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The 17 Best Movies at Sundance 2013

January 28, 2013  |  11:01am

Paste saw somewhere north of 50 movies in 10 days at Sundance 2013, between film writer Jeremy Mathews, film editor Michael Dunaway and editor-in-chief Josh Jackson. We didn’t catch everything, but enough to bring you a list of 17 worthwhile movies—comedies, dramas, thrillers and docs—a few of which already have distribution and will be making it to your movie theater very soon.

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17. The Spectacular Now
Director: James Ponsoldt
Stars: Miles Teller, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Shailene Woodley, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Shailene Woodley gives a performance of such fragility and power in The Spectacular Now that the rest of the movie almost feels dull by comparison. Director James Ponsoldt (Smashed) adapted Tim Tharp’s coming-of-age novel with heartfelt sincerity, and the result has wooed enthusiastic Sundance crowds. Miles Teller stars as Sutter, a high school senior with a great enthusiasm for human connection and partying, but little enthusiasm for classwork or future planning. Think Ferris Bueller with a concealed depression and an alcohol abuse problem. Woodley dominates every frame she’s in with sweet hesitations and a nervous smile. She provides a mesmerizing portrayal of young love. If only The Spectacular Now had been about its strongest character, it could have really been something.—Jeremy Mathews

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16. Crystal Fairy
Director: Sebastián Silva
Actors: Michael Cera, Gaby Hoffman, Juan Andrés Silva, José Miguel Silva, Augustin Silva
If Michael Cera was typecast as the poster boy for Type B romantic heroes—awkward but sweet, soft but humble, geeky but loveable—his turn in Sebastián Silva’s Crystal Fairy marks his arrival as an unlikeable Type A anti-hero. In one of the actor’s two Chile-based collaborations with Silva at Sundance (the other is Magic Magic), Jaime (Cera) is an ugly American, obsessed with mind-altering drugs and oblivious to his own self-centeredness. Stoned at a local party, he invites fellow American Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffman)—a hippie, hairy, sometimes off-putting and often-naked free spirit—on his quest for a rare mescaline-producing cactus on a camping trip with friends. The sparse plot nonetheless provides opportunities for a little self-reflection and some original, dark humor, making the druggy affair a worthwhile trip to the theater.—Josh Jackson

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15. The Crash Reel
Director: Lucy Walker
Even for those of us who have no interest in snowboarding or winter sports, The Crash Reel provides a remarkable story about family. What could have easily been a by-the-numbers recovery story about a niche sport is constantly compelling in the hands of one of our most talented young documentarians—Oscar-nominee Lucy Walker. It’s striking how different each of Walker’s movies are in both subject matter and feel, yet she’s remarkably consistent. She finds the right story and the right tone every single time.—Michael Dunaway

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14. Afternoon Delight
Director: Jill Soloway
Stars: Kathryn Hahn, Juno Temple, Josh Radnor, Jane Lynch
We often see films about male midlife crises, so it’s refreshing to experience one from a woman’s point of view. From the beginning of the movie, McKenna (Kathryn Hahn) feels like a fish out of water among her friends, and she’s losing touch with her husband (Josh Radnor). Director Jill Soloway does a really good job of building that frustration so when McKenna has a spark of chemistry with a young dancer at a strip club (Juno Temple), it’s more believable that she’d let her into her life. Her character is obviously well-intention, but her self-destruction isn’t sugar-coated. And we get to see a new side of Josh Radnor than we’ve seen before—darker, more troubled and internal.—Michael Dunaway

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13. The Gatekeepers
Director: Dror Moreh
Dror Moreh’s documentary has already played at Telluride and Toronto, and is even already nominated for an Oscar, but it plays Sundance this year in the Spotlight section, reserved for a select few films that have played other festivals. It earns its spot, and then some. Amazingly, Moreh conducted interviews with every single head of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency. The access boggles the mind, and some of the stories are riveting. If there’s a flaw in the film, it’s one of bias—the film dwells on Israeli atrocities while mitigating its criticisms of Palestinian terrorism. Still, it’s a fascinating look behind the curtain. And it’s a technical tour de force—Moreh does things with still photos that I’ve never seen done in a film before.—Michael Dunaway

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12. Toy’s House
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Stars: Nick Robinson, Nick Offerman, Moises Arias, Gabriel Basso, Alison Brie, Megan Mullally, Erin Moriarty
Comedies generally fare well at Sundance. After hours of watching dark, disturbing dramas and depressing documentaries, sometimes you just need a laugh. Toy’s House provides plenty. Like Superbad (but with less raunch and even more heart), it tells the story of three boys on the brink of becoming men—struggling to fit in at school and at home. Joe Toy (Nick Robinson) has had enough of his overbearing, miserable widower father (Nick Offerman) and decides to build a house in the woods for he and his friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso). Moises Arias steals scene after scene as the awkward third roommate who just kind of shows up.—Josh Jackson

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11. Fill the Void
Director: Rama Burshtein
Stars: Hila Feldman, Razia Israeli, Yiftach Klein, Renana Raz, Ido Samuel
The press materials describe the film as a Jane Austin novel set in Tel Aviv’s ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community, and that’s about as close to the mark as we can get. It’s more than just a peek behind the veil of a seldom-depicted society, though. The tender film is anchored by a sensitive bravura lead performance by Hila Feldman. Somehow her struggles with family and marriage, while maintaining a parcularly Orthodox spin, still seem completely universal, as well.—Michael Dunaway

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10. Don Jon’s Addiction
Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Rob Brown
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has come a very long way since Third Rock From the Sun (and a rich career as a child actor that preceded even that). He’s shown an amazing range in films like Hesher, Mysterious Skin and his recent run of blockbusters. And he stretches himself further in his first directorial effort, Jon Don’s Addiction, playing a New Jersey Don Juan whose routine involves his car, his gym, his club, his church, his women and his porn. It’s an interesting—and hilarious—look at both how men objectify women and how women objectify men. His seemingly irredeemable character finds redemption in surprising ways.—Josh Jackson

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9. Cutie and the Boxer
Director: Zachary Heinzerling
Cutie and the Boxer, Zachary Heinzerling’s fascinating documentary about Ushio Shinohara and his wife, Noriko, studies the life of a man who is entering his 80s, but still dreams like he’s 20. Ushio, who spear-headed the Neo Dadaist movement in the ’60s, is best known for his “boxing paintings,” created by punching the canvas with paint-soaked boxing gloves. The documentary follows the passions and struggles of the couple as they live in their small New York City apartment with little income to support their lives and endeavors. Noriko emerges as the heart of the movie, as she recalls her life while writing a graphic novel about her rocky marriage. Heinzerling combines Noriko’s drawings with contemporary footage to create a story that isn’t only a tale of creative minds, but an honest love story.—Jeremy Mathews

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