Sundance Diary: Best of the Fest

01/27/2006 at 01:00 PM EST

Sundance Diary: Best of the Fest
Catherine Keener, Jennifer Aniston, Nicole Holofcener, Frances McDormand and Joan Cusack
Evan Agostini/Getty
Here's the key to surviving Sundance: Always pack a bottle of water, an apple and a bagel, because sit-down meals can be a luxury during the 11-day film festival (Jan. 19-29). During my time in snowy Park City, Utah, I watched movies from 8:30 a.m. until near midnight, with only enough time to munch an apple and check my BlackBerry while riding one of the free shuttle buses to the next venue.

Here's a rundown on the movies that impressed me the most:

Friends with Money: Jennifer Aniston, Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand and Joan Cusack star as four friends in contemporary L.A. Aniston plays a teacher turned housecleaner whose pals are more financially comfortable. Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, Money is amusing and wise, but not as affecting as her previous film, Lovely and Amazing.

Little Miss Sunshine: This hilarious comedy about a dysfunctional family's road trip is getting all the ink, mostly because Fox Searchlight bought it for a reported $10 million. The company plans to release the movie, which stars Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette and Steve Carell, this summer.

Wristcutters: A Love Story: A young man (Patrick Fugit of Almost Famous) commits suicide after his girlfriend dumps him and finds himself in a sort of purgatory that's like the living world, only drabber. The offbeat comedy by Croatian writer-director Goran Dukic is packed with gentle surprises and sly humor.

Sundance Diary: Best of the Fest| Sundance Film Festival, Gael Garcu00EDa Bernal

Gael Garcia Bernal

Sara Jaye Weiss / startraks

The Science of Sleep. The latest from director Michael Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) is a wildly inventive goof about a young man (Gael Garcia Bernal) in Paris who, unhappy with his job, retreats into his dreams. This is a head film with heart.

Also notable this year were the number of actresses in meaty roles:
Ashley Judd is sensational in Come Early Morning as a hard-partying thirtysomething in small-town Arkansas. When a potential beau asks, "When was the last time you kissed somebody sober?" she realizes it's time to re-evaluate her life.
Maggie Gyllenhaal is heartbreaking in Sherrybaby, a drama about a former drug addict struggling to rebuild her life after getting out of jail.
Amber Tamblyn (TV's Joan of Arcadia) and Tilda Swinton both give emotionally complex performances in Stephanie Daley, about a teenager (Tamblyn) accused of killing her baby after secretly giving birth. Swinton plays the pregnant criminal psychologist assigned to interview the girl.

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