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10 of the best movies on Sundance Now in May 2021
Sundance Now offers a curated on-demand library of indie darlings and we've picked out the best of the bunch.
With that said, even when the line up is this littered with critically-acclaimed gold, your time is no less finite.
What on Earth should you watch first? Start with these 10 and then go from there…
1. Taxi to the Dark Side (2007)
This documentary shows the side of war you almost never get to hear about. Sometimes intel gathering goes way, way too far, even by the shadowy standards of the so-called good guys.
Case in point: the unsolved murder of an Afhgani taxi driver who, in 2002, was taken for questioning at Bagram Force Air Base. Less than a week later this civilian wound up dead and the coroner’s report pointed to extreme physical abuse.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg, too, as this documentary then leaps into other dodgy Bush administration incidents recorded at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. Eye-opening stuff, but not for the faint of heart.
- Alex Gibney
- Brian Keith Allen
- George W. Bush
- John McCain
2. Boyhood (2014)
Now here’s a rare and wonderful thing, a drama 12 years in the making. Filmed over a dozen years with the same cast, this is the literal coming of age drama as told by a kid named Mason. His parents (played by Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) nurture him as he navigates his early years, right up until when we see him literally sprout up on screen into prepubescence.
Growing up isn’t easy, but along with the twists and turns we challenge you not to get nostalgic as Boyhood dips into the good stuff; school graduations, road trips, friendships and the first shades of young love. Better yet, the soundtrack is a who’s who of artists from the era, too. This truly is something special.
- Ellar Coltrane as Mason
- Patricia Arquette as mom
- Elijah Smith as Tommy
- Lorelei Linklater as Samantha
3. Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
Banksy is an underground, anonymous artist that you may have heard about recently. Yeah, people tend to make the headlines when they arrange to have their art self-shred after the auction hammer has fallen on it (for a cool million dollars).
Exit Through The Gift Shop centres on his/her/its collaboration with Thierry Guetta, a Los Angeles-based Frenchman who videotapes various underground art escapades, and later is transformed into an art phenomenon dubbed “Mr. Brainwash.” Fascinating stuff, even if you’re not usually into edgy and/or weird Modern Art.
- Mr. Brainwash
- Debora Guetta
4. Embrace of the Serpent (2016)
In the early 1900s in the Colombian Amazon, an impressionable shaman and final standard bearer for his tribe, Karamakate, aids an infirm German explorer and his local guide to track down a rare healing plant. What starts as a simple enough endeavour becomes quite a bit more complicated as a bunch of far too self-assured imperialists become exposed to a bit of jungle madness.
Interestingly, Embrace of the Serpent interweaves two parallel expeditions into one narrative thread – both pre and post-colonization, undertaken decades apart. It’s a confronting before and after to say the very least.
- Nilbio Torres as Young Karamakate
- Antonio Bolivar as Old Karamakate
- Jan Bijvoet as Theo
- Brionne Davis as Evan
5. The Invisible War (2012)
Truly disturbing stuff, The Invisible War is a hard-hitting documentary that chronicles the worrying incidents of covered up rapes in the U.S. Military. What you probably wouldn’t have heard is that soldier-on-soldier sexual assault is at basically at epidemic levels right now. For example, in 2010 just over 3000 incidents of this sort of abuse had been processed by the Department of Defense but the same government body estimated the actual number to be in the vicinity of 19,000.
The Invisible War is a shocking look into the justice denied to many victims, and the campaigns of intimidation and the continued advancement of identified predators.
- Amy Ziering
- Kirby Dick
- Kori Cioca
- Jessica Hinves
6. The Blood is at the Doorstep (2017)
What happened to Dontre Hamilton was ridiculous by anyone’s standards. He was a black, unarmed man diagnosed with schizophrenia who was shot 14 times by police in Milwaukee for sleeping on a park bench (and, tellingly, the majority of the rounds fired by law enforcement were in a downward direction).
The Blood is at the Doorstep chronicles the Hamilton family’s desperate quest for answers and to enact change to ensure, in some small way, that their son wasn’t murdered for nothing.
Filmed from hour one, and over the course of three years, this is an incredibly raw and moving insight into what it’s like to be at the ground zero of an event that was as tragic as it was preventable.
7. Shifty (2009)
Welcome to a day in the life of the titular, London-based drug dealer who’s as dodgy as his name would have you believe. The average 24 hours with Shifty means being exposed to a seemingly never-ending conga line of increasingly desperate coke fiends and double-dealing frenemies. Along for the ride is Chris, a old-time friend of Shifty’s who left the life years ago to live the straight and narrow instead. Thoroughly domesticated with responsibilities and a mortgage, he feels obligated to issue a reality check. But the question is: can the black sheep among us ever really be saved from themselves?
- Riz Ahmed as Shifty
- Daniel Mays as Chris
- Jason Flemyng as Glen
- Nitin Ganatra as Rez
8. The Heart Machine (2014)
This is pretty damned irresistible as far as romantic thrillers go – and that’s a pretty rare hybrid to begin with, let’s be honest. Our tale centres on the blossoming online relationship of John Gallagher, Jr. and Lyn Sheil, a long distance relationship that begins to fall apart when personal information volunteered by the latter stops adding up. Simple things at first — like ambient noises in Skype conversations sounding like they’re from North American cities as opposed to European. As time goes on, further revelations and a growing sense of paranoia make Cody slide into full detective mode for borderline stalker behaviour.
- John Gallagher Jr. as Cody
- Kate Lyn Sheil as Virginia
- David Call as Dale
- Louisa Krause as Jessica
9. Best Kept Secret (2013)
In this gem of a documentary Janet Mino, a Special Ed high school teacher from Newark, New Jersey, goes above and beyond to ease the transition into adulthood for some of her graduating students.
Being on the spectrum and having a phase of your life abruptly end is often an incredibly upsetting experience for her young charges. And that’s before you factor in a lack of understanding, or outright discrimination, shown to them potential employers and (shockingly) tertiary educators.
- Alyce Barnhardt
- Carla Byrd
- Robert Caspar
- Quran Keyf
10. Charlie’s Country (2013)
Blackfella Charlie is out of sorts and displeased with the increasing intervention of whitefella laws. The encroachment of Western society is getting worse as the years roll on and it’s making life simultaneously easier but more difficult in his remote community.
Fed up, he rejects the new ways to go on a quest of personal discovery by re-adopting the ways of his ancestors.
What follows is a chain reaction of enlightening difficulties and heartbreaking setbacks as he struggles to shrug off the tempting shortcuts of the modern world while searching for any latent hunter instincts.
- David Gulpilil as Charlie
- Luke Ford as Luke
- Peter Djigirr as Black Pete
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