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Year: 2015
Director: Tony Vainuku & Erika Cohn
Cast: Harvey Langi, Leva & Vita Bloomfield, Fihi Kaufusi
Country of Origin: U.S.
Rating: N/A
Time: 125 min.

High school is hard as it is just being a teenager, juggling grades, extracurricular activities and maybe sneaking in some romance in between but the pressures and expectations are held to a stress-inducing standard when you come from an ethnic family who's livelihood depends on your own success. In the spirit of Hoop Dreams, In Football We Trust follows the journey of four Polynesian high school students as they chase their life long and life-changing dream of attaining professional recruitments. Filmed over the span of four years, first time filmmakers Tony Vainuku and Erika Cohn chronicles these NFL hopeful's struggles and pressures to balance cultural and familial expectations in order to find an ticket out from gang violence and poverty. 

Set in the heart of Salt Lake City, Utah, the film chronicles four teenage boys going through high school while facing the enormous pressures of carrying the burden of their dreams and their families, presenting a new take on the American immigrant story.  Despite their small population with a brief history in the U.S., Samoans and Tongans are 28 times more likely than any other ethnic group to play football for the NFL. Some refer to this phenomenon as a "calling" or a gift from god, crediting their genetics which are agreeably the epitome of a great football player. As much as their hefty attributes and build serve as their greatest strength in being a first-class candidate for football, their culture and familial obligations become their greatest motivation and downfall. 

Fihi Kaufusi, like many of the residents of Salt Lake are practicing Mormons deal with the common battle of cultural bond and environment influences of religion and relations. Without the support of his immediate family, Fihi struggles to outshine with unrelenting religious convictions and determination that inevitably does him more harm than good. Two brothers Leva and Vita Bloomfield who's family is affiliated with the most notorious gang in Salt Lake City, struggle to outshine their perceived reputation and not succumb to violence when confronted by peers as a teenage boy. Then there is the star, Harvey Langi whose name has already been circulating around the most prestigious football colleges, carries his family's livelihood on his shoulder as he is their golden ticket from poverty. These four teenage boys all share their passionate stories to succeed and discover the hard truths of growing up with an incredible amount of pressure to succeed and abide by societal expectations. 

Like Fihi says in the film that people don't know what Samoans are and think they're just big Mexicans, only further makes this film that much more special as we get such incredible insight and access to a knit-tight community that is rarely seen on screen. Even though I feel as though I am well aware of Asian cultures and communities, the Pacific Islander experience especially in a pre-dominantly Mormon and White town is an entirely unique experience that has yet to be shown. Polynesians are such a small group of minority, it is their will to thrive that propels them to work that much harder. But in moments of adolescence, and just growing up, the greatest challenge for these four NFL hopeful's is the arduous and sobering journey of the high stakes that come with trying to achieve your dreams all while flourishing out of their adolescence. In no time, they are faced with the harsh realities that maybe, Football it is not all it's cracked up to be. 

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Sundance is less than a week and I am proud to announce that I will be attending this year's Sundance Film Festival! I am continuously impressed by Sundance's extensive and expansive selection of films every year! And of course, I am enthralled by just the sheer fact that I will be breathing the same icy air as these wondrous filmmakers, press, and film lovers alike! Going to Sundance has been a life-long dream of mine so I am definitely starting out 2015 right! There are so many great films at this festival but sadly, I was only able to get 10 tickets for right now. So naturally, I had to ensure that those 10 films were all on my ultimate MUST-SEE list and I am proud to say that I was able to get everything I had wanted. So without further ado, here are the top films I got tickets for as well as the other brilliant films I desperately want to see!

Tickets I've Already Gotten:

Tangerine (Dir. Sean Baker)

A working girl tears through Tinseltown on Christmas Eve searching for the pimp who broke her heart. Cast: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian, Mickey O'Hagan, Alla Tumanyan, James Ransone.

: I am so drunk in love with Sean Baker's filmmaking style and stories that highlights underrepresented  communities with such sincerity and ferocity. And Tangerine especially because the story takes place on the nitty gritty streets of Los Angeles featuring transgender actresses in all their glory! I don't expect anything less than a visceral, intoxicating, and dynamic film experience from Sean. The man basically can do no wrong! His previous films, Take OutPrince of Broadway, and Starlet are all on Netflix so get on it folks!

Advantageous (Dir. Jennifer Phang)

In a near-future city where soaring opulence overshadows economic hardship, Gwen and her daughter, Jules, do all they can to hold on to their joy, despite the instability surfacing in their world. Cast: Jacqueline Kim, James Urbaniak, Freya Adams, Ken Jeong, Jennifer Ehle, Samantha Kim.

Why: Just watch the short film version of Advantageous and you will know why. This premise is so dense, I can't wait to see a full-length feature of them really digging into this world that talks about complex social issues about economies, values, and gender disparity. And it doesn't hurt that there is an Asian woman in the forefront of this film that isn't sexualized or a tiger mom in any way.

Knock Knock (Dir. Eli Roth)

Two beautiful young girls walk into a married man's life and turn a wild fantasy into his worst nightmare. Cast: Keanu Reeves, Lorenza Izzo, Ana De Armas, Aaron Burns, Ignacia Allamand, Colleen Camp.

Why: Two Things: Keanu Reeves and two girls. What could possibly go wrong?! Oh man, so many things and I've grown to love Keanu more and more these days after John Wick and Side by Side. So, I'm really hoping shit goes down and Eli Roth is gives us some sexy time with this uber attractive trio. Of course, some gun play wouldn't be so bad either.

Seoul Searching (Dir. Benson Lee)

A comedy set in the ’80s about a group of foreign-born Korean teenagers who meet at a Seoul summer camp to learn what it means to be Korean. The three boys, from the U.S., Mexico, and Germany, then meet three girls who rock their world. Cast: Justin Chon, Jessika Van, In-pyo Cha, Teo Yoo, Esteban Ahn, Byul Kang.

Why: I've been a fan of all of Benson Lee's work since his first documentary about B-Boys called Planet B-Boy so naturally, I was interested in his new work which is a teen comedy, featuring an all Asian cast! In the 80s! In Korea! I've been waiting to see another teen high school comedy since forever and with the merging of Koreans from all over the globe, it is bound to get so culturally diverse in this film! Check out the film's teaser because it looks like a freaking riot! 

Pervert Park (Dir. Frida Barkfors & Lasse Barkfors)

Pervert Park follows the everyday lives of sex offenders in a Florida trailer park as they struggle to reintegrate into society, and try to understand who they are and how to break the cycle of sex crimes being committed.

Why: The title alone the reason why I am so intrigued because as much as I fear for my life of having an incident with a sex offender, they are (obviously) people as well who are battling with their own demons. It'll be a nice and eye-opening documentary to see their perspective of their crimes and situation in-depth than what meets the eye.

The Nightmare (Dir. Rodney Ascher)

A documentary-horror film exploring the phenomenon of sleep paralysis through the eyes of eight people. They (and a surprisingly large number of others) often find themselves trapped between the sleeping and awake realms, unable to move but aware of their surroundings while subject to disturbing sights and sounds.

WhyGetting sleep paralysis is LIT.ER.ALLY. my worst nightmare and I wish it never happens to me like it has to so many other people. So why am I watching a film about something that I am so horrified by? Ascher's previous documentary, Room 237 was superbly made and I am continuously fascinated by his work and subjects. So while just the act of watching this documentary will be pure psychological punishment, I'm doing it for the art! And cause I'm a masochist. Horray?

Dope (Dir. Rick Famuyiwa)

Malcolm is carefully surviving life in a tough neighborhood in Los Angeles while juggling college applications, academic interviews, and the SAT. A chance invitation to an underground party leads him into an adventure that could allow him to go from being a geek, to being dope, to ultimately being himself. Cast: Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, Blake Anderson, Zoë Kravitz, A$AP Rocky.

Why: Y'all know me and Los Angeles films! We need more of them! Especially ones that show the unfiltered version of LA and not the glitzy glam of Hollywood. And I always love a good coming-of-age storie with a diverse cast like this one! Who can deny Tony Revolori after The Grand Budapest Hotel! Tbh, this film just looks dope, just as the title implies and with a film with A$AP Rocky, I wouldn't expect anything less! *Cue A$AP Rocky's Wild for the Night*

Songs My Brothers Taught Me (Dir. Chloé Zhao)

This complex portrait of modern-day life on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation explores the bond between a brother and his younger sister, who find themselves on separate paths to rediscovering the meaning of home. Cast: John Reddy, Jashaun St. John, Irene Bedard, Taysha Fuller, Travis Lone Hill, Eléonore Hendricks

Why: I have not seen any of Zhao's previous works but as she is supported by every independent film organization including IFP and Film Independent, I would definitely like to see her work! The premise and image seems like she will tell a unique story about Indians like we've never seen before. And to be honest with you, I don't think I've ever seen a film about Native Americans so it'll be great to see a story that explores their culture, land, and identity. 

City of Gold (Dir. Laura Gabbert)

Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Jonathan Gold casts his light upon a vibrant and growing cultural movement in which he plays the dual roles of high-low priest and culinary geographer of his beloved Los Angeles.

Why: Jonathan Gold is my go-to guy when I don't know what to eat and as he is an iconic figure of Los Angeles, I must watch this film! I mean the guy was born in Los Angeles, went to UCLA, and now works for The LA Times! I don't know anyone who is more LA than Gold right here! His eccentric look and positively vivacious writing about food (specifically ethnic food) is what makes him so damn unique as a critic and a figure in the food industry. 

Hot Girls Wanted (Dir. Jill Bauer & Ronna Gradus)

Hot Girls Wanted is a first-ever look at the realities inside the world of the amateur porn industry and the steady stream of 18- and 19-year-old girls entering into it.

Why: Why not?! Just the word porn is provocative enough to make me watch this documentary but also considering that it focuses on young women, it would be fascinating to see their perspective of what the porn world is like as a novice. Tackling not only porn but the internet and the theme of the "girl next door" is endlessly alluring as how all these factors have contributed to changing the platform of the adult film industry in many ways since the birth of dial-up.
Films I Want to See:

Fresh Dressed (Director: Sacha Jenkins)

The history of hip-hop fashion from its birth in the South Bronx to its rise as a billion-dollar global industry, “Fresh Dressed” is supported by rich archival materials, in-depth interviews with individuals crucial to the evolution, and the outsiders who study and admire them.

The Hunting Ground (Dir. Kirby Dick) 

From the makers of “The Invisible War” comes a startling expose of rape crimes on U.S. campuses, their institutional cover-ups, and brutal social toll. Weaving together verite footage and first-person testimonies, the film follows survivors as they pursue their education and justice — despite harsh retaliation, harassment, and pushback.

The Mask You Live In (Dir. Jennifer Siebel Newsom)

Is there a “boy crisis” in America? Is our male population suffering due to our emphasis on power, dominance, and aggression? “The Mask You Live In” explores how our narrow definition of masculinity is harming our boys, men, and society at large and unveils what we can do about it.

Finders Keepers (Dir. Bryan Carberry & Clay Tweel)

Recovering addict and amputee John Wood finds himself in a stranger-than-fiction battle to reclaim his mummified leg from Southern entrepreneur Shannon Whisnant, who found it in a grill he bought at an auction and believes it to therefore be his rightful property.

The Wolfpack (Dir. Crystal Moselle)

Six bright teenage brothers have spent their entire lives locked away from society in a Manhattan housing project. All they know of the outside is gleaned from the movies they watch obsessively (and recreate meticulously). Yet as adolescence looms, they dream of escape, ever more urgently, into the beckoning world.

Lila & Eve (Dir. Charles Stone III)

Lila, a grief-stricken mother reeling from her son’s murder, attends a support group where she meets Eve, who urges her to take matters into her own hands to track down her son’s killers. They soon embark on a journey of revenge, but also recovery. Cast: Viola Davis, Jennifer Lopez, Shea Whigham, Julius Tennon, Ron Caldwell, Aml Ameen.

Mistress America (Dir. Noah Baumbach) 

Tracy, a lonely college freshman in New York, is rescued from her solitude by her soon-to-be stepsister Brooke, an adventurous gal about town who entangles her in alluringly mad schemes. Mistress America is a comedy about dream-chasing, score-settling, makeshift families, and cat-stealing. Cast: Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke.

(Synopsis via Indiewire)
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What a fucking awesome year 2014 was in cinema! There were so many thought-provoking, female-driven, visionary filmmaking showcased this year that I simply could not limit myself and why should I?! This list took me a considerable amount of time to really dissect and narrow down considering that I decided to combine U.S. and foreign films together, making the process literally impossible! But here it is! The best films I've seen this year were first and foremost, possessed impeccable and spellbinding form and naturally, commanding stories that demands the audience to confront their own notions on identity, success, and humanity.

Top 10

Under the Skin (Dir. Jonathan Glazer)

It's no surprise why Under the Skin is on everyone's top film lists and the Badass Femme of 2014. Loosely adapted from Michel Faber's 2000 novel of the same name, Glazer tells a story about an alien seductress who preys on men in Scotland with surprising depth and heart that examines what it means to be a human, specifically a female on this earth. With it's eerily gripping soundtrack and gorgeous cinematography of the vast landscape of Scotland, Under the Skin doesn't shy away from showing the absolute ugliness of humanity with powerful sincerity and heartbreaking realism. Under the Skin particularly touched my little heart and even inspired me to make a short film (coming soon) and name her the Badass Femme of 2014. If you're not convinced that I'm in love with this film, I don't know what else will. Full review // Badass Femmes: The Female

Birdman (Dir. Aléjandro Gonzalez Inárritu)

From the moment, I laid my eyes onto the glorious Birdman trailer that embodied everything I love about cinema (to name a few): long-takes, maniacal characters on the brink of madness, and surreal tones, I was instantly hooked and (im)patiently waited for the film. And boy, I was not disappointed! With the A-List cast and meta story, Inarritu brought powerhouse performances by every characters, delving within each character who are battling their worst demons that brought harsh truths about broken careers, the new generation, and our own projected egos. Full Review

Force Majeure (Dir. Ruben Östlund)

There are rare moments in your life when you watch a film and you are stuffed with sheer bliss from discovering the utter brilliance of a particular film that it's hard to believe it's utter existence! I got that feeling when I watched Yorgos Lanthimos' Dogtooth and now, Ruben Östlund's Force Majeure. It took the premise of trust within a relationship seen in The Loneliest Planet and delves neck deep in Force Majeure to explore perception and gender expectations in a family setting with piercing wit and humor. Photographed in a calculated and pristine manner, Östlund's fourth feature is will most likely be nominated for an Academy for the Best Foreign Language Film which I hope takes the gold! If there is only one film you watch in 2014, let it be this one. 

Nightcrawler (Dir. Dan Gilroy)

Jake Gyllenhaal has recently been taking a dramatic career shift, distancing himself from his Blockbuster woes to pursue more risky projects like Denis Villenueve's Prisoners and Enemy where he played a tortured cop and mysterious dopplegangers, respectively. He elevates his status as a serious actor even further with Dan Gilroy's debut film, Nightcrawler. Filmed on the gritty streets of Los Angeles, Nightcrawler can be seen as today's modern day success story that touts a razor-sharp screenplay and a transformative performance by Gyllenhaal that'll get under your skin and stay with you. It'll be a dream if Hollywood recognized Gyllenhaal for his creepy and haunting turn as Lou Bloom with a tiny golden man. But one thing is for sure, after working in Hollywood for so long, Gilroy is bound to change the way "Hollywood" films are being made. Full review

We Are the Best! ( Dir. Lukas Moodysson)

Lukas Moodysson is one of the rare filmmakers that has the blessed gift of being able to translate the intimate aspects of life directly to screen without tainting the subject in the slightest. We Are the Best! is easily this year's best film that screams and celebrates the joys of being a young female, which is a film we all so desperately need. Adapted from the graphic novel Never Goodnight written by his wife Coco Moodysson, the film highlights the lives of three 13-year old girls who unabashedly share their love of punk music! It's ultra naturalistic performances by these young actresses brings uncanny chemistry that is belly-achingly hilarious, heart-warming, and exuberant. PUNK ROCK 4EVA!

Selma (Dir. Ava DuVernay)

This has got to be the only "Hollywood" film in the bunch and that's primarily due to Ava Duvernay's exceptionally poignant vision chronicling the three month period in 1965, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a dangerous campaign to secure equal voting rights. Selma could've been your typical biopic but in narrowing down and presenting the historical and most victorious period for the civil rights movement, gave more room for the story to show the little details behind King and the moments leading up to the monumental time that is as relevant today as it was then. David Oyelowo's uncanny portrayal as King from his round cheeks to the cadence of his voice is powerful and brilliant. Selma is a best history lesson that doesn't preach but shows the urgency of our racial injustice times with sensitivity as well as potency. 

The Overnighters (Dir. Jesse Moss)

The Overnighters tells one of the most relevant and important story about our post-recession American times that is shows sobering reality of our country's dire situation with assured compassion and sensitivity. In the wake of one of the worst recessions in America,  a pastor sparks controversy in his North Dakota town by opening the doors of his church to homeless workers seeking jobs at nearby oil fields. The story itself is sufficiently compelling but the third act shocker transforms the social commentary documentary into a completely different beast, giving rise to one of the best and important documentaries out there this year.

20,000 Days on Earth (Dir. Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard)

I am ashamed that I did not know who Nick Cave was prior to watching this magical film. Blending fiction and reality, 20,000 Days on Earth focuses on Nick Cave's 20,000th day on earth, showing the day in a life of the musician and international cultural icon. It's hyper-stylized form heightens the surreal experience as we witness Cave's most intimate creative process and reflection on his life that results in a breathtakingly emotional journey for Cave and the audience alike. Bursting with passion and vitality,  Cave's energy is palpable and digs deep down to the microscopic particles of your soul which in turn, forces you to reflect on your own life.

The Babadook (Dir. Jennifer Kent)

Inspired by her short film Monster, Jennifer Kent's The Babadook is truly one of the best horror films of the decade! It utilizes conventional horror tropes of bad kids and supernatural beings to tell a deeply unsettling film that confronts not the demons lurking in the house but the one that lives within yourself. I was not able to sleep for a week after watching this film and personally, my fear of motherhood was only amplified by the monstrous performance by Noah Wiseman who embodies every parent's worst nightmare. The Babadook is a fierce debut film by the Australian writer-director whose cinematic voice is bold and refreshing. I can't wait to see what she does next! Even if that means, I'll lose some sleep. XP Full review

The Raid 2 (Dir. Gareth Evans)

The very coveted #10 spot goes to Gareth Evans' The Raid 2: Berendal, the sequel to what is already been claimed as the Godfather of martial art films. It's explosive, wall-to-wall, ballet of ultra-violence may run more than two hours but it's dramatic opera of undercover cops, family affairs, and new badass characters gives the film sufficient time to flesh out their action-filled storyline with nail-biting intensity and excessive violence, choreographed to perfection! Some may think it's too violent but it satisfies your ultimate action cravings especially in a industry where there are more lackluster and "fake" fight scenes than not. But be careful for what you ask for because this is one slice is pure action that just might detonate your head into flames! Full Review

Honorable Mentions

Festival Favorites:

The Tribe
Stations of the Cross
Starred Up
The Tribe
Tokyo Tribe
Why Don't You Play in Hell
Two Days, One Night


Finding Vivian Maier
Happy Valley
Life Itself


Only Lovers Left Alive

22 Jump Street
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Edge of Tomorrow

Guardians of the Galaxy
John Wick
Listen Up Philip
Obvious Child
Only Lovers Left Alive
Palo Alto
The Double
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The One I Love
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