Saturday, January 26, 2013

Sundance Awards Predictions

The Sundance Film Festival will give out its awards tonight.  

Since I am up to 47 films I feel uniquely qualified to predict the winners (though in fact I usually fail to correctly guess them).  So, here goes.

Here's what I think will win the big prizes (and this also, for the most part, how I'd wish it to go down, based on what I saw and liked). 

US Dramatic Grand Jury: Fruitvale
US Dramatic Audience Award: Fruitvale
US Dramatic Directing: The Spectacular Now

I selfishly hope that Aint Them Bodies Saints wins something so I get the chance to go see it tomorrow when they show the award winners.

US Documentary Grand Jury: After Tiller
US Documentary Audience Award: Twenty Feet From Stardom
US Documentary Directing: Narco Cultura (I haven't seen it) or Cutie and the Boxer

I hope that Narco Cultura, Manhunt and Blood Brothers take something so I can see them tomorrow.
I would also love to see Valentine Road recognized in some way.  

World Dramatic Grand Jury: No idea. 
World Dramatic Audience Award: Circles
World Dramatic Directing: Lasting

I have only seen five here. I hope something wins Grand Jury that I haven't seen yet. 

Best of Next: This Is Martin Bonner 

I saw all of the films in this section except for two, so I do sort of selfishly wish that one of them (A Teacher) wins so I can see it tomorrow.

I don't know what might win World Documentary because I have only seen one of them.  The ones I'd like to see still are The Moo Man and The Square. 

If I could, I'd give out some special jury awards too:

Ballsiest Production: Escape from Tomorrow
Best Editing: Twenty Feet from Stardom
Debut Performance: Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now) and Paul Eenhoorn (This Is Martin Bonner)
Best Comeback: Gaby Hoffman (Crystal Fairy) 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Running list of movies seen at Sundance thus far

1. May in the Summer
2. Twenty Feet from Stardom
3. Crystal Fairy
4. God Loves Uganda
5. Sound CIty
6. Circles
7. We Are What We Are
8. Don Jon's Addiction
9. Touchy Feely
10. I Used to Be Darker
11. Cutie and the Boxer
12. Blackfish
13. Escape from Tomorrow
14. Breathe In
15. Milkshake
16. Prince Avalanche
17. Stoker
18. Before Midnight
19. The East
20. Toy's House
21. Pit Stop
22. Google and the World Brain
23. Charlie Victor Romeo
24. Blue Caprice 
25. The Way Way Back
26. The Spectacular Now
27. In a World...
28. Houston
29. Lasting
30. Magic Magic
31. Kill Your Darlings
32. Interior. Leather Bar
33. Doc Shorts 1
34. Newlyweeds
35. After Tiller 
36. A.C.O.D

Monday, January 21, 2013

Sundance - Quick Update!

About to see my 24th film of Sundance 2013 which means I am almost halfway done.

Favorite doc so far remains Twenty Feet From Stardom.

Favorite narrative film is Breathe In, though I plan to see many of the well-reviewed titles in the second half.

I have not seen anything I disliked. So, that's pretty awesome this far in.

Deliberately not blogging about each individual film. That said, I also really likes Blackfish, Pit Stop, Prince Avalanche, Crystal Fairy, Before Midnight, The East.

Sixth film of the day beginning in three minutes.

Should Sundance do more to stop cell phone usage during festival screenings? This veteran festival attendee says yes

 Dear Sundance,

I adore you. I've come to your festival faithfully for the last thirteen years. Since I was a teenager!  You have  changed my life by providing me with an annual outlet to foster my love of film that attracts thousands of like-minded strangers, several of whom have become my good friends over the years. You're amazing, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being you.

But I need you to do just one more thing for me.

Please, for the love of god, I beg of you: do more to stop the rampant cell phone usage during movies.

It's bad.  You know that, right?

Allow me to take a short but frustrating trip down memory lane.  At the Eccles last year I saw a woman who must have thought she was so thoughtful up in the balcony, diligently cupping her palm around her smartphone to supposedly shield her neighbors from the glaring light that emanated from the web surfing she had to attend to for multiple ten-minute intervals.  Later that same day, I sat directly behind a young man who could not avoid checking the score of an ongoing sporting event every five to ten minutes.  I even had the occasion to sit next to a director who was (to be fair) mortified to learn that his attempts to use his smartphone to record audience reactions during his film were in fact creating a distraction for those around him. 

These are not isolated incidents. And 2013 is not much better.  At last week's screening of Circles at the Egyptian, I did the math. A full 1.4% of the audience had their cell phone ring during the movie. I don't like those numbers. A gentleman in front of me at the 9 AM screening of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's hotly anticipated directorial debut must not have been looking as forward to it as the rest of us, since he took his phone out a total of three extended intervals during just the first 15 minutes of the movie, until I asked him politely to stop.

Let's suppose for a moment that people are inherently good. They also, I believe, want to go with the flow. Adhere to social and cultural mores, if you will.   Can we not cultivate an atmosphere wherein this behavior is universally shunned?  In which even those less inclined to derive their manners from an inner sense of decency at least keep their phones in their fluffy jacket pockets, out of fear of being shamed by the greater community?

What accounts for depth of the problem at Sundance, then?  Let's consider some potential factors, for the sake of discussion:


Can we blame ourselves? Can we blame each other? I used to think "it's Industry. It's definitely industry." I sat behind the producer of one of my favorite movies recently and recoiled in horror and heartbreak when she pulled her Blackberry out over and over, seemingly oblivious to the fact that she was surrounded by other people, not alone in a screening room.   It's not fair, though, to place the blame on solely industry.  Not when you have veteran critics who will bust out with a polite but booming voice mid-movie asking an offender to put her phone away. Not when you have the head of a nationwide theater chain who'd no doubt name this issue instead of "world peace" if there were some kind of weird-ass beauty pageant among exhibitors and distributors and he were asked what change he'd most want to see in the world. No, it's not fair to blame just the industry.

Is it the film fans, then?  Your average Molly Movie-goer, living in our media-obsessed, narcissistic high-consumption world, unable to tear herself away from the allure of an incoming text?  Maybe it's her plus one, the fair weather film fan who can be talked into tagging along when presented with the allure of celebrities in attendance?

But even then, I struggle to convince myself that someone who flew to Utah, spent god knows how much cash on tickets and transportation, would dare not respect the experience  enough not to keep their phone off and demand their friends do the same.

So. I'm choosing to hypothesize, then, that this is a matter of semantics. Nobody is aware they're breaking the rules, they just didn't fully understand the rules. "Turn my phone off? Sure. It's on silent. It's off!" I'm starting to think that maybe (hopefully?) the average offender here had no idea the extent to which others expect a distraction-free environment in a theater, and were mostly oblivious to their contribution to the contrary. 

Which leads me focus on two other key contributors, which are....

Lack of preventative measures

The Sundance programmer introducing the film has a big job to do, balancing priorities like imparting housekeeping details, contextualizing the art we're about to consume, making the filmmaker feel at ease before he or she takes the stage for the big moment.  The "turn your cell phones off" reminder is said, second before the film begins, but arguably not spotlighted enough to be fully digested.  And it's rote enough that I wonder if audiences may just tune it out entirely.

Lack of consequences and enforcement

This is a fact: nothing bad happens to someone who uses a cell phone during a movie.  Rarely do those nearby even ask the offender to shut it off, and never do you see staff catching and correcting this behavior.  Eccles volunteers can smell from 30 feet away the cookie you smuggled in so your growling stomach won't overpower the dialogue. They will eagerly crawl through 20 people to remind you that you can't have food there, but there seems almost to be a silent agreement amongst staff and volunteers that there's no intervention necessary for patrons who can't go an hour and a half without seeing if they've got any new Twitter followers.

More than likely, the problem has reached the epic proportions we see today due a combination of factors, including some I haven't even thought of.   And maybe it's the eternal optimist in me, but I do truly believe it is solvable.   

So, dear Sundance, here are a few of my ideas that I give you here for free, in exchange one day, I hope, for consistent and uninterrupted enjoyment of your outstanding programming.

  1. Make it a rule. Put it in the terms and conditions for pass holders and ticket purchasers. Print it on the tickets, like you do the rule about arriving 15 minutes early.  Clearly explain the consequences.
  2. On that note... create some formal consequences.  It could be as simple as "patrons who refuse to refrain from using their smartphones may be asked to leave."
  3. Standardize the "no cell phones" part of the introduction, just like you do the naming of the sponsors. Infuse the appropriate level of severity.
  4.  Make it funny. Put it in the festival bumper. Normalize the shaming of people who behave badly with their phones.  People like to feel righteous, whether they admit it or not. Superior, even. Ask any vegetarian (myself included).  Cultivate the sense that it's "us versus them" with the smartphone users versus abusers. Everyone will know which side they want to be on.  Just ask Tim League - it's the culture he's created at the Drafthouse.
  5. Incorporate it into the volunteer job descriptions for venue staff, particularly those who handle crowd control.  You do a great job of staffing these positions with bubbly, outgoing individuals who act as the face of the festival.   How about if they remind incoming audiences about the aforementioned smart phone policy & consequences? 
  6. Monetize this.  Find a company who wants to sponsor funny ads about how everyone has to power down.  Banners at venues.  A flier with your registration packet.  TVs in the holding tents that play the sponsored message.  The possibilities are endless, and the potential for delivering a message that sticks is very real.  Hell, I am still humming the "not working for the man, he's independent!" jingle from the Jib Jab bumpers from like ten years ago.

Sundance - you're the best of the best.  And for good reason.  World class programming and your reputation as one of the foremost film markets afford you undisputed influence on not just the cultivation of talent but also on the delivery of truth to the film-going masses as the work you've shepherded is rolled out throughout the year.  Further evidence of your influence is how Sundance audiences are highly sought by potential festival sponsors because of how influential we tend to be as thought leaders in our respective communities.

But as Peter Parker learned in Spiderman if you'll allow me to quote from perhaps not the most independent of all films: "with great power comes great responsibility."   You are already the purveyor of culture and knowledge, the impact of which is endless.  The tens of thousands of Sundance attendees take so much back home with them after the festival.  So many films that have the power to change the world by inspiring action or engendering tolerance have made the splash they did thanks in part to you.  Just think about what could happen if you manage to apply your influence to the way people act in a movie theater.  A vocal push from Sundance to end the use of smartphones in theaters would have a ripple effect. 

In the grand scheme of things, using your influence to permeate a culture that does not accept distractions in a movie theater may not seem as significant as drawing attention to dolphin slaughter in Taiji, inspiring lawmakers to watch a film your audiences awarded for its emotional investigation of rape in the military, or reaching multiplex audiences with a drama featuring a loving lesbian family. But think about it: if we don't get people to put their phones down long enough to watch the movie, they'll be too distracted to hear the message in the first place.

In the meantime, I'll keep fighting the good fight, even if it means (or maybe in part because it means) casting my most menacing, exasperated expression in the general direction of a glowing small screen from up on my high horse.

All the best,

Dor Dotson

NOTE OF CLARIFICATION: my experience is from public screenings only (not press and industry).

Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, Dermot Mulroney , Park Chan-Wook, Mia Wasikowska at Stoker premiere

Rosemarie Dewitt, Alison Janney, Ellen Page, Ron Livingstone etc at Touchy Feely Premiere

Dave Grohl at the Sound City premiere and ensuing Sound City Players rock show

Friday, January 18, 2013

Sundance Snapshots

Matt and I posing with our 20 Feet From Stardom 7" just before we heard a teenager go "whoa look at those mini records!". Then, Matt and Gina have a late night condo catch-up. Then there I am with my tickets for the week. Ah, tickets!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Sundance is today! Here are my Sundance 2013 Goals

Every year, I make a list of goals for myself to accomplish at Sundance. It's a bit silly, but I enjoy it. My track record is usually good with the movie related ones (ie.g. "see 50+ movies") and not so good with the less quantifiable ones (e.g. "don't fight with Shiri").

This year I've set a high bar for myself with a long list. I feel pretty good about most of them. I shall list them now.

* See 56 movies. This is one more than last year, which nearly killed me. If I am to accomplish this, it will involve sticking to my schedule which includes six days wherein I see six movies per day. Five of those days are consecutive. I can sustain a high level of energy for a short period of time, but everyone has their breaking point. The older I get, the less of a superhero I am on this front.

Note - I don't sleep through movies. It doesn't happen. I'm not one of those types who dozes off halfway thru the last half of my day and then pats myself on the back for a job well done. One day I will write a post about all my insider tips for staying awake at Sundance.

* Not break my new boots. I didn't bring regular shoes, just boots. My ankle brace makes the zipper unhappy. If it breaks, I'll have to go barefoot, which means I'll get frostbite and possible gangrene and then I'll die, making it much less likely I will accomplish my goal of seeing 56 movies.

* Gain 50 new followers during the fest. The trick, though, is going to be not to lose follows for being an Obnoxious Sundance Tweeter. This is where I may struggle. Tips welcome.

* Not get sick. Can't get sick. Not an option. Won't even let the thought enter into my mind. Emergen-C, multi-vitamins and an unflinchingly positive attitude will keep me the picture of health. PLEASEOHPLEASEOHPLEASE

* Be awesome at my secret mission. I have a bit of a secret mission. I must be stone cold awesome at it. As I am stone cold awesome at most things, this should be a breeze. (Convincing enough?)

* Eat well. This means, Dor, you cannot have M&Ms, nor can you have popcorn. It helps that there's no decent popcorn to be had in all of Park City. Bananas, y'all. Bananas, yogurt, carrots. That's how we do.

* Meet new people I know from Twitter. I've met so many wonderful folks at film festivals either before (or mostly after) following them on Twitter. Yet I have it on good authority that I don't yet know All the People. If you are one of the People I Don't Know, I hope we meet. If you see we are at the same movie, tap me on the shoulder and say what's up. I'll be the one in the bright red lipstick, typing furiously into my phone or iPad, focused to the point where I am unknowingly mouthing the words as I type them.

* Spend quality time with my friends. I'm sharing a room this year with the likes of Matt Page, Chase Whale and Amber Wilkinson. Though every waking moment will be spent consuming cinema, I desperately want to find a way to have also meaningful exchanges with my pals. And by meaningful I mean more than "I ran out of soy milk. Do you think OJ would taste good on my Kashi?" or "get the hell out of the shower 'cause I am late to my 8:30 AM movie!"

* Actually see Gina. One of my closest friends on earth is a traveler. She's often called away from NYC for long periods of time for work. Well lucky me, this year she's working for Sundance, so I'll get to see her face after not gazing upon it for many months.

* Not lose anything. Neither wallet, hat, camera, nor faith in myself. Seems easy enough, but these are often things that wander away from me. Particularly at Sundance. Luckily people are mostly good, and I always get them back. But let's avoid the stress this year all together.

* Find the time to see George from work and my friend Pablo. Somehow. Someday. Somewhere.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

2013 Movie Goals

Last year when I started my blog, I created a list of 2012 movie goals. I did pretty well. 

I either set the bar too low, though, or over-committed to the cause, seeing as I saw not the 200 films I aimed for but rather over 350 films in theaters.

So, I'm kicking it up a notch this year. Obviously.  I'm breaking my resolutions out into four categories:

Film By Numbers

I will see 365 films in theaters this year, including first run and repertory

This must include at least:
50 films at Sundance
10 films at Rendezvous with French Cinema
35 films at SXSW
10 films at Full Frame
15 films at Tribeca
20 films at Hot Docs
40 films at TIFF
10 films at NYFF
20 films at Fantastic Fest
10 films at DOC NYC

60 older movies (not first run)
Including the above (and beyond), I wiill see at least 60 films at The IFC Center.

On Location:

I will visit the theater I failed to pay a first visit to in 2012: Maysles Institute

I will also get around to visiting these places:
Cinefamily (in Los Angeles)

Better Late than Never:

A few years ago I saw like, zero genre film.  Sci-fi, horror, action, not for me. I came 'round on that one, thanks to TIFF Midnight Madness, Fantastic Fest, etc.

I'm still embarrassingly uninformed when it comes to another genre, though.  For lack of a better way to phrase this: I need to see more Asian films.  Here are the ways I will support this resolution:

* I will re-watch In The Mood for Love. On Criterion Blu.
* I will attend the New York Asian Film Festival for the first time in 2013.
* I will watch at least ten Asian films from the 250 Top Critics Films  at Sight & Sound (suggestions welcome!) 


I will keep track not just of my theatrical experiences but also I will log my (hopefully increasing) at-home viewing

I will change the way I write about movies on my blog a bit in that I may write less about festival films and more about NYC rep and first run theatrical releases.  Or I may not write much at all.  We'll see.

Must-visit Park City Restaurants - Dor's Recs for Best Places to Eat During Sundance

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Unseen Oscar Nominees

Despite the embarrassing amount of film I consumed in 2012, there remain eleven full-length films nominated for an Oscar that I have not yet seen.

It's not that I have no love for the shorts, you know. Quite the opposite. It's that I know soon I'll be able to see them all at the IFC Center when they run their three programs in February of Academy Award nominated shorts (Animated, Feature, Documentary).

Here are the films I have not seen. If you are my friend and you live in New York City, let's see these together before the awards!

Foreign Nominees I wanted to see but missed at TIFF:

A Royal Affair
War Witch
No (actually I will see this next week at Sundance)

Animated Nominees I just didn't get around to despite wanting to see:

The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Other movies I could have seen but had no interest in:

The Hobbit
Snow White and the Huntsman
Mirror Mirror
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Bonus - here are the Oscar nominees I've seen but would love to see again:

Django Unchained
Zero Dark Thirty
Beasts of the Southern Wild (OBSESSED!)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Dor's Documentary 2012 Wrap Up Post AKA HOLY SHIT, WHAT A GREAT YEAR FOR DOCS!

You may have already rolled your eyes at how thoroughly and sanctimoniously I bragged about how many "older" movies I caught up on in 2012, the statistic I am actually most proud of is how many documentaries I saw this year, theatrically no less.   If there were any doubt in the past, I can safely say the documentary film has emerged as my very favorite genre.

I saw 104 documentaries in theaters this year.  Not all of them were released. Most of these were at film festivals.

I mention that number so that you can see the personal experience behind my statement that it was an utterly fantastic year for documentary film - both industry-wide and just personally, for me.  The latter can be attributed to three awesome institutions:

Full Frame

My third visit to the intimate haven for non-fiction in Durham NC introduced me to treats like Beauty is Embarrassing, Samsara, and How to Survive a Plague.  But even lesser-publicized gems like Radio Unnameable, Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet and the inexplicably underrated Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare are films I might have missed had I not made the trek down there. Can't wait to return to this laid back doc-lovers paradise for another four days of non-fiction bliss this April!

Hot Docs

This has been on my Film Festival bucket list for some time, thanks to my Toronto BFF Alison's insistence that it's a veritable utopia for a doc fan like me.  Well, like she often is, Alison was dead right.  While I couldn't spare the vacation days to do Hot Docs the right way, I did squeeze in a 10-movie weekend there by flying up after work on Friday and back before work on Monday.    It's only thanks to that quick trip that I saw standouts like the energizing We Are Wisconsin and the devastating Call Me Kuchu. This year, I vow to stay longer.


A documentary film festival six blocks from my apartment, in the best city in the world, held at my favorite movie theater the IFC Center?  The only way this could be more tailored to me personally is if they had a competition category for just short films shot by cats, for or about cats.  (They don't. Not yet. But you get my point.)  Standouts there? West of Memphis, Shenandoah and No Business Like Show Business.  That last one the a gorgeously-shot story of a troupe of yodeling Swiss farmers and the drama that comes along with rapid success.  Pretty great stuff.


Now, before I get to naming my favorite documentary films of 2012 (and a few to watch for in 2013) I've got some special categories I added, 'cause I can.

Most criminally under-seen: 

Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare follows a number of industry professionals from journalists to doctors to expose how the business of healthcare in the US is incentivized to keep people sick, and the growing numbers of people motivated to change that.  I was expecting this to be political and complicated but I found it to be surprisingly hopeful and relatable.  It deserved a better title and much wider audience.

Best at piquing my interest in a subject I didn’t care about:

Indie Game: The Movie – great job of making the world of independent video game development totally dramatic and compelling
The Zen of Bennett – I knew nothing about Tony Bennett but I loved watching him  record his duets album
Jiro Dreams of Sushi - I don't eat fish at all but this movie was so well-done that I found myself a bit hungry for it

Biggest “Holy shit this really happened” Jaw Droppers:

Queen of Versailles

The Imposter

The Final Member

Biggest Disparity between Appeal of Subject and Film Quality

Meaning – films that weren’t bad at all, but also weren’t quite as compelling or good as their subjects.

Searching for Sugarman


Central Park Five

But now, without further ado...

My Favorite Documentaries of 2012:

In no particular order!

Planet of Snail – tender, beautifully-shot tale of an unconventional couple and how they enrich each other’s lives daily

Jiro Dreams of Sushi – made sushi appealing for this non-fish eater by delving into the honor, family, hard work and utter craftsmanship behind the Michelin-rated restaurant in Japan

Samsara – Triumphant, non-narrative, life-affirming, gorgeous film that reminds me I am not traveling enough

How to Survive a Plague – Equal parts maddening and inspirational story of Act-Up, the organization formed to fight AIDS when the US government wasn’t doing enough

The Invisible War – devastating, emotional and comprehensive film exposing the prevalence of rape in the military as well as the systemic issues that keep perpetrators from being reported and prosecuted as well as that keep survivors from receiving proper care.  Well-deserved Sundance 2012 Audience Award-winner.

The Zen of Bennett – Charming, sweet, and superbly-produced portrait of a living legend

West of Memphis – Frustrating, satisfying and totally necessary conclusion to West Memphis 3 case exposing the dark side of humanity and the toll that took on the lives of three innocent young adults

Beauty is Embarrassing – A delightful, quirky film that oozes with as much creativity as its subject, artist Wayne White.

Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet – Hugely inspirational story of a guitar prodigy whose musical career was seemingly cut short by Lou Gherig’s disease.  Wonderful story of a loving family and a man who uses music as a way of survival.

The House I Live In – Dense, intelligent, thought-provoking look at the war on drugs and its impact on economy, race and family in the US.

Honorable mentions! Other notables include The Revisionaries, The Law in These Parts, Marina Abromovic – The Artist is Present, Indie Game, Brooklyn Castle, $ellebrity, The American Scream, Only the Young

My “best of” list would have looked very different if I could’ve included a number of films that won’t be released til next year.  As such…

The four reasons 2013 will also be a great year for docs:

Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story

The Act of Killing

Call Me Kuchu

Vivan las Antipodas!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

My Oscar predictions compared to actual nominations


Les Miserables
Silver Linings Playbook
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Life of Pi
Moonrise Kingdom
The Master


DDL – Lincoln
Joaquin Phoenix – The Master
Bradley Cooper – SLP
Hugh Jackman – Les Miserables
Denzel Washington - Flight
John Hawkes – The Sessions


Jessica Chastain – ZDT
Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva – Amour
Quvenzhane Wallis – Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts – The Impossible
Marion Cotillard – Rust and Bone

Supporting Actor

Tommy Lee Jones – Lincoln
Phillip Seymour Hoffman – The Master
Alan Arkin – Argo
Christoph Waltz – Django
Robert De Niro - SLP
Javier Bardem – Skyfall

Supporting Actress

Anne Hathaway – Les Miserables
Sally Field – Lincoln
Amy Adams – The Master
Helen Hunt – The Sessions
Jacki Weaver - SLP
Maggie Smitth – Best Exotic Marigold Hotel


Spielberg – Lincoln
Ang Lee – Life of Pi
David O. Russell – SLP
Haneke – Amour
Zeitlin - Beasts
Bigelow – ZDT
PTA – The Master

Original Screenplay

Mark Boal – ZDT
Quentin Tarantino – Django
Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola – Moonrise Kingdom
Michael Haneke – Amour
John Gatins - Flight
Rian Johnson – Looper

Adapted Screenplay

Tony Kushner – Lincoln
Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin – Beasts of the Southern Wild
David Magee – Life of Pi
Chris Terrio – Argo
David O. Russell – SLP
Stephen Chbosky – Perks of Being a Wallflower