The 10-day Sundance Film Festival, which wrapped up Sunday, can be a surprisingly worthy echo of the national tenor — and this year, Sundance held a mirror to a culture preoccupied with race, loss and danger at home and abroad.
Gun violence figured prominently in two documentaries as well as a feature based on the Aurora, Colorado, massacre.
Below, the best of a downbeat fest.
Most Likely to Put a Dent in the Whole #oscarssowhite Thing in 2016: Birth of a Nation
Nate Parker’s impassioned retelling of Nat Turner’s slave rebellion earned standing ovations and a $17.5 million check from Fox Searchlight, as well as comparisons to Braveheart for its verve and its violence. (Mel Gibson, weirdly, earns thanks in the credits.) Place your Oscar bets now for director, writer and star Parker.
Most Likely to Have You Weeping in Your Seat, Depending on How Many Brothers You Have and How Much You Love Them: Manchester-by-the-Sea
Speaking of Oscars: Casey Affleck earned raves for his work as Lee, a Boston handyman called home when his brother (Kyle Chandler) dies, but Michelle Williams, as the ex-wife still sorting through an older, shared tragedy, is just as spectacular.
Most Convincing Evidence You Need to Turn Off Your Computer or Mobile Device Immediately and Go Outside: Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World
Werner Herzog’s documentary isn’t so much a history of the Internet as it is a meditation on the many ways our digital world will destroy us — a warning compellingly conveyed with the story of a father who received nightmarish pictures of his daughter’s dead body from online psychos.
Best Argument Against Sexting: Weiner
Director Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg had incredible access to failed New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner — even as the former congressman dealt with the second, and more damning, sexting scandal of his abbreviated political career. If you’re a fan of Weiner’s politics, the film is as much a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions as it is a study of idiocy, hubris, and marital loss.
Best Reason Not to Go Live in the Woods With Your Children While Teaching Them Multiple Languages and How to Kill Elk With a Small Knife: Captain Fantastic
Viggo Mortensen is terrific as the titular dad, who escaped to the Washington woods with his troop of children to teach them wilderness skills and the evils of capitalism (they celebrate Noam Chomsky’s birthday instead of Christmas.) When a crisis forces them back to the real world, his worldview is challenged in profound ways.
Best Eulogy: Jim: The James Foley Story
There’s no confusing Jim for a hard-hitting political document: It was made by a childhood friend of the journalist murdered by ISIS in 2014, and certain issues stay in soft-focus — primarily the question of why so many European former hostages survive to speak in the film. (The U.S. government maintains that it does not pay ransoms.) It is, though, a moving portrait of an iconoclastic journalist who was well aware of the dangers of his job and continued his work regardless.
Most Likely to Get You Thinking About That One Ex-Girlfriend: Complete Unknown
Rachel Weisz is the woman compelled to periodically disappear and reinvent herself from scratch; Michael Shannon is the now-married bureaucrat she left behind 15 years earlier. Unknown Object, from Maria State of Grace director Joshua Marston, asks what happens when she waltzes back into his life.
Mostly Unlikely Real-Life Event to Be Retold in Not One but Two Sundance Movies: The On-Air Death of Christine Chubbuck
In 1974, Florida news correspondent Christine Chubbuck killed herself on live TV, purportedly inspiring the film Network. Over 40 years later, her story was twice, and ably, told at this year’s festival: With Rebecca Hall playing her in Christine, and as the subject of a performance piece-docudrama, Kate Plays Christine.