Paste Editor in Chief Josh Jackson, Movies Editor Michael Dunaway, Chief Film Critic Tim Grierson and critic Jeremy Mathews descended on Park City for the Sundance Film Festival and between them saw dozens of films. You can see Paste’s 20 Best Movies at Sundance 2014 here, but here are our twenty favorite performances of the fest, five from each writer.
There are few tasks more difficult than playing someone with severe depression. A performance can easily turn into one mopey note, repeated ad nauseum. But Chichikova truly expresses the frustration of a woman who’s frustrated in a life with no future in communist Bulgaria. Even during portions of the film that veer toward absurdist comedy, she maintains a strong emotional core.
Cheng eloquently relays the experience of a Chinese immigrant who never integrated into British society and, after the death of her son, has no connection to her culture. She has some amazing scenes with the excellent Ben Wishaw, who plays the lover of her son. The son never officially came out to her, and she’s in denial about him being gay. Because her dialogue is relayed through a translator, we’re able to really focus on her face and the tone of her voice, and feel all the intense emotions she does.
Whether dealing with deep issues of faith, forgiveness and family or tossing off witty one-liners, Gleeson is perfectly at home in the role of a small-town priest who spends a week preparing to be murdered. Gleeson goes deeper down the rabbit hole of doubt and despair as the appointed time of his killing nears. The veteran actor is at finest in the tender scenes featuring Kelly Reilly as his daughter.
For a musical to really work, it needs a magnetic star. Browning fits the bill nicely in Belle and Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch’s God Help the Girl. She strikes the perfect balance of spontaneity, melancholy, conviction and gumption. It’s hard not to root for her character as she sings personal songs, dances like someone who doesn’t know how to dance but loves to anyway and tries to figure out life’s puzzle.
Kristen Stewart may have given Camp X-Ray its pre-Sundance buzz, but Maadi steals the show as a mentally scarred prisoner at Guantanamo Bay who forges a friendship with Stewart’s soldier. While Camp X-Ray may have some issues working against it, Maadi is amazing. He nails both the comedic and human aspects of his character, revealing deep psychological issues developed during incarceration, but also the lingering need for friendship.