7 Scenes We Love From the 2003 Sundance Film Festival

By  · Published on January 21st, 2013

While the 2013 Sundance Film Festival is in full swing this weekend, we thought it would be fun to look back a decade and remember the best films of the 2003 event. The award winners that year include American Splendor, Capturing the Friedmans, All the Real Girls, My Flesh and Blood, The Station Agent, Stevie, Thirteen, A Certain Death and Whale Rider. And other major movies premiering at the fest include The Cooler, The Shape of Things, Tupac: Resurrection, Pieces of April, The Weather Underground, Northfork and the Bob Dylan disaster Masked and Anonymous. The U.S. also got its first look at 28 Days Later, In America, Bus 174, Bend It Like Beckham, Laurel Canyon, The Secret Lives of Dentists and Irreversible.

To commemorate such a great Sundance (which spotlighted some filmmakers returning this year, like David Gordon Green and Michael Polish), we’re spotlighting some of our favorite scenes from some of the movies listed above. Not all have quality clips online, though, and it would be too much to include bits from all those works we love from the 2003 program, so feel free to add your own favorite moment in the comments below.

The Station Agent – “You Timed Me?”

Probably the most underrated duos in film history is Peter Dinklage and Bobby Cannavale in Tom McCarthy’s directorial debut. How is it that these guys didn’t just become regular collaborators year after year, film after film, not necessarily in Station Agent sequels but anything. “Dinklage and Cannavale Meet Frankenstein.” Dinklage and Cannavale in some “Road to…” type movies. Anyway, here they’re Fin McBride, a diminutive loner who loves trains, and Joe Oramas, a talkative food truck operator. Any scene they’re in together is golden, but this one shows their early interactions best. And in our opinion, we actually prefer it when Cannavale is running his motor mouth, so we don’t mind that he only lasts 9 minutes of the silent game.

Stevie – Birthday Present

Speaking of underrated, if you’ve never seen this documentary from Steve James (Hoop Dreams; The Interrupters), do so at once. It’s a more personal work from the director than we normally see, as he turns the camera on himself while visiting with the young man he used to mentor as a Big Brother many years earlier. And the story turns down an unfortunate path that might have caused it to be overlooked when Capturing the Friedmans picked up all the attention at the 2003 fest. But take a look at the clip below, which in a short time goes through many tones and triggers many different emotions in us (and clearly the subjects/filmmaker). You’ll likely want to see more of this film right away, even if you’ve already seen it.

All the Real Girls – “Put Your Hair Back On and Come Home”

We love uncomfortable scenes, obviously, and here’s another one. There are as many scenes we love from this film as there are scenes in the film. We could pick the romantic opening or any moment with then-unknown Danny McBride (the breakfast scene is best) or the clown dance at the hospital. But this is a really strong scene with which to remember that we used to think Zooey Deschanel and filmmaker David Gordon Green were brilliant. Oh, those were the days. Now, it’s like we don’t even know them. We want to tell them to put their hair back on and come home. By the way, unfortunately that memorable line, is not in the video below. It cuts off just before Paul Schneider says it. So just watch the clip and then fill in and scream it with us at the end.

American Splendor – “What’s In a Name?”

We shared one of our favorite parts of this film last October for Halloween. It was the opening scene, when young Harvey Pekar is trick or treating as… Harvey Pekar. Later comes the monologue below, in which present-day Pekar (Paul Giamatti) tell a story about his name, which reminds us of that opening. It’s one of the clever bits of the film incorporating line drawings straight out of Pekar’s graphic novels, and we also love it because the story is fascinatingly hard to relate to when your name is Christopher Campbell. Or Neil Miller or Rob Hunter or many other writers we know who share a moniker with a bunch of people in the phone book and on the web and all over.

Northfork – Waiting For a Sign From God

It takes some guts to include a depiction of one of the oldest jokes in the book as if it’s an original scene, especially when illustrating this joke requires quite an effort in order to make it look right. And especially when its telling is drawn out so slowly. But that’s part of the Polish brothers’ dry humor and ambitious production design as seen in this movie about a small community on the verge of being forced out by a dam project. If this movie were at Sundance now, it’d probably be this year’s Beasts of the Southern Wild. And yet, it’s barely remembered a decade after its premiere. In a few days, though, we’ll hear if Michael Polish’s Big Sur returns at least one of the siblings to prominence.

28 Days Later – 28 Days Later

One of the most memorable sequences of the year was the one following the opening credits of Danny Boyle’s genre-busting “zombie” movie. 28 days after the breakout of the “Rage” virus, Cillian Murphy’s character awakens from a coma and walks out into the empty wasteland of London. It’s a remarkable series of seemingly impossible shots, all done very quickly in part thanks to the production’s early adoption of digital cinematography, which also makes the movie overall very gritty looking. And isn’t John Murphy’s increasingly amplified score just a perfect way to introduce the tone of the movie?

Masked and Anonymous – Beautiful Animals

The movie may be a disaster as a whole, but scenes on their own can be a treat. After all, it’s Bob Dylan acting in something he’s co-written with Larry Charles. It’s weird stuff. This one is even more fascinating, like Dylan chatting with Jim Morrison. It’s a bizarre, stupid, awesome kind of vignette within a great mess of a movie.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.