Top 22 Films I Want to See at Sundance

by keithsim | created - 11 Jan 2017 | updated - 11 months ago | Public

There are so many more films that need to be seen in Park City than the 22 listed here. For starters the quality work of first and second time directors is hard to divine out of the sheer mass of movies unspooling over the 10-ish days at Sundance. So my list will start with these 20 and Sundance, as always, will surprise me with the rest. - Keith Simanton

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1. Mudbound (2017)

R | 134 min | Drama, War

85 Metascore

Two men return home from World War II to work on a farm in rural Mississippi, where they struggle to deal with racism and adjusting to life after war.

Director: Dee Rees | Stars: Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke, Jonathan Banks

Votes: 24,730

It's an immensely talented cast (Mulligan, Hedlund, Banks, Clark) but it's writer/director Dee Rees that peaks my interest here. She directed the criminally under-rated, under-viewed Pariah, which opened Sundance in 2011 to acclaim (also ending up as my #7 film for that year) but never, sadly, went anywhere after that. But that film was five years ahead of the culture. Here's hoping Mudbound's timing is impeccable.

2. Walking Out (2017)

PG-13 | 95 min | Adventure, Drama, Mystery

79 Metascore

An urban teenager journeys to Montana to hunt big game with his estranged father. Father and son struggle to connect, until a brutal encounter in the heart of the wilderness changes everything.

Directors: Alex Smith, Andrew J. Smith | Stars: Matt Bomer, Josh Wiggins, Bill Pullman, Alex Neustaedter

Votes: 3,207 | Gross: $0.10M

One of my cherished memories of Sundance was watching Andrew and Alex Smith's 2002 film The Slaughter Rule. The screening was in a freezing cold body shop/garage (now a yoga studio named, appropriately, The Shop). I was one of six people in the screening including jury member Patricia Arquette who at the time, as I recall, smoked these terrible smelling cigarillos. Regardless the movie was a haunting evocation of a small town's desperation of the kind that I had not seen since The Last Picture Show. It also starred this kid named Ryan Gosling. Glad to see these brothers are back.

3. The Discovery (I) (2017)

TV-MA | 102 min | Drama, Mystery, Romance

54 Metascore

Two years after the afterlife is scientifically proven, a man attempts to help a young woman break away from her dark past.

Director: Charlie McDowell | Stars: Robert Redford, Mary Steenburgen, Brian McCarthy, Jason Segel

Votes: 20,366

Charlie McDowell directed the great The One I Love, which had its debut in Sundance in 2014 and ended up on my Top 20 list for that year. He's working again with his One I Love screenwriter, Jon Lader, and having the guy who started the festival as one of your co-stars can't hurt either. PS: And yes, Charlie is the son of Malcolm McDowell. If this hits, however, future generations might refer to Malcolm as Charlie's father.

4. Buena Vista Social Club: Adios (2017)

PG | 110 min | Documentary

67 Metascore

Revisit with the remaining original members of the Buena Vista Social Club and explore their contribution to the unknown history of Cuba.

Director: Lucy Walker | Stars: Ibrahim Ferrer, Omara Portuondo, Eliades Ochoa, Barbarito Torres

Votes: 158 | Gross: $0.12M

If you had the good fortune or sense to catch Wim Wenders's 1999 film, the Oscar-nominated The Buena Vista Social Club, then you have to be as excited as I am that the brilliant, Oscar-nominated director Lucy Walker has shot this follow-up. Last year Walker created a VR short called A History of Cuban Dance that I had a chance to experience. If Adios is even a fraction as good as that short then this will be a memorable experience.

5. Wind River (2017)

R | 107 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

73 Metascore

A veteran tracker with the Fish and Wildlife Service helps to investigate the murder of a young Native American woman, and uses the case as a means of seeking redemption for an earlier act of irresponsibility which ended in tragedy.

Director: Taylor Sheridan | Stars: Kelsey Asbille, Jeremy Renner, Julia Jones, Teo Briones

Votes: 119,232 | Gross: $33.80M

Does the plot sound a bit wheezy? Try this tired concept: Two brothers turn bank robbers are tracked by an ornery Texas Ranger. Yep, that's Sheridan-penned Hell or High Water. How about this: An FBI agent faces the shades of gray of the drug wars with amoral DEA agents? Yep, that's Sheridan-penned Sicario. Now, it's true that Sheridan didn't direct those films, that was David Mackenzie and Denis Villeneuve, respectively, but Sheridan has earned a sight-unseen must-spot on my list, and probably will for some years to come.

6. Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press (2017)

TV-14 | 95 min | Documentary

68 Metascore

The trial between Hulk Hogan and Gawker Media pitted privacy rights against freedom of the press, and raised important questions about how big money can silence media. This film is an ... See full summary »

Director: Brian Knappenberger | Stars: Nick Denton, Hulk Hogan, Donald J. Trump

Votes: 2,500

There may be no more important doc. at the fest this year than this investigation into the fall of the oft-reviled Gawker at the hands of a lawsuit backed by a billionaire. Knappenberger also directed The Internet's Own Boy and We Are Legion.

7. Newness (2017)

112 min | Drama, Romance

50 Metascore

In contemporary Los Angeles, two millennials navigating a social media-driven hookup culture begin a relationship that pushes both emotional and physical boundaries.

Director: Drake Doremus | Stars: Nicholas Hoult, Laia Costa, Danny Huston, Courtney Eaton

Votes: 4,596

Sure the plot sounds very Drake Doremus-y (Like Crazy) and he is working with his frequent collaborator, screenwriter Ben York Jones. But that's all for the good. This director has been building, film by film, an approach to storytelling that is more and more assured using the simplest and most human of scenarios. Breathe In (a Sundance premier in 2013) was a lovely exploration of temptation and morals and should have been seen by a wider audience. Also, Hoult's co-star, Courtney Eaton has so far been used as background hotness, for a good-bad movie, Gods of Egypt and a great movie, Fury Road. Will be interesting to see how she does with something quieter.

8. Brigsby Bear (2017)

PG-13 | 97 min | Comedy, Drama

68 Metascore

Brigsby Bear Adventures is a children's TV show produced for an audience of one: James. When the show abruptly ends, James's life changes forever, and he sets out to finish the story ... See full summary »

Director: Dave McCary | Stars: Kyle Mooney, Mark Hamill, Jane Adams, Greg Kinnear

Votes: 9,696 | Gross: $0.53M

Some of my favorite Rap Battles of History were done by director Dave McCary and he's collected a great cast as well. Sound a lot like Death to Smoochy? Maybe that's what he's going for.

9. Call Me by Your Name (2017)

R | 132 min | Drama, Romance

93 Metascore

In 1980s Italy, a romance blossoms between a seventeen year-old student and the older man hired as his father's research assistant.

Director: Luca Guadagnino | Stars: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar

Votes: 100,097 | Gross: $18.08M

Guadagnino directed the critically-adored I Am Love and A Bigger Splash, even if those films themselves barely made a box-office ripple. Guadagnino is now working on Suspiria, a re-imagining of Dario Argento's classic gothic flick.

10. I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore. (2017)

TV-MA | 93 min | Comedy, Crime, Drama

75 Metascore

When a depressed woman is burglarized, she finds a new sense of purpose by tracking down the thieves alongside her obnoxious neighbor. But they soon find themselves dangerously out of their depth against a pack of degenerate criminals.

Director: Macon Blair | Stars: Melanie Lynskey, Chris Doubek, Marilyn Faith Hickey, Jared Roylance

Votes: 28,507

If you've seen director Jeremy Saulnier's pretty marvelous films, Green Room, or Blue Ruin, or Murder Party, then you've definitely see the director of this film, Macon Blair. He's the heartbreaking lead in Blue Ruin, gets a werewolf mask melted onto his face in Murder Party and plays an unctuous lackey in Green Room. All the evidence points to a pretty steadfast collaboration between Saulnier and Blair, so it's safe to assume that some of the goodness from those films came from Blair. We'll find out in this his directorial debut.

11. A Ghost Story (2017)

R | 92 min | Drama, Fantasy, Romance

84 Metascore

In this singular exploration of legacy, love, loss, and the enormity of existence, a recently deceased, white-sheeted ghost returns to his suburban home to try to reconnect with his bereft wife.

Director: David Lowery | Stars: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, McColm Cephas Jr., Kenneisha Thompson

Votes: 33,807 | Gross: $1.60M

Writer/director Lowery takes his Ain't Them Bodies Saints leads, Affleck and Mara, and unveils this surprise entry to Sundance (did they film it at night while Lowery was waiting for the CGI on Pete's Dragon to get baked in?).

12. The Hero (I) (2017)

R | 96 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance

61 Metascore

An ailing movie star comes to terms with his past and mortality.

Director: Brett Haley | Stars: Sam Elliott, Laura Prepon, Krysten Ritter, Nick Offerman

Votes: 5,302 | Gross: $4.08M

Co-writer/director Brett Haley also directed 2015's I'll See You in My Dreams which stirred up a lot of Oscar talk for Blythe Danner. That nomination ultimately never came to pass but is there anyone I'd like to see get some recognition than the great Sam Elliott? Never mind The Big Lebowski he deserved recognition for his supporting role in another Sundance premiere, 2015's Grandma.

13. Ingrid Goes West (2017)

R | 98 min | Comedy, Drama

71 Metascore

An unhinged social media stalker moves to LA and insinuates herself into the life of an Instagram star.

Director: Matt Spicer | Stars: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O'Shea Jackson Jr., Wyatt Russell

Votes: 18,986 | Gross: $3.02M

Not familiar with director Matt Spicer's previous work but I am a big fan of both Aubrey Plaza (for both Parks and Recreation and Safety Not Guaranteed) and Elizabeth Olsen (who was a standout in the otherwise lugubrious Marcy Martha May Marlene). There's been buzz around this one as well.

14. Landline (I) (2017)

R | 97 min | Comedy, Drama

66 Metascore

In 1995, a teenager living with her sister and parents in Manhattan discovers that her father is having an affair.

Director: Gillian Robespierre | Stars: Jenny Slate, Jay Duplass, Abby Quinn, John Turturro

Votes: 2,645 | Gross: $0.94M

Director Gillan Robespierre co-wrote Obvious Child with Jenny Slate and Elisabeth Holm (et. al) so it will be interesting to see them reteam. PS: Finn Wittrock deserves a great role and I'm hoping it's this.

15. The Polka King (2017)

TV-14 | 95 min | Biography, Comedy, Drama

65 Metascore

Local Pennsylvania polka legend Jan Lewan develops a plan to get rich that shocks his fans and lands him in jail.

Director: Maya Forbes | Stars: Jack Black, Jenny Slate, Jason Schwartzman, Jacki Weaver

Votes: 5,207

Director Maya Forbes did the uneven but often affecting Infinitely Polar Bear (her first feature). Her co-director is Wallace Wolodarsky (Seeing Other People). While not unheard of having co-directors is a bit unusual for independent films so we'll see how this collaboration plays out.

16. Rebel in the Rye (2017)

PG-13 | 106 min | Biography, Drama, Romance

46 Metascore

The life of celebrated but reclusive author, J.D. Salinger, who gained worldwide fame with the publication of his novel, "The Catcher in the Rye".

Director: Danny Strong | Stars: Nicholas Hoult, Kevin Spacey, Victor Garber, Hope Davis

Votes: 3,715 | Gross: $0.38M

Danny Strong must have taken that hired-gun Mockingjay 1 & 2 adaptation money to make this movie about the famed press-shunning author of "Catcher in the Rye." Hoult is always good but it's Boynton (Sing Street) and Deutch (Why Him? and lots of other, random stuff) that I'm curious to see.

17. Red Dog: True Blue (2016)

88 min | Comedy, Drama, Family

An iconic Australian story of family, friendship and adventure, between a young boy and a scrappy one-of-a-kind dog that would grow up to become an Australian legend.

Director: Kriv Stenders | Stars: Jason Isaacs, Levi Miller, Bryan Brown, Hanna Mangan Lawrence

Votes: 939

Hmmm...sounds super family-friendly. What's the catch? Does the dog attack a small child? Does the family get lost in the Outback and have to resort to cannibalism? I know, I know! The dog gets divorced and discovers a community in the quirky characters of his New York brownstone. No??? How did this film get programmed in Sundance?

18. 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017)

Not Rated | 91 min | Documentary

74 Metascore

An unprecedented look at the iconic shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), the "man behind the curtain", and the screen murder that profoundly changed the course of world cinema.

Director: Alexandre O. Philippe | Stars: Elizabeth Allan, Judith Anderson, Desi Arnaz, Peggy Ashcroft

Votes: 1,331 | Gross: $0.04M

A doc by the guy that directed The People vs. George Lucas on the obsessive Alfred Hitchcock and the iconic shower scene in Psycho? Yes please.

19. Thoroughbreds (2017)

R | 92 min | Drama, Thriller

76 Metascore

Two upper-class teenage girls in suburban Connecticut rekindle their unlikely friendship after years of growing apart. Together, they hatch a plan to solve both of their problems-no matter what the cost.

Director: Cory Finley | Stars: Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Anton Yelchin, Kaili Vernoff

Votes: 3,798 | Gross: $2.83M

An eclectic cast that includes Anya Taylor Joy (The Witch, Morgan) and the late Anton Yelchin, led by first-time director Cory Finley. And Olivia Cooke. Love Olivia Cooke and she'll come back to Park City a wiser actress after the roller-coaster ride of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.

20. To the Bone (I) (2017)

TV-MA | 107 min | Drama

64 Metascore

A young woman, dealing with anorexia, meets an unconventional doctor who challenges her to face her condition and embrace life.

Director: Marti Noxon | Stars: Rebekah Kennedy, Lily Collins, Dana L. Wilson, Ziah Colon

Votes: 25,670

Producer Marti Noxon fills the roles of writer and director. It's an unconventional plot and I have a very soft spot for both Lily Collins and Keanu Reeves.

21. Wilson (I) (2017)

R | 94 min | Comedy, Drama

49 Metascore

A lonely, neurotic and hilariously honest middle-aged man reunites with his estranged wife and meets his teenage daughter for the first time.

Director: Craig Johnson | Stars: Woody Harrelson, Sandy Oian-Thomas, Shaun Brown, James Robert Miller

Votes: 7,358 | Gross: $0.65M

Woody Harrelson gets a default "I'll go see it" by his mere presence. Director Johnson (who wrote/directed The Skeleton Twins) is working off of the graphic novel by Daniel Clowes.

22. The Yellow Birds (2017)

R | 110 min | Drama, War

50 Metascore

Two young soldiers, Bartle (21) and Murph (18) navigate the terrors of the Iraq war under the command of the older, troubled Sergeant Sterling. All the while, Bartle is tortured by a promise he made to Murph's mother before their deployment.

Director: Alexandre Moors | Stars: Tye Sheridan, Jennifer Aniston, Alden Ehrenreich, Toni Collette

Votes: 161

Moors directed Blue Caprice and the cast!: *Alden Ehrenreich, your next Han Solo. *Tye Sheridan, from Mud and The Tree of Life. *Jennifer Aniston (did you just snort? Then you haven't seen Cake. Go watch Cake you numbskull.) *Jack Huston, the debonair star in-waiting.