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Sundance 2023: 27 Must-See Films at This Year’s Festival, from ‘Infinity Pool’ to ‘Cat Person’ and More

As the festival returns to full in-person strength, a wide variety of new films await eager movie-goers. Here are the ones we can't wait to see.

(Clockwise from bottom left): “Infinity Pool,” “Magazine Dreams,” “Passages,” “Polite Society,” and “Cat Person”

Courtesy Everett Collection/Sundance Institute

“Mutt”

Set over the course of a single day, “Mutt” follows a young trans guy (Lío Mehiel) as memories from his past blend with everyday scenes of life in New York City. The debut feature from Chilean-Serbian filmmaker Vuk Lungulov-Klotz, an alum of the Sundance Labs. Writing from lived experience, Lungulov-Klotz explores the intersectional complexity of a young person carrying multiple identities, as they navigate life through trans, Latinx, and immigrant experiences.

In addition to introducing Mehiel as a trans performer to watch, “Mutt” also stars MiMi Ryder and Cole Doman, star of Stephen Cone’s 2015 indie hit “Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party.” —JD

Passages

“Passages”

Courtesy Sundance Institute

“Passages”

New York filmmaker Ira Sachs, ever the shrewd chronicler of relationship ups and downs behind closed doors, first premiered a film at Sundance with 2005’s “Forty Shades of Blue.” That Memphis-set drama helped launch his career, followed up by the blistering and party autobiographical gay relationship elegy “Keep the Lights On” (which also screened at the fest) and the gentle coming-of-age drama “Little Men” (also a Sundance premiere).

Seemingly in the European leg of his career after the Sintra-set “Frankie,” Sachs turns his eye on contemporary Paris in the Premieres entry “Passages.” The filmmaker continues to nurture his flair for audacious talent, here casting raffish German actor Franz Rogowski as a filmmaker in a triangle of desire involving a new, young woman in his life (Adele Exarchopoulos) and his husband (Ben Whishaw), who’s also feeding his own extramarital impulses. —RL

“Past Lives”

An exciting last-minute addition to the lineup sees Greta Lee (“Russian Doll”) and Teo Yoo (“Decision to Leave”) in a wistful romance. They play Nora and Hae Sung, childhood friends reunited in adulthood after a budding romance was interrupted when Nora’s family emigrated to Canada. Independent film legend Christine Vachon produces the feature debut of playwright Celine Song (“Endlings”), who takes the film’s title from a Korean term for the notion of fates intertwining through past lives.

A contemporary play on the cross-cultural romance, “Past Lives” speaks to the kinds of connections that can be forged and forgotten in our overly connected world. —JD

“Polite Society”

Focus Features

“Polite Society”

Billing itself as a cross between an Austenesque social comedy and a Bollywood-inflected martial arts mashup, Nida Manzoor’s “Polite Society” could, should, and probably will be one of the most fun movies premiering at Sundance this year. “Bridgerton” actress Priya Kansara stars as Ria Khan, a London schoolgirl determined to become the world’s greatest stuntwoman once she finishes college.

But when the older sister she idolizes drops out of art school and announces plans to move to Singapore with her rich new boyfriend, Ria is compelled to leap into action sooner than she’d planned; she hatches a plot to kidnap her sister from her own wedding, her daring heist dependent on her untested skills as an action heroine. Between the brilliance of Manzoor’s “We Are Lady Parts” and the full support that Focus Features has offered for her first movie (which it’s slated to release in theaters this April), there’s plenty of reason to hope that “Polite Society” will make good on its promise. —DE

“Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields”

Documentarian Lana Wilson boasted one of the best films of Sundance 2020 with the Taylor Swift portrait “Miss Americana.” Now she’s back with another in-depth profile of a female star whose time in the limelight also spoke to larger currents in the culture: Brooke Shields. The star of “The Blue Lagoon” was famous by the age of 12, her beauty a source of (creepy) media obsession.

In fact, the title of the doc even invokes Shields’ breakout, “Pretty Baby,” in which, as a 13-year-old, she played a sex worker at a brothel in 1917 New Orleans. Despite being written by Polly Platt, the movie invited a remarkable degree of prurient commentary in mainstream discourse. Shields, for her part, recently criticized Barbara Walters for wanting to stand next to her to compare her height to her (Shields was famously tall for her age) at that time. At a time of reevaluating things that previously were accepted without much questioning, Wilson’s new film feels especially current. —CB

“Radical”

It’s been a good long while since a truly inspirational “inspirational teacher movie.” Whither “Stand and Deliver”? “To Sir, with Love”? “The Class”? OK, maybe that last one isn’t very inspirational, but Christopher Zalla’s latest almost certainly will be: the Kenyan-born filmmaker, who then spent much of his life in Bolivia and Kentucky, is telling the true story of a teacher in a Mexican border rife with violence who finds novel ways of connecting with his students that might allow them to flower in a way a more conventional education might not.

Eugenio Derbez plays the teacher, and is joined by Daniel Haddad, Jenifer Trejo, Mia Fernanda Solis, and Danilo Guardiola. Zalla, who’s lived in Guatemala for the last decade, is making his triumphant return to Sundance after he won the Grand Jury Prize for U.S. Dramatic Feature with “Sangre de Mi Sangre” (“Blood of my Blood”) 15 years ago. That film went on to be nominated for Best Screenplay and Best First Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards. —CB

“Rotting in the Sun”

courtesy of Sundance Institute

“Rotting in the Sun”

Sebastián Silva, we missed you. The Chilean filmmaker behind “Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus” and “Nasty Baby” has not released a feature proper in five years despite going behind the camera for a handful of shorts and episodes of the recently canceled “Los Espookys.” The queer director’s latest film, the Mexico City-set “Rotting in the Sun,” looks to be a sorting of working out of his personal gripes with independent filmmaking.

In it, he plays a version of himself, though here a depressed and strung-out-on-ketamine director whose vacation at a nude beach confronts him with social media influencer and comedian Jordan Firstman. What seems like a brash lampoon of modern-day solipsism and queer sex culture has more mysterious kinks in its wheelhouse when Silva’s character goes missing, and a housekeeper (Catalina Saavedra) might have something to do with it. —RL

“Run Rabbit Run”

Sarah Snook is basically an internet icon for her turn as savvy Waystar Royco power player Shiv Roy in HBO’s “Succession.” But with Daina Reid’s feature directing debut “Run Rabbit Run,” she gets a chance to step outside that box and flex her midnight movie skills.

Snook plays a fertility doctor, also named Sarah, whose carefully maintained world starts to shift beneath her upon her daughter Mia’s seventh birthday. A creepy gift in the form of a pet rabbit shows up outside their door, and the daughter’s bizarre behavior begins to send Sarah into a tailspin that also finds her digging up skeletons of the past. Reid has previously directed episodes of TV’s “The Shining Girls,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and the Stephen King adaptation “The Outsider,” showing impressive early bona fides for sinister genre fare that should adapt well to the big screen. —RL

Daisy Ridley appears in a still from Sometimes I Think About Dying by Rachel Lambert, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Dustin Lane

“Sometimes I Think About Dying”

Dustin Lane

“Sometimes I Think About Dying”

Daisy Ridley continues to chart her post-“Star Wars” career with interesting, intricate picks. Next up: Rachel Lambert’s “Sometimes I Think About Dying,” which sets Ridley as pessimistic office drone Fran (she thinks about dying, sometimes!) who finds herself shook up by the arrival of a new dude at work who seems to vibe to her unique personality. What’s next? As the film’s synopsis cheekily tells us, the only person standing in Fran’s way is, well, Fran.

It’s the kind of low-key dramedy that seems poised to charm and surprise Sundance audiences, and show off a new side of Ridley in the process. We’re sold already. —KE

“The Stroll”

The corner of 14th Street and 9th Avenue, where there now stands a shiny glass Apple store, used to be a very different kind of hub: One for the transgender women of color who were once the lifeblood of New York City’s Meatpacking District. Aiming to tell the definitive history of this community, “The Stroll” gives voice to the women who walked it, who tell a damning story of how heavy policing, gender violence, and rapid gentrification created the luxury shopping mall neighborhood we see today.

Veteran trans advocate Kristen Lovell makes her directorial debut alongside Zackary Drucker (“The Lady and The Dale”), who are supported by producer Matt Wolf (“Spaceship Earth”), to shepherd the story with the care and empathy of shared experience. —JD

“Theater Camp”

courtesy of PictureStart

“Theater Camp”

No Sundance is complete without a wincing, raucous comedy about art itself, and Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman’s “Theater Camp” seems to be that ticket this year. Following a group of camp denizens who attempt to bond together to save their beloved “AdironACTS,” despite the odds being very much stacked against them (one tip: at least one of them falls into a coma before they can even get going), the film boasts a pitch perfect cast, including “Booksmart” breakout Gordon, Amy Sedaris, Ben Platt, Noah Galvin, Patti Harrison, Jimmy Tatro, and more. Light the lights! —KE

“A Thousand and One”

Filmmaker A.V. Rockwell is a rising star who should be on everyone’s radar, but she’s been building up to that point for some time. Back in 2016, the then-student won the top prize of the Through Her Lens: Tribeca Chanel Women’s Filmmaker Program, a three-day intensive which ended with her pitching her short film concept, “Feathers,” to a starry jury. Two years later, the short premiered at TIFF, setting Rockwell on a course to making her feature debut, “A Thousand and One,” which also aims to tell a sensitively rendered story about a young Black family just trying to get by. Lena Waithe serves as an executive producer through her company Hillman Grad.

While “Feathers” focused primarily on a young Black boy trying to find his place in the world, “A Thousand and One” expands out that idea to follow both a striving mother (Teyana Taylor) and her own son (played by three different actors over the course of the film: Josiah Cross, Aven Courtney, and Aaron Kingsley Adetola) as they pursue a similar goal. The twist (if it can be called that) is that Taylor’s Inez must first break Terry out of the foster care system. Will they succeed? Will they heal their family? Rockwell’s film promises to answer those questions and more, but anyone familiar with herearly work knows the results are going to be worth the wait. —KE

“The Tuba Thieves”

Sundance’s edgy NEXT section has only recently incorporated non-fiction storytelling, providing a space for more ambitious, boundary-pushing examples of the form. That’s especially evident this year, as three documentaries round out the category: “Kim’s Video,” “KOKOMO CITY,” and “The Tuba Thieves,” which has been generating buzz for its most unusual subjects as well as its unorthodox approach. Director Alison O’Daniel’s first feature looks at the bizarre circumstances in which a rash of tubas were stolen across Southern Los Angeles between 2011 and 2013.

Rather than simply exploring this mystery, the movie goes in a very different direction as it fixates on two characters playing fictionalized versions of themselves: Nyke Prince, a Deaf woman learning to play the drums, and Geovanny Marroquin, a high school student impacted by the tuba theft. The movie promises a complex, enigmatic look at the impact of sound on day-to-day life and what happens when it’s removed from the picture — the theft, in essence, happens within the language of the movie itself. If that sounds a bit hard to grasp, well, that may be part of the point. This is one movie that defies any simple categorization and demands to be seen. —EK

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