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20 Best Movies Of Sundance 2012

West Of Memphis

Produced by Peter Jackson and directed by Oscar-nominated helmer Amy Berg, Memphis goes to extraordinary lengths to (finally) exonerate the Memphis Three – a trio of Arkansas teens who were jailed for murder in the early ‘90s.

Though it’s too long at 150 minutes, we expect a pre-release polish will make Memphis even more powerful than it already is. It haunted us for days.

The Imposter

A masterful British doc, The Imposter tells the story of a Texan boy who went missing and suddenly ‘reappeared’ three-and-a-half years later in Spain.

To say any more about what turns out to be a remarkable story would be to spoil the outrageous, almost unbelievable twists and turns contained in this dark and fascinating doc. Consistently compelling and superbly shot (the dramatic reconstruction scenes are as cinematic as any Hollywood thriller), this one is a must-see.

Shadow Dancer

Eschewing political comment in favour of a tense, foreboding case study of the street-level conflict, Shadow Dancer is an engrossing thriller set during the tail end of Northern Ireland’s Troubles.

Andrea Riseborough stars as Collette, a young mother caught in the middle of a failed bomb attempt in a London tube station. Offered a choice by Clive Owen’s detective to go back and spy on her IRA-affiliated brothers or face prison in England, Collette risks her own life by becoming a Scotland Yard informant. Dancer is expertly crafted and authentically played, though its slow-burn approach can be a bit of a struggle at times.

For A Good Time, Call

It won’t win any awards for subtlety or heartfelt drama, but Good Time well and truly lives up to that title. With some snappy dialogue, broad comedy and perfectly-timed performances, it's the funniest smut-comedy we've seen in years.

Giving American Pie a run for its money, this laugh riot – which follows two frenemies who move in together and set up their own sex chatline – offered us welcome shelter from a storm of restrained indie love stories that littered the fest. And for that we’re very thankful.

The Surrogate

Confidently helmed by writer/director Ben Lewin, this bittersweet story could have easily descended into mawkish, disability-movie-of-the-week territory, but the script’s successfully comic leanings keeps it (mostly) light and accessible.

Based on the life of the late poet Mark O’Brien (played here by John Hawkes) – a polio survivor mostly confined to life inside an iron lung – the film is less a worthy biopic and more a crowd-friendly relationship movie, as the 38-year-old virgin hires sex surrogate Cheryl (Helen Hunt) to help him pop his cherry. Come 2013, these two will be a permanent fixture on the awards season’s Best Actor/Actress shortlists.

Smashed

An engaging look at the after effects of alcoholism, Smashed is a drama about a young couple (Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul) whose booze-fuelled relationship is threatened when she decides to get sober.

The film’s witty script (by writer/director James Ponsoldt) stops things getting too heavy and, though the film doesn’t exactly break any new ground, Winstead’s spirited performance is a triumph.

The First Time

Written and directed by Jon ‘son of Lawrence, brother of Jake’ Kasdan, The First Time follows the hilariously awkward whirlwind romance of high-schoolers Dylan O'Brien (TV’s Teen Wolf ) and Britt Robertson ( Scream 4 ), as they contemplate hopping on the good foot and doing the bad thing for, you’ve guessed it, the first time.

Powered by the spot-on chemistry of its two young leads (which carried over into a post-screening chat in a pub down the road) and backed up by solid support (including Craig Roberts), this charming and wittily scripted indie went down a storm with the chuckle-happy audience. One to watch.

The End Of Love

Written and directed by and starring Mark Webber ( Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World ), End Of Love is a moving drama about the relationship between a struggling actor and his two-year-old son in the aftermath of the loss of their wife/mother.

Heavily improvised and blurring the line between fiction and reality (the kid is played by Webber’s real-life son while Amanda Seyfried and Michael Cera appear as themselves), it’s a raw, unfussy film about grief that had TF pretending there was something in our eye by the end.

The Queen Of Versaille

An extremely funny yet cautionary tale of the dangers of excess, Versailles follows the fortunes of billionaire couple Jackie and David Siegel.

Halfway through construction on a $100 milion, 90,000 sq ft family home inspired by the court of Louis XIV, the couple are suddenly hit hard by the economic crisis. It’s hardly a riches-to-rags tale, but the pair make for fascinating and likeable subjects who aren’t afraid to show off their flaws.

California Solo

A meandering but moving portrait of a washed-up Britpop star (Robert Carlyle) who, facing deportation from his new home in the US, is forced to confront his hidden demons.

An unexpected gem, Solo features a stunning central performance from Carlyle – perhaps his best since Trainspotting ’s Begbie – and don’t be surprised if this turns up during the 2013 awards season (think Crazy Heart with a Scottish Madchester veteran).