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After two years of being fully virtual, the 2023 Sundance Film Festival opted for a hybrid in person and online experience for attendees. Fortunately, I got to experience both sides this year: I spent the first half of Sundance trekking all over Park City to watch as many movies as possible before flying back home to catch as many of them as I could online.
Sundance is the kind of insulated environment (often out of reach for most) that may inspire eight-figure acquisition deals from streamers (see: Fair Play for Netflix and Flora and Son for Apple TV+) or out-of-proportion buzz, sometimes for the same movie. You might become a witness to a powerhouse performance people might be talking about all year, like Jonathan Majors in Magazine Dreams. And it might just give you a preview of the discourse that will almost certainly follow some movies, like the highly anticipated Cat Person adaptation.
Will the next best picture winner emerge from it as CODA did a couple of years ago, or will that buzzy Sundance movie flop once a wider audience watches it? Will we still be talking about these movies come December? Or will they fade into obscurity? While Sundance doesn’t end until Sunday, here are some of my favorites from the festival so far.
Past Lives, Playwright Celine Song’s directorial debut—a slow and heartbreaking exploration of two childhood friends who find each other again, grow closer and drift apart, and wonder what might have been over more than 20 years—is a knockout. Much of the film consists of conversations several characters have with one another, but within that wordiness (harkening a comparison to movies like Before Sunrise) is an achingly beautiful and empathetic rumination that’ll rip your heart open. (A24 is handling the release.)
Another movie that would garner an apt Before Sunrise comparison (but with different execution) is Rye Lane, Raine Allen-Miller’s utterly charming British rom-com that finds two strangers bonding all over South London after one of them stumbles upon the other ugly-crying over his ex-girlfriend in the bathroom. Vibrant, wholly specific in its depiction of Peckham, and with great chemistry between its leads, it’s a showcase of the best rom-coms can offer us. (Out on Hulu on March 31.)
You Hurt My Feelings
We, as a society, do not appreciate Julia Louis-Dreyfus enough (even with her legendary TV career at the forefront), so thankfully, writer/director Nicole Holofcener has her back in You Hurt My Feelings. Centered around an author who overhears her supportive husband admitting he secretly hates her new book (a writer’s nightmare!), it’s a hilarious examination of the kinds of white lies we tell our loved ones to support them and how those lies and truths affect how we perceive ourselves. (A24 is handling the release.)
I’ve never been to a summer camp like the one depicted in Theater Camp, but Molly Gordon and Nick Liberman’s mockumentary about a run-down summer camp fighting to stay open after its founder has a stroke, which celebrates theater kids and the chaotic environment that thrives within that space, won me over anyway. And while you’ll recognize many of the adult actors in here, it’s the kids who are the film’s beating heart. (Searchlight Pictures acquired it for around $8 million and is planning a theatrical release.)
Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie
Like many people, Michael J. Fox’s filmography—mostly the Back to the Future trilogy—was a huge part of my childhood, so this was one of my more anticipated movies of the festival. And it doesn’t disappoint as Guggenheim allows Fox to tell his story—his career, his personal life, and his experiences with Parkinson’s Disease—in his own words, showing he’s just as witty and charming as he’s always been. (Apple TV+ is handling the release.)