An American showcase first and foremost, Sundance has nonetheless expanded its global reach over time and especially in recent years, expanding the world cinema section and splitting it off into competitive categories. These were my favorite non-American films that received their U.S. premieres at Sundance this past decade.
10. BRONSON (2009)
Danish risk-taker Nicolas Winding Refn treats the British career criminal Charlie Bronson as a kind of misunderstood artist whose primary medium is anger. The result: a wildly stylized biopic that basically unfolds within the head of its anarchic anti-hero.
9. LAST LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE (2003, shown in 2004)
This pan-Asian love story from Thai director Pen-ek Ratanaruang, collaborating with Japanese hearthrob Tadanobu Asano and Hong Kong-based cinematographer Chris Doyle is hushed and delicate, but no less resonant for that. Fitting that the original Thai title translates as TINY ENORMOUS LOVE STORY.
8. UP THE YANGTZE (2007, shown in 2008)
In this intimate yet cinematic debut, Canadian documentarian Yung Chang follows a cruise ship along the world's third-longest river, whose banks are about to be flooded for the Three Gorges Dam project. Against this glaring symbol of the new China, Chang picks out the young local workers trained to interact with Western tourists, showing how individual lives have been affected by the abstract forces of modernization.
7. REPRISE (2006, shown in 2007)
Brimming with ideas and pulsing with the anxious energy of the French New Wave, Joachim Trier's story of two best friends and aspiring novelists in Oslo taps into the very essence of restless youth: the ambition, the insecurity, the longing to be somewhere else.
6. INTIMACY (2001)
Based on two Hanif Kureishi stories, the French director Patrice Chéreau's first English-language film is about a man and a woman who meet up regularly in a London basement flat for anonymous sex. This brusing, sexually frank movie plays like a much grungier Last Tango in Paris, with characters in emotional freefall hungry for moments of physical abandon. (It won the Golden Bear in Berlin a few weeks after its Sundance premiere.)
5. MEGANE (2007, shown in 2008)
Japanese director Naoko Ogigami's low-key charmer, about a city slicker and the oddball locals on the idyllic island where she's vacationing, seems at first like a quirked-up Ozu film. But in this movie of small, insistent pleasures, the droll whimsy gives way to an enveloping serenity and unadulterated joy.
4. BUS 174 (2002, shown in 2003)
Jose Padilha's gripping documentary about a hostage situation that played out live on Brazilian TV in 2000 goes far beyond the incident to piece together the biography of the hijacker, placing a violent tragedy within the context of a wider social disaster.
3. BLOODY SUNDAY (2002)
At the time still a relative newcomer to fiction, former documentarian Paul Greengrass applied what we now know as his trademark style raw, hectic, immediate to the 1972 Derry massacre, the single worst day of the Northern Ireland conflict, and in the process launched perhaps the most intriguing Hollywood career of recent years.
2. THE FOREST FOR THE TREES (2003, shown in 2005)
A lonely, mousy schoolteacher, newly single, is determined to befriend new friends, and goes to mortifying lengths to do so. German director Maren Ade's debut (a student film) is a funny, painfully precise character study, with a transcendent final scene that ranks among the best endings of the decade. Ade has since followed up with an even better film, EVERYONE ELSE, due in U.S. theaters this year.
1. THE LOW DOWN (2000)
Long before mumblecore came along, British music-video specialist Jamie Thraves made his feature debut with this beautifully observed low-wattage portrait of youthful inertia. Not much seems to happen, which makes sense for a movie about the terminal ambivalence of its passive hero (an excellent Aiden Gillen), self-conscious about his self-consciousness, reduced to a spectator of his own shapeless life.