The Most Sundance-y Sundance Films at This Year’s Sundance Festival

This year’s batch of indies is so independent that it’s kind of hard to tell them apart.

To say that the Sundance Film Festival, which kicks off today in Utah, has altered the independent film landscape would be a crazy understatement. In fact, its impact is so broadly felt that filmmakers are now specifically tailoring their work to appeal to the festival’s sensibilities, which favor sad clowns, quirky cousins, and a hell of a lot of wist. The math is pretty simple: Throw in some indie rock and a kid with some soulful eyes, and you’ve got a bidding war between distributors.

The master of the Sundance form is the extremely imitable Noah Baumbach, director of Greenberg and The Squid & The Whale. In tribute to Baumbach and this year’s so-Sundance-we-can’t-take-it field of entries, Maxim offers a look at some of the festival’s highlights, replete with their Baumbach ranking, a system that would rate Fast & Furious 19  as a “0/10” and Wes Anderson presents Franny and Zooey as “8/10” – if we’re being generous. 

Don Verdean

Sam Rockwell plays a sad academic (an archeologist if you must know), who tries to fill a void in his psyche by telling a cosmic lie. Jemaine Clement shows up along with Will Forte, who plays against type as a preacher. Everyone has beards. No one is happy. The ending is sweet, but a little dark in the sort of way that makes you want to go out for sushi and really talk the thing through.

Baumbachs: 5/10

True Story

Two comic actors tackle the true story of a reporter and the murderer that tried to seduce him into some sort of Oscar-worthy symbiosis. Jonah Hill and James Franco try to go the length of a feature movie without making a dick joke. Basically, stunt filmmaking.

Baumbachs: 6/10

Mississippi Grind

Ostensibly, this is a dramedy about a gambler making his way to New Orleans one bad bet at a time, but it’s actually about Ryan Reynolds trying to pull a Ryan Gosling and become as respected as he is pretty. Oh yeah, the director also made Half Nelson, the film that made Ryan Gosling into Ryan Gosling.

Baumbachs: 8/10

Last Days In The Desert

A foreign director with smart-dude spectacles collaborates with Trainspotting alum Ewan McGregor to imagine Jesus’s forty-day desert cleanse. With a cast of five and a setting of dust, this film give McGregor the chance to play both Jesus and the Devil, which may be the most awards bait-y thing that has ever happened. Whatever. Ewan is great. He deserves awards. We bet he’s even a good skier.

Baumbachs: 7/10

Nasty Baby

This one has almost every Sundance cliché you can imagine. Dramedy? Check. Brooklyn? Yup. Problems with conception? Oh yeah. Kirsten Wiig? You betcha. The new film from Chilean director Sebastián Silva is about a gay couple trying to conceive with the help of their friend (Wiig). For even more Indie cred, one of the partners is played by TV On The Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe. It’s like this film was created in a lab of twee and will now be set on us like a virus, where we can no longer watch the sun set behind the NewYork skyline without thinking about love, regret, and our overwhelming urge to procreate and dress our children in pre-washed denim.

Baumbachs: 7/10

I Smile Back

At the mid-point of a comedian’s career, it’s a requirement that they perform a serious role in an indie drama and become the rave of Sundance. Now it’s Sarah Silverman’s turn, and boy is she going dark. While the plot description says Silverman’s playing a wild wife with a disintegrating family, she’s actually playing the comedienne proves she’s also an actress with overwrought performance in a film that probably proves their seriousness by including non-tasteful nudity.

Baumbachs: 6/10. No crying comedians.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Inter-racial pals befriend a girl with cancer in a film that has been described as a tearjerker, based on a young adult fiction book. Quick question: do any teen fiction books not feature a girl dying of cancer?

Baumbachs: 2/10.

Diary of a Teenage Girl

A graphic novel adaptation that looks straight out of the Ghost World mold, the film even features an affair with an older man. This is classic Sundance! Plus, it features Kirsten Wiig.

Baumbachs: 8/10

Digging For Fire

A film with a Pixies song for a title, directed by a founder of the mumblecore movement and featuring indie film all-star Sam Rockwell. And the too-cute for descriptions Anna Kendrick. And an all-star cast of young Hollywood people. Perhaps a bit too mainstream for Sundance tastes, but the Sundance elements are all there.

Baumbachs: 7/10

The End of The Tour

A beloved comic actor (Jason Segel) plays a beloved writer who killed himself (David Foster Wallace) in a movie costarring sentient neurosis Jesse Eisenberg as a reporter for a publication (Rolling Stone) searching for cool at any cost. Everyone you hated in college will see this movie. They will have strong feelings about it.


Mistress America

This film is actually by Noah Baumbach, who could shoot a film on his camera phone while taking a dump and still have it accepted by Sundance.

Baumbachs: 10/10

People, Places, Things

This is actually the movie’s title. Holy shit.

Baumbachs: 11/10

Photos by Sundance