Daily | Sundance 2015 Awards

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl’

The juries and audiences have spoken. Let’s have a look at what the critics have been saying about their favorites.


Jurors: Lance Acord, Sarah Flack, Cary Fukunaga, Winona Ryder and Edgar Wright.

U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. “The unpromising title and catalog description for Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s Me and Earl and the Dying Girl kept a lot of critics away from the first public screening, but the good word and a bidding war brought them running, laughing and sniffling,” writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. “The ‘me’ is a near-loner, Greg (Thomas Mann, excellent), a high school senior whose mother forces him to do a good deed by spending time with a student, Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who’s just learned she has leukemia. A supreme cinephile, Greg makes humorous no-budget movie knockoffs with his only friend, Earl (RJ Cyler)—their epics include Brew Velvet—that reflect a young, struggling life not yet fully examined or lived. Only when Greg tests himself with an original work does his truer self begin to bloom.”

Wesley Morris at Grantland: “It sounds like a dozen other precious, youth-fueled movies that have come before it, at Sundance and elsewhere…. But there’s something about the way the camera work (by Chung-hoon Chung) glides through spaces, the way [screenwriter Jesse] Andrews has written Greg and the physical way Mann plays him, that makes his quirks, social survival strategies, and bodily comedy seem organic.”

More from David D’Arcy (Artinfo), Peter Debruge (Variety), John DeFore (Hollywood Reporter), A.A. Dowd (AV Club, B+), David Ehrlich (Time Out, 4/5), Ed Gibbs (Guardian, 4/5), Tim Grierson (Screen), Anisha Jhaveri (Indiewire, A), Noel Murray (Dissolve), Rodrigo Perez (Playlist, A-), Jordan Raup (Film Stage, B+), Brian Tallerico (, Jada Yuan (Vulture) and Alison Willmore (Buzzfeed). Interviews with Gomez-Rejon: John Horn (Vulture), Indiewire, Jeremy Kinser (Sundance) and Patrick Z. McGavin (

Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic: Robert Eggers, The Witch. We’ve got an entry on this one and the updates are still coming in.

Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic: Tim Talbott, The Stanford Prison Experiment. A “gripping dramatization of the infamous incident,” finds the AV Club‘s A.A. Dowd. “The challenge of this material is making it feel psychologically credible; though all of this really happened, it would still seem contrived without actors capable of selling how these young men could adapt so quickly to the parts they were playing. Everyone comes through, from Ezra Miller as the first ‘prisoner’ to crack under the pressure to Michael Angarano as the swaggering head ‘guard,’ who takes a quick, sadistic shine to authority.”

At the Dissolve, though, Noel Murray finds that these reenactments “aren’t really instructive. They’re predictable, and a little tedious after a while.” More from Justin Chang (Variety), David D’Arcy (Screen), Leslie Felperin (THR), Jordan Hoffman (Guardian, 4/5), Dan Mecca (Film Stage, C), Rodrigo Perez (Playlist, A-) and Brian Tallerico ( Indiewire has a few questions for director Kyle Patrick Alvarez.

U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Collaborative Vision: Advantageous. At the Dissolve, Mike D’Angelo finds that it “plays as a feminist gloss on the John Frankenheimer classic Seconds. Co-written by lead actor Jacqueline Kim (Charlotte Sometimes), whose open, expressive countenance makes the narrative that much more upsetting, it applies heady ideas and surprisingly good visual effects (given the low budget) to the story of a single mom whose efforts to carve out a good life for her young daughter, in a future world growing more and more hostile to women, leads her to make a horrific sacrifice. [Jennifer] Phang expanded the film from a short she made (currently available here), featuring the same basic cast (including James Urbaniak), and its biggest problem is that it just doesn’t have nearly enough material to sustain a feature.”

The Hollywood Reporter‘s Leslie Felperin finds that “it casts a peculiarly bewitching spell and has ambition to burn.” More from Sam Fragoso (, Dennis Harvey (Variety) and Kim Voynar (Movie City News). Interviews with Phang: Filmmaker and Indiewire.

U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Excellence in Editing: Lee Haugen, Dope. “Amid the worthy coming-of-age stories and quirky romances and moody ennui, there was no way an infectiously entertaining, twisty-turny punk-comedy-thriller wasn’t going to stand out,” writes Bilge Ebiri at Vulture. “But that it somehow manages to be all that while also offering a savvy look at race and achievement in our hyperconnected age? Boom. Dope is Go meets Risky Business meets True Romance meets Fingers, with a little bit of Boyz N the Hood and We Are the Best! thrown in. I don’t know if all of those movies were actually on [director Rick] Famuyiwa’s mind—I highly doubt it—but the film wears its referentiality on its sleeve, turns it into a thing, toys with it, and uses it to toy with us.”

Dope “hinges on three black high school nerds from Inglewood, Calif., who accidentally and without any real ethical self-reflection become involved in a drug deal,” writes the NYT‘s Manohla Dargis. “Famuyiwa blithely traffics in toxic stereotypes and some dubious comedy (there’s a deadly shooting played for laughs and a corrupt black Harvard graduate) only to then wag a finger at the audience for ostensibly buying into the kind of stereotypes the movie has just deployed.” Grantland‘s Wesley Morris is a bit more blunt about it, arguing that Famuyiwa is feeding audiences “black shit white people like.”

More from Jason Bailey (Flavorwire), An Banh (Indiewire, B-), Mike D’Angelo (Dissolve), Tim Grierson (Screen), Dennis Harvey (Variety), Brian Moylan (Guardian, 5/5), Rodrigo Perez (Playlist, B+), Jordan Raup (Film Stage, B), Brian Tallerico (, Boyd van Hoeij (THR) and Alison Willmore (Buzzfeed). Indiewire gets a few words with Famuyiwa.

U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Excellence in Cinematography: Brandon Trost, The Diary of a Teenage Girl. Reviews. Next stop: Berlin.

Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize. Jurors: Paula Apsell, Janna Levin, Brit Marling, Jonathan Nolan and Adam Steltzner. The Stanford Prison Experiment.


Jurors: Eugene Hernandez, Kirsten Johnson, Michele Norris, Gordon Quinn and Roger Ross Williams.

U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary: Crystal Moselle’s The Wolfpack. It’s “an uncommonly lucid example of a documentary that has incredible subjects but no idea what to do with them,” finds David Ehrlich at Little White Lies. “Despite its maker’s inability to make the most of a remarkable opportunity, however, the film contains a number of moments so rich with meta-cinematic poetry that it remains a genuine must-see…. Isolated from civilization and homeschooled by their mother, the six Angulo boys (Baghavan, Govinda, Narayan, Mukunda, Krsna, and Jagadisa) spent their entire childhoods in a cramped high-rise that they would only leave a maximum of nine times per year. Their only connection with the world beyond their windows: movies. The brothers don’t just love movies, they rely upon them. When we’re first introduced into their home, the boys are in the midst of reenacting Reservoir Dogs, complete with real suits, fake guns, and all of Quentin Tarantino’s original dialogue… With a premise that naturally stirs echoes of The Dreamers, The Virgin Suicides, Dogtooth, and even Grey Gardens, The Wolfpack offers an extreme case study about how the cinema can shape who we are.”

All this “might be funny, in a low-bar YouTube kind of way, except that the subject is child abuse,” argues Vadim Rizov at Filmmaker. “To me, this is primarily a document about young men whose personalities have been heavily molded at such an impressionable age that every asocialization-molded tic seems impossibly hard to undo.”

More from Sam Adams (Criticwire), John DeFore (THR), Kate Erbland (Playlist, C+), Scott Foundas (Variety), Jordan Hoffman (Guardian, 5/5), Eric Kohn (Indiewire, B+), Wesley Morris (Grantland), Noel Murray (Dissolve) and Jordan Raup (Film Stage, B). Backgrounders: Nigel M. Smith (Indiewire), Alice Van Couvering (Filmmaker), Nicky Woolf (Guardian) and Steven Zeitchik (Los Angeles Times).

Directing Award: U.S. Documentary: Matthew Heineman, Cartel Land. “With unprecedented access to vigilante groups both north and south of the U.S./Mexico border, the film captures searing footage from the front lines of the narco wars, and provides a new perspective on the issue,” writes Katie Walsh at the Playlist, where she gives the film an A-.

“I question neither director Matthew Heineman’s sincerity of intent nor his camera-up, head-down courage in filming Cartel Land,” writes Filmmaker‘s Vadim Rizov. “There are gunshots aplenty, and Heineman’s embedded right there, ducking and covering as needed. And that’s all I can say that’s nice, because Cartel Land is an absolute mess of a film that raises the question: what happens when access doesn’t equal insight?” More from David D’Arcy (Screen) and Ben Kenigsberg (Variety); and Indiewire has a few questions for Heineman.

U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Cinematography: Matthew Heineman, Cartel Land.

U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Break Out First Feature: Lyric R. Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe for (T)ERROR. “You think it’s telling the story of Saeed Torres, an ex-con and former member of the Black Panther Party who now works undercover as an FBI antiterrorism informant,” writes Wesley Morris at Grantland. “But the filmmakers go through the looking glass once, then again, until the film opens into a three-way surveillance thriller that damns the FBI’s counterterrorism tactics. Torres seems poorly trained for such sensitive and dangerous work…. He is also getting old, is a chronic marijuana smoker, and is in poor health. It’s impossible to leave this movie without thinking the Bureau finds him, and probably other such low-level operatives, expendable. So do the filmmakers—it feels that way, at least.”

“The FBI’s system of counterterrorism informants is inherently broken, as the directors describe, but it’s hard to get the message out with a film this flawed,” writes Brian Moylan for the Guardian. More from John DeFore (THR); Paula Bernstein talks with Cabral for Indiewire.

U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Vérité Filmmaking: Bill Ross and Turner Ross, Western. Reviews.

U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Social Impact: Marc Silver, 3½ MINUTES. “Marc Silver’s timely documentary about racial bias, gun violence and the death of a young black man… revisits the 2012 case of Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old who was shot in Florida and killed by Michael Dunn, after Dunn asked Davis to turn down the music in his car at a petrol station…. Silver’s approach differs from his last documentary, Who Is Dayani Cristal?… Silver tells the story of Jordan Davis through the testimony of witnesses on the stand, recordings of emergency calls, media reports, talk-radio snippets and other footage. There are interviews with Davis’s parents and his friends after his death, but the film stays impartial.”

“The movie works on its own terms,” grants Wesley Morris. “Yet, at Sundance it’s another reminder of the limited occasions one can see black people at the center of a film.” More from Dennis Harvey (Variety) and Anisha Jhaveri (Indiewire, A-). Interviews with Silver: Filmmaker and Indiewire.


Jurors: Elena Fortes Acosta, Mark Cousins and Ingrid Kopp.

World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary: The Russian Woodpecker. Leslie Felperin in the Hollywood Reporter: “Rightly singled out by many as one of the more arresting and formally inventive documentaries at Sundance this year, debutant director Chad Gracia’s The Russian Woodpecker offers a wild ride through Ukrainian and Soviet history, from the famines of the early 30s through Chernobyl and up to the present-day war with Russia. American-born, Russian-fluent theatre director Gracia selects as his anchor protagonist eccentric Ukrainian artist Fedor Alexandrovich, a Chernobyl survivor himself who has an elaborate conspiracy theory about the real reasons why the reactor blew up in 1986.”

This “peculiar documentary grafts together two apparently unrelated themes to spectacular effect,” writes Charlie Phillips for the Guardian: “Fedor’s absurdist avant-garde commitment to making his art, versus his attempt to investigate what really happened in Chernobyl by talking to all manner of deceptive ex-Soviet bureaucrats. Almost by accident, Fedor and his devoted cinematographer uncover a secret world of spying and disregard for human life, all too relevant for them as Ukrainians rise up to resist Russian interference through anti-government protests.”

More from Dennis Harvey (Variety), Jordan M. Smith (Ioncinema, 3/5) and Drew Taylor (Playlist, A). And Indiewire hands its Sundance questionnaire to Gracia.

Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary: Kim Longinotto, Dreamcatcher. Introducing his interview with Kim Longinotto for Sundance, Eric Hynes notes that “she returns to the Festival for a fifth time with a documentary feature (The Day I Will Never Forget in 2003, Sisters In Law in 2006, Salma in 2013, and Rough Aunties took home the World Cinema Grand Jury prize in 2008) the latest in a 30-year, career-spanning project of giving a voice, face and human complexity to women’s stories around the world. Her first film to be shot in the United States, Dreamcatcher follows Brenda Myers-Powell, a former Chicago prostitute who’s dedicated her life to pulling young women off the streets, and preventing at-risk girls from ending up there.”

Dreamcatcher is “the best work of nonfiction artistry I’ve seen at this Sundance,” declares Wesley Morris at Grantland. Vadim Rizov for Filmmaker: “Serving as a repository of testimony and a series of portraits of solidarity in helping effect healing and change when the official infrastructure just isn’t there is a noble goal…. Dreamcatcher is enlightening and sobering, but as a piece of craft it doesn’t match the commitment of its subject; it’s effectively a selective database of recorded testimony rather than a sculpted take on same.”

More from Mark Adams (Screen), Leslie Felperin (THR), Oktay Ege Kozak (Indiewire, A-), Guy Lodge (Variety) and Brian Tallerico ( Interviews with Longinotto:

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