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Our 20 Favorite Films from Sundance 2012

Bachelorette
Sundance Film Festival

The 2012 Sundance Film Festival is over, and film industry types and journalists have returned home with a pretty good idea of what the indie scene will look like this year.

But what about you, dear reader, who didn't get the chance to play in Park City and mingle with bundled-up celebs? Have no fear. Our intrepid NextMovie Sundance team braved long lines, snow drifts, crowded screenings and press junkets to bring you the 20 films we loved at Sundance this year -- and that may soon be coming to a theater near you. -- By Todd Gilchrist, Jason Guerrasio, Jenni Miller and Nigel Smith

'The Ambassador'

The Ambassador
Sundance Film Festival

Known for a gonzo filmmaking style that earned him a jury prize at Sundance in 2010 for "The Red Chapel," Mads Brügger travels to central Africa disguised as an ambassador on a diplomatic mission. But in fact Brügger, strapped with hidden cameras, is in search of the continent’s vast diamond reserve. Sporting dark glasses, riding boots and a cigarette with holder, the director uncovers the corruption surrounding Africa’s richest prize with amazing footage and his razor-sharp wit. – Jason Guerrasio

 

'Bachelorette'

Bachelorette
Sundance Film Festival

"Bachelorette" sees "Bridesmaids" that food poisoning scene and raises it with a baby powder bottle full of cocaine, c-bombs, nose bleeds and so much more. A divisive movie, "Bachelorette" is not for the easily offended. While it's not as well written as "Young Adult," it offers some of the same gleeful meanness and a biting cast that includes Lizzy Caplan, Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, Adam Scott and James Marsden. – Jenni Miller

 

'Beasts of the Southern Wild'

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Sundance Film Festival

Not that many films this year had the overwhelming amount of praise that Benh Zeitlin’s magical Southern tale did. It follows six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) and her dad as they live in the carefree area just beyond the levies of New Orleans known as The Bathtub; their way of life is tested when Hurricane Katrina overflows The Bathtub, leaving Hushpuppy, her dad and a few other Bathtub loyalists to rebuild amid FEMA evacuators and a herd of large beasts heading their way. – JG

 

'Black Rock'

Black Rock
Sundance Film Festival

Katie Aselton, Lake Bell and Kate Bosworth play three old friends whose chill island retreat is complicated by interpersonal drama and three utterly bananas war vets who were recently dishonorably discharged. A little misunderstanding goes a long way, and these three friends have to find a way off the island before they become casualties. A solid midnight survival horror film for that girls' night in. – JM

 

'Excision'

Excision
Sundance Film Festival

"90210" star AnnaLynne McCord gives one hell of an unexpected turn in this sure to be divisive horror-comedy that’s by turns sick, sweet, hilarious, and unfathomably gruesome. In "Excision," McCord stars as Pauline, one of the most disturbed high school students to ever grace the screen. When not daydreaming about bloody medical experiments gone wrong in class, Pauline is on a mission to lose her virginity with a jock that wants nothing to do with her, and save the life of her sister who suffers from cystic fibrosis. To add to the weirdness, ex-porn star Traci Lords stars as Pauline's strict mother, while famed cult auteur John Waters pops up in a cameo as a priest trying to bring Justine back down to earth. – Nigel Smith

 

'The First Time'

The First Time
Sundance Film Festival

If you like your teen flicks in the vein of "Can’t Hardly Wait" and anything penned by Kevin Williamson (of "Dawson’s Creek" fame), then don’t miss "The First Time," a Sundance entry that's as cute as they get. The film stars hot newcomers Brittany Robertson and Dylan O'Brien as two good-looking and good-natured high schoolers who hit it off at a party. Problem is, they’re both crushing on other people. While that sounds like a simple enough conceit, talented writer-director Jonathan Kasban ("In the Land of Women") throws some expert curveballs to keep their love story surprising, and damn charming. – NS

 

'The Imposter'

The Imposter
Sundance Film Festival

Director Bart Layton created this documentary that transcends reenactments with his intense, intriguing portrait of a French con artist who takes the place of a missing Texas child despite all evidence that he’s not who he says he is. First-person accounts from the family of the victim and Frederic Bourdin, the con artist himself, give the story a compelling believability and an unexpected sense of urgency, even if you know how things turn out. But a third-act twist in the story hints at even deeper and more disturbing truths hidden in the folds of this con made successful by the complicity of the perpetrator and his victims, and makes the documentary some of the most compelling true-crime material in years. – Todd Gilchrist

 

'The Raid'

The Raid
Sundance Film Festival

This was picked up by Sony Classics last year, so its inclusion at Sundance feels almost superfluous -- but it remains a triumph of ass-kicking that hasn’t been matched in years. The story of a Korean SWAT team that literally has to fight its way out of a tenement building overloaded with machine gun-wielding drug dealers, Evans’ film features almost nonstop action that’s more visceral and inventive then 10 Hollywood films. – TG

 

'Red Hook Summer'

Red Hook Summer
Sundance Film Festival

Spike Lee makes a remarkable (if overlong) return to form with this tale of an Atlanta teen who comes of age in a Brooklyn housing project under the watchful eye of his deeply religious grandfather. Strong performances and beautiful cinematography bolster a fascinating meditation on the balance between religion and personal responsibility, while returning the director to the Lee-world specificity of his earliest efforts. Though it probably needs a good 20-30 minutes edited out, Red Hook Summer is the film that should make Spike relevant -- or better yet, important -- again. – TG

 

'Room 237'

Room 237
Sundance Film Festival

An astounding documentary that celebrates Stanley Kubrick, "The Shining" and movie theorists, Rodney Ascher's film examines "The Shining" through the secret messages its fans emphatically believe the legendary director embedded in it. Whether "The Shining" is meant to be a commentary on the Holocaust, an allegory for the wiping out of the American Indians, or Kubrick's revelation to the world that he staged the Apollo 11 moon landing, the reasoning is so heartfelt you can’t help but consider its validity. You’ll never watch "The Shining" the same way again after seeing this. – JG

 

'Safety Not Guaranteed'

Safety Not Guaranteed
Sundance Film Festival

Mark Duplass and Aubrey Plaza star in this oddball romance about a misanthropic intern and her magazine-editor boss; the two team up on investigative piece about a man who posts a personal ad looking for a companion in his time-travel experiments. Jake Johnson steals scenes as Plaza’s nostalgia-hunting boss, but it’s the palpable chemistry between her and Duplass’ oblivious dreamer that wins hearts by the final scene. Notwithstanding its enchanting sense of whimsy, there’s an unexpected relatability between the two leads and the audience, as the film reveals that everybody in their own way is trying to revisit the past -- it’s just that some people literally want to go there in order to do it. – TG

'Searching for Sugar Man'

Searching for Sugar Man
Sundance Film Festival

Some stories are almost too good to be true. Such is the case with this crowd-pleasing documentary that delves into the mysterious disappearance of one of our most underappreciated recording artists; a man who goes by the name of Raphael. Despite not making it in America, Raphael (who sounds like a mix between Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash) made a big name for himself in South Africa. Funny thing is, he was never aware of his fame overseas. This entertaining documentary, a winner of two awards at this year’s festival, explains why. – NS

 

'Simon Killer'

Simon Killer
Sundance Film Festival

If you’re familiar with writer-director Antonio Campos’ previous film "Afterschool," you won’t be surprised to know his latest is dark and troubling. Brady Corbet ("Martha Marcy May Marlene") plays a recent college grad who travels to Paris after he breaks up with his girlfriend of five years. Roaming the city for companionship, he builds a relationship with a prostitute that leads to -- you guessed it -- terrifying results. To give you an idea of Campos’ headspace while making the film, he has said that the main character was partly inspired by Natalee Holloway murder suspect Joran Van Der Sloot. – JG

 

'Smashed'

Smashed
Sundance Film Festival

Mary Elizabeth Winstead won us over with her feisty turn in the vastly underrated "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" as Michael Cera's punchy love interest. We knew from that performance and her hilarious turn as a daft cheerleader in "Death Proof" that the girl was versatile, but nobody in Park City saw her "Smashed" performance coming. Winstead gives an award-worthy turn as Kate, an alcoholic who works by day as elementary school teacher. Freshly anointed Oscar nominee Octavia Spencer, Aaron Paul ("Breaking Bad") and Megan Mullaly ("Will & Grace") round out the formidable ensemble, but "Smashed" is Winstead's show. We won't be surprised if we hear her name come next year's awards season. – NS

 

'The Surrogate'

The Surrogate
Sundance Film Festival

John Hawkes' star turn as Mark O'Brien, a poet and journalist paralyzed by polio, is a stunner. Helen Hunt plays the sex surrogate who helps him lose his virginity after over 30 years of life in an iron lung, and William H. Macy rocks as his priest and confidante. Hawkes narrates the movie as O'Brien with equal parts lovely lyricism, tenderness and mischievously dirty humor. Definitely a Sundance, if not 2012, highlight. – JM

 

'V/H/S'

VHS
Sundance Film Festival

If you think the found-footage genre is getting a little tired and predictable, "V/H/S" is the film to get you back on the bandwagon. A thrilling achievement all around, "V/H/S" is a horror film comprising a series of endlessly inventive shorts helmed by some of today's most exciting voices in micro-budget cinema (Adam Wingard, Glenn McQuiad, Radio Silence, David Bruckner, Joe Swamberg and Ti West). The concept is this: A group of hooligans is tasked with stealing a mysterious VHS tape from a home. Problem is, when the thugs make it to the house, they're greeted with a heap of unidentified tapes. One by one, they (along with the audience) watch the tapes. Suffice it to say, the content haunted for us days. Truly the stuff of nightmares. – NS

 

'West of Memphis'

West of Memphis
Sundance Film Festival

Since 2005, Peter Jackson has given financial support to the defense team of the West Memphis Three to conduct forensic and DNA tests that would hopefully exonerate the WM3. At a point when little was happening in the case, Jackson called on director Amy Berg (“Deliver Us From Evil”) to break down the overwhelming amount of evidence into a movie. Her end product is an incredible story filled with astounding new discoveries and a scene with a giant turtle you won’t likely forget anytime soon. – JG

 

'Wrong'

Wrong
Sundance Film Festival

Quentin Dupieux, director of the killer-tire movie "Rubber," returns with this oddball tale of a man in search of his missing dog. Absurdity ensues as he encounters a lost-pet guru, an affectionate pizza restaurant employee and an aggressively incompetent detective while searching for his pup. The film the more light-hearted moments of "Twin Peaks" as Dupieux takes his "Rubber" thesis of "no reason" storytelling to new levels of nonsense. – TG

 

'Your Sister's Sister'

Your Sister's Sister
Sundance Film Festival

Jack (Mark Duplass) is a hot mess of mourning a year after his brother's death. His friend Iris (Emily Blunt), also his brother's ex-girlfriend, advises him to get himself together at her father's cabin. Neither of them know that Iris' sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) is also there nursing a broken heart after dumping her longtime girlfriend. What starts out as a night of drinking turns into a rather complicated love triangle indeed in this funny and moving little flick. – JM

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