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The 9 Best Films of Sundance 2011

BorderLine Films

After 10 days of movie marathons, studio acquisitions and the unearthing of up-and-coming talent, a frigid Sundance 2011 has come to an end. The tears we've shed upon departure are still frozen to our faces.

There were over 100 films that played at this year's festival, and we've picked the best of the best of the bunch, most of which will see the light of day sometime in 2011. Read on and take notes - these are the movies you need to see.

'Project Nim'

James Marsh thrilled us in 2008 with his Oscar-winning documentary "Man on Wire," and this year, he returned to Sundance to present "Project Nim." The movie follows a lovable chimpanzee named Nim as he  bounces from one nutty caretaker to another as they attempt to teach the animal sign language. The story is heartbreaking, as Nim barely survives his encounters with aimless wallflowers, sleazy college professors, pothead animal-trainers and an animal-testing facility.

Watching any animal be tortured is a difficult experience, but following a chimp only a few steps away from yourself on the evolutionary chart? Devastating.

The film will be released by HBO Documentaries in 2011.

'Kaboom'

Gregg Araki's apocalyptic teen sex comedy was one of the first films we saw at Sundance and since then, we haven't been able to shake its colorful, quick-witted, and gleefully dirty dialogue. "Kaboom" left critics and viewers divided (apparently watching young people swap sex partners and make Facebook references isn't everyone's cup of tea), but for us, placing the bizarre occult noir in a college setting was the perfect mix.

The film will be released by IFC/Sundance Selects next weekend, February 4.

'The Woman'

The infamous Sundance premiere screening of Lucky McKee's twisted horror flick "The Woman" had plenty of walkouts and ended with one spectator lashing out with fervor against the film's so called "misogynistic" ideas. He's not that wrong.

McKee tackles male dominance head on by spinning horror tropes and graphic violence into a shocking, thoughtful film.  The movie doesn't pat misogynists on the back, it condemns them. The story centers on Chris, a wife-beating, child-abusing Dad who discovers (and captures) the feral titular "Woman." McKee unleashes his characters in a brutal way that will have some gripping their eyelids shut and others cackling at the insane imagery. Either way - "The Woman" is poignant and original, a rare occurrence for the horror genre.

'Submarine'

Turn your ears off to the Wes Anderson comparisons - Richard Ayoade's (star of BBC's "The IT Crowd" and "The Mighty Boosh") debut feature dives into a young teen romance with a pocket full of style, but never lets it stand in the way of the characters' relationships. Ayoade has given the talented, young actor Craig Roberts a dream role - his Oliver Tate is a hilarious, neurotic, damaged character, who sucks you into the film with his over-analyzing narration. It all gives way to a innovative film that can wear the "quirky" badge with pride.

'Life in a Day'

YouTubers from around the world spent one day - July 24, 2010 - capturing their lives on tape, to later be submitted and assembled by filmmakers Kevin MacDonald and Ridley Scott. Clips from every continent, every culture, "Life in a Day" nods to the little things (cracking eggs, walking to work) and grand things (fireworks in the horizon, a bike ride across Korea) in life. The result is unexpectedly moving, a montage of moments, scenes and breathtaking examples of the varied worlds we live in.

The film will be released theatrically on July 24, 2011 by National Geographic Films.

'Bellflower'

Remember when you saw "Mad Max" or "Rambo" for the first time and you immediately went home and reenacted the whole thing with cardboard tube guns and mixing bowl helmets? "Bellflower" is about what happens to the imagination if it never grows up.

Written, directed and starring Evan Glodell, the movie focuses on two friends obsessed with building flamethrowers and pimping out their muscle cars in anticipation of the apocalypse. But everything turns sour when a cute girl enters the mix, and "Bellflower" goes from hilarious stoner comedy to balls-out, destructive thriller. "OMG" is the only way to describe the final act of this twisted movie.

The film has been picked up by Oscilloscope and should see distribution in 2011.

'Pariah'

The coming-of-age drama is completely revitalized in Dee Rees' directorial debut, which follows a young teenage lesbian as she attempts to conceal her budding lifestyle from the world. "Pariah" doesn't rely on big name stars or gimmicky plot elements to ring in its audience, just great storytelling and engaging performances. It's rare to see a film where every character has a goal, but the interwoven stories of "Pariah" are equally compelling and never fall short. Oscar hopeful, for sure.

Focus Features will release "Pariah" in 2011.

'Win Win'

Tom McCarthy continues his record for spitting out indie gems (he previously directed "The Station Agent" and "The Visitor") with the help of regular joe Paul Giamatti and the always-impressive Amy Ryan. Many films have strived to find a realistic blend of comedy and drama, but they pale in comparison to "Win Win," which perfectly captures the turbulent world of New Jersey suburbs. Giamatti delivers yet another knockout, Oscar-worthy performance and Ryan's reveal of a Bon Jovi ankle tattoo is indicative of the entire experience: hilarious, heartfelt and true.

Fox Searchlight will release "Win Win" in theaters on March 18.

'Martha Marcy May Marlene'

Horror films of late rely on quick cuts, shadowy killers and cheap scares - but "Martha Marcy May Marlene" is a whole other monster. Dealing with the terrifying ramifications of cult life, "MMMM" is a slow burn, keeping the audience on edge with the main character's increasing paranoia and mental destruction. If it sounds harrowing...it is, but with beautiful photography and engaging performances by Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes (Oscar-nominated for "Winter's Bone"), Hugh Dancy and Sarah Paulson, this one will be buzzing all the way to year's end.

"Martha Marcy May Marlene" will be distributed by Fox Searchlight in 2011.

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