The Sundance Film Festival is a 10-day event, but it’s always over as of Wednesday morning, or five and a half days after the opening-night festivities on Thursday night. The voltage turns down, there are fewer people on Main Street, all the presumably hot titles (i.e., name casts, advance-hyped) have been screened. I was going to stay until Friday but with this virus in my system and the general enervation and lack of excitement I’m figuring “screw it.” I’m on the phone to Southwest right now, get myself on a plane tomorrow morning.
Sundance ’08 wasn’t bad but it sure wasn’t great. There was a general feeling of deflation, an almost-but-not-quite vibe. There was no surprise knockout…no Little Miss Sunshine, no Once. Film after film seemed to fall short in this or that way. More than a few were greeted with “respectful but tepid applause,” to quote a college film professor who had just come from The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. Nobody except Variety‘s Bob Koehler came up to me and said, “You have to see this film!” Over and over I heard qualifiers — “not bad,” “I was okay with it,” “Almost worked,” “didn’t blow my socks off,” etc.
I saw five films that I was genuinely aroused and moved by — In Bruges, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, Patti Smith: Dream of Life, Dog Eat Dog (Perro Come Perro) and The Escapist. Everything else was a half-and-halfer, a “meh” or an outright dud.
I admired the pared-down, Lars von Trier-like atmosphere of Lance Hammer‘s Ballast, which I saw the day before yesterday, but I also found it draggy and almost comatose at times. There were something like 15 movies here that dealt with suicide. I only saw the beginning of American Teen, which Paramount Vantage is apparently buying, but I was instantly bored by its focus on four cliched high-school archetypes.
I missed tons of films. That’s normal, of course. You can’t possibly see everything you want to see. I play it like anyone else, starting out with my own list and ready to shift gears any time I hear about a really special film. But with very few exceptions, all I heard about were films that vaguely disappointed. Or I passed along the bad news myself. Barry Levinson‘s What Just Happened? never connected for me — wasn’t believable, lacked heart, emotionally aloof characters. I was mostly “meh” with Mark Pellington‘s Henry Poole Is Here as it struck me as overly gloomy and enervated. And so on.
I should have seen Choke, Hamlet 2 and Sleepwalking. Getting sick yesterday and being sick today is my best excuse. The virus just took over, although I managed to bang out a few Oscar nomination reactions. I was sleeping on a couch when a friend called in the mid-afternoon about the death of Heath Ledger, so I got up and tapped out an okay-this-happened piece. Then I crashed again.
I have to get out of here. I want only to escape. I just want to leave it all behind and start over in warmer weather.