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The Best Films at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival

Written by on January 29, 2018 

NANCY (Christina Choe)

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Rare is it that one gets to see a performance as strong as Andrea Riseborough’s in NANCY. Written and directed by Christina Choe, the film concerns a thirty-something woman living in Oswego, New York who begins to suspect she was abducted when she was a child. Following the death of the woman that raised her (Ann Dowd), the titular Nancy reaches out to a couple (J. Smith-Cameron and Steve Buscemi) whose daughter disappeared thirty years prior, as she learns from the local news. Cautious but hopeful, they take in the young woman while they attempt to confirm she is their long-lost child. What they don’t know about her will soon cloud circumstances and complicate the visit. – Dan M. (full review)

Pass Over (Spike Lee)

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Once again, Spike Lee has found an innovative theatrical production and brought it to blistering cinematic life. Antoinette Nwandu’s Pass Over, produced in 2017 by Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre, combines Waiting for Godot, Biblical lore, and contemporary American race issues into a story that’s at turns funny, suspenseful, and bizarre. Lead characters Moses (Jon Michael Hill) and Kitch (Julian Parker) are waiting not for someone to come but for the time they’ll be able to leave the corner of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and 64th Street and make it to “the promised land.” In the meantime, they shoot the shit, duck periodic gunfire, and have a strange encounter with a suspiciously polite, seersucker-suited white interloper (Ryan Hallahan). – Dan S. (full review)

Private Life (Tamara Jenkins)

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Over a decade since her remarkably observed and authentically acted The Savages, writer-director Tamara Jenkins makes her long-awaited return to Sundance and feature filmmaking with Private Life, a generous, graceful, full-hearted drama about the complexities of desiring a child when your physiology denies you at every turn. Lest one thinks this is a somber look at such an intimate journey, Jenkins imbues an immense amount of humor and relatability without ever hitting a false note. – Jordan R. (full review)

RBG (Betsy West and Julie Cohen)

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RBG is an essential documentary for the adoring fans of Associate Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg aka The Notorious RBG, according to some millennials. They have created an entire mythology out of a quiet, brilliant women who rose to the rank of the court’s chief dissenter post Bush v. Gore. Directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West have crafted an engaging documentary to hold us over until she, like fellow pioneer of civil rights Thurgood Marshall, gets a biopic of her own later this year. – John F. (full review)

Skate Kitchen (Crystal Moselle)

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For her breakthrough documentary The Wolfpack, director Crystal Moselle discovered a group of sheltered brothers in NYC’s Lower East Side and captured their passion for filmmaking. With a muddled style and questionable directorial choices, it didn’t quite live up to the film’s initial hook, but Moselle clearly showed talent for making a connection with the youth of the city. That latter quality continues with Skate Kitchen, which uses a narrative backdrop to place us in the center of a female teen skater group–who Moselle discovered on a subway ride–all of whom exude a care-free independence as they make NYC their playground. It’s such a step-up in vibrancy, scope, and emotion that it feels like the introduction of an entirely different, more accomplished filmmaker. – Jordan R. (full review)

The Tale (Jennifer Fox)

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What does your life mean if the memories that have defined you are revealed to be false? What if the memories are tied to devastating trauma? For Jennifer Fox (Laura Dern), when letters are unearthed revealing more about a “relationship” when she was 13, she starts to not only investigate in the present-day, but excavates the memories that she’s repeated since the trauma and opens a dialogue with her younger self (Isabelle Nélisse). What she perceived as a relationship was, in fact, repeated rape. Directed by Fox herself, The Tale is an emotionally debilitating drama, the powerful kind that makes one want to scream rage at the events on the screen, but are choked by silence as the credits roll, comprehending the irrecoverable damage caused to the protagonist and the director, as the events are based on her own life. – Jordan R. (full review)

Wildlife (Paul Dano)

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“I feel like I need to wake up, but I don’t know what from… or to,” Carey Mulligan’s Jeanette declares to her teenage son Joe (Ed Oxenbould) in Wildlife, Paul Dano’s remarkably assured, thematically rich directorial debut. The haze Jeanette finds herself in is due to her husband Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) having abandoned them to fight a wildfire close to the Canadian border. The absence of a patriarchal figure in their family, who have recently relocated to small-town Montana, leads to Jeanette discovering newfound, untidy emotional independence and her son is there to witness the protracted, quietly devastating unraveling of a marriage. – Jordan R. (full review)

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