PARK CITY At the risk of sounding full of myself, I was right with my "sight-unseen" picks for promising movies at this year's Sundance Film Festival. The 10 films I selected in a column two weeks ago were pretty dead-on.
From a pure enjoyment standpoint, there may not have been a more satisfying movie at the festival than Stephen Chow's "Kung Fu Hustle." This action parody is basically a series of silly and very specific spoofs of earlier martial-arts films, including Jackie Chan's 1978 hit "Snake in Eagle's Shadow," and there are also a couple of "Matrix" gags that put all others to shame.
And while "Thumbsucker" may not have knocked my socks off, it definitely had some offbeat charm. Among its revelations was the re-emergence of Keanu Reeves as a comic actor; he plays a metaphysical dentist and spoofs all the trippy characters he's played in other films.
As for "MirrorMask," its digitally animated imagery may have appeared to be a goth version of "Alice in Wonderland," but it was actually quite original. And it featured perhaps the most memorable musical number in a film at the festival, a rendition of the Carpenters' "Close to You" sung by adult-sized Jacks-in-the-Box . . . er, Janes-in-the-Box. (The dance number featuring ax-wielding gang members in "Kung Fu Hustle" was a close second.)
But the film that had real heart was Brigham Young University graduate Greg Whiteley's "New York Doll," a touching and funny profile of former glam-rock musician and LDS Church convert Arthur "Killer" Kane.
The screening I went to for the film was filled with equal amounts of laughter and tears. (Spoiler alert: Kane died as the production was wrapping.) And it's a must for anyone who's a fan of the New York Dolls and their music.
But my favorite movie at the festival was one that didn't make my earlier list "Murderball," Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro's documentary about the little-known sport of quadriplegic rugby. I admired the guts of the athletes who play the sports, who don't let their supposed disabilities stop them from competing. Instead, they throw themselves around with reckless abandon, in wheelchairs that closely resemble demolition-derby cars.
It was the first film I saw at the festival, and it started my experience on the right note. I'm glad that ThinkFilm already acquired the film and that the studio will be releasing it theatrically this summer.
Another film that bludgeoned its way into my memory was "OldBoy," South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-Wook's thriller, which took the Grand Jury Prize at last year's Cannes Film Festival. On one hand, the film's troubling lack of morality, especially its ghastly ending, repulsed me. But I was thrilled by the fight scene in which the film's revenge-minded antihero, armed with a hammer, takes on an entire gang.
Overall, the 2005 Sundance slate was one of the more consistent in recent memory. There may have been fewer knockouts and fewer "buzz" films than usual, aside from the rap-music drama "Hustle & Flow," which was the first feature acquired during Sundance this year. (The Australian horror movie "Wolf Creek" was acquired before the event even began.)There were also fewer stinkers than usual, though the glorified film-school project "Ellie Parker" was certainly a waste of time and talent. How the filmmakers persuaded Naomi Watts to be in it is anyone's guess.