Sundance Screenings Finale: The Highs, The Lows, The Polarizing Films

As the Sundance Film Festival wraps, two films are the prevailing standouts — The Surrogate and Beasts Of The Southern Wild. But Red Lights and Filly Brown have been the titles consistently coming up short along with Lay The Favorite. Sundance founder Robert Redford warned attendees on Day One to explore the fest’s various nooks and crannies before guessing which films would be hits or misses. Here’s my reporting:

The Surrogate, directed by Ben Lewin
This film is the obvious commercial hit and awards contender coming out of Sundance this year and it already caught a $6 million acquisition deal as Deadline reported Monday. This film proves that there are still films that arrive with little fanfare and then break out. Starring Helen Hunt (in a terrific performance) and John Hawkes and William H. Macy, pic centers on a man who is confined to an iron lung and at age 38 makes it a goal to lose his virginity. All the buzz bodes well for Lewin who proves that reinventing yourself is possible at any age. Born in 1946, Lewin has a bevy of TV writing and directing credits with a sprinkling of features like Georgiawhich received two AFI Award nominations way back in 1989.

Beasts Of The Southern Wild directed by Benh Zeitlin
This is the fest’s artistic smash to date. The filmmakers had the “dream” Sundance premiere at the Eccles Theatre complete with a standing ovation and immediate buzz at hobnobbing events. Instantly speculation began about who would snag the film populated by unknown actors. Fox Searchlight did. This is the first film by co-writer/director Benh Zeitlin and the team behind Court 13. “Court 13 is an ethos we have on approaching a story and production,” Zeitlin told me. “The arc is made through homemade objects, actors that are non-professional, and a crew that is chosen for their courage and art rather than pure skill.”

Your Sister’s Sister directed by Lynn Shelton
This film about grief had its U.S. debut at Sundance after a Toronto fest premiere initiated buzz. Sundance’s comparatively smaller lineup is giving the film some breathing room and good word of mouth for performances by Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt, Mark Duplass, and Mike Birbiglia. The film follows Jack who is grieving over his bother’s loss and heads to his father’s cabin unaware that a woman is already staying there with similar circumstances.

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