Indie Focus: Sundance Film Fest wrap-up, plus Zsigmond and Schiller tributes in L.A.

Hello! I’m Mark Olsen, and welcome to your weekly field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

This week sees another new episode of the television program hosted by my colleague Rebecca Keegan and me on Ovation TV. This time we welcome actors Samuel L. Jackson, Bryan Cranston, Steve Carrell and Michael Caine to talk about recent roles, the evolution of their acting styles and more.

From left are Steve Carell, Michael Caine, Bryan Cranston and Samuel L. Jackson. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

And we’ll have some new screening events to announce soon. Check back at to keep up on everything that’s happening.

Nonstop movies. Movies nonstop.

Sundance wrap-up

The Sundance Film Festival itself is wrapping up but that’s far from the last we’ll hear of some of the films that just premiered there. The two films that stood head and shoulders above the rest as far getting people talking and creating that ineffable feeling of festival buzz were Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation” and Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester by the Sea.”

“The Birth of a Nation” is the story of Nat Turner’s 1831 slave rebellion in Virginia. Parker put his acting career on hold and took many years to write, direct and star in the film. “When everybody is telling you something can't be done, that's when you know you're on the right track," Parker said after the film’s rapturously received world premiere.

Armie Hammer, left, and Nate Parker in "Birth of a Nation." (Sundance Film Festival)

"Manchester by the Sea" is a story of loss and resilience with a haunting, haunted performance by Casey Affleck. Kenneth Turan wrote, “Powerful, emotional filmmaking that leaves a scar, Kenneth Lonergan’s ‘Manchester by the Sea’ is the kind of experience people trek to Sundance for, and the film was received like a conquering hero.”

Both films were picked up in splashy sales and we’ll be hearing about them all year long. Also premiering at the festival were films such as “Author: The JT Leroy Story,” “Certain Women,” “The Free World,” “Christine” and “Suited.”

You can follow all our Sundance coverage at

'The Finest Hours'

Anyone who can’t wait to see Affleck’s performance in “Manchester by the Sea” can see him now in the rescue adventure drama “The Finest Hours.” I admit this was not a film I was initially interested in, until I started reading about it and seeing the positive reviews. Now I’m intrigued.

Chris Pine stars in "The Finest Hours." (Disney)

At the Verge, Tasha Robinson wrote, “‘The Finest Hours’ is a Walt Disney production, and in its unhurried pacing, wholesome relationships, sentimental journey, and message of uplift, it feels like an old-school throwback to a much earlier age of Disney filmmaking.”

Addressing those who might be put off by the movie’s earnestness, The Times' Turan wrote, “But before scoffers scoff, realize that this tale of nautical derring-do has several things going for it to counteract the inherent obviousness of the material. These include a director who knows his way around this kind of material, special effects work that makes the peril fearfully alive, and a pip of a true story of what is considered as daring a rescue mission as the U.S. Coast Guard ever attempted.”

Vilmos Zsigmond remembered

Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, a hugely influential figure regarding the visual style of 1970s American cinema, died on Jan. 1 at age 85. The American Cinematheque has pulled together a pretty fantastic tribute under the title "Vilmos Zsigmond Remembered," featuring a number of his best known, most beautiful films. The series runs from Friday, Feb. 5 to Sunday, Feb. 21.

Vilmos Zsigmond was revered as one of the most influential cinematographers in film history for his work on classics like "The Deer Hunter." (Tamas Kovacs / EPA)

The series will include Robert Altman’s “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” and “The Long Goodbye,” Michael Cimino’s “The Deer Hunter” and “Heaven’s Gate,” Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “The Sugarland Express” and Brian De Palma’s “Blow Out” and “Obsession.” That’s quite a resume.

Many of these film will be screened in 35-millimeter prints and the chance to soak in Zsigmond’s imagery on the big screen at the Egyptian Theatre is something to mark your calendars for.

A weekend with Lawrence Schiller

Lawrence Schiller may not be a household name, but that makes the fact that he is getting a tribute from the Cinefamily all the more exciting. The highlight of the series will be a double feature that pairs Schiller’s documentary “The American Dreamer,” a look at Dennis Hopper, alongside Hopper’s masterful mess “The Last Movie.” Also screening will be the Academy Award-winning 1975 documentary “The Man Who Skied Down Everest” and “The Executioner’s Song,” the adaptation of Norman Mailer’s book starring Tommy Lee Jones and Rosanna Arquette. Schiller is scheduled to be in attendance all weekend.

Email me if you have questions, comments or suggestions, and follow me on Twitter @IndieFocus.

And it was bound to happen sooner or later. A correction:

For the record

Last week’s newsletter said that early short films screening during a tribute to Penelope Spheeris at UCLA were restored by the university in partnership with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. UCLA was not involved in the academy's restoration of the films.