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Six Sundance films worth your time

Published January 21, 2009 6:00 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

As the 2009 Sundance Film Festival winds toward its final weekend, advance hype has been replaced by real buzz -- the movies festival-goers have actually seen and recommend on the shuttle buses.

Here are the movies at Sundance that you owe yourself to see -- if you can get a ticket -- before the final reels unspool on Sunday:

The Greatest » U.S. Dramatic Competition

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Writer-director Shana Feste's intense drama hits hard at the beginning, with an auto accident that kills a high-school senior, Bennett (Aaron Johnson). Then we meet the family -- mom Grace (Susan Sarandon), obsessed with the crash details; dad Alan (Pierce Brosnan), trying to hold it all in; and screw-up younger brother Ryan (Johnny Simmons) -- as they meet Rose (Carey Mulligan), the girl in the car with Bennett that night, which was also the night he impregnated her. Feste draws amazing performances from her cast, and captures with heartbreaking precision the many facets of this family's grief. Bring tissues.

Amreeka » U.S. Dramatic Competition

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International issues are seen through a very personal filter in "Amreeka," which follows Muna (Nisreen Fouad), a Palestinian single mother who relocates to America with her teen son Fadi (Melkar Muallem), to live with her sister ("The Visitor's" Haim Abbass) and her Americanized family, as they deal with prejudice in the days after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Writer-director Cherien Dabis draws on her own life (as an Arab-American growing up in Ohio during the first Iraq war) to create a lived-in portrait of cultural clashes and striving to make in this strange new land.

Big Fan » U.S. Dramatic Competition

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"The Wrestler" screenwriter Robert Siegel (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gswu_0_N8DE" target="_blank">click here for our video interview) proves himself equally intense as a director, with this Scorsese-like character study of a parking-garage attendant, Paul (played by Patton Oswalt), obsessed with his New York Giants -- and specifically linebacker Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm). But Paul's world falls apart when he gets a chance to meet Bishop, which ends up with Bishop beating Paul to a pulp. Oswalt (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tUzPTkCpyGc" target="_blank">click here for our video interview) gives a soulful performance, finding the combination of self-loathing and self-delusion in Paul's fan worship.

The Cove » U.S. Documentary Competition

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Louie Psihoyos puts his activism for protecting marine wildlife into cinematic protest, directing an eye-opening documentary about a Japanese town's secret dolphin slaughter -- and the team of environmental activists who try to get the evidence. En route to a thrilling conclusion, Psihoyos exposes a conspiracy of silence involving the fishermen, the Japanese government and the world's marine amusement parks. The result is not only a great movie, but the most noble use of film there is: The power to change a wrong.

Adam » U.S. Dramatic Competition

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A heart-warming performance by Hugh Dancy raises this romantic charmer. Dancy plays the title character, a young man with Asperger's syndrome, which renders him unable to read other people's body language or nuances. His well-ordered life is disrupted by his father's life, a job layoff, and the arrival of a beautiful new neighbor, Beth (Rose Byrne), a teacher who aspires to write children's books. The relationship -- as Adam learns to read Beth's signals, and Beth learns to tolerate Adam's quirks -- is developed naturally by writer-director Max Mayer, who employs a light touch with dialogue and his actors.

Don't Let me Drown » U.S. Dramatic Competition

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Director Cruz Angeles' debut perfectly gets the feel of Brooklyn's streets, and the grief and dread of New York in the month after 9/11. That atmosphere informs this straight-ahead teen romance between Lalo (E.J. Bonilla), a Brooklyn-born Mexican boy, and Stefanie (Gleendilys Inoa), a girl of Dominican ancestry -- a romance that both Lalo's mom (Yareli Arizmendi) and Stefanie's abusive dad (Ricardo Antonio Chavira) don't want to happen. The young leads deftly handle the tricky emotions of young love.

The Greatest » U.S. Dramatic Competition

Jan. 23, 8 p.m. » Racquet Club, Park City

Amreeka » U.S. Dramatic Competition

Thursday, 8:30 p.m. » Library Center Theatre, Park City

* Special screening for Park City locals. Pass holders and others will need to sign up for the wait list. For information, contact the Park City Main Box Office.

Big Fan » U.S. Dramatic Competition

Thursday, 3:15 p.m. » Eccles Theatre, Park City

Jan. 23, 8:30 p.m. » Racquet Club, Park City

The Cove » U.S. Documentary Competition

Thursday, 9 p.m. » Temple Theatre, Park City

Jan. 24, 9 a.m. » Temple Theatre, Park City

Adam » U.S. Dramatic Competition

Thursday, 8:30 p.m. » Prospector Square Theatre, Park City

Jan. 23, 5:30 p.m. » Library Center Theatre, Park City

Jan. 24, 3 p.m. » Broadway Centre Cinemas VI, Salt Lake City

Don't Let me Drown » U.S. Dramatic Competition

Thursday, noon » Screening Room, Sundance

Jan. 23, 6 p.m. » Broadway Centre Cinemas VI, Salt Lake City

Jan. 24, 8:30 a.m. » Racquet Club, Park City