Sundance-ing With the Stars

Ten days, 90 hours' worth of shifts, and a whole lot of movie watchin'

Happy Christmas
Happy Christmas

I'm back from my first Sundance Film Festival, and the experience was lovely. Having grown up in Texas, I'm not accustomed to blankets of snow or the altitude, but I took it like a champ, even after my right boot gave up on me. The mountain terrain of Park City was gorgeous and a pleasure to see every day. Ah, if only I could have made a snowman!

My goal was to watch at least 20 movies but I will have to settle for 17, which isn't too shabby. Below are quick thoughts for my first five films.

Boyhood: It took Richard Linklater 4,207 days of filming to complete this ambitious feature, and it was totally worth it. At 164 minutes, the running time may scare off moviegoers, but when covering the concept of maturity it's validated. Not only do we see Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) grow up, but we see his parents develop with him as well. Mason Sr., a former absentee father, now imparts dollops of wisdom to his son, and Patricia Arquette's character is a strong, independent woman. Boyhood is a marvelous case study on adolescence and every emotion of growing up.

Hellion: I am ashamed to admit I have not watched Breaking Bad – it's on my list! – so Kat Candler's heavy metal-motocross movie is the first time I have seen Aaron Paul. Paul gave an emotional and sincere performance as a single father, but it was the young cast that were the breakout stars. Josh Wiggins, who plays his son, had one hell of a debut. His performance was reminiscent of a young Leonardo Dicaprio. Phenomenal.

Happy Christmas: A few steps up from Drinking Buddies, Happy Christmas has a much more natural flow and a well-balanced narrative. The dialogue is full of charisma and understanding, and the film is very identifiable. We have all been in situations when we just need someone to listen. A highlight of the film was director Joe Swanberg's darling son, Jude, who played a major role.

The One I Love: This one starts out with a conventional plot about a couple (Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass) who are on the brink of separation deciding to go on a cabin retreat on the advice of their therapist. But what seemed like a normal weekend is infused with elements of the supernatural. Impossible to discuss without spoiling, The One I Love is sharply and smartly written. Director Charlie McDowell reinvents the romantic-comedy as something worth watching.

No No: A Dockumentary: I am not a baseball fan – or a sports fan at all, really – but in this case, that doesn't matter. The story is compelling enough on its own. No No tells the story of Dock Ellis, the pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 1970, he threw a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres … while on LSD. One quick note: I do wish Jeffrey Radice included more information about his relationship with his children since Ellis had complex issues with his wives.

Happy Christmas and The One I Love both signed acquisition deals while at Sundance, with Magnolia and Paramount and the Weinstein Company, respectively.

Stay tuned for part two! And meanwhile, check out the webisodes Arts + Labor produced exclusively for the Chronicle.

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Sundance Film Festival, Sundance, Park City, Happy Christmas, The One I Love, Boyhood, Hellion, Richard Linklater, Kat Candler, Joe Swanberg, Ethan Hawke, Aaron Paul, Josh Wiggins, Texas, Dock Ellis, Baseball

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