As it has every other corner of our cultural and economic landscape, the current recession hit the Sundance Film Festival hard, resulting in fewer films being picked up by the handful of distributors that still exist — and that still care about the types of films that need their nurturing. Couple that with the festival's unfortunate embrace of questionable Hollywoodisms over the the last dozen or so years, and the onetime champion of American indie cinema had lost quite a bit of its luster.
Enter John Cooper, who took over as director in 2010, and who is intent on moving the festival back to its artist-driven roots. Cooper's efforts seem to be paying off, as Sundance 2011 unveiled a diverse, interesting crop of films, some of which are actually getting distribution and coming to a theater near you.—-
One of those talking up the festival's future is actor-writer-producer Brit Marling, who had two well-received films at Sundance, including the multiple-prize-winning sci-fi drama Another Earth, which opens here this week. (Read my interview with Marling here.)
And that's not all: Another Sundance success, Michael Rapaport's documentary on Hip Hop pacesetters A Tribe Called Quest, opens this week. Watch out, haters — before long Sundance might seem relevant again.
Elsewhere, we have yet another horror reboot, a romantic drama feature Anne Hathaway, yet another action-adventure reboot, a dramatic thriller featuring the ever-intriguing Kristin Scott Thomas and yet another Spy Kids movie.
ANOTHER EARTH — Director Mike Cahill has stuffed every movie he ever wanted to make, every cockamamie parallel he wanted to draw, into his feature debut. I salute his guts and passion, and his imaginatively careless way with genre. (Read full review here.) (Opens today at Esquire Theatre.) — Ella Taylor (Rated R.) Grade: B
BEATS, RHYMES & LIFE: THE TRAVELS OF A TRIBE CALLED QUEST — Actor and Hip Hop head Michael Rapaport's documentary explores the breaks and the cracks in the road that have derailed A Tribe Called Quest, one of the most widely recognized crews to ever enter the game. (Read full review here.) (Opens today at Esquire Theatre.) — tt stern-enzi (Rated R.) Grade: B
CONAN THE BARBARIAN — Yes, another reboot hits the summer multiplex circuit. This one, of course in 3-D, features Jason Monoa as the muscle-bound warrior. Marcus Nispel (the guy behind previous reboots of Friday the 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) directs a cast that also includes Rachel Nichols, Rose McGowan and Ron Perlman. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tts (Rated R.) Grade: C
FRIGHT NIGHT 3D — Digging back into the movie archives, director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) sinks his teeth into this unconvincing tale of an awkward teen (Anton Yelchin) who comes to realize that his new next-door neighbor (Colin Farrell) might be a vampire. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tts (Rated R.) Grade: D-
ONE DAY — Lone Scherfig (An Education) teams up with novelist David Nicholls, adapting his own book, and stars Jim Sturgess and Anne Hathaway to re-create a one-day-a-year romance and drama of a pair of star-crossed lovers who meet the night of their college graduation and struggle to remain connected over the course of two decades. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tts (Rated PG-13.) Grade: C
SARAH'S KEY — Two parallel stories from different eras intertwine and inform each other in Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s film, which is based on Tatiana de Rosnay’s best-selling novel. The structure is a delicate balancing act, since one story is set amid the atrocities of the Holocaust and the other concerns a journalist in modern-day Paris confronting family and professional problems. (Read full review here.) (Opens today at Mariemont Theatre.) — Marjorie Baumgarten (Rated PG-13.) Grade: B
SPY KIDS 4 — Versatile writer/director Robert Rodriguez goes back yet again to his unlikely cash cow, the tale of a spy family battling terrorists. The cast includes Jessica Alba, Jeremy Piven, Antonio Banderas, Danny Trejo and Tony Shalhoub. Oh, and supposedly the film is 4-D, which includes Aroma-Scope. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tts (Rated PG.) Grade: D-