Below, I rank the films I saw at Sundance last week, separated by features and docs, with links to full reviews where available. I missed out on some much-talked about films like Manchester by the Sea and Swiss Army Man and only saw three docs. The top three films really feel like they’re tied for first place, and the top six are all must-sees.
Agnus Dei: perhaps the most complete film of the festival from narrative to performances to cinematography, it’s an instant classic built to last. Full review.
The Land: for all the talk about #OscarsSoWhite, Sundance was a champion of diverse voices, perspectives, and narratives. With all the celebration of the next film on the list, The Land felt like it got lost in the mix, but it might be the most timely film of the festival. Full review.
The Birth of a Nation: if you are even remotely interested in film, you’ve heard about the historic $17.5 million sale. What will be even more interesting is whether or not it can bear the hype and draw an audience, because it’s certain to be an awards darling later this year. Full review.
Love and Friendship: perhaps the most surprising film of the festival for me. Jane Austen films have never been funnier, and Tom Bennett was a comedic revelation. Full review.
Sing Street: by far, the most fun I had at the festival, and, if the rest of the audience’s reaction was any indication, I wasn’t alone. Throughout the film, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop—for some tragic event to take place—but the film just keeps rising.
Morris from America: another captivating film that generated festival buzz and should fare well with audiences (if they can see it) given its two moving performances from Craig Robinson and newcomer Markees Christmas. Full review.
The Fits: a mesmerizing genre-bending film that kept me on the edge of my seat, even with its quiet, meditative pacing. Full review.
The Lobster: a weird little film that boasts a great performance by Colin Farrell. It boasts an absurd premise that never lets itself get lost or distracted in its absurdity. Full review.
Brahman Naman: an interesting film on the global stage. A raunch coming-of-age teen comedy that borrows from American comedies and uses that humor to address the injustices of the caste system in India. Unfortunately, it’s sexist portrayal of women might be part of another problem. Full review.
Goat: one of the few films to take such an unflinching look at fraternity hazing. It doesn’t really add anything to the conversation, although James Franco makes an appearance that makes the film worth watching.
The Eyes of My Mother: a daring film and one that resulted in a couple dozen walkouts. I almost joined them. There’s no doubting the film’s aesthetic proficiency, but it’s morally and spiritually hollow.
Outlaws and Angels: if you’re going to make a violent western, aim high and shoot for Tarantino. Unfortunately, this one-note narrative falls flat.
31: I missed that it was a Rob Zombie before settling into the theater. This was my biggest mistake of the festival.
Gleason: Acknowledging my Saints bias, Gleason is one of the rawest docs I’ve seen in a long time. It’s also the most honest portrayal of marriage I’ve seen in film or television. Though much of the audience sobbed throughout the film, Gleason leaves you feeling inspired. Full review.
Holy Hell: cult exposes have never been more revealing and compelling. Thanks to over 20 years of footage from Will Allen, former member and the cult’s (un)official documentarian, Holy Hell treats the spiritual pursuit with compassion, even as it lays bare the abuses of its leader that exploited this hunger.
Tickled: one of the most bizarre docs I’ve ever scene, it begins as an exploration of the world of Competitive Endurance Tickling (yes, that apparently exists) but quickly transitions into a thrilling commentary on wealth, power, and exploitation.