Sundance never fails to pack the year with outstanding movies. From Boyhood to Little Miss Sunshine, some of the best indies of all time have made their debut up in the mountains of Utah. This year’s festival, which took place from Jan. 19–29, was comparatively low–key. There wasn’t one specific film that the critics have rallied behind as an instant classic, but there were more than enough movies that seemed worth the watch.
I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore (Macon Blair)
This thriller/comedy (thromedy?) won the biggest prize of the festival, the Grand Jury Dramatic Prize. This puts it in the company of The Birth of a Nation, Whiplash and Winter’s Bone, among others, and also marks it as one of the most anticipated indies of the year. Ruth (played by Melanie Lynskey, who seems to be channeling a mousy, cynical Lena Dunham–type) is depressed, pessimistic and sick of the world and the jerks that live in it. The last straw comes when she gets burglarized, and she and her neighbor (Elijah Wood) decide to track the criminals down. Based on the trailer, the film seems to skate between comedic and suspenseful tones with reckless abandon. It’s not likely to be in any awards conversation later in the year, but this tiny oddball indie epitomizes the plucky Sundance spirit. Unlike most of these festival flicks, you won’t have to wait long to see this one, as Netflix bought the distribution rights. You can stream the film starting Feb. 24.
Mudbound (Dee Rees)
With a star–studded cast, a timely subject matter and a period setting, Mudbound is one of the most award–friendly films to come out of this year's festival. Directed by Dee Rees (a black woman—a combination that is unfortunately so rare in the directing world that it deserves a mention) and adapted from an acclaimed novel, this movie tells the story of two WWII soldiers, one from a white family and one from a black family, who return to their Mississippi hometown. The film focuses on the narratives of six people from the two families. Racial tensions play a role, as does the unhappiness of most of the film’s characters. Carey Mulligan and Mary J. Blige, who play the two women of the families, are receiving considerable praise for their roles. Its themes and style draw comparisons to The Sound and the Fury, and this complex web of relationships should be a thrill to watch on screen. Netflix has bought the rights to the film, and it will undoubtedly be released next fall, in the thick of awards season. It's so fresh, there's not even a trailer for it yet.
Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino)
The past few years have been absolutely fantastic for movies about the gay experience. After the absolutely flawless Carol in 2015 and the achingly beautiful Moonlight this past year, I was waiting eagerly to see if 2017 could offer up anything to compete. Call Me By Your Name seems to be that film. Guadagnino (who also directed last year’s criminally overlooked A Bigger Splash) tells the story of Elio (Timotheé Chalamet), the son of a professor, who falls in love with his dad’s research assistant (Armie Hammer). According to the glowing critics’ reviews, the film is sensual, observant and quietly thrilling. Guadagnino directs his films with unshakable charisma, and this film will hopefully be the next in a stellar line of queer films. The film was bought by Sony Pictures Classics and will hopefully be released later this year.
Manifesto (Julian Rosefeldt)
Cate Blanchett is the only person in this movie, and she plays 13 different characters. That should LITERALLY be all you need to hear to get excited for this movie. This experimental film first premiered in 2015, and it’s still unclear whether the film will be widely distributed anytime soon. The premise is simple: Each character recites a different manifesto from throughout history. While the film doesn’t adhere to many narrative feature film conventions, Manifesto allows Blanchett the flexibility to carry a movie on her own, and this novel concept more than warrants its placement on your IMDb watchlist.