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Ranking: Sundance 2015 Films From Worst to Best

All 37 of our reviews ranked for your leisure.

Sundance Film Festival
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    Bookmark and follow our exclusive coverage of Sundance Film Festival 2015.

    sundance cos 2This year’s Sundance Film Festival was a gorgeous, week-long escape for the Chicago-based film writers of Consequence of Sound. As we trudge through the aftermath of one of the city’s worst blizzards, which unloaded over 12 inches of snow on our city streets, we look back fondly at the still weather of Park City’s snowcapped mountains, the cozy theaters and great films, and that time we saw actor Richard Kind walk through a pizza restaurant. We also saw Kristen Wiig the day before she officially became a Ghostbuster, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about.

    In our inaugural year of Sundance coverage, Michael Roffman, Dominick Mayer, and I managed to review 37 films from January 21st through February 1st. While a smattering of works inevitably did not live up to our expectations (ahem, The Bronze), many surpassed them (Digging for Fire). We even feel we have a head start when it comes to discovering near-certain Oscar nominees (Jason Segal as David Foster Wallace in The End of the Tour), soon-to-be cult classics (Entertainment), and groundbreaking documentaries (Call Me Lucky). Most of these films found distributors during the festival run, and those desiring to catch them should be able to find them in theaters, cable, or even VOD before the end of the year.

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    Tucked away in the mountains of Park City, the Robert Redford-founded festival has been going strong for over three decades. This year’s screenings were held in not only local cinemas but at community colleges, auditoriums, and even hotels. Some of these spaces could only hold an audience in the hundreds, but some were able to pack in thousands who were hoping to catch “the next big thing” or hear from the directors and stars of the films featured.

    We came. We saw. We reviewed a lot of movies. Now, for your leisure, we’ve ranked them all in order from worst to best. Regardless of the grades, however, one thing’s for certain: We enjoyed the ‘Dance. Even if we missed out on The Witch.

    –Justin Gerber
    Film Editor

    Note: All trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

    Hellions

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    Grade: D-

    Hellions has style to burn, but that only lasts for a few minutes before the film reveals itself as a disappointingly empty exercise in that and that alone. Whatever message the film has about the fear and/or joy in creating new life is lost in a fog of hackneyed character designs and nonsensical narrative turns that offer stylish images straight out of an industrial rock video but little in the way of anything truly frightening. It’s a film that assembles enough hallucinatory images and scary kid noises to masquerade as a horror movie but goes no further. It looks and sounds like a lot of other movies but never gets around to synthesizing those influences into something lasting, or even watchable. [Read Dominick Suzanne-Mayer’s full review.]

    The Bronze

    the bronze Ranking: Sundance 2015 Films From Worst to Best

    Grade: D

    After a while, The Bronze’s uneven tone becomes grating, and after an even longer while (the film clocks in at almost two hours, which is well beyond unnecessary), it’s genuinely unpleasant. The film attempts to identify with its many misfits but ultimately either sells them short or actively savages them. And then there’s nasty, vicious Hope, whose early abuses are all both forgiven and forgotten by the film when it’s time for her to learn lessons about growing up. To a point, the film teases that maybe it won’t end so easily, that maybe any of the awful things she does will pay off somehow. But The Bronze is so satisfied with its own winking crassness that it lets epithets constitute everything it has to say. Between that and the film’s scene-by-scene tonal shifts, what could’ve been an off-kilter curiosity curdles into a dull roar of disappointment. [Read Dominick Suzanne-Mayer’s full review.]

    Knock Knock

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    Grade: D

    Eli Roth’s career has taken a turn for the worst over the past three years. He filmed the cannibal-horror film The Green Inferno back in 2012, and it was due in theaters late last year, but behind-the-scenes issues with its distributor have shelved it indefinitely. Knock Knock can’t even satisfy his fans as a placeholder. If you want to see an unbearable, full-length adaptation of the scene in Gremlins 2 when Lenny the goofy Mogwai causes a mess in Billy’s apartment, then Knock Knock is for you. If not, all you’re left with is a film with direction, editing, and dialogue on par with a Lifetime movie. These are low blows to be sure, but Knock Knock deserves to be knocked out. [Read Justin Gerber’s full review.]

    The Nightmare

    the nightmare Ranking: Sundance 2015 Films From Worst to Best

    Grade: D

    Sleep paralysis is widely unknown to the public and is a subject ripe for the makings of a great documentary. Enter director Rodney Ascher, who experienced recent success with 2012’s Room 237. That documentary gave voice to those with wild conspiracy theories surrounding Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining. In Ascher’s new doc, The Nightmare, the director gives a voice to eight people suffering from sleep paralysis, but he can’t use clips from a masterpiece to best tell his story. This go-round finds the filmmaker far more concerned with breaking the form of the traditional documentary than he is with providing any kind of narrative flow. [Read Justin Gerber’s full review.]

    Zipper

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    Grade: D+

    Zipper might be the tortured, unsung comedy of Sundance. There’s absolutely nothing promiscuous about this sexually-charged thriller. Instead, it’s a total romp with hilarious, predictable tension and unruly visual metaphors that press the tongue way, way beyond the cheek. We caught this film on a Wednesday afternoon at a Press and Industry screening and I lost count of the number of writers who picked up their belongings and shuffled out. It almost felt like a game of survival, seeing who could trudge through the next scene as the garbage piled higher in the theater. [Read Michael Roffman and Dominick Suzanne-Mayer’s full review.]

    The Hallow

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    Grade: C-

    Corin Hardy has outright said this is a film about the struggles of parenting. That much comes across in the film — two parents fight to the death to protect their child from ravaging monsters, we get it — but none of it resonates. When Claire dives after her toddler into the lake, it’s undoubtedly a terrifying image, but missing is a certain gravitas. I just don’t care. It’s a strange predicament because all of the elements are there, and they’re all connected, but the power’s just not surging through. Perhaps it’s the boiler plate characters, perhaps it’s predictability. Whatever the case, The Hallow is exactly that: a hollow piece of fantasy horror that opens the door before knocking. Hardy sure has an imagination; he just needs to sort out the details better. [Read Michael Roffman’s full review.]

    Sleeping with Other People

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    Grade: C-

    Sleeping with Other People is the type of R-rated comedy you used to find a single video-box of on Blockbuster’s New Release shelf, displayed right beside The Phantom Menace’s 15. It’s the kind of straight-to-video rom-com that would have starred Jon Favreau and Famke Janssen or Edward Burns and whomever he was dating back in 2000. Director Leslye Headland’s problem is not that the story isn’t there; it’s that it was already there in the countless romantic comedies that preceded it. [Read Justin Gerber’s full review.]

    True Story

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    Grade: C

    True Story is an okay film that should have been stellar. Given the A-list cast and the gripping true life story, this film could be haunting and invigorating. But it isn’t and its loose themes of truth, trust, and betrayal whimper to the finish line with very little weight and a ham-fisted knuckle sandwich to the mouth. At the end, Finkel’s giving a reading at a bookstore — if you think that’s a spoiler, how do you think this film was made? — and he sees one of his fans visualized as Longo, who asks him if he lost some of himself in the process of writing the book. Groan, right? It’s this lack of subtlety that downgrades True Story into a crumpled piece of questionable non-fiction. There’s something ironic about that. [Read Michael Roffman’s full review.]

    Tig

    tig sundance Ranking: Sundance 2015 Films From Worst to Best

    Grade: C

    Tig would have benefitted from letting the camera linger on the interviews with her throughout, because when it expands outward, there’s the strange sense that directors Kristina Goolsby and Ashley York (friends of Notaro’s, the film notes) are building a narrative out of what would probably have worked best as a series of commentaries on comedy, tragedy, and the ways in which life is informed by both of those things. While there’s a sweetness to both Notaro’s hunt for a surrogate mother and her tentative courtship with a previous co-star (in the Lake Bell vehicle In a World…), the proceedings are so perfectly rendered that one can’t help but be a bit suspicious of how it all came about. [Read Dominick Suzanne-Mayer’s full review.]

    Cop Car

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    Grade: C+

    Cop Car is an effective enough indie thriller, one which sees its increasing dangers and even violence through the perspectives of kids who still don’t understand mortality enough to fret too much about it. Even if it could use a bit more discipline and some more fleshing out beyond that (Kevin Bacon’s scenes, in particular, occasionally feel like they were spliced in from a different movie), at the heart of it all is a throwback caper with real, grave implications. [Read Dominick Suzanne-Mayer’s full review.]

    A Walk in the Woods

    a walk in the woods Ranking: Sundance 2015 Films From Worst to Best

    Grade: C+

    We’re all going to die. That’s something Robert Redford struggles with in Ken Kwapis’ adaptation of Bill Bryson’s 1998 memoir, A Walk in the Woods. The Sundance Kid plays the best-selling author, who decides to walk the Appalachian Trail after attending a friend’s funeral. At the request of his wife (an underused Emma Thompson), he invites an old friend (Nick Nolte) to tag along for what everyone considers to be a death trip. That might sound somber, but A Walk in the Woods never indulges in the darkness that such an excursion might warrant. Instead, Kwapis maintains the sentimental humor that Bryson’s hallmarked for decades, lowering the stakes and zeroing in on the light comedy between Redford and Nolte. And to his credit, he captures a rare, hearty chemistry that only two veterans of this caliber could scrounge up. [Read Michael Roffman’s full review.]

    I Smile Back

    smile back Ranking: Sundance 2015 Films From Worst to Best

    Grade: C+

    I Smile Back spends most of its 85 minutes working through the paces of every movie about an addict you’ve ever seen, but it has a secret weapon: Sarah Silverman. The comedian delivers a vulnerable, raw performance in a demanding role, and joins the ranks of stand-ups capable of tapping into an affecting darkness in the right context. As Laney, Silverman transgresses against all manner of stereotypes about the affluent suburban mother, in order to illustrate just how many layers those with deep-seated problems have. There’s an enormous depth to Laney, and the film’s largely rote setup suggests that it’s Silverman who gives I Smile Back its real power. [Read Dominick Suzanne-Mayer’s full review.]

    The D Train

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    Grade: B-

    Yes Man screenwriters Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul, who make their directorial debut here, pieced together a very risky and original screenplay with The D Train, which is what attracted an all-star cast that includes Jack Black, James Marsden, Jeffrey Tambor, Kathryn Hahn, Mike White, Henry Zebrowski, and Kyle Bornheimer. Without spoiling too much, the two writers followed through on a literal bromance, tipping off all the crazy consequences that might come from such a chance encounter. For the most part, it works. [Read Michael Roffman’s full review.]

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