The 2013 Sundance Film Festival opened yesterday, and Main Street in Park City, Utah will be jammed with film lovers, wheeling-and-dealing execs, tourists who want a few star sightings, and 20-something women wearing teeny skirts and stilettos in 30-degree snowy weather in hopes of catching the eye of Ryan Gosling or Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It's a thing -- I've seen them in action.
In honor of this year's fest we're taking a look back at some past Sundance winners that you should put into your Netflix queue immediately. So many amazing films have played at the festival over the years that it's not easy to pick just 10: Richard Linklater's 'Slacker' (nominated but didn't win in 1991), Darren Aronofsky's 'Pi,' Stacey Peralta's 'Dogtown and Z-Boys' (Directing Award for Documentary in 2001), Morgan Spurlock's 'Super Size Me,'... you get the picture. But these would be our top 10:
1. 'Blood Simple' (1985 Grand Jury Prize Dramatic)
First of all, it's the Coen brothers. Second of all, it's a damn fine directorial debut and a classic neo-noir thriller. If you're a fan of their flicks and haven't seen this one, you won’t be disappointed.
2. 'Spanking the Monkey' (1994 Audience Award Dramatic)
David O. Russell is one of the best directors out there, and besides his little tantrum a few years back that landed on YouTube, he’s hopefully becoming more of a household name thanks to 'Silver Linings Playbook.' All of his films are great, but 'Spanking the Monkey' is where it all started. OK, yes, it’s a comedy about incest, but… just give it a chance.
3. 'sex, lies and videotape' (1989 Audience Award Dramatic)
This is one of those now-classic tales of the lighting-in-a-bottle Sundance success story, kind of like Kevin Smith’s 'Clerks.' A little movie by an unknown filmmaker appears and blows everyone away, then becomes a huge hit, makes a ton of dough, and launches a career. Steven Soderbergh wrote and directed this story of sexual attraction, adultery and relationships. Andie MacDowell and James Spader are pretty amazing. But when is James Spader not amazing? He’s especially great in this.
4. 'River’s Edge' (1987 Special Jury Recognition)
Crispin Glover, Keanu Reeves, and Dennis Hopper as a shut-in who's in love with a blow-up doll? This weird and eerie teen thriller is about a high-school burnout that kills his girlfriend and shows her body to his friends, who react with a mixture of apathy and boredom. Scary. It's moody, creepy, and the subject matter still feels modern.
5. 'American Movie' (1999 Grand Jury Prize Documentary)
Have you seen this documentary about struggling wannabe filmmaker Mark Borchardt trying to finance his low-budget horror film in small-town America? It's one of the most hilarious-yet-moving films out there -- honest.
Borchardt enlists everyone from his senile uncle to his beer-swilling buddies to help make his movie. It's unclear how many brain cells his best bud Mike has in his head, and Mike’s primal scream might be one of the most disturbing and funny moments in documentary history.
6. 'Run Lola Run' (1999 World Cinema Audience Award)
German filmmaker Tom Tykwer (one of the three directors behind this fall's bizarre visual fantasy 'Cloud Atlas') directed this kinetic, dayglow thriller about Lola, she of the bright orange hair, running through the streets of Berlin trying to get the money to save her boyfriend before he’s killed by a crime boss. Sounds simple, but the movie is three versions of Lola's running through the city streets, each looking at how the outcome could change if the circumstances are just a little bit different -- Philosophy 101 with a killer techno soundtrack.
7. 'Memento' (2001 Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award)
This classic brought Christopher 'Dark Knight' and 'Inception' Nolan to America's attention. It's about a guy with crippling short-term memory loss who tattoos notes on his body to help him remember so he can hunt down his wife's killer. It has the same riddle-me-this structure as 'Inception,' just without all that annoying talk about “what level are we on?” and “who's dream are we in?” Guy Pearce is great as the memory-less tattooed hero.
8. 'Restrepo' (2010 Grand Jury Prize: Documentary)
This is just a flat-out fantastic movie. It follows one U.S. platoon for a year as they traverse the deadliest valley in Afghanistan. It's so intimate and raw it's almost hard to watch at times, but it's an incredible look at what war can do to men's psyches. Journalists Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington (who was killed by mortar fire in Libya in 2011) co-directed.
9. 'Winter's Bone' (2010 Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic)
Jennifer Lawrence is everywhere these days thanks to her breakout role in this gritty dramatic thriller about a dirt-poor girl living in the Ozarks who tries to find her drug addict dad so she can keep her family home. She cooks squirrel meat. She hunts. She keeps her siblings safe. It's like 'Hunger Games' stripped down to its bare essence, without all the pomp and circumstance.
John Hawkes is frightening and sympathetic at the same time as Teardrop. I saw this premiere at Sundance in 2010 and afterwards every single person was saying, “Who the hell is that girl?” Now we know.
10. 'Beasts of the Southern Wild' (2012 Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic)
It's totally cornball to say that a movie takes your breath away, but in this case it's 100 percent true. Six-year-old Hushpuppy is living in a dirt-poor Louisiana bayou community called “The Bathtub.” They have less than nothing, but they’d rather fight for survival together off the grid than be forced into a homeless shelter.
Hushpuppy tries to keep her ill dad alive and attempts to find her absent mom. There’s a lot more going on though -- it’s kind of like magic realism, only to the extreme: the “reality” feels like a documentary and the fantastical elements are so poetic and beautiful it’s hard to believe they pulled it off. Definitely worth a look.
So now you have plenty of movies to check out this weekend. If we left anything off that you think is a must-see Sundance winner, sound off in the comments below.
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