10 Sundance films to entertain, spark family discussion

By Blair Howell

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Jan. 19 2012 12:00 p.m. MST

“The Great Buck Howard” is a quirky charmer.

Buck Howard is a fictional, once-famous magician who was Johnny Carson’s favorite guest. But he’s a belligerent has-been who is struggling to resurrect his career. When a law school dropout pondering his next move learns that a “celebrity performer” is looking for a personal assistant, he thinks he’s found the ideal entry-level position.

Howard may actually have some authentic magic powers up his sleeve. But, as “The Great Buck Howard” shows, the true magic is remembering the power of staying true to yourself even if the world around you has changed.

“‘The Great Buck Howard’ is in love with kitsch, the backwaters of showbiz and true magic. It’s a wee charmer that left me enchanted.” — Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly

Cautions: Minor sexuality, mild language, drinking and a drug reference.

“Hoop Dreams” (Audience Award Documentary, 1994; PG-13)

Everyone can nurture his own dream, but what does it take to transform wispy intentions into reality?

You don’t need to be a basketball fan to enjoy “Hoop Dreams.” Beginning with their participation in playground games and ending five years later, as they start college, two inner city teens mature into men, still retaining their “Hoop Dreams.” The obstacles they face include drugs, poverty and violence, as well as the usual obstacles that arise in competition.

One of the most popular and critically acclaimed documentaries of all time, “Hoop Dreams” wasn’t nominated for an Oscar, but the public outrage that followed rewrote the Academy’s documentary selection process.

“A prodigious achievement that conveys the fabric of modern American life, aspirations and incidentally sports in close-up and at length, ‘Hoop Dreams’ is a documentary slam dunk.” — Todd McCathy, Variety

Cautions: Teen sexuality is discussed in terms of its consequences; some strong language; discussion of drug use, always in terms of its consequences.

“My Kid Could Paint That” (2007; PG-13)

Her art was compared to Jackson Pollack’s, and Marla Olmstead sold more than $300,000 worth of paintings. All of a sudden, everybody had to have “a Marla.” And Marla was all of 4 years old. “My Kid Could Paint That” explores the debate over what makes something art, and questions the media’s creation and subsequent destruction of heroes.

“A documentary that brings to the fore questions of youth exploitation, celebrity culture, the ‘con game’ that is modern art and media’s role in the whole tangled mess.” — Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel

Cautions: Art nudes briefly shown; discussing modern art, a vulgarity is used and flashed in a neon-sign artwork.

“Napoleon Dynamite” (2004; PG)

“Are you guys having a killer time?”

With some sweet moon boots and illegal government ninja moves, Napoleon Dynamite became a new kind of hero — and the largest surprise hit of Sundance. The film also launched BYU alum Jon Heder into stardom. Heder also makes headlines for the films he doesn’t make.

"It's simply about knowing who you are and sticking to what you believe in," he told Time magazine. “Sometimes there's language issues. I'm not interested in sexual content.”

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