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'Boyhood' And 'Happy Valley' Are Sundance Standouts So Far

The Sundance Film Festival is underway — actors, directors, studio executives and autograph hounds have converged on Park City, Utah, where dozens of independent movies and documentaries are being showcased during the 10-day event. Los Angeles Times arts and entertainment writer Steven Zeitchik, who has been binge watching films at the festival, takes a short intermission to tell NPR's Melissa Block about some of his picks.

Interview Highlights

On Richard Linklater's film Boyhood, in which he filmed his characters over the course of 12 years

Most times when you see a Hollywood movie with someone playing a young personality and an older one, there's makeup used or there's a different actor swapped in and out. ... [Linklater] went for a totally natural feel and he basically ... follows this 7-year-old boy over the course of 12 years — as well as other actors — and so the result is you're actually seeing someone age in real time, and the results are really quite spectacular. This has been one of the breakout films of the festival — gotten great reviews, I think in part because it feels so natural and so unlike anything we've seen before.

On Wish I Was Here, the first film from Zach Braff since 2004's Garden State

This is Zach Braff's film that he raised money for on Kickstarter — causing a bit of a backlash last year when he did so — because he is, of course, a well-known Hollywood personality. ... [It's a] very divisive film, very sentimental, very affecting. I was at a screening where people were crying all around me, they were laughing, total crowd pleaser. Critics didn't like it, I think, in part, because Braff can be a sentimental director, but also because he raised money on Kickstarter and some people question that. So I think it's a good film, I think it's going to get a big release, but certainly one that was divisive.

On themes that have emerged from the festival

One thing that's really been interesting to me is how many kind of ... genre influences that you've not had before, and I think that's somewhat directly the result of things like Twilight and Harry Potter ... The Hunger Games, some of these big hits we've had. And it's starting to seep in in some ways into the indie world which has usually been more dramatic. There's a movie from the Flight of the Conchordsguys that's actually a midnight vampire film you never would have expected, another movie called Life After Beth which is kind of a zombie tale that is playing in competition which is usually more dramatic. So some of these genre influences are making their way into what's typically a more Sundance-y slash prestige-y kind of air.

On Happy Valley, his favorite documentary from the festival so far

Sundance is always known for its documentaries. This year there have been a couple of really good ones focused on personalities and on environments that these personalities live in. And the one that really jumps out to me is a movie called Happy Valley about Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno and the whole Penn State controversy over the last few years. [The director is Amir Bar-Lev] ... the guy who made The Tillman Story, another very charged, sort of football-tinged story. And it's really a look at how this town is very much affected by, and has a very complicated reaction to everything that happened in the wake of that scandal. Not so much what happened with the controversy itself, but the fallout from it, and I think it's one of the standouts.

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