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PARK CITY - The wind-down on my Sundance experience began yesterday morning as I spent most of the day preparing predictions and whatnot for tomorrow's big nominations announcement. On one hand, it's been nice to be here in order to lay off the obsessive Oscar considerations. On the other, it's been difficult to focus on the work at hand here in Park City and see enough movies.
Last night I saw a chunk of Spike Lee's "Red Hook Summer" before feeling a bit under the weather suddenly and having to bail. What I saw I liked but I got the sense it was a bit bloated as things went along. Indeed, I heard from more than a few later that the film could use some tightening, but regardless, from what I did see, it was actually a refreshing piece. It's Lee back in truly personal territory for the first time in a while, and that passion plays out in the filmmaking and that trademark sense of confidence. I can't wait to see the whole thing.
And yes, seeing Lee decked out in his Mookie/Sal's Pizza garb is all these years later was kind of cool. The film is another installment of Lee's "chronicles of Brooklyn," as he calls it, not a "motherf***ing" sequel to "Do the Right Thing," as he reportedly said at the uproarious post-screening Q&A. I wish I had made it to the end to witness that, which Entertainment Weekly's Anthony Breznican did a nice job of covering.
The night before I was at an event on behalf of Jonathan Demme's "Neil Young Journeys" (and just missed the famed crooner, blast) where I hitched a ride with documentary juror Charles Ferguson and Sony Classics president Michael Barker to the Eccles Theatre and the premiere of Stephen Frears's "Lay the Favorite."
The film is a disaster. It's the most tone-deaf film of the Frears's career. It feels like amateur hour, not the work of a weathered vet. I can't find anything in the material that would seem interesting to Frears (who you'd think had never introduced a film in his life, by the way), and maybe that's just the thing. Even Rebecca Hall's bubbly hotness (and nicely rendered performance, even if it does seem lost in the mire) can't save things.
I also don't know what would have attracted Hall, Bruce Willis, Vince Vaughn and Catherine Zeta-Jones to this hollow story of a woman diving into the Las Vegas sportsbook world, but so it is. Just bad, bad, bad.
I made it to a couple of parties last night, which is an element of Sundance most journalists try to stay away from, and I kind of understand why. After all, how many times can you waste time throwing back a drink with talent? And the list of these events is absolutely massive. It can be a real attention divider.
However, I was particularly interested in seeing a few more of the folks from "Beasts of the Southern Wild," which was being celebrated by Cinereach at the High West Distillery. I spoke briefly with the film's star, Dwight Henry, who gives a fantastic performance as assured as the director's handling of the material. Young Quvenzhané Wallis, who an excited response from people who see her out and about with her mother in town, was laughing it up and having a blast well into the night.
The trade coverage on that film indicating an imminent sell is a bit premature, by the way. The film's producers and sellers have barely met with buyers, and while there is interest from dependents, it seems hearsay on the street is translating to definitive "exclusives." I do hope it finds a quality home. I imagine it will, because people will want to be in business with filmmaker Benh Zeitlin.
"Beasts," by the way, was awarded the $10,000 Sundance Institute Indian Paintbrush Producer's Award yesterday.
Speaking of producers, I spoke at length with "I Am Not a Hipster" co-producer Trevor Fernando, who is planning on working with the Institute further via its producing lab. He and co-producer/director Destin Daniel Cretton are encouraged by the response to the film. It seems like a nice fit for an IFC Films or an Oscilloscope.
I was hoping to catch Josh Radnor's "Liberal Arts" or James Ponsoldt's "Smashed" this morning, and I'm VERY intrigued by the documentary "Room 237," which explores theories about hidden messages in Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" and is screening right now. But it's time to pack and get out of dodge.
Additionally, I've heard stellar things about the horror anthology "V/H/S," Colin Trevorrow's "Safety Not Guaranteed" and Jake Schreier's "Robot and Frank." At least now I have a list of must-sees when these films bubble up later in the year.
It was a nice taste-making trip and I'm happy I finally got my toes wet in the Sundance snow. It's tough to really dig in on something like this this time of year, but I might have figured out how to make it work. So perhaps I'll be back next year.
(And a final note: After suffering a stroke earlier in the week, it has been reported that indie titan Bingham Ray has passed away. It will be a heavy day here in Park City, where Ray was a mainstay this time of year and whose work at October Films in the 1990s was a hallmark of the indie film movement. He will be missed.)
For year-round entertainment news and awards season commentary follow @kristapley on Twitter.
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