First I caught a festival of shorts that included one really spectacular film set in Mumbai. It was called "Andheri", directed by Sushrut Jain. I will be keeping an eye out for that name in the future. It reminded me a little of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu - so naturalistic that its drama seems to come zipping in from nowhere and catches you off guard. Another name to watch for is Alex Fazeli, who made a short so perposterously good on a technical level with only 4 days and $26,000 that I can't figure out how he managed. His short got him signed and I'm sure we will see his name soon, (This program of shorts also contained the worst short film I can imagine, I won't mention it by name... but it made Righteous Kill look like Raging Bull.)
Katie saw a program of shorts called Addicted To Death (they are all themed) that included a particularly disturbing piece called Coverage. It evoked the same kind of social critique as Haneke's Funny Games; not for everyone's taste, but will evoke a visceral reaction all the same. Also of note were the visually stunning "Welgunzer" by Bradford Schmidt and the black comedy "Death In Charge" by Devi Snively.
Meanwhile I was faced with the difficult choice of seeing the world premiere of Anytown starring Matt O'Leary (The Brain in Brick) which was getting strong buzz for the lead performance, or the new Anna Boden/Ryan Fleck movie Sugar which had already screened at Toronto and Sundance and opens wide soon. It seems like I should have gone to Anytown, but after the shorts I just watched I wasn't feeling up for a story about hate crimes in middle-America. Plus I really really wanted to see Sugar. I heard some great things in the lobby about the one I missed, but I cannot say I am disappointed in my decision...
Sugar is hands down the best thing I've seen this year and easily better than anything I saw all of last year. This list could go back farther, but I don't want to waste time list-making. The movie follows the life/career of a teenage baseball prospect in the Dominican Republic as he gets plucked to come to the U.S. and work his way through the minor league system. This is the best baseball movie ever made, and somehow it's not even about baseball. (Those of you about to invoke the holy trinity of Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, and The Natural can save your breath... they aren't even close!) This is arguably the best sports movie I've ever seen, and might just be the best movie on the immigrant experience I've seen. As spare and minimalist as Gone With The Wind is sweeping and epic, it makes their last film -- the excellent Half Nelson -- look like a mere test run for their talent.
Afterwards, I am glad I was on tap for a series of shorts again as I could not have done another feature in the wake of that movie. This batch was exceptional: a fantastic piece with Sir Derek Jacobi (in a SHORT!!) called "Sydney Turtlebaum" that will be expanded to a feature soon, an hysterical short called "Cute Couple" that is playing its well-deserved umpteenth festival (and I was surprised to find out an old friend as one of the stars!); a well-written and quite troubling piece about an adopted son who won't talk to his birth-mother called "birth date"; and a simple but exquisitely executed little comedy called "Old Dogs" about a trio of Cocoon-aged bowlers who stumble across a bag of cocaine and try to find a buyer for it so they can supplement their social security. These were the perfect end to the evening for me.
Katie and Adam caught the feature Stephanie's Image and a short piece called "Open Your Eyes" that they have both been raving about. Despite the great things I saw, I am instantly jealous after hearing their praise for this one. Maybe I can talk the filmmakers into giving me a screener...
We got a mention today on indiewire.com -- nothing you probably don't know already, but it's exciting to be on their radar.