WOOF! Paddy Considine's Tyrannosaur begins with Peter Mullan kicking his dog to death.
PARK CITY, UTAH — When you step back from Sundance 2011 and its 110 films that hit the dozen screens over the 10 days ending January 30, what you come away with is the year of Angry Men.
Yes, there was the dependable Sundance assortment of aggrieved lesbians, from Tehran (Circumstance) to Brooklyn (Pariah). There were the transgender teens (Gun Hill Road) and the sensitive kids pushed out onto the ledge of adulthood (Terri, The Ledge, Win Win). The latter category also included Little Birds, a drama about teens on LA's mean streets by Boston's Elgin James, who was everywhere in Park City crediting the Sundance writers' lab for saving him from his well-documented life of punk-inflected violence. Unfortunately, the film, at least here at Sundance, fizzled.
Other requisite festival fixtures included the doomed lovers (Like Crazy) à la Blue Valentine and the inevitable stoner comedy (My Idiot Brother), with Paul Rudd serene as a long-suffering fall guy. And, of course, the docs about the rape of Mother Earth (The Last Mountain), animals done wrong or right (Project Nim, Buck), the downfall of culture (The Greatest Movie Ever Sold), the collapse of the economy (Margin Call), and the redemption of Ronald Reagan (Reagan).
But they all made way for the films with furious guys ripping up everything in their path. The Angry Man films — with subdivisions including Angry Religious Fanatics, Angry Gay Men, and Angry Men Tanking the Economy. Where to begin?
Well, more on that later. First, how does Sundance '11 measure up in Oscar potential to the outstanding class of '10, with five of that festival's films now up for various Oscars, and two of them — Winter's Bone and The Kids Are All Right — up for Best Picture?
Hard to say, but if the tastes of the festival juries and audiences are any indication, Sundance is betting that the Academy next year will be hot for films full of hope, love, and healing tears. Drake Doremus's Like Crazy, which won the US Grand Jury Feature Prize, is a throwback to An Affair To Remember in its celebration of lovers who miss the boat. The foreign dramatic winner from Norway, Anne Sewitsky's Happy Happy, is about a sex-starved housewife who looks for comfort from the guy who moves in next door. The Audience Award went to Circumstance, a "Sundance Labs" film made by Iranian expatriate Maryam Keshavarz. Filmed on the sly in Beirut, it's about two girls who fall in love.
Of course, these two girls come a-cropper of the brother of one of them. A furious, intolerant fundamentalist, he is just one of the festival's inescapable Angry Guys. Hope and love may do their worst, but the Angry Guys will not be denied.
There's a lot of competition, but the Grand Prize winner for the Angry Award has to be Kevin Smith. Since Clerks in 1994, he has been a larger-than-cinema figure, especially in the minds of those 20-35, even though his films have failed to measure up to his promising debut. That's also the case with Red State, an apocalyptic Elmer-Gantry-at-Waco extravaganza. Everything about it is angry. Especially Smith, who instead of doing the standard Q&A after a screening of the film launched into a 45-minute tirade against the corrupting power of indie distributors.