Sundance featured movies for everyone -- Owen Gleiberman was impressed by ''trick,'' ''The Blair Witch Project,'' and ''Go''

By Owen Gleiberman
Updated February 12, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

I have been happily attending the Sundance Film Festival since 1995, and every year, as I sit in a dark, packed theater, there is always at least one moment, if not more, when something unfolds in a way that is so simple yet magical that I think, This is it. This is the reason I come here — the reason that a festival like Sundance exists.

I got that feeling this year at the very end of trick, a savvy romantic comedy about a young Greenwich Village naïf, the cherubic would-be show-tune composer Gabriel (played by Christian Campbell, Neve’s brother), who spends one long, desperate, picaresque night in search of a place to be alone with the muscle-boy go-go dancer he has picked up on the subway. The movie is a witty inside tour of the lower Manhattan gay demimonde: disco-bar roues, shade-throwing drag queens, a pitched-to-the-lavender-gallery performance by Tori Spelling as Gabriel’s all-singing, all-shrieking chum.

Trick, though, is also a disarmingly tender romance, and as Gabriel walks down the street at dawn, the sublime morning sun radiating behind him, the music surges, the camera fixes on his rapt gaze, and I’ll be damned if it isn’t the loveliest image of Manhattan yearning since Audrey Hepburn stared wistfully into Tiffany’s. The first feature directed by Jim Fall, trick is a post-AIDS, post-agenda movie that feels like nothing less than the long-overdue birth of gay romanticism on screen. (Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss, from last year’s festival, was more like the rebirth of gay kitsch.) I think it’s a breakthrough movie — yet another example of why ”indie film,” a pesky term that should probably be retired, remains, at its best, a revitalizing force.

I watched nearly 20 movies in the five days I spent at Sundance this year, moving through the week on currents of anticipation, disappointment, and discovery. When a movie is celebrated at this festival and picked up by a distributor (as trick was by Fine Line), we’re seeing the emergence not just of a film but of a filmmaker — a sapling of talent. Watching the elegant Hard Eight at Sundance in 1996, who could have guessed that its writer-director, Paul Thomas Anderson, would go on to make a movie as monumental as Boogie Nights? You never know how high the tree will grow, and that’s one reason it hardly matters that a number of Sundance films are, at heart, fairly conventional. By now, Hollywood needs all the help it can get learning how to make vibrant entertainments that aren’t about how many ways you can crash through a plate-glass window.