Utah

I went to Sundance again and it was great

I have sadly neglected my blogging duties of late, but I’m working to correct that issue by blasting through a few important bits of news concerning my current life.

Two weeks ago, I returned from my third trip to the Sundance Film Festival, and as my title might tell you, I enjoyed my time. The weather was the worst it’s been in my experience, but a few feet of snow hold no power against my will to see films and celebrities.

Without going into unnecessary detail about all parts of the trip—if that’s the kind of thing you’re looking for, I’m more than happy to share at another time—but I’ll fill you in on some of my favorite bits.

To begin, here’s the full list of the films I saw during our eight days:

  • Lion (seen in Salt Lake City)
  • Jackie (seen in Salt Lake City)
  • Dayveon
  • Lady Macbeth
  • The Discovery
  • Ingrid Goes West
  • Thoroughbred
  • Colossal
  • Lemon
  • Walking Out
  • Marjorie Prime
  • Band Aid
  • Burning Sands
  • Novitiate

So, over the course of the festival, I saw twelve films, attended three panels, and waited in a lot of lines. Below, I’ve given you some basic information about the films I most enjoyed and some other weird highlights of what happens when you go to a film festival in the mountains during some major snow. Enjoy!

The Films

First of all, I’m happy to say I had a very positive viewing experience at Sundance this year. Though I wasn’t completely blown away by any single film (like I was with Whiplash in 2014 and Manchester by the Sea in 2016), I also didn’t have any excessively negative reactions (I’m looking at you, Listen Up Philip and Wiener-Dog).

So here were my general favorites of the festival:

  • Dayveon, a realistic and quiet film about a young boy in Little Rock joining a gang. This is one to look for if you’re a fan of Moonlight.
  • Lady Macbeth, a Thomas Hardy-esque story of a young woman who marries a wealthy older man and has no qualms about using her new wealth and comfort to get exactly what she wants (featuring murder, sabotage, and a cute cat).
  • The Discovery, a film in which sci-fi and indie blend perfectly to create a world in which the Afterlife has been proven, and the national suicide rate has skyrocketed. This one will mess with all your expectations and leave your head spinning.
  • Thoroughbred, a dark comedy à la 90s classics like The Craft or Jawbreaker in which two wealthy high schoolers conspire to murder a parent. It’s all kinds of fun.
  • Lemon, a truly inexplicable film about a struggling actor and his odd life, featuring a song about matzoh balls that you will honestly never forget.
  • Band Aid, a quirky little comedy about a young married couple who decide, when counseling doesn’t help, to start a band and turn their fights into songs.

Overall, I’d say Lady Macbeth, The Discoveryand Band Aid were my real favorites. Thankfully, The Discovery makes its way to Netflix on March 31, and Lady Macbeth is set for a summer theatrical release.

Other Sundance Happenings

As I mentioned, I attended three panels during the festival, one of which provided me with a free copy of the first season of the Sundance TV drama Top of the Lake (I’m still very proud of winning this, if you can’t tell). But the real fun of Sundance for me—which I’m sure you know by now—is the people-watching, specifically since the people of Park City tend to be of the famous variety. This year, I again saw/met/stood awkwardly next to about 70 people of note. I won’t recount all of those sightings for you, but here are some of the best experiences. Check out the slideshow below for evidence.

  • I got to speak to Abbi Jacobson of “Broad City” and she was wonderful.
  • I was trapped outside a bathroom and nearly lost my spot in the waitlist line because Sam Elliott was standing next to me and I was apparently a threat to his well-being.
  • I was twice in close proximity to Robert Redford.
  • Laura Dern is a beauty and has great hair.
  • Standing next to Matt Bomer is like being next to a living Ken doll, except he’s nicer and more attractive and eats apples on-the-go.
  • I watched Dianna Agron get a severe scolding from a police officer because she didn’t use a crosswalk.
  • Laura Prepon is kind of scary and looks alienesque close-up.
  • Height-related matters: Jason Segel walked past me on the street and wasn’t as tall as I’d imagined. Tim Robbins is crazy tall. And Nicholas Hoult is taller than expected. Important facts!
  • Though traffic was too bad to arrive to the Women’s March on time from a film screening, I did get to rally with the remaining marchers. It was an emotional and encouraging experience.
  • I saw Gael García Bernal more days than I didn’t see him. At least five different days. And he is incredibly beautiful, though I have no photographic evidence to prove it. He wears cute glasses and a little headband and sits very still while watching movies. Maybe I’m too involved?
  •  I was very upset I hadn’t seen Peter Dinklage and was doing my best to find him. Then, for my last two film screenings, I literally sat right behind him. I defended him from a weirdo who kept hitting him with her coat. It was very exciting.
  • I stood in a waitlist line near Ryder Strong from “Boy Meets World” and caught him talking about me to his friend. It was weird and fun.
  • I ran into Nigel Barker several times because he was just, like, around (???), and I can say there’s significant reason he was a male model.
  • And finally…on my last night of the festival, I attended a concert featuring none other than Tony winner Daveed Diggs (of Hamilton fame), and on his thirty-fifth birthday, no less. And he was kind enough to take a picture with me.

I’m not sure I ever really thought I’d attend the Sundance Film Festival, but to have attended 3 times as a 25-year-old is not something I take for granted. Again, I am incredibly grateful for the people who have helped me get there (multiple times) and for the festival living up to my magical memories year after year. I hope to return many more times and share it with the people I love.

Until next time, Park City…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

2016 Sundance Film Festival: Another Magical Adventure

Hello, world! I started writing this post one week ago, as I sat in the Salt Lake City airport waiting for a flight to bring me home. This week has been the perfect time for reflecting on the magic of the 8 days that I spent in Utah. What a journey it was!

Between January 19 and January 27, I saw 10 feature films, 8 short films, watched a season of television, attended 4 panels, and basked in the presence of more than 70 celebrities.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is life at the Sundance Film Festival.

Now that I’ve returned home, where I’m in the thick of my final semester of grad school and my first semester as a course instructor, I’m excited to share with you a bit of insight into the joys of returning to Sundance.

So, without further ado, here are the highlights of my second Sundance adventure.

We flew out on Tuesday, January 19 and arrived to Park City amid a snow storm (thanks to our MVP Le Bus driver, Larry, for delivering us safely) that evening. The real adventuring didn’t begin until the following morning, when we ventured to Main Street in Park City, the unofficial hub of Sundance. We also made this journey in more serious snow, but it at least made for some lovely photos of the Egyptian theatre.

IMG_1880.JPGFor the rest of Wednesday, we made our way back down the mountain to Salt Lake City, where we had the freedom to roam and enjoy a movie and meal on WKU’s dime (which is now officially my favorite activity). We spent time in a great, cheap little theater run by the Salt Lake Film Society where I was able to see both Spotlight and Room over the course of the day. I also wandered past the monstrous Mormon temple and through a bit more of downtown Salt Lake before we went back up to Park City. I was so happy for the chance to squeeze in another couple of the Oscar-nominated films, and it felt like the perfect way to pre-game for the festival.

Thursday, January 21

Thursday the 21st was the first official day of the festival. I began the day with an early trip to the box office, where I had the bad fortune of being the first person in line not to get tickets to the festival’s opening night film, so that was a big bummer. That’s one I’ll have to catch later, and based on others’ recommendations, it’s well worth it (the movie is Other People, for reference).

However, Thursday wasn’t a total bust. After attending the festival in 2014, I felt a little disappointed at never having seen Robert Redford, who founded the festival 32 years ago. Luckily, a few of us caught sight of him leaving the festival’s opening day press conference and were able to say a quick hello before he left (my mom’s comment on this occurrence: “you got to see him smile?” because we all know what a gift that is).

That evening, after being unable to purchase tickets earlier, I attempted the e-waitlists for both of the opening night films: the documentary Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You and the feature film Other People (no luck in either case, sadly). However, for the second film, I happened to arrive at the theater just as its cast did, so I was able to begin my favorite hobby of stargazing. At the allowance of a very kind festival volunteer, I was able to sneak into a very close spot, but I’m going to blame my crappy and/or nonexistent photos on my excitement at the revelry.

My favorite moment of the night, though, was witnessing a lovely little Friday Night Lights reunion between Jesse Plemons and Jurnee Smollett-Bell. There was lots of excited yelling and hugging and discussion of upcoming jobs. And no one but me (and those involved) seemed to appreciate it! What a nice moment.

Celebrity sightings: Robert Redford, Adam Scott, Jesse Plemons, Judd Apatow, Maude Apatow, Molly Shannon, Jurnee Smollett-Bell

Friday, January 22

Since I was unlucky in screenings on Thursday, Friday was my real start to the festival, and I began my time attending the Shorts Package 1 screening at the Egyptian in the morning. During my previous experience, I neither attended a shorts package nor any screening at the Egyptian, so this was a great way to build my Sundance experiences, and the shorts themselves were quite enjoyable overall. My favorites were Killer, a story about a boy who masturbates for the first time with some unexpected and serious repercussions, Maman(s), a beautiful Senegalese film about a young girl facing the reality that her parents are imperfect, and The Shining Star of Losers Everywhere, a joyful (and weirdly weepy) documentary about a winless Japanese racehorse.

IMG_1948

Norman Lear and Lena Dunham during the first Cinema Cafe panel

A big part of my reasoning for attending this screening specifically was my desire to be close to Main Street to get a good spot in line for the first of the Cinema Café panels: a conversation between Norman Lear and Lena Dunham. Thankfully, my plan was successful, and I got to spend a delightful hour in the company of two of TV’s most influential figures.

Later on Friday, I happened to run across the cast of Other People again, and got to have a lovely little chat with Jesse Plemons, who, after I told him how much I loved his season of Fargo, stopped and walked over to me to talk about it. We agreed that Kirsten Dunst was wonderful and discussed his reunion with Jurnee from the previous night. And as he started to walk away, he turned back and asked my name, shook my hand, and said how nice it had been to meet me. So, we’re friends now. Definitely.

I also spent a weird minute or two following Nick Jonas up Main Street, because, as a long-time Jonas Brothers fanatic, there’s really no other appropriate response to finding one of them. I was also lucky enough, that night, to get into the world premiere of Goat, the movie Nick was there to promote. Goat is both a physically and psychologically brutal portrayal of fraternity hazing that speaks to larger issues of masculinity and male identity. Nick Jonas and Ben Schnetzer both gave stand-out performances as the film’s lead actors. After seeing this film, I think it’s safe to say Nick will continue to surprise the entertainment world with his talents. Also, in a weird turn of events, I ended up exiting the screening of Goat with Lena Dunham and the Apatows (because somehow we were always in the same places), so I told Lena quickly about my thesis project. She vocalized her support and gave me a friendly arm rub, so I think I’m on the path to success.

IMG_1977

Director Andrew Neel, stars Nick Jonas and Ben Schnetzer, and the ensemble from Goat

Though Friday was an all-around great day, the undisputed highlight goes to… My third encounter with Daniel Radcliffe. I don’t know what I’ve done in life to be so utterly lucky, but, after failing to secure a spot in the premiere screening of the controversial Swiss Army Man, I hung out at the back of the Eccles theater, the biggest of Sundance’s venues, to see the cast depart. We first watched U.S. Dramatic Competition jury members Jon Hamm and Lena Dunham leave the screening and act like the weirdos they are, which was particularly entertaining. And then Daniel came out, started taking pictures, and after we got a photo, I was able to thank him for being so kind each time we’ve met. He was (of course) gracious, asking where we’d met before, and told me he’s likely returning to Broadway soon (which I think is very important information), and shook my hand and said he was happy to have met me again.

IMG_1966

As evidenced by this photo, sometimes lightning strikes thrice.

There’s a specific joy in meeting such a person as him, who’s been such an important part of my life, and I can’t believe I was fortunate enough to do it a third time.

Celebrity sightings: Abigail Spencer, Norman Lear, Lena Dunham, Adam Scott, Judd Apatow, Maude Apatow, Jesse Plemons, Molly Shannon, Nick Jonas, Ben Schnetzer, Jon Hamm, Daniel Radcliffe, Paul Dano, Julianne Nicholson

Saturday, January 23

Saturday was both a great day and a bummer. I only saw one film Saturday, and it was my least favorite of the festival: Todd Solondz’s Wiener-Dog, an unfunny and bizarre story of the lives through which one dachshund weaves. The film is told in vignettes of sorts, but the only one really worth watching is the third in the film, which stars Danny DeVito. Tracy Letts and Julie Delpy give awful performances in the opening scenes, Greta Gerwig is an unbelievable nerdy vet tech with a long-lasting crush on Kieran Culkin, and Zosia Mamet gives a sweet performance as Ellen Burstyn’s burn-out granddaughter. For anyone considering this movie, let me just warn you: despite how the film is advertised, it’s not meant for animal lovers. Even if you enjoy it (like many of my fellow audiences members seemed to), the ending shots undo any joy you might experience. This is a film with unnecessarily gratuitous and vulgar shots that make me more disgusted and annoyed the more I think about it.

Okay, rant over.

So, the good part of Saturday was that it’s the best day during the festival for celebrity following, so I was in my glory. After attending the morning’s lackluster screening, I traveled to Main Street to practice my favorite hobby, and ended up being quite successful.

Though it’s always fun to see a celebrity walk by, I had a couple favorite experiences of the day. First, seeing Kyle Chandler up close and personal was, you know, okay. Even better than seeing Kyle Chandler alone, though, was seeing another Friday Night Lights reunion with Jesse Plemons. Upon their exit from the studio, things got weird. First, Kyle Chandler came out and immediately started discussing The Simpsons with someone. Then, when I asked Jesse for a photo since I’d missed that opportunity the day before, he agreed, but as he leaned in for the photo, Casey Affleck came around the corner, saying, “yeah, take a picture with Jesse,” and proceeded to grab my wrist and wave my hand around.

Because I don’t know the proper etiquette when a famous person touches you and acts like a (well-intentioned) weirdo, I’m pretty sure the only thing I said in response was “thank you, Casey Affleck.” Not my smoothest moment.

IMG_2039

My friendship with Jesse Plemons is very real.

Later than afternoon, I was able to connect with another person of interest for my thesis project: Zoe Kazan, who also wished me luck and thanked me for using her as a source.

Other fun highlights from the day: pushing a timid fan to meet Viggo Mortensen and seeing her cry happy tears when he hugged her; arguing with a dumb guy who was convinced Abigail Spencer was actually Evangeline Lilly; watching Kate Beckinsale float around like the beautiful angel she is; standing next to a confused Jared Harris for a few minutes while he checked his phone

Celebrity sightings: Bradley Whitford, Nick Jonas, Rebecca Hall, Tracy Letts, Michael C. Hall, Judd Apatow, Maude Apatow, Timothy Simons, Chelsea Handler, J. Smith-Cameron, Kyle Chandler, Casey Affleck, John Legend, Gilbert Gottfried, Charlie Day, John Krasinski, Josh Groban, Don Cheadle, David Giuntoli, Jesse Plemons, George Mackay, Margo Martindale, Chloë Sevingy, Kate Beckinsale, Rose Macgowan, Abigail Spencer, Viggo Mortensen, Bryce Dallas Howard, Abby Elliott, Chris Elliott, Greta Gerwig, Jena Malone, Adrian Grenier, Paul Dano, Jared Harris, Zoe Kazan

Sunday, January 24

IMG_2044

The cast and crew of Manchester by the Sea

Thankfully, Sunday morning’s screening was my favorite of the festival and very much made up for my Wiener-Dog annoyance. I attended Manchester by the Sea, a film that’s been the clear festival favorite (it wasn’t in competition, so it wasn’t eligible for the Grand Jury or Audience awards) and one that will almost certainly be on the awards circuit next year.

IMG_2048

Being friends with Kyle Chandler

The film tells the story of Lee Chandler (played wonderfully by Casey Affleck), an isolated man who becomes guardian of his teenage nephew after his brother’s death (Kyle Chandler plays the brother in flashbacks). This is the kind of movie that emotionally wrecks you, but it’s totally worth the temporary turmoil.

After the screening, I managed to nab a quick (and not so great, sadly) photo with Kyle Chandler, and we bonded over how great the movie was.

After the screening, I went back to Main Street to pass some time before hopefully attending an afternoon panel. In the meantime, I saw several people come and go, including Anderson Cooper and the cast of Kevin Smith’s Yoga Hosers (more on that film in a minute). Also, while walking to go get a bagel, I passed Chrissy Teigen on the street, and the beautiful bombshell you’ve all been imagining.

I was happy to attend a panel on the controversial film Swiss Army Man Sunday afternoon, but sad that the panel didn’t even last 30 minutes. Though the film had a significant number of walk-outs during its premiere on Friday, hearing the cast and crew talk about it–and the motivation behind the “farting corpse” everyone’s been talking about–made it seem a bit more understandable.

IMG_2056

Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano during the Swiss Army Man panel

After returning to my hotel for a late evening nap (only at Sundance do you take a nap from 8-10 PM), I made my way to the Library theater for the premiere screening of Kevin Smith’s latest film, Yoga Hosers. The film itself is bizarre and mediocre, but being part of the premiere screening and sitting directly in front of the film’s cast made it a great experience. Yoga Hosers stars Smith’s daughter, Harley Quinn Smith, and Johnny Depp’s daughter, Lily-Rose, as self-obsessed teenage store clerks forced to take on an unexpected enemy. Smith himself described the movie as “a superhero movie without the superheroes.” It certainly isn’t great, but it’s fun and silly and entertaining if you’re in the right mood. After a long and emotional introductory speech and Q&A by Kevin Smith and the cast, I arrived back to my hotel room around 2:45 AM, ready to crash.

IMG_2065

The cast of Yoga Hosers during the film’s post-screening Q&A

Other fun highlights of the day: making Justin Long laugh when I told him he’s a good Hollywood Game Night player, physically bonding with Sam Neill as we stood back-to-back while he was hounded for autographs, eavesdropping on Lily-Rose Depp while she talked about her dad

Celebrity sightings: Kyle Chandler, Casey Affleck, Lena Dunham, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Allison Brie, Nick Kroll, Anderson Cooper, Justin Long, Tyler Posey, Austin Butler, Kevin Smith, Harley Quinn Smith, Lily-Rose Depp, Sam Neill, Timothy Simons, Tracy Letts, Jason Mewes, Chrissy Teigen, Daniel Radcliffe, Paul Dano, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Matthew Gray Gubler, Natasha Lyonne, Chloë Sevigny, Sasheer Zamata

Monday, January 25

IMG_2077

The cast and crew of Lovesong

After a very late night, I let myself sleep in and attended a 12:15 screening of the premiere of Lovesong, a lovely little movie starring Jena Malone and Riley Keough (though the daughters of the film director who have small roles totally steal the show). One of the film’s nicest surprises was a time and location jump that shifted to Nashville. It’s always nice to see an unexpected and familiar landscape.

Following the screening, a friend and I made our way to the theater’s back entrance and took photos with Jena Malone, who was sweet and cute and very pregnant. Since we have the same birthday, I assume we’re soul sisters or something.

IMG_2087

Another new friendship!

We also hung around a bit as the cast and crew of Nate Parker’s Grand Jury and Audience Award-winning The Birth of a Nation arrived, but it was apparently very difficult to get into the screening. While we walked back to the bus stop, this picture happened (please excuse my mitten fuzz as I was staring into the sun and couldn’t see what I was doing while I took this).

IMG_2102

Park City is pretty.

After relaxing a bit in my hotel, I ventured out again with a good waitlist number for the premiere of Complete Unknown, which left me less than impressed. I was very excited by the cast–the festival guide listed Rachel Weisz, Michael Shannon, Kathy Bates, and Danny Glover as leads–but the film itself annoyed me for many reasons, and the more I’ve thought about it since, the more I find to be annoyed about (Have you ever known someone to apply to an elite jewelry school? Yeah, me neither). As it turns out, this was one of the most Manic Pixie Dream Girl movies of the festival, which I certainly didn’t expect. While it seemed like plenty of people enjoyed the film, this one wasn’t for me.

Celebrity sightings: Jena Malone, Riley Keough, Brooklyn Decker, Aja Naomi King, Jackie Earle Haley, Armie Hammer, Gabrielle Union, Nate Parker, Michael Shannon

Tuesday, January 26

On our last day at the festival, I tried to make the most of my time. The morning began with an early screening of First Girl I Loved, which turned out to be another of my very favorites. This is a very real story of Anne, a high school student who’s realizing she has a crush on a girl for the first time. Dylan Gelula and Brianna Hildebrand both give great performances as the film’s leads.

IMG_2109

The cast and crew of First Girl I Loved

Perhaps the most emotional moment of the screening was during the Q&A when a teary audience member said she wished a film like this had existed for her while in high school and asked about getting queer representation in screen. Needless to say, the whole room was in tears after that.

After eating a free brunch (thanks, Chase Sapphire on Main!), I attended two panels on Main Street. The first featured the creative teams behind the films Morris from America and White Girl, neither of which I saw at the festival, but I hope to see them in the coming months.

After seeing another batch of celebrities leaving the Variety studio (hey again, Jason Ritter and Melanie Lynskey!), I attended my final panel of the festival: a discussion of the film Mr. Pig, featuring director Diego Luna and actors Maya Rudolph and Danny Glover. The film hadn’t yet premiered, but it definitely sound like one worth seeing. Who doesn’t want to watch those two costar with a giant pig?

IMG_2115

Panel on Mr. Pig

My final screening of the festival was thankfully another great one: Yorgos Lanthmos’s bizarre The Lobster. This film premiered at Cannes in 2015 and was just as joyfully strange as I’d hoped. A chubby Colin Farrell stars as David, a recently single man who must check into a singles hotel where he has 45 days to find a mate or be turned into the animal of his choice and released into the wild. The film is darkly comic and strange, but one I totally enjoyed (though I imagine it’s not for everyone).

Then, after a class dinner, I returned to my hotel for a quiet night before getting up early for our flight home (weird airport moment: seeing Moises Arias from Hannah Montana who looks like he may or may not be a murderer).

Celebrity sightings: Dylan Gelula, Lewis Black, Jason Ritter, Ben Schwartz, Melanie Lynskey, Clea Duvall, Diego Luna, Danny Glover, Maya Rudolph, Keith Stanfield, Samm Levine, Mateo Arias, Moises Arias

___________________

Needless to say, Sundance 2016 was another magical whirlwind, an another joyous experience I’ll treasure forever. Thank you SO much to the wonderful people at WKU for allowing me to return to Park City. Though I’ve always followed Sundance coverage, I never imagined I’d be able to attend the festival twice before turning 25. Thank you to everyone who made this experience possible.

Until next time, Sundance.

IMG_1888

 

2014: A Recap

I don’t think it’s even necessary to say that 2014 has been really, really good to me. Some of my wildest dreams came true this year and I am immensely happy and grateful for what was easily the best year of my life. Here’s a quick recap of the best things that happened to me in 2014.

  1. I went to the Sundance Film Festival. Really, this blog post could end after this first thing on this list, because Sundance was undoubtedly the most life-changing thing I experienced this year. I loved every moment of it (even when I got sick and lost my voice for a few days). Nothing can ever really live up to the experience of Sundance and watching awesome movies with the actors and directors and producers and creators in the room. Sundance, I can’t wait to see you again soon. Thanks for the best 10 days I’ve ever spent.
  2. I graduated from college and decided what I want to do with my life. This May, I graduated from Western Kentucky University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Popular Culture Studies (plus a second major in French and a minor in Performing Arts Administration). I adore WKU, so much, in fact, that I’m now one semester into a two-year English literature Master’s program at WKU. It’s very strange to know that I have a degree that qualifies me to do things. For the foreseeable future, though, I’ll still be in school; my career plan sees me finishing a Master’s and hopefully doctorate in the coming years so I can become a professor at a university. My post-graduation plans certainly didn’t going according to Plan A (or Plan B or Plan C, for that matter), but I’ve learned so much in the last year, both in school and about my own passions. I can’t wait to see what 2015 has in store.
  3. I started living with one of my best friends. I’ve been fortunate that I lived with three of my closest friends during my four years as an undergrad, so it’s pretty lucky that I’m continuing that tradition as a grad student as well. Ryan and I have known each other for about 17 years (I can’t believe I’m old enough to say that), so living together is quite normal. To answer the question I’ve been asked many times, no, we aren’t dating/married/engaged/expecting any kind of lifelong commitment, but we are essentially the same person and have nearly lived together for the past few years because of how much time we spend together, so it just makes sense that our cohabitation is finally official.
  4. I had two more wonderful trips to New York. In case this is still unclear to you, I’m rather skilled at going to New York and meeting famous people. 2014 brought about two of these trips, once in May and once just recently in December. Between these trips, I once again met a number of celebrities and managed to reconnect with friends in the process. It’s a pretty perfect way to spend a few days, if I do say so myself.
  5. I read and watched lots and lots of great things. I’ve already posted my “year in review” blogs about my favorite reading and watching projects this year, so consult those if you’re looking for recommendations. I’m ending 2014 having read 91 books, watched 145 new (to me) movies, and 23 completed TV series. If I had all the time in the world, I’d be doing these things nonstop. Considering I’m a full-time student with a graduate assistantship that keeps me plenty busy, I’m quite content with my progress this year. I can only hope 2015 will be this good to me.

Sundance 2014: The Most Magical Time of My Life

IMG_0197

This is me, standing in front of the Egyptian Theater at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

You know how there are those milestone events that every person needs to experience in life? Like graduating from college, getting married, having kids, or even just reading a really great book? Well, the Sundance Film Festival was one of my milestones. I’m only 22-years-old, so I haven’t really had the chance to experience many of those other things (though I have lived a pretty amazingly privileged life), but Sundance was the kind of thing I never thought I’d have done by this age. However, I attended a presentation in February of 2013 on my college campus about the Oscars, and when the presenter (one of my former professors) mentioned after the presentation that he was working on organization a Study Away course to the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, I made the decision to do everything possible to make myself a part of that program.

Flash forward eleven months to January 14, 2014, when I boarded an airplane headed to Salt Lake City, en route to Park City, Utah, the location of the annual Sundance Film Festival. From that moment through the following ten days, my life was nothing short of extraordinary. If you know anything about me, you probably know that I like celebrities and all things pop culture (it is my major, after all), so Sundance was a mecca of sorts for me. My ten days in Park City resulted in me seeing 14 feature-length films, 2 short films, and nearly 60 celebrities. These statistics, in my mind, represent ten days very well spent. So here is my little way of trying to cram all the gloriousness that was Sundance into a few words in one small blog post. In the following paragraphs, you’ll find my reviews of the films I saw, lists of the celebrities I met, and any small tidbits I can try to fit in, though there’s no way I can do the reality justice. If you’d like to know more, trust me, you’d only be indulging me by asking, so feel free.

Celebrities I Saw at Sundance:

  • Mark Ruffalo, Christina Hendricks, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy, Luke Wilson, Elizabeth Olsen, Mark Duplass, Bob Odenkirk, Bill Hader, Mandy Patinkin, Donald Faison, Mekhi Phifer, Ben Schwartz, Karen Gillan, Emily Browning, Hannah Murray, Pierre Boulanger, Stuart Murdoch, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Jason Momoa, Christopher Meloni, Gabourey Sidibe, Anne Hathaway, Mary Steenburgen, Shiloh Fernandez, Billy Crudup, Lilly Collins, Mark Indelicato, Joe Swanberg, Steve Coogan, Matt Walsh, Ted Danson, Michael C. Hall, William H. Macy

Celebrities I Interacted With at Sundance:

  • Joe Manganiello, Aaron and Lauren Paul. John Slattery (who spent a few minutes with my friends and me discussing our lives), Richard Ayoade, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chloe Grace Moretz, Sam Rockwell (with whom I discussed my fear of him since seeing him in The Green Mile), Dan Stevens, Jorge Garcia, Elijah Wood, Richard Schiff, Miles Teller, John Carroll Lynch, Mark Webber, Cameron Monaghan, Jason Ritter (who wished me a happy 13th birthday), Melanie Lynskey, Olly Alexander, Jim O’Heir, Shailene Woodley, Josh Wiggins, Deke Gardner, and Amy Poehler (the queen of my life)

DSC06523

Aaron Paul entering the world premiere of his film, Hellion.

DSC06559

My friend Kaitlynn and me with Jason Ritter.

DSC06585

My friend Kaitlynn and me with Jim O’Heir, star of Parks and Recreation.

1551776_10153719658510483_120177371_n

Jorge Garcia, star of Lost, and me at the world premiere of The Guest.

Movies I Saw at Sundance:

  • The Double — This was definitely a successful way to start of my Sundance viewings. The Double had its premiere last fall at the Toronto International Film Festival, but it was still exciting to see it much earlier than the general public. The plot can be a bit confusing, and there’s no real sense of setting (a conscious choice on the director’s part), but the story is compelling and weird enough to keep you hooked. Jesse Eisenberg stars, playing two different characters who are essentially people with opposite personalities but identical appearances. If you’re into cerebral dramas (with a strong infusion of comedy), this is a movie for you.
  • The Guest — Putting my feelings about this movie into words has been a serious struggle. The Guest stars Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey fame as “David,” a man who’s just returned from a military tour in the Middle East and heads straight to the family of a fallen comrade. From the opening scenes, The Guest is clearly a spoof of sorts, making fun of the conventions of horror and thriller films. The movie is never exactly scary, but it does follow the same formula of many horror films. It’s very fun to watch, especially if you pick up on the multitude of references to Stanley Kubrick, John Carpenter, and Quentin Tarantino that the film makes. My only warning to my fellow Downton fanatics: Dan Stevens is playing someone completely, 100% different from Matthew Crawley. Be warned. You’re bound to have some serious emotions about this.

IMG_0239

 

Dan Stevens, star of The Guest and Downton Abbey, with me at the world premiere of The Guest.

 

  • Laggies — Laggies is the kind of movie that is almost certain to find success with “indie” summer audiences. This is the story of Megan (Keira Knightley), a twenty-eight-year-old experiencing a quarter-life crisis, who befriends Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz), a sixteen-year-old high school rebel. The movie is cute, funny, and sweet, but never really challenges the audience in any way. I would’ve preferred if it had been a bit edgier, but it was enjoyable as is, and I’m sure it will delight mass audiences upon its theatrical release.
  • God’s Pocket — God’s Pocket, John Slattery’s feature film directorial debut, is the story of several seedy characters in the late 1970s in New York. Despite its star-studded cast (which includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christina Hendricks, and Richard Jenkins), I didn’t really feel like this one hit the mark. I wasn’t entirely interested in the story, and it felt like the film was trying to cover too many plot lines in 90 minutes. The story was adapted from a novel, so I would like to think the the stories might be more flushed out on the page than they were on screen. Unfortunately, this ranked among my least favorite films I saw.

1044384_10201295961457268_289160991_n

 

My friends Kaitlynn and Lendee and me with John Slattery, director of the Sundance film God’s Pocket and star of Mad Men.

  • God Help the Girl — We now move to one of my very favorite films I saw at Sundance, a musical written by Stuart Murdoch of the band Belle and Sebastian. God Help the Girl is 111 minutes of pure, unadulterated joy, enhanced by a talented young cast who exemplify the therapeutic abilities of music. I cannot wait for this film to be released in some capacity where I can see it again and listen to the soundtrack over and over and over. I’m obsessed, which you might be able to tell from the glee on my face in the following picture.

DSC06582

 

Olly Alexander, star of God Help the Girl and the cutest person ever, with me after the world premiere of his film.

  • Somewhere in the Valley… — This was the first short film I saw, and one I’m more than happy to forget. The plot line and jokes felt very forced, and the story was entirely unbelievable (though, according to the director, the story was based on something that really happened in Europe. Go figure.). I was very unimpressed by this film, but, thankfully, it was no indication of the quality of the film it preceded: La Bare.
  • La Bare — A documentary about male strippers directed by an actor from Magic Mike? What more can you want? (Okay, just kidding. Kind of.) La Bare is indeed a documentary about male strippers in Texas directed by Joe Manganiello of Magic Mike and True Blood fame, but it isn’t really the movie it sounds like. Just like Magic Mike, La Bare is about much more than male strippers, and I think Manganiello did a fantastic job in his directorial debut of capturing the nuances of the men he profiled, making them something much more than just caricatures of themselves. This shows that Manganiello might have a more promising future in entertainment that you’d expect, so watch out for him.

DSC06594

Joe Manganiello, director of La Bare and star of Magic Mike and True Blood, with me after the world premiere of his film.

  • Hellion — Hellion is the kind of movie that sticks with you. This film tells the story of a young family in Texas, broken by the loss of the two young sons’ mother. Josh Wiggins and Deke Gardner play these boys and deliver standout performances as kids caught between wrong and right, and they are certainly young actors you should look out for. Aaron Paul and Juliette Lewis also give great performances as the only, semi-present adults in these kids’ lives. The final scenes in the film are both heartbreaking and frightening, and will certainly leave audiences with much to ponder for a long time after it ends.

DSC06607

 

Aaron Paul, Josh Wiggins, and Deke Gardner during the Q&A after a screening of their film, Hellion.

  • Song One — Song One is the kind of movie that I can’t stop thinking about, but not in a good way. One of the first things I said after seeing it (the same point that was made by a critic from Variety) was that if the setting of this movie was moved south a few states to North Carolina, it’d be the story straight from the pages of Nicholas Sparks. Anne Hathaway stars as Franny, a doctoral student who returns home upon hearing that her (somewhat estranged) brother is in a coma after being hit by a car. The brother, Henry, is an aspiring musician, which leads Franny to contact his favorite singer, with whom she starts a romantic relationship. See the Nicholas Sparks happening? Overall, the movie was fine, nothing more, nothing less. Mary Steenburgen was the film’s highlight as Franny and Henry’s scene-stealing mother. Kind of a forgettable movie, though, and one I’m not likely to recommend.

DSC06619

 

The cast (featuring Mary Steenburgen and Anne Hathaway) and director of Song One.

  • White Bird in a Blizzard — I didn’t really know what to expect from this film, but I’m very glad I saw it. Shailene Woodley stars as Kat, a girl trying to move on after her mother disappears. Though the movie sounds like a drama, it’s much funnier than you’d expect, and the comedy paired with the stylized cinematography make for a very entertaining movie experience. Also, watch out for a twist ending. It’s totally worth it.

IMG_0290

The director and cast (including Gabourey Sidibe, Shailene Woodley, and Christopher Meloni) of White Bird in a Blizzard.

  • Funnel — This was the second short film I saw, presented before our screening of Happy Christmas. Based on our first short film experience, I was a little wary of this one, but I was very pleasantly surprised. Funnel was hilariously funny and entertaining, with a deceptively simple plot focused on a man walking back to his car from a gas station after his car has stopped working. If you have a chance to see this, you should.
  • Happy Christmas — After recently watching Drinking Buddies, Joe Swanberg’s last film, I was very excited to see Happy Christmas, a movie starring Anna Kendrick as a somewhat lost twentysomething. The entire cast is great, and features a breakout performance by Swanberg’s two-year-old son, Jude (seriously, this baby is talented). The most surprising and impressive aspect of the film came in the Q&A following the screening, when Swanberg revealed to the audience that his cast improvised the entire movie from a twelve-page outline he’d written. This knowledge will give viewers a whole new perspective on this smart and entertaining film. I look forward to more work from Swanberg in the near future.

IMG_0291

Joe Swanberg, director and star of Happy Christmas, during a Q&A after a screening of his film.

  • The Skeleton Twins — This has been one of the most talked about films of Sundance this year, noted for Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig’s unexpectedly great performances in dramatic roles. In that regard, it’s satisfying to see that Hader and Wiig won’t be disappearing from fame after their respective departures from Saturday Night Live. This is a smart, well-acted, relatable family drama that’s sure to attract audiences, and one that will hopefully solidify Hader’s and Wiig’s roles as respected Hollywood actors.
  • Listen Up Philip — Listen Up Philip was the only Sundance film that I actively disliked. Despite the cast that I was very excited about (Jason Schwartzman, Elisabeth Moss, Krysten Ritter), I found this film exhausting, sexist, and annoying. Philip, played by Schwartzman, is completely unlikeable as a floundering writer; I never felt an ounce of sympathy toward him. The women in the film were the only slightly likelable characters, but their portrayal as victims of the men in their lives made them all seem dependent and pathetic, and I couldn’t really identify with them either. It should also be noted that I found the film’s director Alex Ross Perry to be kind of repulsive in the Q&A following the screening. He clearly put the worst of himself onscreen in the characters of Philip and Ike (Jonathan Price), and I didn’t find it at all enjoyable.
  • Whiplash — Thankfully, in light of the experience of Listen Up Philip, my next film was the most (deservedly) buzzed about film of Sundance: the opening night film, Whiplash. Whiplash is a movie about an aspiring jazz drummer (played by the fantastic Miles Teller) and his formidable teacher Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). The plot line is simple, but the movie is executed brilliantly, including sharp editing that only serves to enhance the strong musical elements of the film. If the final sequence of the film doesn’t leave you feeling surprised, breathless, and inspired, you’ve done something wrong. I really hope this film’s longevity plays out to keep in on the awards circuit radar for 2015, because it’s definitely deserving.

1044506_10153720797370483_1173092486_n

My friend Kaitlynn and me with Miles Teller, star of Whiplash, on Main Street in Park City.

  • Freedom Summer — My final film at Sundance was a documentary about the summer of 1964 in Mississippi and the movement known as Freedom Summer in which primarily white college students traveled south to attempt to shed light on the racial injustices in the state. Though the subject matter was great, I didn’t feel like the film was executed as perfectly as it could have been, but it was still an interesting experience. The film was made in collaboration with PBS, and I think that’s quite clear in the way it’s put together; it felt much more like a TV documentary than one made for theaters. Despite these small qualms, I think this is an important film for Americans to see, especially since this is a relatively unknown movement in our not-so-distant past that should be a source of inspiration for the continuing social injustices in America today.

So, in a nutshell, these were the highlights of my Sundance experience. I’ve now returned to the real world, where I’m two days into my final semester as an undergraduate student (whaaat?). Here’s hoping that the buzz of Sundance doesn’t wear off until graduation! Sundance, I’ll see you in 2015.