The 2014 Sundance Film Festival award ceremony begins about three hours hence (6 pm Pacific), and will be viewable on the Sundance website. A friend told me this morning that she sensed an undercurrent of disappointment from my Park City filings. I don’t how where that came from. I saw eight exceptional films (exciting, well shaped, urgent, affecting in one way or another) that definitely got 2014 off to a crackling start. Eight! Most Sundance slates yield five or six keepers, or so it has always seemed.

For a final time and in this order, they are (a) Damien Chazelle‘s Whiplash, (b) Craig Johnson‘s The Skeleton Twins, (c) Steve JamesLife Itself, (d) Richard Linklater‘s Boyhood, (e) Lynn Shelton‘s Laggies, (f) James D. Cooper‘s Lambert & Stamp, (g) Charlie McDowell‘s The One I Love and (h) Chapman and Maclain Way‘s The Battered Bastards of Baseball.

I was mildly charmed and amused by Michael Winterbottom‘s The Trip to Italy so I guess that makes nine if you want to be laissez-faire about it. Jesus, I forgot to mention one of the festival’s best — Pawel Pawlikowski‘s Ida. I guess because in my mind this is more of a 2013 Telluride or Toronto film than a 2014 Sundancer. I just waited too long to see it.

I’m presuming that Whiplash, The Skeleton Twins and Life Itself will do the best this evening, but what do I know?

I saw the usual tally of 22 or 23 films, perhaps a bit more this time. Seven full days plus opening night. I see what I can, file what I can to my personal satisfaction. I don’t care if others saw more or reviewed more.

Ira SachsLove is Strange, a domestic drama about a displaced gay couple (John Lithgow, Alfred Molina) is very well-acted and somewhat touching as far as it goes but I felt restless and never fully engaged. John Slattery‘s God’s Pocket was a wash. John Michael McDonagh‘s Calvary was a bust. For me, Jim Mickle‘s Cold in July was all but ruined by the wearing of a mullet. Todd Miller‘s Dinosaur 13 (my second film of the festival) was conscientious and interesting but ultimately a Kafka-esque downer. Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn told me to see Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, but I couldn’t fit it in. I loathed Hellion. I hated Justin Simien‘s Dear White People, a superficial checklist satire of hot-button issues affecting forward-thinking African-American college students. And I missed Jeremiah Zagar‘s Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart…sorry.

I didn’t get around to Joe Swanberg‘s Happy Christmas, not out of disinterest but because it kept overlapping with screenings I had a greater interest in.

I’m sorry for missing Mike Cahill‘s I Origins, David Zellner‘s Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter, Alex Ross Perry‘s Listen Up Philip, Gregg Araki‘s White Bird in a Blizzard and Mark Jackson‘s War Story. But I did the best I could.