Another Sundance Film Festival has come and gone, but critics are still in recovery mode, processing dozens of movies they consumed over the course of a 10-day period in the freezing cold of Park City, Utah. The nice thing about festivals that attract a large volume of critics is that no single voice sounds alike, but together they drive attention to a handful of titles that stand out as the highlights of the program. For several years, we’ve provided a platform to examine the best of the festival by surveying critics in attendance for their favorite films, performances and other accomplishments.
This year, over 50 accredited members of the press participated in the survey, providing a robust list of the films with the greatest buzz.
Notably, the top films in both the narrative and documentary categories differ from the ones that took home the grand jury prizes, which singled out “I don’t feel at home in this world anymore” and “Dina” in the American categories. Instead, critics focused on several films that weren’t even in competition, and the results suggest that a broader look at the program reveals a keen window into modern times.
Anyone following coverage from afar won’t be surprised by some of the finalists. Luca Guadagnino’s lavish queer drama “Call Me By Your Name” topped the best films list, with David Lowery’s playfully supernatural “A Ghost Story” and Dee Rees’ postwar tale of racial prejudice in the south, “Mudbound,” nipping at its heels. The range of these projects speaks to the diversity of storytelling in this year’s lineup: While “Name” is a gorgeous, nostalgia-laden tale of sexual awakening, “A Ghost Story” deals with the cosmic nature of confronting one’s mortality, while “Mudbound” explores the process overcoming racial biases through personal connections. Viewed as a whole, these three films provide a sophisticated representation of modern themes dominating the national mindset.
All three films also topped our survey’s best director category; they also all have U.S. distribution, so it’s safe to assume this won’t be the last time they’ll surface on critics’ lists. View the full list of best films that received votes here.
Topicality also topped the best documentary category, where “Cartel Land” director Matthew Heineman’s “City of Ghosts” took first place. The movie focuses on the efforts of the Syrian journalists who founded the collective Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, as they report on the atrocities of ISIS while putting their lives at risk. Heineman spoke out in support of his subjects during Sundance’s final weekend, when the Trump Administration’s travel ban impacted their ability to visit the country.
Other documentary finalists included “Quest,” which follows a black Philadelphia family over the course of a decade, and “Casting JonBenet,” an experimental look at the way a murder haunts the residents of Boulder, Colorado, unfolding through auditions with actors designed to play relatives of the victim.
To get a more complete assessment of this year’s lineup, you really have to look beyond the movies at the top of these lists. That’s where you’ll find curiosities such as best supporting performance votes for Ray Romano, who takes a surprisingly dramatic turn in “The Big Sick” as the father of a coma-stricken woman (Zoe Kazan), and support for Salma Hayek’s turn in Miguel Arteta’s politically-tinged chamber drama “Beatriz at Dinner.”
There are also a number of newcomers who received strong votes of support, including video essayist-turned-director kogonada (“Columbus”) and best first feature winner Cory Finley (“Thoroughbred”).