Tuesday, 11 a.m.: For higher and typically for worse, the Sundance Film Festival has been a part of the continuity of American motion pictures for many years: a proving floor for younger careers; a market for the fashionable and the genuinely new; a zone the place industrial aspiration intersects with inventive ambition and social concern. It’s encouraging — perhaps even astonishing — that in 2021 it nonetheless managed to be all of these issues.
Keeping its conventional spot on the calendar, at a time when each schedule has gone haywire, was no small accomplishment. The competition was somewhat shorter this 12 months, with fewer motion pictures, nevertheless it nonetheless felt packed and somewhat frantic. It was simpler than ever to skip the events and the Q. and A. classes, and there was one thing charming in regards to the filmmaker introductions that preceded every screening. A programmer in entrance of a bookcase or a houseplant welcoming a filmmaker with a barely completely different model of the identical backdrop.
Did I admire the flicks extra as a result of I watched them at dwelling? Maybe, within the sense that I used to be particularly grateful for his or her energy to move me past the tedium of on a regular basis pandemic life. Some of essentially the most satisfying journeys have been into the previous. I don’t know if that’s as a result of the current period of cascading crises makes me hunt down the steadiness and reassurance of historic data, or if it’s extra that I’m pushed to look the previous for clues. Or perhaps this was only a robust 12 months for history-minded documentaries, an typically convention-bound mode of filmmaking that appears to be within the midst of a inventive reawakening.
The dramatic options, in the meantime, provided a much less satisfying sense of the previous. Too a lot of them appeared to examine off acquainted Sundance packing containers — to be earnest or quirky or indignant in ways in which didn’t really feel totally recent. This is partly due to the inevitable lag between when motion pictures are conceived and made and after they arrive on the planet. For a filmmaker to seize the now could be an particularly dangerous endeavor when the now retains shifting, and whole eras of historical past really feel like they go by in a matter of weeks.
There shall be loads of time to criticize and argue. This morning there are nonetheless just a few extra movies to see, and ample cause to have fun the modest, hard-won triumph of the competition as an entire. And in that spirit, I’ll conclude this diary with a private Top 5 — really make it a Top 7. What follows is an alphabetical record of the flicks I’m most wanting ahead to seeing once more and writing about additional.
“Bring Your Own Brigade”: Lucy Walker’s documentary on a few of the worst latest California wildfires is sprawling and intimate, an issue-driven movie that is stuffed with narrative shock and human element.
“Cusp”: Three teenage ladies in Texas cope with household, friendship, sexuality and violence in Parker Hill and Isabel Bethencourt’s deceptively dreamy-looking, unflinchingly tough-minded documentary.
“Flee”: The lifetime of a refugee from Afghanistan in Denmark, advised in haunting and exact animated pictures by Jonas Poher Rasmussen.
“My Name is Pauli Murray”: Julie Cohen and Betsy West (“RBG”) survey the life and instances of one of the crucial exceptional and consequential figures in American 20th-century historical past — a lawyer, trainer, activist and Episcopal priest whose pondering helped write the script of recent civil-rights regulation and gender politics.
“Passing”: Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, André Holland and Bill Camp (amongst others) go like figures in a seductive, scary dream of Harlem within the 1920s.
“Pleasure”: In its simple, unpretentious approach, Ninja Thyberg’s debut characteristic accomplishes one thing which may have appeared inconceivable. This film a few younger Swedish girl’s adventures within the American porn trade is specific with out being exploitative, and ethically rigorous with out resorting to straightforward moralism. Sofia Kappel’s quiet, nervy efficiency anchors a terrifyingly trustworthy examination of energy, ambition, labor and consent.
“Summer of Soul”: What you must enable you by a tough winter: Gospel, funk, soul, blues, salsa and militant politics, dropped at you from 1969 through Questlove’s superb time machine.