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These are a few of my favorite things

Posted by: Colin Covert under Movies Updated: January 27, 2011 - 12:00 AM

 

 
Of the films I saw at the Sundance Film Festival, a handful impressed me deeply. The Top Five:
 
Michael Parks in "Red State." Photo: Sundance Institute

Michael Parks in "Red State." Photo: Sundance Institute

“Red State,” Kevin Smith’s explosive attack on cult violence and antiterrorist overreach. The furious, deeply felt and terrifying film has nothing in common with Smith’s laid-back stoner comedies. Beginning with the “horny teens on a road trip” premise of countless slasher films, he draws the audience into a nihilistic nightmare where perverse dogmas – religious and political – justify appalling violence. Smith’s script is masterful and his actors, including John Goodman and Melissa Leo, deliver bravura performances. The film belongs to Michael Parks, however. As the imposing patriarch of a Jonestown-style cult, he speaks like a kindly grandfather but thinks like Hitler. His 15-minute sermon of hate, with its meticulous Biblical footnotes and chillingly crooned hymns, is more disturbing than a “Saw” marathon. This is a film people will be talking about 20 years from now.

 

Brendan Gleeson as "The Guard." Photo: Sundance Institute.

Brendan Gleeson as "The Guard." Photo: Sundance Institute.

 

“The Guard” stars Brendan Gleeson as a loose cannon copper in a coastal Irish town. He’s a maverick who shoots first, amiably consorts with prostitutes, and likes to contemplate the sea after a nice hit of acid. Don Cheadle, as a buttoned-up FBI agent training local officials to deal with big-league drug smugglers, is the butt of Gleeson’s politically incorrect blarney. “I’m Irish,” he explains, all wounded mock-innocence. “Racism is part of me culture.” The clash of personalities, florid dialog and imaginative reworking of buddy cop clichés makes for a Guinness-dark crime comedy.

 

Greg Kinnear and Alan Arkin in "The Convincer." Photo: Sundance Institute.Greg Kinnear, petey the Dog and Alan Arkin in "The Convincer." Photo" Sundance Institute.

Greg Kinnear and Alan Arkin in "The Convincer." Photo: Sundance Institute.

 

“The Convincer” gives us Greg Kinnear as a lowlife insurance agent who oppresses his secretary, cheats his underling salesmen, and aims to relieve his doddering client Alan Arkin of a valuable antique violin. The plot sets off a series of cascading calamities that are by turns alarming and uproarious. Kinnear is in career-best form, crafting a no-good character worthy of Jack Lemmon; despicable yet pathetic and painfully funny. And his gymnastic contortions as he slips and slides on ice-slicked sidewalks are pure Cirque de Soleil.

 

Mikael Persbrandt in "In A Better World." Photo: Sundance Institute.

Mikael Persbrandt in "In A Better World." Photo: Sundance Institute.

 

“In a Better World," the Danish best foreign film Oscar contender, is a globe-spanning tale about the futility of revenge and the difficulty of forgiveness. When a Danish physician leaves his broken marriage and works through his guilt in an African refugee camp, his schoolboy son drifts falls under the spell of a new student with serious anger issues. Susanne Bier's film asks provocative questions about the parallels between sadistic warlords, schoolyard bullies and homegrown terrorists. It's a thought provoking, beautifully shot, compellingly acted and suspenseful drama.

 

Miranda July in "The Future." Photo: Sundance Institute.

Miranda July in "The Future." Photo: Sundance Institute.

 

“The Future,” Miranda July's followup to her 2005 Cannes triumph “Me and You and Everyone We Know” is a one-of-a-kind comedy, the sort of imaginative oddity that might occur if David Lynch made a slacker romance. July and her lanky lookalike Hamish Linklater play nincompoops in love. Their decision to adopt a terminally ill shelter cat derails their lives, and the cat (voiced in purring, scratchy-throated character by July) narrates parts of this whimsical chronicle of infidelity, anxiety and uncoupling. The story is peppered with surreal vignettes. Linklater discovers he has the power to freeze time and wanders through a nighttime Los Angeles made beautiful by suspended animation; a 10-year-old girl digs a backyard hole and asks her father to bury her up to the neck; July does a shape-shifting dance while enveloped by an oversized t-shirt. Audiences will have to figure out what it all means but they won't forget it any time soon.

 

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