition winner and TF’s film of the day on Day 8. A gripping, entirely unique creation, Beasts is part childhood fairytale, part enviro-drama, and wholly enchanting. It stars a cast of unknowns, and is the debut feature of director Benh Zeitlin, whose true grit visuals – paired with dreamy narration – are both whimsically arresting and grubbily unpretentious.

Six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis, remarkable) lives in a Delta community known as ‘The Bathtub’, because it’s in constant threat of flooding. When Hushpuppy’s father falls ill, the end of the world seems nigh – especially when the melting icecaps unleash deadly monsters called aurochs. Wonderfully weird and flush with atmosphere, Beasts is a beautifully-lensed, surprisingly savage lullaby.

Celeste & Jesse Forever

A sort of romcom-in-reverse, this engaging drama follows the eponymous Celeste and Jesse ( I Love You Man ’s Rashida Jones and Hot Rod ’s Andy Samberg), a married couple who’ve separated but remain best friends, as they struggle to get out of their comfortable routine and move on.

Sweet, slick and very, very funny, the film proved to be a breezy breath of fresh air after eight days of solid filmgoing. There are some brilliant visual gags and an on-form supporting cast - particularly Elijah Wood as an awkward gay best friend.

My Brother The Devil

Our film of the day on Day 9 of the fest was the only British film that made it into the World Dramatic competition strand. Shot on location in Hackney, My Brother The Devil tells the story of two Egyptian brothers – older gang member Rashid (James Floyd) and the younger, impressionable Mo (newcomer Fady Elsayed).

But as Rashid tries to turn his back on drugs and postcode wars, Mo is drawn deeper in the opposite direction. What begins as a familiar story features a curveball-throwing script and some assured direction from El Hosaini. Sidesteps the sort of Kidulthood caricatures and clichés you might first expect.

Indie Game: The Movie

Super Meat Boy , Fez and Braid are the name of the game in this enlightening documentary – so-called ‘indie games’ created by fanboy joystick-twiddlers who do their stuff outside of the system.

It’s revealed to be a perilous occupation as we get to know the four developers behind those three games, all of whom are variously reclusive, eccentric and super-creative. Thanks to the four developers’ surprisingly frank input, Indie Game works as both an exposé of the booming underground game industry and the tortured creatives behind their conception.

Room 237

One for the Kubrick fans, Room 237 picks apart The Shining in forensic detail, as Stan-lovers offer their singular (read: batshit crazy) interpretations of the film’s many possible meanings. Devoid of talking heads, it uses interview chat tracks and footage from other movies (mostly Kubrick’s) to tell its story.

The result is a tongue-in-cheek experiment that lets the interviewees do the talking. Craziest reading of The Shining ? One guy's insistence that it’s an ‘apology’ from Kubrick for 'faking' the Apollo 13 landing footage. Hysterical.

Simon Killer

As emotionally volatile as its title suggests, Simon Killer comes from the same creative team behind the phenomenal Martha Marcy May Marlene . It’s not hard to see the through-line. Killer is just as darkly bewitching, presenting a troubled, inscrutable protagonist in Brady Corbet’s Simon, who gets lost in the seedy underbelly of modern day Paris.

Killer pulses with seedy clinches and queasy camerawork as director Antonio Campos explores the darkside of voyeurism with unflinching grit. It’s also got one of the coolest synth-pop soundtracks since Drive . Damn near a modern day Vertigo , Killer will be studied, analysed and discussed for years to come.

Safety Not Guaranteed

Winner of the fest's Dramatic Screenwriting award, Safety Not Guaranteed is an eccentric dramedy starring Scott Pilgrim ’s Aubrey Plaza as Darius, a disenfranchised twenty-something who investigates a guy who claims to know how to time travel.

Though she's best known for her caustic wit, Plaza softens off the rough edges while delivering an excess of deadpan goodness. The film's final act tonal shift will divide audiences, but in general Safety is a hilarious, character-driven film that never takes the easy route. It’ll be interesting to see how they market this one.

Nobody Walks

Olivia Thirlby is the eye at the centre of a very sexy storm in this warm, hysterically funny dramedy. When her young filmmaker breezes into town, she comes riding a wave of effortless sexiness, which carries her through a net of passions-gone-wild as men queue up to fall at her feet.

Though the film could’ve done with more depth, it wisely plays down the angst and is content to sit back as sparks fly between its central players – including Rosemarie DeWitt and John Krasinski.

Red Lights

A menacing, occasionally-hokey paranormal thriller from Buried director Rodrigo Cortés, Red Lights tells the story of supernatural-sceptic professor Cillian Murphy, who becomes obsessed with disproving the ‘powers’ of celebrity healer Robert De Niro. As ominous events start to occur, though, he may have bitten off more than he can chew…

Featuring a high-calibre support cast (Sigourney Weaver, Toby Jones, Elizabeth Olsen, Craig Roberts), the film twists and turns all the way to its WTF? ending, throwing in a handful of expertly-timed shocks along the way.

Wish You Were Here

It was completely overlooked at the awards, but Aussie favourites Joel Edgerton and Teresa Palmer definitely deserved kudos for their performances in this hard-hitting homegrown drama.

A beautifully shot traveller’s warning, the film follows what happens when Palmer’s boyfriend goes missing during a trip to Cambodia. Co-writer and co-star Felicity Price tempers a fantastic portrait of Edgerton’s wronged wife, easily stealing the limelight from her better-known co-actors.

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