The Sundance Film Festival is not for the faint of heart. It’s 10 days of wall-to-wall movies, starting at 8 in the morning and running till midnight. And besides all the movies, amid the ski resorts of Park City, Utah, there's also the parties, the panels, and the sightings of famous faces like Jane Fonda and Edgar Wright in the Marriott lobby. More than once, you might find yourself scheduling sleep as grudgingly as you would a dentist appointment.
So what’s the takeaway after spending dozens of hours in darkened theaters with strangers at high altitudes? Well, if this crop of Academy Award nominees is any indication, Sundance audiences might have caught the next “Boyhood” or “Whiplash,” and a few might have already seen their favorite film of the year.
It’s impossible to watch every film screened at the annual, but of the ones we caught at the just-wrapped 2015 festival, here are the top five most memorable narrative movies:
Shot guerrilla-style with an iPhone 5S, steadicam, and the low-cost app Filmic Pro, this lurid slice of L.A. life is not one you'll shake off easily. Transgender prostitute Sin-dee (Kitana Kiki-Rodriguez) is out for revenge on Christmas Eve after learning from her best friend, Alexandra (Mya Taylor), that her pimp boyfriend cheated on her. Almost each frame is set to party music and bright colors from start to finish, creating a stark contrast to the tale's tragic themes. Perverse humor and endearing characters will keep you immersed in Sean Baker's dark comedy. "Tangerine" is a bold movie to make -- markets and test audiences be damned.
They don’t make them like they used to, or at least they didn't until director John Crowley’s achingly beautiful romantic-drama throwback, “Brooklyn.” Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) must leave 1950s Ireland to find work in America, but after a family tragedy calls her home, will she return to her new Italian love (Emory Cohen)? Based on the book of the same name and given the Nick Hornby treatment (“Wild”), this period piece of heartbreak and homesickness claimed more than a few tissues in the crowded Sundance screening.
It was way too easy to declare Rick Famuyiwa’s “Dope” was dope, but everything from the cast to the writing and cinematography was on point. Notorious nerd Malcolm (Shameik Moore) and his vintage hip-hop-loving friends (Toni Revolori and Kiersey Clemons) find themselves running from dope dealers and cops after Dom (A$AP Rocky) stashes his supply in Malcolm’s backpack. The clever script keeps the ball rolling from tangent to tangent at a never-slackening pace.
4. “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”
Girls can behave badly too, a point Minnie (Bel Powley) is all too happy to prove. She’s 15 years old, dabbles in heavy drugs and sleeps with her mom’s boyfriend. Yet, she’s insecure and dreams of becoming a comic book artist. Director Marielle Heller paints a delicate portrait of a flawed teen and embellishes her story with whimsical animated sequences.
5. “Mistress America”
Lonely college student (“Gone Girl” actress Lola Kirke) reaches out to stepsister-to-be Brooke (Greta Gerwig) and finds a brighter side to big-city life. In director Noah Baumbach’s (“Frances Ha,” “Greenberg”) hands, this madcap Manhattan adventure descends into old school wit and snappy one-liners. After all, when was the last time you watched a modern-day farce?