The Guilty is a riveting Danish narrative drama about a former Copenhagen police officer who is placed in the emergency services department answering emergency phone calls. The filmmaker makes the unusual step of having the entire movie take place in a police station in which the main protagonist is mostly talking on the phone. It is surprisingly gripping after he decides to investigate a particularly disturbing emergency call about a female that is kidnapped. He goes beyond his duties to make further inquiries and even enlists his former partner to figure out who the culprit is and how to rescue the hostage. In the end, there are several dramatic plot twists that make for an even more enjoyable movie-going experience.
The Blessing is a beautifully shot and emotionally powerful documentary about an older Native American man working as a coal miner on an Arizona Navajo reservation and his relationship with his high school daughter going through her own challenges. As a very spiritual Native American who believes nature is sacred, he grapples with the fact that his job is to essentially destroy the local deified mountain for its abundance of coal but argues that it is a necessary job in order to support his family on the economically deprived reservation. The movie also provides insight into the teenage daughter who goes against Native American culture and plays the masculine sport of football and is trying to figure out her sexuality, all activities that her traditional single father is unaware of throughout much of film. It is a meditative story about spirituality and the common Native American struggle with modernity sometimes being incompatible with worshipping the very beautiful nature which is effectively presented in the movie as a result of its beautiful cinematography.
Eighth Grade is a terrific independent narrative feature that tells a very honest and sometimes raw glimpse into the experiences of a middle school girl in contemporary America. Directed by former YouTube star Bo Burnham, the story follows Kayla, played by the phenomenal new young actress Elsie Fisher, as she is about to graduate eighth grade and shows quite vividly the awkwardness that kids go through at that age. The superb script explores her social anxiety the result of peer pressure and her desperate attempts to fit in with the popular crowd all the while coming to terms with her new found pubescent sexuality. There are several uncomfortable moments in which the audience relives some of the trials and tribulations experienced by most middle schoolers. I do not find it surprising at all that it was one of the highlights of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and it is one of the most memorable independent movies I have seen this year.