By Ryan Michael Painter
(KUTV) The best way for me to judge the quality of any particular Sundance crop is to see how many films from the festival end up on my end of year lists. Its not uncommon for my opinion of a film to slightly change after a second viewing. Sundance is full of mirages because sometimes when you're seeing a large amount of movies in a small time frame it can be hard to distinguish between what is a great film and what is simply the best movie you've seen in the past two or three days. That said, I thought it was a very good year with a handful of welcomed surprises and only a couple disappointments.
My favorite films include:
Drake Doremus' Breathe In with the wonderfully beguiling Felicity Jones starring as a young muse to Guy Pearces frustrated high school band teacher.
Eliza Hittman's It Felt Like Love, a painfully bleak story about a young girl desperate for attention with a heartbreakingly phenomenal performance from newcomer Gina Piersanti.
I also enjoyed the performances from child actors Skylan Brooks and Ethan Dizon in The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete. The script falters a bit down the stretch, but the kids are great.
Lake Bell's In a World was the first film to get me to laugh as Bell plays a woman living in the shadow of her father, a movie-trailer voice-over superstar.
Toy's House was a coming-of-age comedy with a lot of heart and twice as many laughs.
Upstream Color was a tremendous cerebral drama with sci-fi elements and gorgeous cinematography (comparisons to Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life abound).
The best documentaries that I saw were Dave Grohl's Sound City and visually sublime Cambodian film A River Changes Course.
I didn't see as many films in the Midnight category as I would have liked this year. Hell Baby and In Fear were both solid, but neither pushed the horror genre in a new direction.
The most over-hyped film was Escape from Tomorrow. It has some clever moments, but tends to be a bit uneven and overly creepy. If it weren't for the fact that it was filmed in Disney World without permission I doubt the film would be getting the amount of coverage it has received.
Two films that are quite good, but I failed to really connect with were Kill Your Darlings and The Spectacular Now.
The Way,Way Back is the film most likely to pull in a large audience, but it wouldn't be much of anything if it wasn't for Sam Rockwell.
HBO's Manhunt, a documentary about the CIA's decade long search for Osama bin Laden, was easily the most disappointing film I saw. Its slow, disjointed and feels like a bonus feature that belongs on the Blu-ray release of Zero Dark Thirty rather than a feature film.
(Copyright 2013 Sinclair Broadcast Group)