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Again, I’m going to skip the Sundance play-by-play I used to deliver from this place because frankly, I’m seeing the same people and doing the same stuff as I’ve done years past. And while there is both good and bad in that (seeing friends and catching up – good, same Sundance complaints and issues that never change – bad), the result of it all has made me focus that much more on the films that are screening this year.

So, here are reviews of three films that could not be more different, yet I believe should find audiences and make them happy they paid for their tickets and sat their behinds in a theater or clicked on the film’s poster image from the comfy confines of their living room.

RAMS

Grímur Hákonarson’s RAMS follows the eccentrically estranged relationship between two sheep farmer brothers in Iceland. Raising rams in neighboring ranches, Gummi’s prized ram loses out to his older brother, Kiddi in a local competition. However, Gummi discovers that Kiddi’s winning ram shows all the signs of having scrapie, an incurable and contagious disease that would mean the destruction of all livestock that may have come in contact with the infection. As the entire valley deals with the pending loss of their livelihoods due to this discovery, the brothers deal with the emotions following the required sacrifice of their beloved sheep in different ways, and then must confront their past history with one another when it becomes apparent they will need to work together to save what is vital to them both.

RAMS revels in both the simplicity of it’s presentation and storytelling as well as that of the brothers at the center of the film. Set amidst the beauty of the Icelandic landscape and the stoic nature of the people in the community, the relationship between Gummi and Kiddi plays out with humor and heartfelt emotion just under the icy posturing. Sigurður Sigurjónsson and Theodór Júlíusson are entertaining and affecting in equal parts, bringing an unexpected immediacy to the fate of the brothers in a film that should connect with most audiences.

Expected Real World Reaction: With a seal of approval from Cannes (winner of the top prize in Un Certain Regard), it should get solid art house play before heading to VOD.

MAGGIE’S PLAN

Rebecca Miller’s MAGGIE’S PLAN focuses on the title character (Greta Gerwig), who is determined to have a baby in order to fulfill her life. The problem is that she is neither in a relationship at the moment, but she seems to lack the ability to sustain one satisfactorily in order to produce a good candidate for a daddy. After making the decision to ask a pickle entrepreneur named Guy to donate some sperm for the “project”, she falls in love with a professor (Ethan Hawke) married to an eccentric and domineering wife (Julianne Moore) with children of his own. He leaves his wife for Maggie, they marry and have a little girl, but soon enough Maggie comes to the realization that her life isn’t as “storybook” as she had mapped out. Therefore, she begins to concoct another plan…

MAGGIE’S PLAN is a relationship comedy (I would steer clear of describing it as a “romantic” comedy) that is as quirky and charming as the New York neighborhoods it’s characters live in. Light and frothy almost to excess, and intellectually curious and confounding, the film is led by the kind of Greta Gerwig performance that we’ve come to depend on and delight with. In fact, Gerwig may be the perfect and most recent example of an actor that excels in finding new dimensions of themselves as opposed to transforming into a vastly different character. And while, not everyone may agree with me, I hope no one tampers with that in her future films. The rest of the cast delivers entertaining takes on their characters as well, including Maya Rudolph and Bill Hader as Maggie’s married best friends. Overall, the film should satisfy anyone looking for the kind of comedy with relationship entanglements that haven’t been done that well since some of Woody Allen’s comedies of that ilk.

Expected Real World Reaction: It’s got name talent and is charming without being demanding – It should play in theaters across the country.

SLEIGHT

JD Dillard’s SLEIGHT centers on Bo (Jacob Latimore), a quietly charismatic young man who wows people as a street magician during the day and craftily earns a living pushing drugs at night while he takes on the responsibility of raising his little sister. However, the tentative balance in his life is jolted for the good when he strikes up a romance with a pretty but troubled student, and for the bad when Angelo, the drug dealer he works for (a threatening Dulé Hill) increasingly encroaches into his life in a way he can’t refuse. After Bo makes a crucial miscalculation in his dealings with Angelo, it will take every bit of his ingenuity and talent to make things right and not just get out from under the drug dealer’s thumb, but get out with his life.

SLEIGHT is a deceptively modest drama with action thriller elements that successfully weaves together a number of entertaining threads (romance, urban crime, magic?!) to create a very satisfying mix. Of course, one of the reasons it is able to do so is the duo performances of Latimore, likeable, and convincingly resourceful as the magic man with a plan, and Hill as the mercurial villain. Dillard smartly keeps things as simple and straightforward as he can with his first feature film so these two can take center stage with the uneasy growth and then critically fraying relationship. SLEIGHT also does a successful job of nudging up against the harsh realities and life and death implications of the world it presents while maintaining the charm that drew us in to Bo’s world in the first place.

Expected Real World Reaction: This one has all the elements to make for a “safe” audience pleasing programmer. Maybe a little too modest for theatrical, but should be very solid for VOD.