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The Best Films at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival

Written by on January 30, 2017 

the-best-films-of-sundance-2017

With over 50 films reviewed, a number of interviews conducted, and more coverage coming from the Sundance Film Festival, it’s time to wrap up the first major cinema event in 2017. We already got the official jury and audience winners (here), and now it’s time to highlight our favorites, as well as complete coverage from the festival.

One will find our favorites (in alphabetical order), followed by the rest of our reviews (from best to worst, including previously premiered features), then interviews as they are published. Check out everything below and stay tuned to our site, and specifically Twitter, for acquisition and release-date news on the below films in the coming months.

Axolotl Overkill (Helene Hegemann)

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Playwright, author, screenwriter, and director Helene Hegemann has said (through her publisher) that, “There’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity.” The words were spoken after her debut novel Axolotl Roadkill earned critical praise, a spot as a finalist for a major book award, and multiple, potentially damning plagiarism claims. Hegemann was seventeen when it published and admitted to the cribbing as soon as it was brought to light. She blamed her generation’s penchant for mixing and sampling, for taking what’s bouncing around the æther and making it her own with newfound honesty and meaning. Say what you will, the book sold and kept selling. This German phenom hit upon the zeitgeist with her tale of drug-addled excess and mental instability — in subject matter and process. – Jared M. (full review)

Beach Rats (Eliza Hittman)

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Burgeoning sexuality is the basis for nearly all coming-of-age films, but with her specific eye, Eliza Hittman makes it feel like we’re watching this genre unfold for the first time. With only two features to her name, she’s captured the experience with a sensuality and intimacy nearly unprecedented in American independent filmmaking. Following 2013’s It Felt Like Love, the writer-director follows it with another look at the teenage experience in Brooklyn for this year’s Beach Rats, this time with a protagonist five years older and of a different gender. – Jordan R. (full review)

The Big Sick (Michael Showalter)

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From start to finish, The Big Sick, directed by Michael Showalter, works as a lovingly-rendered, cinematic answer to the dinner party question: “So how did you two meet?” Based on comedian Kumail Nanjiani‘s real life (he co-wrote the screenplay with his wife Emily V. Gordon), we meet Kumail (Nanjiani) as he finishes a stand-up set in Chicago. He becomes fast friends with a wooting heckler named Emily (Zoe Kazan, lovely), and a relationship begins to blossom. – Dan M. (full review)

Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino)

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“I have loved you for the last time,” Sufjan Stevens sings in his original song “Visions of Gideon” in Call Me By Your Name. It’s a moment of both bittersweet happiness and a farewell to a passion that won’t be replicated again for Elio (Timothée Chalamet) as, deep down, he knows his relationship with Olivier (Armie Hammer) is over after his six-week stay in their Italian villa. Luca Guadagnino’s disarmingly nice and intoxicatingly sexy film is an extraordinary queer romance, one that evocatively explores the body and mind’s surrender to lust and love. – Jordan R. (full review)

City of Ghosts (Matthew Heineman)

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Cut together with gut-wrenching intensity and packed with footage that feels equal parts remarkable and horrifying, Cartel Land director Matthew Heineman returns to Sundance with City of Ghosts, a 90-minute documentary chronicling the lives of the head members of Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS). A campaign made up of activists based in the Syrian city of Raqqa and around the world, these young men risk their lives to garner intel on and about ISIS, what they’re doing and what they plan to do. As the Arab Spring brought revolution to countries like Syria, the vacuum of potential democracy was filled by a militant group calling themselves the Islamic State (ISIS). – Dan M. (full review)

Columbus (kogonada)

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The path to becoming a director is one generally accompanied by a profound knowledge of film history, but that passion is rarely more public then when it comes to kogonada. After years of working on visually detailed video essays for The Criterion Collection, Sight & Sound, and more, he’s now made his directorial debut with Columbus, an impeccably composed drama of quiet humanity and curiosity. If his nickname wasn’t enough of a hint, traces of Yasujirō Ozu’s influence can be found, but this first-time director has created something distinctly his own. – Jordan R. (full review)

Get Out (Jordan Peele)

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Resisting a deep racial analysis in the vein of I Am Not Your Negro, master satirist Jordan Peele’s horror comedy Get Out requires an audience ready to hoot, holler, yell, and laugh along. In large part, his directorial debut is a success, a rare studio comedy/thriller with a surface-level social agenda. The true test of a film like this is rather simple: are we with it or do we resist? The answer is largely the former and Get Out has a great of fun satirizing our “post-racial” society in a horror comedy of manners, though it never actually tackles the depressing realities of the issue. – John F. (full review)

A Ghost Story (David Lowery)

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The premise is a simple one. A man only credited as C (Casey Affleck) dies after a head-on car accident in front of his house, leaving behind his wife, M (Rooney Mara). After examining his corpse at the hospital, she leaves the room, and, covered by the white cloth over his body, his ghost rises up and returns home to observe the grieving widow he left behind. If one thought only a spooky, small-scale haunted house tale is to follow, David Lowery’s latest is proof that a premise is merely a foundation. Beginning with the beauty, patience, and humor of an Apichatpong Weerasethakul movie before segueing into the existential musings reminiscent of Richard Linklater dialogue, and then infinitely expanding its scope to become a stunning meditation on the passage of time, A Ghost Story is one of the most original, narratively audacious films I’ve ever seen. – Jordan R. (full review)

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