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Sundance 2013: Documentaries shine in Utah

At the Sundance Film Festival, docs like 'Twenty Feet From Stardom' and 'The Crash Reel' show some of the best the industry has to offer.

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The dramatic films

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On the dramatic film side, I could have lived without Jerusha Hess’s “Austenland,” a feather-light dingbat comedy about a Jane Austen-themed resort in England.

Jeff Nichols’s Mississippi-set “Mud” was too muddy. It’s about two teenage boys encountering a fugitive and stars Matthew McConaughey, who is mostly shirtless. (It must be in his contract.)

David Gordon Green’s “Prince Avalanche” is a wayward buddy comedy starring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch as two highway road workers. Green was an indie icon with films like “George Washington” before crossing over to the dark side to make “Pineapple Express” and “Your Highness.” He’s trying here for an art film again (albeit a goofy one). Someone should have told Green that you can’t go home again.

On the other hand, I was happy I saw Drake Doremus’s “Breathe In,” his first film since his Sundance smash “Like Crazy.” Felicity Jones stars as a British foreign-exchange student who scrambles the lives of her hosts in upstate New York. It has moments of sustained insight and feeling that carry you past its sundry flaws. Andrew Dosunmu’s “Mother of George” is a lilting drama about a Nigerian woman in Brooklyn who risks opprobrium to please her husband.

Richard Linklater’s “Before Midnight” is the third film starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, whom we pick up almost two decades after their characters had a chance meeting on a train bound for Vienna in “Before Sunrise.” The series has become a bit twee for me, but Linklater is the great humanist filmmaker of his generation. I’d rather be spending time with this couple than with just about any other movie couple around.

Many of the best films I’ve mentioned here have distribution or were bought during the festival, with undoubtedly more sales to follow.

That’s good news. The mantra of Sundance this year should have been: Open minds, open wallets.

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