Picks and Pans Review: Spotlight On...

updated 02/02/2004 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/02/2004 01:00AM

The Sundance Film Festival

It's not humanly possible to see all 137 feature-length films that unspool during the 10 days of the festival, which began Jan. 15. But Hollywood hotshots, entertainment journalists and film fans who gathered in Park City, Utah, gave it their best shot. Here's the word on a few notable trends and movies.

ALL BOB, ALL THE TIME Robert Redford, Sundance's founder, was omnipresent. He was onscreen as a kidnapped businessman in The Clearing, a flaccid drama. He introduced the opening-night documentary about surfing, Riding Giants, and served as a producer on The Motorcycle Diaries, a sensational film about future revolutionary Che Guevara's travels through South America in 1952. And he even joked about his negative portrayal in Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance and the Rise of Independent Film, a gossipy new book by Peter Biskind that's generating buzz. At Giants' premiere he said, "Later I'll be joining Harvey Weinstein [Miramax's feisty boss, the tome's other major subject] at a book-signing party."

THE MEMENTO EFFECT The influence of the popular 2001 film, with its paranoid hero and quirky chronology, was evident. Call it cinema paranoir. The best of this bunch of films were The Machinist, a haunting thriller in which a gaunt Christian Bale (who lost 63 lbs. for the role) is a delusional insomniac, and November, with Courteney Cox Arquette as a woman coping with tragedy.

GEEKS ARE US This year's surprise wacky comedy hit was Napoleon Dynamite, which follows the hilarious exploits of a gangly high school dork (wonderfully played by newcomer Jon Heder. who reminds one of a young Daniel Stern) in Idaho.

SIZZLING BACON In an intense turn that was achingly honest, Kevin Bacon impressed as a child molester trying to reform in The Woodsman, a compelling, provocative drama.

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