The way time is experienced at a film festival is paradoxical — accelerated by the lack of sleep, and at the same time decelerated from living so many lifetimes inside cinema. As I sit here nearly a week later, recalling the slightest impressions from the festival, these memories remain the most prominent. The following are my highlights from Sundance 2016, most of which I kind of, sort of, remember.
Best Comedy: Love and Friendship
In Whit Stillman’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s unpublished novel, Lady Susan, Kate Beckinsale’s revelatory performance is Oscar worthy: her subtle condescension, her disrespect through chivalry, her perfectly-timed delivery of Stillman’s dialogue.
Period pieces, which have the potential to feel stilted and inaccessible, are rarely this funny, rarely played for these kinds of screwball laughs. Audiences won’t have to wait long for this comedy of manners; American viewers will be able to see it in theatres starting May 13, and a Canadian release date is in the works. Runner up: Wiener-Dog
Best Documentary: Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World
Werner Herzog’s documentary is hardly a beautiful mess as some might have you believe, but rather a kind of abstract expressionist documentary, where disconnected subjects are spread across the screen in a way that is both random and perfectly coherent.
Playing like science-fiction as much as “documentary,” Herzog’s introspection into the Internet is philosophical in its implications and immediate in its emotional impact. I could easily have watched the director muse on the subject for another nine hours.
Best Genre Film: Operation Avalanche
Matt Johnson’s found footage flick about a couple of movie-lovers who infiltrate NASA, fake the moon landing, and bear the consequences takes a trite format into new thematic and formal territory, a kind of coup on what is mostly a dumb genre.
Although the film has layers of self-reflexivity that will make your head spin (the director, like the characters, infiltrated NASA to make the film), it always works as entertaining movie-magic, and thematic introspection into the narcissism of two men who make themselves the stars of a movie that doubles as a pivotal event in American history.
Runner up: Under the Shadow
Best Film: Manchester By The Sea
It’s entirely possible that two of my favorite films of the year, decade, and (potentially) all time, premiered at Sundance 2016. Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea is delightful and delicate, literary in its density yet cinematic in its form.
Featuring all-time great performance from Casey Affleck, a screenplay with a daringly subtle structure, and impactful formal choices, the film is perhaps as close to perfect as any other film ever made. Every gesture, every line of dialogue, every shot choice – when to move the camera, when to be funny, when to be sad, when to be both at the same time — the film almost never makes a false step and sticks with you for long after the credits. I saw the film twice in a cinema and another 10 times in my mind.
Runner up: Certain Women
Although the rest of the festival’s lineup never reached the heights of Manchester By The Sea or Certain Women in terms of emotion, vision, or execution, Sundance was still a wonderful distraction, a way to get away from school and responsibilities. As soon as I got back from the festival, I hibernated for 12 hours without interruption. The memories are slowly slipping away, even as I try to recall the films I attended, the people I met, and the experiences I had.