The Double waitlistMy third year at Sundance definitely meant seeing more familiar faces, more invitations to parties, and the weather was just phenomenal for this Minnesota boy with polar vortex overload. Not even the buggy eWaitlist could get me down for long. Thankfully, the app was updated and I had better success with tickets starting on the third day. And my week was completely made when I got email notification that I had received free tickets to the exclusive and intimate Belle & Sebastian concert (in support of their film “God Help The Girl“).Belle and Sebastian at Sundance

As far as movies go, I saw a couple less than last year and while there wasn’t a huge breakout hit that had the media talking, on the street the crowd favorite was clearly “Whiplash,” with Miles Teller and J. K. Simmons. I saw the short film last year and was blown away so it was frustrating to be unable to get tickets every time it screened.

DWP hatThe other shutouts this year were for both Minnesota-made films, “Dear White People” and “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter.” Both films were favorites for audiences and critics but didn’t garner any huge deals. The MN Film Board party for DWP was a loud dance party and the hats were totally awesome (they actually fit my huge cranium).

So what did I see that I liked? I’d have to say my favorite overall film was Kat Candler’s “Hellion” with Aaron Paul (I touched his arm when said congratulations, that’s weird, right?) and Josh Wiggins. A story about fathers and sons and tough towns and hard living and bleak futures. Wiggins delivered and all supporting roles were well done, although Juliette Lewis was so… normal.

Probably my next favorite film was Martha Stevens’ “Land Ho!,” which could well be a sleeper hit when it is released. Following two retired friends on a surprise road trip to Iceland, the duo traipse their way across the landscape with no real goal in mind. Paul Eenhoorn (“This is Martin Bonner) is the perfect restrained foil to outlandish, lewd, and inappropriate newcomer Earl Lynn Nelson (Stevens’ real-life relative!). He’s so crass and so laid back and so real, you just can’t help but love him. [Update: grab a cup of coffee and read all about their crazy awesome week at Sundance]

To keep this post reasonable, I’m going to keep the remaining movies short… oh, did I mention we also just walked right into the Fela band concert? That was such a crazy-great night of music! You should see this group play.The Fela band

The new Jim Jarmusch film, “Only Lovers Left Alive,” was moody and awesome. Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, and John Hurt are delightful as vampires. If you liked “Dead Man,” I bet you’d love this. A great soundtrack, of course.

Charlie McDowell’s “The One I Love” feels a lot like the awesome “Safety Not Guaranteed,” which also features the talents of Mark Duplass, along with Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men). I loved the story and loved that the sci-fi/surreal parts were just played straight. Mark is a pretty funny guy at a Q&A.

Jeremy and Richard Ayoade

The other film I saw with a similar story, if that can be said, was Richard Ayoade’s “The Double.” I immediately thought it was a mix of “Brazil” and “Rear Window” and “Fight Club” with some influence of Avi and Harmony Korine and all based on a Dostoevsky story. Jesse Eisenberg plays the lead role well and Mia Wasikowska was stellar. Audiences were mixed but I loved it. My wife’s brain exploded when she saw the picture with Moss.

Ira Sachs was back at Sundance with his loving and charming story of aging together starring Jon Lithgow and Alfred Molina, “Love Is Strange.” They are both so natural as a couple, you’d think they actually did live together for decades.Love Is Strange QA at Sundance

White Bird in a Blizzard” proved to me that Shailene Woodley is probably the top-notch young actress working right now. Gregg Araki’s film is more accessible than some of his previous work, which apparently disappointed some. I secretly loved that her two best friends could’ve walked off the set and joined the cast of Death To Prom seamlessly. Eva Green goes off the rails and the soundtrack is perfection.

Lynn Shelton’s “Laggies” made me appreciate Keira Knightley again, feeling rather like a new take on the “Garden State” vibe and with favorites Chloe Grace Moretz and Sam Rockwell.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night graphic novel

To wrap up this years festival, the two films that just didn’t work for me were the over-praised “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night,” the first Iranian Western/Vampire movie. It should’ve worked brilliantly and looked great in B&W, but was too unfocused and too long. As a short it would’ve killed. The other film to leave me wanting was “The Foxy Merkins,” a homeless lesbian prostitute buddy comedy. It needed more focus, tighter editing, and higher production values.

The dreaded Sundance cold/flu caught up with three of us in the condo, and we had to very reluctantly cancel a birthday party, but we all had a good time this year and look forward to next year. Seriously, the plans are already in the making. If I could only get rid of this cough…

If you want other links to all the movies I saw this year, check out my Sundance 2014 Letterboxd list.