15 Picks from Sundance 2023

From Jonathan Majors to Nicole Holofcener, these are the films and filmmakers we’re most excited to see at this year’s hybrid Sundance Film Festival.

After an intentionally all-virtual Sundance Film Festival in 2021 and a last-minute pivot back to purely virtual for 2022, some of us have our snow-boots and giant parkas packed, while others have our wi-fi and home entertainment systems ready, because Sundance is back this year in-person and online from January 19–29.

Unlike many festivals that have shifted exclusively back to in-person events, Sundance is maintaining their commitment to increased accessibility by putting a sizable portion of the festival slate online during the second half of the event. So while some folks will get to bathe in the Park City snow flurries, it is incredibly encouraging that film fans Stateside—and accredited media representatives globally—can also still join in from afar.

The approach is aiming for the best of many worlds: capturing the indescribable energy that comes from being among the first to see some of the buzziest titles of the year, while seeking that sensation from the reactions of those attending from the safety of their homes. In any case, both groups will be sharing the hype worldwide via Letterboxd.

We’ll be there in both capacities, watching along at home and catching the shuttle between screenings. We’ve studied the lineup and tapped our sources to collate a preview of fifteen new films and fresh voices we are most eager to hear from. And we’ll be watching Letterboxd reviews closely for the buzz that brews along the way.

Words by Mitchell Beaupre, Annie Lyons, Rafa Sales Ross, Mia Vicino, Adesola Thomas, Katie Rife, Leo Koziol, Brian Formo, Ella Kemp, Flynn Slicker, Isaac Feldberg and Gemma Gracewood.


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Magazine Dreams

Written and directed by Elijah Bynum

For the rest of eternity, time will be split into two periods: before the Magazine Dreams Sundance publicity still dropped, and after the Magazine Dreams Sundance publicity still dropped. The film’s lead, Jonathan Majors, appears in a tableau as though he were sculpted by the Gods themselves. As striking as it is aesthetically, it’s a fitting image to reflect the film’s premise, with Majors playing an amateur bodybuilder who is looking for connection in a world of celebrity and violence that makes it seem impossible.

While we are certainly eager to see Majors turn up in antagonistic roles in blockbusters Creed III and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania this year, it’s encouraging that he is still making time for the kind of dramatic independent stories, like the Sundance 2019 premiere The Last Black Man in San Francisco, that first launched him onto our radar. The Oscars foolishly missed the boat on giving him a nomination for that film, but don’t be surprised if writer and director Elijah Bynum helps him get to the podium with this one. MB

Polite Society

Directed and written by Nida Manzoor

You might already know Nida Manzoor from We Are Lady Parts, her Channel 4/Peacock sitcom about a London punk band made up entirely of Muslim women. With empathetically drawn characters and a melodious comedic rhythm, the coming-of-age series provides a refreshing reminder to embrace all the different parts of yourself and refuse to be reduced to just one thing.

Fitting, then, that Manzoor’s feature directorial debut Polite Society takes a giddy approach to genre and promises a heist comedy infused with martial arts, Bollywood flair and social horror. A tale of two sisters, the adaptation of Mahesh Rao’s novel centers on martial-artist-in-training and aspiring stunt woman Ria Khan (newcomer Priya Kansara). Fearing something is off when her artist big sister rushes into an engagement, Ria resolves to kidnap her from the wedding. This sounds like bombastic, big-hearted fare, the ideal Midnight section selection for anyone looking for an adrenaline rush without the jump scares. AL

You Hurt My Feelings

Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener

It’s hard to believe it’s been a decade since Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini starred in the ever-charming romantic dramedy Enough Said. While the Sopranos star is sadly no longer with us, You Hurt My Feelings reunites Louis-Dreyfus (also a producer here) with that film’s writer and director Nicole Holofcener. The leading lady portrays Beth, a novelist whose marriage is thrown on the rocks after the ultimate act of betrayal: her husband doesn’t like her new book.

As Beth digests the troubling revelation, her husband (Tobias Menzies) struggles to grasp his new reality as a therapist who no longer cares for the quarrels of his patients. Described in the program as a “cleverly observed, witty film that delicately skewers its sharply drawn, imperfect characters’ insecurities, privilege, and narcissism,” Holofcener’s latest is set to be yet another layered character study rooted in the poignant realism that has defined her best work to date. RSR

Infinity Pool

Written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg

Cronenberg. Skarsgård. Goth. With a trifecta of iconic names who hold no qualms about blood and guts (see 2022’s The Northman and Pearl), the third feature from the twisted mind of Brandon Cronenberg—son of body horror maestro David—is ready to leave you squirming. Much like the woman in the image above, lips have been puckered up tight about Infinity Pool, but here’s what we know: a novelist (Skarsgård) and his wife’s (Cleopatra Coleman) all-inclusive vacation on the fictional island of Li Tolqa is upended upon meeting a mysterious and seductive woman (Goth). After a fatal accident, the couple are forced to descend into the resort’s “perverse subculture of hedonistic tourism, crushing violence and surreal horrors.

Originally rated NC-17 for its extreme brutality, this sci-fi satire sounds perfect for anyone who watched The White Lotus and thought, ‘You know what this is missing? Cronenbergian-levels of gore and depravity.’ Infinity Pool will only be available to in-person Sundance attendees, but don’t fret—it releases in theaters on January 27. MV

Mami Wata

Written and directed by C.J. ‘Fiery’ Obasi

Seven years before C.J ‘Fiery’ Obasi’s third feature film, the fantasy-thriller Mami Wata, entered the Sundance 2023 lineup it was, to quote the ever poignant Frank Ocean, “a dream of a thought.” Obasi imagined a woman at a beach being beckoned by Mami Wata, the mermaid goddess of African lore and spirituality, into the depths of the waters.

In this monochromatic film, that lured woman is Mama Efe (Rita Edochie), a revered spiritual intermediary between the water goddess and the rural fishing village of Iyi. After a young boy falls fatally ill, Mama Efe is tasked to navigate her community’s spiritual doubts—especially when Sergeant Jasper (Emeka Amakeze), a mysterious rebel deserter, arrives in the village. This genre work will no doubt be an exciting addition to Obasi’s moving cinematic canon and reiterate the salient storytelling coming out of Nigeria. AT

Eileen

Directed by William Oldroyd, written by Luke Goebel

The first of several film adaptations of Ottessa Moshfegh’s work that are currently in various stages of production, Eileen also comes to Sundance as “a film by the director of Lady Macbeth.” If you’ve seen William Oldroyd’s star-making 2016 Florence Pugh vehicle, or read a book by TikTok’s favorite novelist, you know that the combination will have an edge that’s refined to a sharp and exquisite point.

Eileen stars Thomasin McKenzie in the title role as a dejected outcast in 1960s Boston whose friendship with the new employee at her work (Anne Hathaway) takes what promises to be some delightfully messed-up turns. Oh, and did we mention they work at a prison? With cinematography from The Power of the Dog’s Ari Wegner (who also shot Lady Macbeth) to complete the buzzy behind-the-scenes trifecta, Eileen is a hot ticket. KR

Cassandro

Directed by Roger Ross Williams, written by Williams and David Teague

The art of choosing promotional stills is a tricky one. The marketing team behind Cassandro, however, hit the nail on the head by publicizing their Sundance premiere with a glorious image of Gael García Bernal dramatically flagging his arms inside a wrestling ring while dressed in a leopard-print leotard.

The narrative debut of Oscar-winning Life, Animated director Roger Ross Williams dives into the lucha libre wrestling scene of Juárez, Mexico, where openly gay luchador Saúl (García Bernal) is tired of hiding his star-making personality behind the mask of his in-ring persona. Aiming to get the best of both worlds, Saúl creates Cassandro, an exótico character conceived as a loser but played as a crowd-pleasing winner. This compelling underdog tale highlighting one of Mexico’s most popular and entertaining traditions is an easy sell—animal-print-wearing Bernal is just a sweet, sweet cherry on top. RSR

Fancy Dance

Directed by Erica Tremblay, written by Tremblay and Miciana Alise

There’s a half dozen great Indigenous-made films at Sundance this year that are worth seeking out, and among them we simply must highlight the magical pairing of director Erica Tremblay and star Lily Gladstone in Fancy Dance. Tremblay has made an impact with documentary and short film works (Little Chief from 2020’s Sundance), and more recently has directed episodes of Native streamers Dark Winds and the award-winning Reservation Dogs. Gladstone, meanwhile, has been a top talent since her breakout in Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women, and stars in the much-anticipated Martin Scorsese feature Killers of the Flower Moon.

The script for Fancy Dance was part of the inaugural Indigenous List section of the prestigious Black List, so it’s wonderful to see this film finally arrive on screen. With cinematography from the instinctively brilliant Carolina Costa, it promises to be an authentic story of one Native family’s journey to the powwow and their soul. LK

The Tuba Thieves

Directed by Alison O’Daniel

Sundance’s documentary curation has routinely been one of its strongest festival draws. It’s hard to know which to highlight before buzz builds or awards are handed out, but the synopsis of Alison O’Daniel’s directorial debut, The Tuba Thieves, jumps out as an immediate watchlist add: “A spate of robberies in Southern California schools had an oddly specific target: tubas… The film unfolds mimicking a game of telephone, where sound’s feeble transmissibility is proven as the story bends and weaves to human interpretation and miscommunication. The result is a stunning contribution to cinematic language.”

O’Daniel herself is a d/Deaf filmmaker and the tease of the textural elements that she adds to unfurl her findings in a film described as “a work of creative nonfiction” is beyond intriguing. But we were already hooked simply by the narrative device of “a game of telephone”, promising that the destination of this story is completely unknowable, going in. BF

Rye Lane

Directed by Raine Allen-Miller, written by Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia

Rom-com needs a revival, and while Zoey Deutch, Glen Powell and pals have been doing their best, what the genre truly requires in 2023 is some Caribbean aunties, art-world excess and midnight moped rides. Low-key charmer Rye Lane, which follows twenty-somethings Yas (Vivian Oparah) and Dom (David Jonsson) through a night of reckoning with their exes across South London, looks to promise all this and more.

Based on the trailer alone, there are genre tropes aplenty (pretend couple, accidental karaoke, getting caught rifling around in a knickers drawer). The colors are absolutely popping, and it has a languid back-street feel: 21st-century London markets, parks and cinemas brought to vibrant life in a fish-eye widescreen by debut feature director Raine Allen-Miller and her team, with an excellent soundtrack to match. GG

Landscape with Invisible Hand

Written and directed by Cory Finley

Whether or not you’re a YA stan, when Cory Finley tells you a story is worth seeking out, you’ve got to pay attention. The director of Emmy winner Bad Education and Letterboxd darling Thoroughbreds returns with a near-future teen odyssey in Landscape with Invisible Hand, which sounds like a perfect rom-com, sci-fi thriller, dysfunctional family comedy, existential drama and money-making scheme, all in one.

A24 favorites Asante Blackk and Josh Hamilton are among the cast, which also includes Michael Gandolfini and William Jackson Harper. Finley’s tantalizing crew of collaborators is also more than enough to promise great things—he’s back with frequent composer Michael Abels (the genius behind Jordan Peele’s films as well) and Lyle Vincent, who’s lensed his previous features with a sharp, satirical eye that finds beauty in the mundane. It could be a swing for the fences, but what better way for Finley to return? EK

Theater Camp

Directed by Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman, written by Gordon, Lieberman, Ben Platt and Noah Galvin

Sing the body electric, it’s Molly Gordon’s co-directorial debut! This 88-minute dramedy is the feature-length follow-up to the eponymous 2018 short. It’s also the passion project of four real life camp friends: Ben Platt, Noah Galvin, Nick Lieberman and Gordon. Theater Camp captures the world of AdirondACTS, a rundown upstate New York summer camp for young people interested in musical theater and stage performance.

When Joan (Amy Sedaris), the founder of the camp, falls comatose, camp teachers Rebecca-Diane (Gordon) and Amos (Platt) join forces with Joan’s crypto-bro son Troy (Jimmy Tatro) and the camp’s gaggle of teachers to pull off a praise-worthy production and save the institution from financial ruin. Theater Camp is sure to be a clever, lived-in film about the creative, weird, wonderful places we find community. Plus, comedians Patti Harrison, Ayo Edebiri and young Alan Kim from Minari co-star! AT

Flora and Son

Written and directed by John Carney

Sing Street fans rejoice! After an absence from the big screen since that 2016 charmer, filmmaker John Carney is back and ready to win our indie-musical hearts yet again with Flora and Son, a buzzy late addition to the Sundance slate. The film tells the story of a mother (Eve Hewson, of Bad Sisters) who is butting heads with her petty thief of a son (Orén Kinlan). Pressured by the police to have her son pick up a new hobby, the solution may or may not include finding a beat-up guitar in someone’s dumpster, and taking guitar lessons across the Atlantic via the internet.

The cast is certainly one to keep your eyes on (in more ways than one), as the film reunites Carney with Sing Street scene-stealer Jack Reynor, and also brings in Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Amy Huberman. Will we all be drooling over Gordon-Levitt singing once again? The answer is absolutely yes, here comes our man. FS

All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt

Written and directed by Raven Jackson

Spanning decades in the life of a Mississippi woman, Raven Jackson’s debut narrative feature All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt is described as a portrait of people, places, and ineffable emotions, expanding the sensorial poetics of body memory present in Jackson’s award-winning short Nettles. Taking on the main role is newcomer Charleen McGuire, who could follow in the tradition of sensational debut performances out of Sundance. She has reliable support from castmates including Sheila Atim and Moses Ingram.

Jackson’s film has the backing of none other than Barry Jenkins and his brilliant colleagues Adele Romanski and Mark Ceryak, via their production company PASTEL, who last collaborated with A24 on Charlotte Wells’ Aftersun. “This one has a MASSIVE chunk of my heart,” Jenkins tweeted. “After Aftersun, not many chunks left.” IF

Talk to Me

Directed by Danny and Michael Philippou, written by Danny Philippou and Bill Hinzman

Séance gone wrong has a fresh entry in the canon, and once you let this new Aussie horror into your house you’ll struggle to get it to leave. Talk to Me starts with a banging continuous shot weaving through a rager of an Adelaide house party, before settling on high school friends Jade and Mia (a very up-for-it Sophie Wilde) and the losers they somehow keep finding themselves with, filming spirit-summoning sessions for shits and giggles and Snaps.

The debut feature of horror-comedy twin-brother YouTubers Danny and Michael Philippou of RackaRacka fame, Talk to Me is deadly serious (“Admirably nasty, parts of this are genuinely shocking in ways I was joyfully unprepared for,” writes Daniel Tune out of the Adelaide Film Festival). It’s a ridiculously confident feature debut, co-written with their collaborator Michael H. Beck, who is curiously listed as Bill Hinzman—the name of the late actor who played “cemetery zombie” in Night of the Living Dead. Talk to me about that. GG


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