What a time to be alive! Never once did I think our wee little publication here would be enjoying the lush mountain air of Park City during Sundance. But as luck would have it, I was able to attend the opening weekend of the festival and catch some incredible movies. There's some lesson in here about believing in yourself which hasn't totally sunk in yet since I'm still digesting the fact that I was there in the first place.
On top of the films I saw, the beer was top notch as well. My absolute favorite brewery in Park City is the wonderful Offset Bier that supplied a couple of pairings with my reviews. Their brewery was a cute little setup but their beer was much more than met the eye. Of course there were other breweries that quenched my thirst, but you can catch up on those in my reviews.
Last but not least, before I jump into these rankings, I want to give a huge and hearty thank you to all the volunteers and other wonderful people I ran into during the festival! I spent a lot of time in the Working Press line, the bottom of the barrel in terms of Press passes but I'm not complaining, and it would've been a much worse experience if not for the delightful people I crossed paths with. So once again, if you're reading this you know who you are and thank you! If I'm lucky enough to get back to Park City in 2025 I hope we can catch up on another wonderful year of film.
This ranking is not exhaustive, but contains only the movies I watched as a part of Sundance
Here's the deal. I went into Sundance wanting to see this movie because of my feverish love for Rose Glass' first feature film, Saint Maud. I also got lucky with the whole waitlisting system and was able to catch a screening where Glass came in for a Q&A after the movie. All of this was after I struck out trying to get into the Press and Industry screening. So, with all of these emotions mixed with my definite preexisting bias, I can't in good conscience rank this movie amongst these other indie darlings.
That being said, this movie rips. I absolutely loved it and can't wait to see it again in a theater full of people that haven't experienced it yet. Glass is a tremendous filmmaker with some of the clearest vision out there. Mix that in with an all time Kristen Stewart performance and chemistry with Katy O'Brian and you've got yourself one hell of a movie.
While I can understand some of the choices made in the film, the final product didn't work for me at all. It felt overlong, messy, and an intimate character study on a character I didn't think was compelling.
Again, I can understand some of the choices, and appreciate the massive swings Krazy House takes, but it is a clogged up trip of a movie. The pacing is a big issue, turning what should've been a fun romp into a discombobulated acid trip.
Caroline Lindy's feature film, based off her own short film, is a genre bending ride through a heartbroken woman's journey to reclaim her life. Melissa Barrera is good, incredible in the finale, but the tonal shifts in the film create a confusing atmosphere. I wasn't quite sure what the movie was trying to say and how I was supposed to feel about it which left me a little perplexed.
My thoughts aside, I think this movie will be a lot of fun for people with whom it resonates.
Taking home the World Dramatic Competition Award at this year's festival, Sujo had all of the makings of a film I would thoroughly enjoy. A coming of age in the face of cartel violence and a child's quest to remove himself from the thread of violence in his own family sounds like a great premise. However, the first half dove too far into the abstract while trying to be saved by the second half's more approachable commentary. The cinematography was a highlight for me but the story couldn't get out of its own way, pushing this one down a bit.
But it won the big award for World Dramatic films so what do I know.
A meditation on aging, psychological safety, and escaping civilization just to be thrust back into the pitfalls of it, Good One is a slow but steady drama. Lily Collias' simple yet nuanced performance contains a quiet gravitas that props up the slow meticulous pacing of the film, while India Donaldson's screenplay builds emotional tension. Good One has its fair share of merits, but in the end it felt like it could've done something a little more. I'll be very interested in what Donaldson can cook up next, because she did do a fantastic job building up throughout the film and providing a steady direction.
Whatever the pitfalls of the film are, Saoirse Ronan covers for a lot of them with another astonishing performance. Her raw and vulnerable portrayal of a recovering alcoholic is emotional lightning to the soul. Not to mention Nora Fingscheidt's direction and the usage of gorgeous Scottish backdrops pushing Rona's (Ronan) sense of isolation are impeccably well done. The pace was a bit slow, and the time jumps pushed the runtime a little harder than I would've liked, but all in all The Outrun is an emotionally packed journey well worth the ride.
The follow up and companion piece to the smash documentary Boys State is equally as engrossing and insightful. Full of heart, humor, and focus on the differences between the Girls and Boys State programs make Girls State a compelling documentary on how we as a society get young women involved in politics. Sharp editing and direction from Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss easily push this film into number 8.
Nominated for BAFTA's in Best British Film, Best Casting, and Debut - British Writer, Director or Producer, How To Have Sex is a stunning debut from Molly Manning Walker. Carefully written, and methodically directed, I found How To Have Sex to be a strong narrative with plenty to say. The setting of whatever tropical party resort played perfectly into Manning Walker's screenplay and also features a wonderful performance from Mia McKenna-Bruce. Her open vulnerability in this lead role is gripping, funny at times but also devastating at others.
I wasn't expecting to enjoy Thelma as much as I did, and that is entirely credited to June Squibb's hilarious yet thoughtful performance. The usage of Mission: Impossible recalls and spy-action music makes Squibb's role ten times juicier, and somehow funnier. While I have some gripes about the supporting roles not having enough steak to the sizzle, I was entranced by Squibb's charisma. Honestly, I could watch tens of these movies where Thelma (Squibb) helps other senior citizens fight back against scammers.
Emilia Jones and Susanna Fogel reunite at Sundance once again with a Reality Winner (yes, another movie about her) centered story. Built on humor and focusing on Winner's (Jones) upbringing the film works to explore her motivations in leaking government documents. With how complex a character Winner is, Fogel did an amazing job rounding out all of the various parts of her personality and psyche in Winner. All of the drama, and extremes of the institutions Winner butted heads with, are draped in Fogel's fantastic comedy which makes Winner that much more of an enjoyable film. Once again Jones shows off her range and delightful charisma, and Zach Galifianakis turns in a more serious role that I thoroughly enjoyed.
I was so uncomfortable in my seat during Handling the Undead and it was for all of the right reasons. Thea Hvistendahl’s direction is calm, cool and collected, while her screenplay written with John Ajvide Lindqvist is an incredibly unique vision of the grieving process. The pacing can be extremely trying at times, with the film opting for silent buildup instead of forced dialogue, but the reward justified the means for me. Equally heartbreaking and wildly horrifying, Handling the Undead was the genre bending film that most resonated with me and I can't stop thinking about its dissection of grief, heartbreak, and loneliness.
I'm kind of mad at myself that I put Dìdi at three? Of all the films on this list, I think time will be the kindest to this one. Now an Oscar nominated director, Sean Wang's feature length debut is a phenomenal piece of work. Hilarious, heart warming, and full of mid 2000's nostalgia, Dìdi is as entertaining a coming of age story as you could possibly want. Wang's direction is stellar, along with his usage of said nostalgia to push the film forward, but his writing is what really takes the cake. A well balanced tone, fantastic build up and drama lead to a finale that will make your heart grow three times in size.
Titus Kaphar's debut in writing and directing was a powerhouse of a film. Led by the incredible Andrè Holland, with a wonderful as always supporting Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, Exhibiting Forgiveness is an emotionally packed drama about overcoming generational trauma throw art. At times the script can get a little blatant with its underlying themes, feeling forced instead of natural, but the performances and resolution still provide enough satisfaction. Not to mention, this was one of the longer films I saw at the festival and it was paced perfectly. At almost two hours long, I was engrossed in the story that the movie flew by. The telltale sign of excellent direction, and once again an astounding display from Holland.
Finally I can fawn over Ghostlight again! Alex Thompson and Kelly O'Sullivan’s collaborative film is my surefire favorite of the festival and left me in shambles. Powerful performances from Keith Kupferer and Tara Mallen lend a dramatic hand to an otherwise hilarious script. Disarming comedy combined with heart shattering drama, all well balanced and precisely done led to plenty of tearful moments. Its wonderful seeing Dolly de Leon back in another juicy role, giving some depth to the theater group at the focus of the film. Similar to Exhibiting Forgiveness, Ghostlight features the healing power of art but in a much more subtle way. The suspense of the story culminates in an emotionally explosive final 30 minutes or so that are chef's kiss.
I need to see this again so I can re-experience the sweet catharsis of bawling my eyes out in a movie theater.