Park City • As the 2020 Sundance Film Festival winds down, and the opening-weekend onslaught of celebrities and parties subsides while dedicated film fans take over, festival attendees begin to settle on which movies they loved the most.
No two lists are the same. One person may find beauty where another got bored. A movie some found challenging was offensive to others. And so on.
Here are 10 excellent titles, from the 30-plus I’ve seen during or before the festival. Five of them will screen this weekend in Salt Lake City, and all 10 have more screenings in Park City. (I omitted one of my favorites, a drama about abortion titled “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” because it doesn’t have any more screenings scheduled — but Focus Features will be releasing it this spring.)
“Nine Days” • A poetic existential drama, starring Winston Duke (“Us”) as a man tasked with interviewing “souls” — a cast including Zazie Beetz, Bill Skarsgard and Tony Hale — vying for the chance to become human. Writer-director Edson Oda tells this complex story with painterly images (shot on the Bonneville Salt Flats and at other Utah locations), propelled by a life-affirming message. Screens again: Thursday, 8:30 p.m., Prospector (Park City); Friday, 6 p.m., The Grand (Salt Lake City); Saturday, noon, PC Library (Park City).
“Sylvie’s Love” • An old-fashioned romance in the Douglas Sirk style, a swooning melodrama about an ambitious woman (Tessa Thompson, always brilliant) torn between her fiancé (Alano Miller) and a hunky jazz musician (Nnamdi Asomugha). Writer-director Eugene Ashe employs period details, gorgeous cinematography by Declan Quinn, and a sumptuous score by Fabrice Lecomte to create a romance for the ages. Screens again: Thursday, 8:30 p.m., The MARC (Park City); Friday, 3 p.m., PC Library (Park City); Saturday, 3:15 p.m., The Grand (Salt Lake City).
“Coded Bias” • Yes, your computer is racist and sexist. In this polished, urgent documentary, director Shalini Kantayya follows digital artist-turned-activist Joy Buolamwini, who discovered while working on a student project at MIT that the facial-recognition software she was using couldn’t read her face because she’s black. Thus begins an examination on how the algorithms that rule everything from commerce to crime-fighting are based on flawed data that ranks white males — the people who predominantly worked in tech when the data was first created — higher than women and people of color. Screens again: Thursday, 9 p.m., PC Library (Park City); Friday, 11:59 p.m., Tower (Salt Lake City); Saturday, noon, Park Avenue (Park City).
“Dick Johnson Is Dead” • Documentary legend Kirsten Johnson points her camera at her father, retired Seattle psychiatrist C. Richard Johnson, who in his mid-80s is beginning the slow decline of Alzheimer’s. In exploring her father’s imminent death, she decides to stage it — with Dad’s participation, in a series of hilariously gruesome scenes aided by makeup artists and stunt performers. She also stages a funeral, and a view of heaven complete with confetti, dance numbers and Dad’s favorite chair. The results are funny, sad and moving, just like life. Screens again: Friday, 11:30 a.m., Egyptian (Park City); Saturday, 12:15 p.m., The Grand (Salt Lake City).
“Whirlybird” • Zoey Tur, who transitioned in 2014, worked (under her previous name) with Marika Gerrard as the hotshot helicopter TV crew of the 1980s and ‘90s, zipping from wildfire to high-speed chase to get footage — including the Rodney King riots and O.J. Simpson’s Bronco ride. They also were a deeply dysfunctional family, taking their baby daughter Katy (now an MSNBC anchor) to crime scenes. Director Matt Yoka assembles a wealth of footage to create a riveting time capsule of Los Angeles of a generation ago. Screens again: Thursday, 9 a.m., PC Library (Park City); Friday, 9 p.m., Redstone 7 (Park City); Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Rose Wagner (Salt Lake City).
“Binti” • One wishes American kids’ movies were as energetic and serious-minded as this one from Belgium, about a 13-year-old vlogger (Bebel Tshiani Baloji) and her artist father (played by Betel’s father, the one-named hip-hop performer Baloji) trying to hide out from the police because of their immigration status. Writer-director Frederike Migom applies a light touch, reflecting the energy of her young star and the makeshift family that sprouts up around her. Screens again: Thursday, 5:30 p.m., Prospector (Park City); Saturday, 1 p.m., Redstone 1 (Park City).
“The Painter and the Thief” • An artist learns two of her paintings were stolen from an Oslo gallery, and when one of the robbers goes to court, the artist asks him if she can paint his portrait. Thus begins an unlikely friendship, and in director Benjamin Ree’s engrossing documentary, an examination of how muses appear in the strangest of places. Screens again: Thursday, 6 p.m., Temple (Park City); Friday, 3 p.m., Redstone 7 (Park City).
“The Climb” • Director Michael Angelo Covino and his co-screenwriter Kyle Marvin both star in this acerbic comedy, about two best friends — one of whom (played by Covino) is absolutely toxic to his buddy, his buddy’s family, two of his buddy’s fiancees, and himself. Shot in long takes that bring out loads of uncomfortable laughter as the movie probes the dynamics of a strained friendship. Screens again: Saturday, 6 p.m., PC Library (Park City).
“Wander Darkly” • With a nod to “The Sixth Sense,” writer-director Tara Miele’s drama examines a couple at the crossroads, when a car accident leaves Adrienne (Sienna Miller) believing she’s dead and wandering around her life. She sees the moments of her romance with Matteo (Diego Luna), the high points and low, able to reconsider what she remembers with what he remembers. Richly detailed, with a gut-punch of an ending. Screens again: Thursday, 12:15 p.m., Eccles (Park City); Friday, 9 p.m., PC Library (Park City).
“Palm Springs” • Having secured the biggest distribution deal in Sundance history — $17,500,000.69 — you’re likely to see this one in a regular theatrical run later this year. Or you can be among the folks who saw it first, and laughed at director Max Barbakow and screenwriter Andy Siara’s variation on “Groundhog Day,” where a wedding guest (Andy Samberg) caught in an infinite time loop accidentally sucks a bridesmaid (Cristin Milioti) in with him. The comic and romantic chemistry between Samberg and Milioti is a joy to watch. Screens again: Thursday, 6:30 p.m., Eccles (Park City); Saturday, noon, Redstone 7 (Park City).
SUNDANCE’S FINAL WEEKEND
The 2020 Sundance Film Festival concludes this weekend, with screenings through Sunday in Park City and at venues in Salt Lake City and the Sundance resort.
Tickets • A few tickets to screenings are available at the Sundance box office online, at sundance.org/boxoffice.
Waitlist • If tickets aren’t available, the eWaitlist can help get moviegoers into unfilled seats. Download the Sundance app to register.
Best of Fest • Utah residents can get into select screenings for free on Sunday evening. (Who cares about the Super Bowl?) Titles will be announced Saturday night or Sunday morning. Screenings are at the following times and locations: 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. at The Ray (Park City); 9 p.m. at the Eccles Theatre (Park City); 3, 6 and 9 p.m. at the Broadway 3 and Broadway 6 (Salt Lake City); and 4 and 7 p.m. at the Sundance resort. Tickets will be distributed by the eWaitlist; download the Sundance app to register.