The 2018 Sundance Film Festival wasn’t a big marketplace compared to previous editions, but critics found plenty of cinematic highlights to celebrate in this year’s lineup, regardless of how much interest they attracted from hungry buyers. IndieWire invited dozens of critics attending the festival to vote on their favorite films of the lineup, and the movie that received the most support won no awards and didn’t even land distribution before the end of the festival, but stood out as one of the most widely praised selections anyway.
“Madeline’s Madeline,” the third feature from writer-director Josephine Decker and her first at Sundance, topped IndieWire’s annual critics survey of the top films with 15% of the vote in the Best Film category. Decker’s surreal drama, which premiered in the festival’s NEXT section, featured a breakthrough performance by Helena Howard as a teenager unleashing her rebellious desires on an experimental theater class, to the consternation of her doting mother (Miranda July). In his rave review, IndieWire’s David Ehrlich called it “a fragmented coming-of-age drama that explores the vast space between Hollis Frampton and Greta Gerwig in order to find something truly new and ineffably of its time.” He added, “This is one of the boldest and most invigorating American films of the 21st century.”
With 33 critics voting in this year’s survey, the range of responses reflect a truly diverse year in terms of programming and subject matter. Other films that received multiple votes for Best Film included Boots Riley’s “Sorry to Bother You,” a scathing satire of race and consumerism that Annapurna Pictures bought for one of the festival’s few seven-figure deals, as well as Bo Burnham’s coming-of-age crowdpleaser “Eighth Grade” and the shocking midnight horror-thriller “Hereditary,” both of which were produced by A24. Jennifer Fox’s “The Tale,” an autobiographical portrait of the filmmaker coming to grips with a history of sexual abuse starring Laura Dern, also received several votes of support.
“Eighth Grade” topped the Best First feature category, as critics showed their support for standup comedian Burnham making his debut behind the camera. The movie tied for Best Screenplay with “Private Life,” Tamara Jenkins’ poignant Netflix-produced drama about an aging couple attempting IVF, which stars Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn.
Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Meanwhile, in one of the strongest Sundance editions for women filmmakers on record, the Best Director category was topped by another woman. Marking her return to Sundance with her first feature since Grand Jury Prize winner “Winter’s Bone” in 2010, Debra Granik premiered “Leave No Trace” in the Premieres section. The movie, which co-stars Ben Foster and newcomer Thomasin McKenzie, is another story about a teen woman coming to grips with the adult world — in this case, McKenzie plays the daughter to a man who forces his family to live on the outskirts of civilization, until a sudden discovery changes everything. “Leave No Trace” was acquired by Bleecker Street near the end of the festival.
The Best Documentary category was topped by “Three Identical Strangers,” Tim Wardle’s strange-but-true portrait of triplets separated at birth who discovered each in young adulthood, only to uncover the conspiracy behind their separation years later. The movie was acquired out of Sundance by Neon.
Critics were also asked to vote on Best Foreign Film, considering titles from across two competition sections. The movie with the most support was “Pity,” a dark comedy from Greek director Babis Makridis.
Critics who participated in this year’s survey included Fandango’s Alicia Malone, BuzzFeed’s Alison Willmore, Jacqueline Coley from Rotten Tomatoes and BlackGirlNerds.com, TimeOut New York’s Joshua Rothkopf, and Cinema Scope’s Robert Koehler. IndieWire’s three critics at the festival, Eric Kohn, David Ehrlich, and Kate Erbland, also participated, as did editor-at-large Anne Thompson.
Head to the next page for top films in every category.