Sundance Notables

The first thing I want to do is thank the Columbia House Cafe at the Village at the Lift for the free breakfasts. This nonfilm plug should guarantee me a table next year, and is sure to piss off the makers of The Corporation, an interesting but overly long anti-corporate screed that won the world cinema audience award (sponsored by Coca-Cola™).

DESERVING DOCS: Ondi Timoner won the documentary grand jury prize for DIG!, her look at fame, ego, corruption, and selling out over the course of seven years in the lives of the bands the Brian Jonestown Massacre and the Dandy Warhols. The documentary direction award was won by Morgan Spurlock. His Super Size Me tackles the questionable idea of a 30-day McDonald's diet to prove just how unhealthy the food is, and it turns into a rollicking educational adventure in which he almost blows out his liver thanks to all the saturated fat.

Over at Slamdance: Two more Northwest-themed docs got the attention they deserved. Big City Dick: Richard Peterson's First Movie is a locally made tribute to the Seattle street-performing icon Richard Peterson in all his Sea Hunt-loving, Johnny Mathis-obsessed, autistic glory. It won the audience award for Best Film, beating out not just all the other documentaries but all the narrative features too. Hooray! And the documentary jury awarded Monster Road the Best Documentary prize for its entertaining look at Seattle animation icon Bruce Bickford. Another hooray!

FOREIGN FILMS: Though Sundance is famous for its American independents, it pulled in some topnotch foreign films this year as well. Guy Maddin's The Saddest Music in the World continues his 1930s-style cinematic absurdity, and is sure to draw many more people into his oddball world, thanks in part to stars Isabella Rossellini and Mark McKinney. Jorgen Leth's The Five Obstructions is a semidocumentary that shows Lars von Trier making and remaking a 13-minute short with five different sets of limitations, all as a form of cinematic therapy. The Return is a beautifully shot mystery about a father who returns home to teach his sons how to be men. But my favorite was the lonely and romantic Thai film Last Life in the Universe.

OVERHYPED: Scrubs star Zach Braff makes a nice directing debut with Garden State, even if it becomes a Good Will Hunting retread by the end. Napoleon Dynamite was an audience favorite, but I found it to be too much like a Hal Hartley film populated with morons. The couple lost at sea in Open Water is so annoying that I was rooting more for the sharks than a rescue boat. November stars Courtney Cox in a movie about death and memory that tries so hard to be clever that it ends up being dumb.

WANTED TO SEE: Because of one negative reaction and a too early press-screening time, I missed seeing Primer, which went on to sweep some impressive awards at the festival. Executive produced by Gus Van Sant, Tarnation also picked up some impressive buzz. Perhaps we'll be able to see these films in a future festival or at some of our more adventurous movie theaters.

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