The Best of Sundance 2012

Now that the 2012 Sundance Film Festival is just a snowy, hectic memory, it’s time to bestow our own awards on the films we can’t get out of our heads….

This is pretty much a no-brainer. Indie vet Hawkes, who we’ve come to know as either incredibly awkward (ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW), or downright menacing (WINTER’S BONE), delivers a mesmerizing performance as polio-crippled poet Mark O’Brien who is on a quest to lose his virginity via a sex surrogate, played by a very nude Helen Hunt. Despite being either confined to an iron lung or on his back for the entire film, Hawkes keeps your attention with his charming turn, and will surely be talked about more come next year’s Oscars.

Quvenzhané “Nazie” Wallis – BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
At just 8 years of age—6 at the time of filming—she looks like the cuter younger sister of Willow Smith and acts like a surly vet. Nazie’s performance as Hushpuppy, the tough-as-nails protagonist of Benh Zeitlin’s stunning debut, is a sight to behold. Whether she’s shrieking her heart out, handling crawfish, or going blow-for-blow with her hard-ass father, Nazie’s performance is extraordinary, and one of the best child performances you’ll ever witness. She will bring you to tears, trust.

Andrea Riseborough’s spellbinding turn as a young mother-turned-IRA informant in ‘90s Belfast spying on her brothers comes second to Nazie as the best female performance of the fest, but Marsh’s thrilling return to feature filmmaking, following his brilliant docs MAN ON WIRE and PROJECT NIM, is an expertly-crafted, slow-burning thriller that’s garnering comparisons to TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY. Like that film, there are some major surprises in store.

Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt, Rosemarie Dewitt – YOUR SISTER’S SISTER
This talky comedy of errors from writer-director Lynn Shelton eclipses her previous effort, HUMPDAY, in pure hilarity. When Iris (Blunt) invites her depressed friend, Jack (Duplass), who’s still mourning the loss of his brother, to stay in their family’s remote cabin, she doesn’t realize her quirky sister, Hannah (DeWitt), is already there, setting off a bizarre series of events. Duplass delivers the funniest performance of the fest as a man torn between two disparate sisters, DeWitt is top-notch, and Blunt seems rejuvenated by the “mumblecore” modus operandi, delivering her best performance since 2004’s MY SUMMER OF LOVE, which was also largely improvised.

Is there really any other choice? Benh Zeitlin’s wondrous fairy tale of a film is, in this writer’s humble opinion, the best movie to play at Sundance since 2006’s HALF NELSON, and one of the best ever. It’s the story of Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), a 6-year-old girl living in the southernmost tip of Louisiana, known as “The Bathtub,” who must do battle with forces of nature—storms, floods, mythical beasts, and her stubborn father, in order to hold her family together. The film is a glorious love letter to the Katrina-ravaged south. It will make you laugh and cry, and some of the beautiful imagery of the film—as well as Wallis’ stunning performance—will stay with you for days.

And For Shits and Giggles…BEST BATHROOM SEX SCENE
The icy Regan, played by Dunst, has been flirting all day with the grooms’ douchebag ringleader, Travor (James Marsen), so when the sexual tension reaches a fever pitch, she pulls him into a strip club bathroom where he sexes her on top of the sink. But first, she issues a stern warning to him: “Don’t cum on my dress.”

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