After two years of virtual and hybrid event offerings, the Sundance Film Festival is set to celebrate the first fully in-person edition of the landmark fest when it rolls out next week in Park City, Utah. As ever, this year’s festival boasts a wide variety of new films from some of our favorite filmmakers, plus an assortment of rising stars, new talents to keep an eye on, and perhaps a few surprises.
This year’s program includes new films from Nicole Holofcener, Ira Sachs, Brandon Cronenberg, Sebastian Silva, Cory Finley, Justin Chon, Nicole Newnham, Maite Alberdi, Roger Ross Williams, Sophie Barthes, Lana Wilson, Davis Guggenheim, Rebecca Zlotowski, and Anton Corbijn.
Looking for big stars? Sundance has them, too, as notable actors at this year’s festival range include Jonathan Majors, Daisy Ridley, Sarah Snook, Ben Whishaw, Alexander Skarsgard, Mia Goth, Cynthia Erivo, Alia Shawkat, Thomasin McKenzie, Anne Hathaway, Emilia Jones, Emilia Clarke, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Phoebe Dyvenor, Alden Ehrenreich, Lily Gladstone, Haley Bennett, Taylour Paige, Nicholas Braun, Geraldine Viswanathan, Eliza Scanlen, Patti Harrison, Ayo Edebiri, Alice Englert, Harris Dickinson, Adele Exarchopoulos, and many more.
How, you may wonder, could you ever hope to plow through such a robust offering of feature films? Allow us to help, as we’ve culled the program to pick out 27 titles we’re most excited to see at this year’s festival. (And, never fear, we’ve got shorts covered, that’s coming tomorrow.)
This year’s festival runs from January 19 – January 29 in Park City, Utah. For more information on tickets for both in-person attendees and virtual viewers, head here. Check out all of our coverage of the festival right here.
Christian Blauvelt, Jude Dry, and Eric Kohn also contributed to this article.
“Aum: The Cult at the End of the World”
Scary as some recent cult documentaries have been — and scary as it is that audiences have become so obsessed with them in the streaming age — minor-key megalomaniacs like NXIVM founder Keith Raniere can’t really hold a candle to the homicidal prophets of yore, who rattled the world’s imagination before becoming the subject of a hit true-crime show. Here comes a documentary that will remind you how glad we should be for that.
More than 25 years have passed since the members of Aum Shinrikyo unleashed sarin gas into the Tokyo subway, killing 14 people and injuring thousands more, and the inexplicable horror of their actions continues to haunt people in Japan and beyond. Ben Braun and Chiaki Yanagimoto’s harrowing film investigates how Shoko Asahara transformed a seemingly benign yoga school into one of modern history’s most infamous doomsday cults, unpacking the attacks with a keen eye towards the warning signs that preceded them and the history that led to that fateful morning in 1995. —DE
courtesy of Sundance Institute
Save your “nepo baby” cracks for someone else, because Alice Englert (yes, Jane Campion’s daughter) has been busy for years carving out her own space in film, TV, and music. A multi-hyphenate who has done it all (and before the age of 30), Englert has starred in both beloved indies (“Ginger and Rosa”) and misunderstood would-be blockbusters (“Beautiful Creatures”), while also singing, writing, and directing.
She finally makes her feature directorial debut with “Bad Behaviour,” which stars Jennifer Connelly as a former child actress (interesting) who is trying to figure her life out, while also attending a wellness retreat (headed up by Ben Whishaw) and working through her fraught relationship with her kid (Englert). Billed as a dark comedy, which only adds another curious layer to a film we already couldn’t wait to see. —KE
Marin Ireland and Judy Reyes make a darkly delightful pairing in this twisted riff on Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” Ireland is wryly funny as Rose, an aloof pathologist whose life obsession is reanimating the dead. Known for TV comedies like “Scrubs,” Reyes proves herself a hefty dramatic talent as a mother pushing her moral boundaries for just one more day with her daughter.
An exciting feature debut from filmmaker Laura Moss, this psychological body horror reshapes Shelley’s seminal work into a radical exploration of motherhood, bodily autonomy, and immortality. —JD
Sundance Film Festival
Literary buffs of a certain stripe are pleased to have a field day at this year’s festival, thanks to big screen adaptations of both Kristen Roupenian’s short story and Otessa Moshfegh’s “Eileen.” Both are bitterly funny, occasionally repulsive, and darkly relatable tales of young womanhood and bad, bad behavior. For “Cat Person,” director Susanna Fogel (“Life Partners,” “The Spy Who Dumped Me”) takes on Michelle Ashford’s script, which expands Roupenian’s excruciating (and we mean that in the best possible way) New Yorker tale about a young woman (“CODA” breakout Emilia Jones) who falls into an icky relationship with a slightly older man (Nicholas Braun).
Last year, Jones told IndieWire that the story is now “kind of a psychological thriller” that she expects will “provoke conversation.” So much of Roupenian’s story is about atmosphere, unsaid questions, and (dare we say it?) just damn bad vibes, and we can’t wait to see how that translates to a deeper cinematic dissection. —KE
Steven Soderbergh executive-produces this experimental NEXT selection from filmmaker Eddie Alcazar, known for coining the term “meta-scope” to describe his own unique blend of live-action and stop-motion. The Soderbergh imprimatur alone should make this a buzzy acquisition title in Utah, but Alcazar’s premise and eclectic cast (Stephen Dorff, always a warmly welcomed familiar face, plus Moises Arias and Bella Thorne) should also draw interest toward this black-and-white otherworldly sci-fi.
Alcazar builds an intriguingly retro style around a grotesque future where a scientist has created a serum for immortality. His son, however, is the one who controls it, and society has been completely morphed by the drug. When two mysterious brothers make a plan to kidnap the mogul with help from a young woman, the drug’s true powers will be revealed. —RL
Former Olympian Savanah Leaf (volleyball, 2012) has been finding her way into filmmaking with acclaimed shorts in recent years (“The Heart Still Hums”), but she’s poised to cement her breakout status with this A24 and Film4-produced drama about a single pregnant mother in the Bay Area fighting for her children’s future even as it slips beyond her grasp.
Another newcomer, Tia Nomore, reportedly gives a stunning performance as the mother in question as the movie hovers in the confines of her troubled world and the resilience she brings to it. Aided by the ever-reliable cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes (“Manchester by the Sea”), this entry in the Premieres section promises a memorable character study that should launch talent on both sides of the camera as soon as it screens. —EK
Courtesy of Sundance Institute
U.K. filmmaker William Oldroyd depicted a troubling woman’s self-annihilating power with feverish beauty in the 2016 breakout “Lady Macbeth,” the film that also launched Florence Pugh’s movie career. This time around, Oldroyd adapts “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” author Otessa Moshfegh’s repulsively compelling, earlier short novel “Eileen,” about a deeply, bitterly unhappy young woman (Thomasin McKenzie) with daddy issues and a disdain for personal hygiene.
She works in a prison in 1960s Boston, mostly alienated from the world until an alluring new hire (Anne Hathaway) injects some much-needed joie de vivre into her humdrum existence. It’s not without complications, though, as their friendship collides with a shocking crime that pushes “Eileen” into thriller territory. Moshfegh’s gloomy, unhinged novel should translate to the screen well, especially anchored by two powerhouse actresses who aren’t afraid of the darkness. —RL
“The Eternal Memory”
Chilean director Maite Alberdi’s “The Mole Agent” was one of the great surprises of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, a winsome and touching look at an elderly man who infiltrates an old-age home, and it went on to land an Oscar nomination. Alberdi was already one of the most exciting documentarians working today when she made “Mole Agent,” as she excels at depicting underrepresented emotional experiences by collaborating with her subjects.
Now comes the latest example of that, and it sure looks powerful. “The Eternal Memory” follows the impact of Alzheimer’s on an aging couple over the course of a four-year period. When the description alone suggests an emotional wallop, you know to expect a real tearjerker, and Alberdi’s exactly the sort of director who doesn’t take that poignancy for granted. Early buzz suggests this one could be the true heartbreaker of the 2023 festival. —EK
Already one of the most buzzed-about movies premiering at Sundance this year (with several of the people we spoke to insisting that it was one of their favorites of the fest), Babak Jalali’s “Fremont” seems poised to keep Jeremy Allen White’s hot streak alive in 2023. But this wry and off-beat comedy doesn’t belong to him — or to Gregg Turkington, who plays another important role — but rather to real-life Afghan refugee Anaita Wala Zada, the young first-time actress whose immigrant existence is radically transformed when she lands a job writing fortunes at a California fortune cookie factory.
Shot in rich black-and-white, and likely far less twee than it seems on paper (Jalali’s last film, “Radio Dreams,” had no trouble mining raw honesty from a similarly cute-sounding comedy about Persian Metallica fans in the Bay Area), “Fremont” sounds like a classic Sundance charmer told with a modern touch. —DE
courtesy of Sundance Institute
NEON has already snapped up the latest feature by the rising horror master Brandon Cronenberg and is already primed to the release the film to the general public right after its Sundance premiere. Sounds like this is one with some secrets and spoilers that the boutique distributor doesn’t want to get out too there, too soon.
No wonder, if the premise is any indication: Deep-pocketed couple Alexander Skarsgård and Cleopatra Coleman are at a pricy all-inclusive resort in the fictional European getaway of Li Tolqa. When he’s arrested for a crime, he finds out the punishment for all crimes in this supposed paradise is death, and a surrealistic spiral ensues that appears to be part “White Lotus,” part “Hostel” (the film was recut to an “R” rating after the MPA initially awarded it an NC-17). If that isn’t compelling enough, a blonde Mia Goth wielding a gun, who co-stars, should be. —CB
A trio of music and video stores that were scattered across Manhattan, famous for their vast selection of obscure albums and films, and (in)famous for the mercilessly judgmental hipsters who ran the place like they were cosplaying “High Fidelity,” Kim’s Video was a bonafide New York institution before Netflix wiped it off the map. But David Redmon and Ashley Sabin’s documentary of the same name isn’t the “Last Blockbuster”-esque look back at the glory days of DVD that you might expect from that context.
On the contrary, this spry and playful film sets its sights on what happened after store owner (and local eccentric) Yongman Kim donated his 55,000-title collection to a small Italian village that promised to keep it intact. Palpably directed by people who paid for their film education in Kim’s rental fees, and steeped in the genres that Kim’s made it possible for its customers to devour en masse, “Kim’s Video” offers a surprising look at the role that movies can play in our lives apart from the time we spend watching them. —DE
“Landscape with Invisible Hand”
In the span of just two features, Cory Finley (“Thoroughbreds,” “Bad Education”) has emerged as one of the most promising filmmakers of his generation, his work marrying the poisoned wit of Harold Pinter with the aesthetic virtuosity of Park Chan-wook. For his next trick, Finley is going sci-fi with a Matthew Tobin Anderson adaptation that seems poised to continue the young director’s preoccupation with class in America.
The curiously titled “Landscape with Invisible Hand” begins after a species of aliens has come to Earth with a battery of hyper-advanced technology that renders our economy irrelevant, even if its full benefits are only affordable for the ultra-rich. The teen couple at the heart of this story make ends meet by livestreaming their relationship for the entertainment of their alien overlords, but find themselves scrambling for a new plan once the whole “E.T. influencer” thing runs into some unexpected complications. Brace for a grounded and scathing dark comedy about first contact that borrows from “Arrival” and “District 9” in equal measure. —DE
courtesy of Sundance Institute
“Little Richard: I Am Everything”
The explosive performer Little Richard gets the big screen documentary rendering he deserves from prolific producer and filmmaker Lisa Cortés (“All In: The Fight for Democracy”). Promising to shed light on the “black, queer origins of rock ‘n’ roll,” Cortés uses a traditional mix of interviews with music luminaries, Black and queer scholars, and family and friends; as well as rarely seen archival footage of the artist and his influences, including Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
With its focus on re-centering Black artists in music history after decades of erasure, the film looks to follow in the footsteps of “Summer of Soul,” one of the biggest hits to come out of last year’s Sundance. —JD
Jonathan Majors is tapped for supervillainy as Kang the Conquerer in “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” and “Avengers: The Kang Dynasty,” a role for which he put on 10 pounds of muscle. And it’s his muscles he’s showing off as a body-builder who aspires to fame in “Magazine Dreams,” the latest film by Elijah Bynum (“Hot Summer Nights”).
This is a character study with a rich Sundance pedigree. Majors shot to fame with his sensitive role as Mont in “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” which debuted at Sundance four years ago. Now he’s making his return to the festival that put him on the path to blockbuster stardom. So is Taylour Paige, last seen in Park City three years ago for “Zola,” and starring opposite Majors in Bynum’s film. The world of bodybuilding is sometimes one ripe for caricature, so a deeply felt character study is a nice change of pace. Real-life bodybuilder and “American Gladiators” alum Mike O’Hearn is also in the cast, along with habitual scene-stealer Harriet Sansom Harris, who makes every project she’s in greater by default. —CB