The 2023 Sundance Film Festival once again returned to Park City, Utah in-person, but it also had an online program that hosted the majority of its film slate. However, some titles, such as Celine Song’s Past Lives and John Carney’s Flora and Son, only played for in-person attendants. Showbiz Cheat Sheet only covered Sundance remotely for 2023, but here are the 10 films we saw that stood above the rest.
Fairyland marks the directorial feature debut for Andrew Durham, which follows a young girl who moves to 1970s San Francisco with her gay dad after her mom’s death. It’s based on a marvelous novel of the same name. Fairyland is a bumpy ride that has its shortcomings when it comes to the handling of familiar tropes. However, it’s worth seeing for Scoot McNairy’s career-best performance and Emilia Jones’ grounded one that elevates the film.
9. ‘All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt’
Raven Jackson’s All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt is the film manifestation of poetry, following a Mississippi woman’s life across multiple decades. It’s light on dialogue and plot, as it’s intended to be viewed as an experience that washes over you. Jomo Fray’s cinematography is truly memorable, demonstrating such a sense of intimate beauty that allows this movie to come to life. It requires patience, but it’s well worth the endurance for those willing to give it the time.
8. ‘You Hurt My Feelings’
You Hurt My Feelings is Nicole Holofcener’s first feature since 2018’s The Land of Steady Habits. It tells the story of a novelist who questions her husband’s love for her after she overhears his conversation admitting that he doesn’t really like her new book. You Hurt My Feelings is unfussy, keeping to a simple premise with low stakes that feel much larger, although its message on honesty is relatable. Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tobias Menzies have excellent comedic timing here.
7. ‘Talk to Me’
Danny and Michael Philippou’s Talk to Me was quickly picked up by A24 for distribution out of Sundance. A group of friends joins a social media trend that involves using an ominous embalmed hand to contact spirits. However, their fun goes a little bit too far when the line between the worlds of the living and the dead begins to blur. Despite some third-act woes, Talk to Me is scary, gripping, and downright brutal. Additionally, Sophie Wilde delivers a fearless lead performance.
6. ‘Fair Play’
Chloe Domont makes her directorial feature film debut with Fair Play. A newly-engaged couple works at the same cutthroat hedge fund, but their relationship goes awry when an unexpected promotion pits them directly against one another. Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich are absolutely riveting, selling the over-dramatics in a way that’s impossible to turn away from. It’s a dramatic thriller that speaks to the fragile male ego and gendered office politics.
Charlotte Regan’s Scrapper is one of Sundance 2023’s most infectious charmers. A 12-year-old girl learns to take care of herself in her London flat after her mother died. Her estranged father suddenly shows up and forces her to confront reality. Lola Campbell is endearing in the lead role, while Harris Dickinson is phenomenal as her father. Regan’s quirky dramedy is a heart-warming father-daughter tale.
4. ‘A Thousand and One’
A.V. Rockwell’s directorial feature film debut, A Thousand and One, is a memorable drama. The story follows a woman who kidnaps her 6-year-old son from the foster care system to build a better life for both of them. Teyana Taylor is magnificent in the lead role, capturing incredible sincerity in a complex character. Josiah Cross delivers a knock-out performance as her son at 17 years old, volleying with Taylor to perfection.
Noora Niasari’s Shayda is emotionally impactful. A young Iranian mother finds solace in an Australian women’s shelter with her 6-year-old daughter during the Iranian New York (Nowruz), while she tries to ensure that she keeps sole custody of her child from her abusive husband. Niasari’s screenplay makes up for the familiar beats by finding the tender moments between characters that stick out. Holy Spider actor Zar Amir-Ebrahimi is flawless in yet another thoroughly nuanced performance.
2. ‘Rye Lane’
Raine Allen-Miller’s Rye Lane is an absolute gift. The story is about two young adults dealing with the aftermath of bad breakups who spend the day across Sound-London, ultimately finding that they have more in common than they thought. It’s hilarious, touching, and remarkably tender. David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah have dynamite chemistry, while Olan Collardy’s whimsical cinematography perfectly captures the film’s zany vibe.
Passages is not only the best film I saw at Sundance 2023, but it’s filmmaker Ira Sachs’ best work to date. Two men who have been married for 15 years have a falling out when one of them has an affair with a woman. Franz Rogowski, Ben Whishaw, and Adèle Exarchopoulos are a dazzling triad, portraying this messy love triangle with such depth. It’s well-written and well-directed, approaching its sex scenes with an alluring naturalism.