Molly Shannon

… in which our intrepid California-bred Senior Film Reviewer defies an epic winter storm and a fierce chest cold to bring you highlights from this year’s famous Park City fest.

The 2017 Sundance Film Festival ended last Saturday evening after ten days of showcasing over 200 films from around the globe; you can see all the winners here.

For the third year in a row, Spinning Platters was on the (snow-covered) ground trying to take in as many movies as our limited time and budget would allow. And so we bring you the first of our posts spotlighting the 17 films we managed to squeeze in to just over five days.

Many of these may receive distribution deals (if they haven’t already), so you can know what to watch for in the coming year with these handy capsule reviews, which use our patented Sundance Viewing Priority Level (VPL) Guide:

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Spinning Platters film critics present their top 10 films of 2016

Spinning Platters film critics Carrie Kahn and Chad Liffmann each share their ten favorite films of 2016. Here is Carrie’s list, presented, unlike last year’s alphabetized list, in descending rank order. And you can check out Chad’s list here to see which one of us you agree with more!

10.) Nocturnal Animals

Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal, middle) arrives at a possible crime scene with lawman Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon, r.).

Sometimes the story-within-the-story convention can be confusing or feel gimmicky, but in this visually stunning picture from fashion designer turned filmmaker Tom Ford, the technique works to terrific effect. Amy Adams, as a woman haunted by a decision she made years ago, reads a manuscript sent to her by her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), and that story comes alive on screen in the form of family man Tony (Gyllenhaal again) and his confrontation with some dangerous, deranged miscreants. Ford’s keen aesthetic vision and sharp performances by Adams, Gyllenhaal, and Michael Shannon as a tenacious lawman combine to make this brutally poetic but utterly captivating film one of the year’s most definitively unusual. (You can also read my full-length review here.)

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2016-Sundance

Marking its closing with its annual awards ceremony, the 2016 Sundance Film Festival ended this past Saturday evening; you can see all the winners here.

For the second year in a row, I braved the Park City cold, snow, and the ubiquitous Los Angeles UGG-wearing throngs to bring you spotlights of a fraction of the films that played the Fest. With nearly 200 offerings, the Fest featured way more than this reviewer could see. While I sadly missed the big winner and much lauded The Birth of a Nation (you’ll have to stay tuned to Spinning Platters later in the year for a full review upon its wide release), I nevertheless managed to knock out a respectable 18 films in five days. Many of these may receive distribution deals (if they haven’t already), so you can study up now with these capsule reviews, which use our trademark Sundance Viewing Priority Level (VPL) Guide:

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Spinning Platters film critics present their top 10 films of 2015

Spinning Platters film critics Carrie Kahn and Chad Liffmann each share their ten favorite films of 2015. Here is Carrie’s list, presented in alphabetical order. (And you can find Chad’s here.)

1.) Brooklyn

Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) shares a tender moment with boyfriend Tony (Emory Cohen).

The immigrant experience in America is exquisitely captured in director John Crowley’s finely crafted film about love, loss, and longing in 1950s Brooklyn. Based on the novel by Colm Tóibín, Nick Hornby’s screenplay presents us with the intrepid young Irish woman Eilis, who leaves her family in the Irish countryside for adventure and opportunity in New York. Saoirse Ronan suberbly conveys Eilis’s gradual shift from shy newcomer to confident cosmopolitan. Called back home for a family emergency, Eilis must choose between familiar comforts and new possibilities, and Ronan depicts Eilis’s struggle with heartrending openness and aching honesty. Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson, as competing suitors on opposite sides of the Atlantic, also deliver strong, sharply drawn performances.

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A variety show on acid: Imperfect but fun documentary considers Saturday Night Live

The official movie poster for Bao Nguyen’s new documentary.

In 1975, a new variety show premiered on NBC that was unlike anything that had come before it; it was, according to Laraine Newman, one of the show’s original cast members, a cross between 60 Minutes and Monty Python. Despite its ups and downs, after 40 years on the air, Saturday Night Live (or SNL, as it’s more commonly known in the pop culture lexicon), shows no sign of slowing down, and continues to both reflect and influence American culture. Director Bao Nguyen’s new film, Live from New York!, which takes its title from the show’s opening introduction, explores the history and impact of the storied comedy program in a documentary that is both highly entertaining and slightly frustrating.

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We’re midway through the 58th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF), and we’ve got more spotlights for you! There’s still a week of films and events left to go, so it’s not too late to get in on the fun; the Festival closes May 7th. Tickets and more information can be found here, and keep checking Spinning Platters for more coverage. In the meantime, here are four more Festival titles to check out:

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
(USA, 2015, 104 min, Added Programs)

Greg (Thomas Mann) and Rachel (Olivia Cooke) prepare to face the chaos of their high school cafeteria.

Mostly known for his TV work (Glee, American Horror Story), director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon was the darling of Sundance this January, deservedly winning both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for this outstanding, off-beat picture based on the popular novel of the same name. Funny, sweet, and sad without being maudlin, Gomez’s film has all the classic quirky charm of a Sundance hit, combined with the refreshing honesty of the best recent coming of age films like The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Way Way Back. When awkward Greg (Thomas Mann) is forced by his Mom (Connie Britton) to befriend Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a classmate with leukemia, he and his best friend Earl (RJ Cyler) embark on a project to make a film for her (their movies are short, altered, and hilarious versions of classics; A Clockwork Orange become A Sockwork Orange, for example, filmed with sock puppets). With terrific supporting turns by Nick Offerman as Greg’s dad and Molly Shannon as Rachel’s mom, the entire cast is first-rate. Gomez has made 2015’s first absolute-must-see film. Don’t miss it.

Screenings:

  • Will open widely on June 12th; check your local theater listings.

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