From anticipated follow-ups by acclaimed filmmakers to exciting debuts by new voices, here’s a shortlist of what to catch at this year’s fest.
It’s a bittersweet thing, watching a festival go from virtual/hybrid to fully in-person, especially a big one like Sundance. It’s the standard-bearer for the rest of the year, giving us our first glimpse of the films that may dominate conversations throughout 2023; now, after two years of COVID-era adjustments, Sundance 2023 is committing itself fully to its Park City climate once again, with a big ol’ batch of new films to obsess over. (Don’t worry, folks; there’ll still be a huge virtual component, at least for most of the categories. For most of the big Premieres section, you’ll have to put on your snow boots and fly to Utah.)
As per usual for the fest, this year’s Sundance 2023 slate features a bevy of new entries from established filmmakers, including many who made their first big splash in previous years of the fest. Some of these include Cory Finley, Justin Chon, Roger Ross Williams, Sebastian Silva, Brandon Cronenberg, Nicole Holofcener, Ira Sachs, Sophie Barthes, Lana Wilson, Davis Guggenheim, and more. Big stars are coming back too, many of whom take a welcome pause from big-budget franchises like Marvel to flex their artistic muscles (Jonathan Majors and Daisy Ridley come to mind).
Whether you’re going in person, attending online (you can get tickets either way at Sundance’s website), or just waiting to see what hits come out of the fest, here’s a hefty sampler of the films we’re thrilled about most.
Australia’s Alice Englert (Dangerous Liaisons) makes her feature directorial debut with this darkly comic psychological thriller about a former child actress/overbearing mom (Jennifer Connelly) who hopes to center herself at a silent mountain retreat, led by Ben Whishaw’s kooky guru. Along the way, she’s roped into mother-daughter roleplay exercises with a young influencer (Englert) which will activate some of her most destructive impulses. We love scoping out directorial debuts from actors at The Spool, and Connelly and Whishaw seem like welcome partners for Englert’s sick sense of humor.
With Antiviral and Possessor, writer/director Brandon Cronenberg has proved himself a chip off the old block. Drawing from his dad David’s love for twisty sci-fi body horror, he’s also found a newer, edgier stamp on these modes, taking those perverse proclivities to new levels. Here, Alexander Skarsgåard and Mia Goth team up (a match made in horror heaven!) as a couple headed to a remote beach getaway, only for Skarsgåard to learn that the price for any transgression is death. There’s a way out for the rich, though, which leads Cronenberg and his cast down a twisted road of privilege, blood, and depravity. Color us interested.
Sundance darling Justin Chon (Ms. Purple, Blue Bayou) returns with another layered family drama exploring the corners of the Asian experience. Indonesian rapper Rich Brian (Brian Imanuel) makes his film debut as James, a rapper hoping to make his big break in America. Problem is, he’s accompanied by his overbearing father (Yayu A.W. Unru), still grieving the death of James’ brother and expressing it through stifling control over his son’s career. Chon’s always managed a deft hand with these kinds of intimate stories, and we can’t wait to see how he fares here.
Landscape with Invisible Hand
Thoroughbreds and Bad Education are among the most exciting one-two punches I’ve seen from a new director, so it’s great that Cory Finley is back with another nimble, stylish take on class, economics, and the fuzzy nature of human relationships. Here, he dives fully into sci-fi mode, as the world is now overseen by benevolent alien overlords who seek to solve all of humanity’s problems — for those that can afford it. Everyone else has to get by on the scraps the aliens offer for our performances; for young Adam and Chloe, that means livestreaming their new relationship for the enjoyment of the aliens who find human love so fascinating. It’s an adaptation of a Matthew Tobin Anderson book, and I deeply trust Finley with explorations of how the young bristle against their class confines. Throw aliens in, and I’m doubly on board.
Ever since his Sundance debut in 2019’s The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Jonathan Majors has been on a steady, meteoric rise as one of Hollywood’s most in-demand A-listers, right down to taking the mantle from Thanos as the next Big Marvel Baddie (Kang) to menace the bloated roster of the MCU for a few years. But at least he gets to flex his new muscles in works like Elijah Bynum’s Magazine Dreams, as an amateur bodybuilder who pushes his body, and his mind, to the limit to succeed. Whatever may come of the film itself, the picture above makes it well worth the effort.
Nida Manzoor’s We Are Lady Parts is just about the best thing Peacock has going for it (where’s our second season already?!?!), so it’s a delight to see that she’s bringing that same anarchic sensibility to her feature debut. Jane Austen by way of Bruce Lee and RRR, the film follows an aspiring teenage stuntwoman in London (newcomer Priya Kansara, Bridgerton) who finds out her big sister is about to elope with a mysterious wealthy heir. Sensing trouble, she plans a wedding heist with her friends, eager to put her action-hero skills to the test. Focus Features has already picked this up for release, which is hopefully a good sign that Manzoor’s deft eye for comedy and visual invention carries over from TV to film.
Run Rabbit Run
Another corker from the fest’s Midnight section, Daina Reid’s latest stars Succession star Sarah Snook as a fertility doctor who starts to notice something… off about her seven-year-old daughter. She starts having tantrums, growing more distant from her mother, and witnessing a strange rabbit outside her front door. Stories about mothers losing control over their sanity are hardly new in horror, but the mix of the premise, Snook’s incredible track record as an actor (the role was originally slated for Elisabeth Moss before recasting), and the fact that Hannah “Burial Rites” Kent is writing the screenplay, and we’re very interested in where this one goes.
In pre-Giuliani New York City, the Meatpacking District wasn’t the cloistered, corporate hellscape it is today; its history lies deep in the transgender women of color who walked those streets, did sex work, and found survival and community there. Kristen Lovell and Zackary Drucker (Transparent) go deep into that history in their latest documentary, interviewing the trans women of color who lived there, struggling against over-policing and poverty as the area slowly but surely gentrified itself. It’s a pocket of queer history often whitewashed and ignored on the altar of acceptability and assimilation, so I can’t wait to see just what thorny realities about queer and trans life bubble to the surface here.
The Tuba Thieves
At first blush, Alison O’Daniel’s debut documentary seems a little too small-scale to be worthwhile: A bunch of tubas got stolen from various schools around Southern California. So what? But O’Daniel, a Deaf filmmaker, is committed to exploring the role of sound in our everyday lives, and uses this unusual case to do it. A heady mix of doc footage and fictionalized performances from two youths — one Deaf, one a victim of the crime — promise an intriguing exploration of what happens when sound is stolen from us. I can’t wait to see what that looks, or sounds, like.
You Hurt My Feelings
Nicole Holofcener (Landline, Obvious Child) takes a break from collaborating with Jenny Slate to another iconic comedienne — Julia Louis-Dreyfus — for a caustic, acidic take on the intersection between womanhood and fame. Louis-Dreyfus plays a successful author whose otherwise-happy marriage takes a downward turn when she overhears her husband (Tobias Menzies) criticizing her new memoir. Sure, it’s just a book, but…. what if that’s enough to throw the whole thing in doubt? It’s hard to go wrong with Holofcener, whose scripts find wonderful new ways to prod at the absurdity of modern relationships.