If you're heading up to Park City for the Sundance Film Festival over the next 10 days, you may be wondering what to see.
Actually, that's an easy one. Every year, the advice from insiders is the same the best movies are inevitably the documentaries and the foreign language films.
They are also the easiest screenings to get into.
Why? Because Joe Average Moviegoer still looks at documentaries and foreign films as cinematic spinach. And we tend to choose the Twix bar.
That's especially true of films in languages other than English. After all, documentaries might be on a subject one favors sports, the space race, an aspect of show business, pop music. But whatever the foreign film is about, it still requires the audience to read subtitles.
I do understand this. People are afraid they won't be able to read the words at the bottom of the screen and still pay attention to the action in the center of the screen. And if the film is especially talky, look out.
Last weekend my wife and I went to the best horror film we've seen in years (which is, sadly, faint praise these days) a Spanish-language tale that required us to read subtitles for 105 minutes.
"The Orphanage" is an intelligent ghost story that is very well-directed, spooky as all get out, with an outstanding lead performance, and it wraps up in a tragic, yet strangely satisfying way that is logical in the world the film creates. (It's also a movie that doesn't really deserve its R rating: the f-word is used once, as happens in most PG-13 movies, and the violence isn't any worse than the average "CSI" episode.)
But we weren't surprised to see a few people leave during the first five minutes I'm sure they thought they were just going to be frightened, not required to read. Some reviews (though not in this paper) neglected to point out that the film has subtitles, and there was no notice at the box office to warn potential moviegoers.
But I'm sure if these folks all of whom seemed to be in their 20s, by the way had given the film 15 minutes or half an hour, they would have stayed for the entire picture and found themselves quite satisfied.
After all, subtitles are certainly better than the alternative poorly dubbed-in-English voices, with lips going one way as the words go another. (See any Japanese horror film from the 1960s.)
What's more, you also lose the actors' inflection, the director's intention and the ambience of the country of origin.
It really is quite thrilling to see a foreign culture explored by native filmmakers. Many of my all-time favorites are films by Akira Kurosawa, Francois Truffaut, Ingmar Bergman, Zhang Yimou and Werner Herzog.
Specifically high on my list are Wim Wenders' "Wings of Desire"; Claude Berri's "Jean de Florette" and "Manon of the Spring"; Federico Fellini's "La Strada"; Jean Cocteau's "Beauty and the Beast"; and Jacques Demy's "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg," among others.
So which foreign films or documentaries should you catch at Sundance this year? Hey, just like every year, everything up there is a crapshoot.But the odds are better in those categories.