The 17 Best Films from the 2017 Sundance Film Festival
The 2017 Sundance Film Festival has officially come to an end. This was my fifth year attending Sundance and was a strong year for films. I saw a total of 38 films in just nine days while at the festival. There were a few films including Casting Jon Benet, Thoroughbred, Person to Person, Crown Heights, and Beach Rats that I missed. I wanted to make mention of these titles because I overheard positive buzz about them but didn’t get a chance to see them.
As a way to recap this year’s festival, I have decided to create a list of the 17 best films to come out of Sundance. Please keep in mind that these are my personal picks and will more than likely vary from other outlets. If you have attended the festival this year, please feel free to post your picks in the comments below. If you didn’t attend the festival, what are the films that you heard the most buzz about?
Fun Mom Dinner
Written by Julie Rudd, the wife of Paul Rudd, Fun Mom Dinner is the more realistic and funnier version of Bad Moms. The film follows four moms with different attitudes that get together for an evening of dinner and drinks. Just like the title suggests, Fun Mom Dinner is a lot of fun and will more than likely become a huge hit with mothers of all ages. The four mothers, played by Toni Collette, Bridget Everett, Katie Aselton, and Molly Shannon share great chemistry and play off one another rather well. Fun Mom Night is a film that I felt someone cared about while making. The jokes were funny because they felt realistic. I appreciated that the film didn’t go for the usual gross-out humor found in most comedies today. Julie Rudd wrote a great script with genuine moments. This one will have mass appeal, and I look forward to revisiting it again shortly.
Step is an inspirational documentary directed by Amanda Lipitz. Step was a huge crowd-pleaser at Sundance where it went on to win an Inspirational Filmmaker Award at the festival. The documentary has already been acquired by Fox Searchlight and will open in theaters later this year. Lipitz’s film follows the senior step dance team at The Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women as the girls make their way through their senior year. Throughout the film, audiences watch these girls dance their hearts out, but they also get up close and personal with their personal struggles that occur throughout their final school year as they prepare for college. Step is a powerful film that was made to showcase how great schools with caring teachers can help better the lives of underprivileged youths. I never even knew this school existed, so it was a learning experience for me. I wish there were more documentaries like this that not only educate but prove that if you help others, you can help better their lives. This is a remarkable journey and one that restores faith in humanity.
To The Bone
Lily Collins remains one of the most underrated and overlooked young actresses working today. To The Bone is dramatic yet comedic look at anorexia. Collins plays Ellen and delivers an incredible well-rounded performance. Ellen is a friendly yet cynical person, and the script written by Marti Noxon manages to balance both sides of her personality. The fact that Collins has faced her battle with anorexia in real life, it only adds more credibility to her performance. I love how Noxon’s script wasn’t afraid to poke fun at people with eating disorders while at the same time shedding a realistic light on the subject. While Collins is the reason to watch, her co-star Alex Sharp steals almost every scene as the only male dealing with anorexia. I am glad that Netflix picked this one up because it will do rather well and should find a pretty sizable audience on their streaming service.
Wilson is the big screen adaptation of Daniel Clowes graphic novel of the same name. Woody Harrelson plays Wilson, a lonely social outcast that doesn’t understand why everyone isn’t as honest or talkative as he is. The film documents Wilson’s journey to track down his estranged wife (Laura Dern) only to discover that he has a daughter whom he has never met. Wilson is a charming little film with two great performances by Harrelson and Dern. The script, which also happens to be written by Clowes, is charming and witty giving Harrelson and Dern plenty of great material that only adds to their incredible performances. The story of Wilson is an odd one, and while I think certain people might not appreciate the film’s quirky attempts at humor, I enjoyed what Clowes and the gang were going for. Wilson might not appeal to everyone but for those who have grown tired of comedies that rely on gross-out gags without any character development or heart, Wilson is a welcomed surprise.
Ingrid Goes West
Ingrid Goes West is the modern day Cable Guy. Plaza plays Ingrid, a wealthy 20-something that is obsessed with Instagram and social media. Ingrid spends all her time on social media and begins to stalk Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) who lives in Venice Beach. This is the best performance by Aubrey Plaza since her role as Sarah in About Alex from 2014. While the film doesn’t quite dive into Ingrid’s upbringing, the film does poke fun at those who live their lives through social media. I loved how dark the film got at times and chemistry between Plaza and Olsen worked perfectly. While most of the film is focused on the relationship between Ingrid and Taylor, it is Dan (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) that shines the brightest in the film. Jackson Jr has such charisma and is so lovable as Dan. His love for Batman is hilarious while being such an accurate depiction of so many young men today that are obsessed with characters in popular culture. Ingrid Goes West may not resonate with everyone, but there is a broad audience that will appreciate and relate to the culture being addressed in the film.
The Polka King
Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky brought Infinitely Polar Bear to Sundance in 2014, and The Polka King is their follow-up. The film is based on the life of Jan Lewan played marvelously by Jack Black. The film showcases Jan’s rise to fame and fortune by finding loopholes in the system. This is one of those rare outrageously true stories that delivers. Jenny Slate works well alongside Black as his wife, and all of the older investors make the film an absolute pleasure to watch. Let me now forget that there is Polka music performed in the film. I love that Forbes and Wolodarsky decided to make a film about a man who wasn’t a bad guy but rather a passionate and caring man who just so happened to develop an elaborate Ponzi scheme that ultimately turned into nearly a million dollar goldmine.
Obvious Child proved to be one of my favorite films to come out of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Obvious Child was the film that introduced me to Jake Lacy and Jenny Slate. These two actors have now become ones that I admire and enjoy watching as their careers continue to grow. Landline is Gillian Robespierre follow-up and a film that I had high hopes for. Landline takes place in the 1990s and focuses on a family and all the drama that is going on in their lives. Unlike Obvious Child, Jenny Slate isn’t the star but rather Abby Quinn who delivers an emotionally rich performance as Ali. The film dissects the family unit without technology interfering with the story which by using the 90s setting makes the story feel more authentic and believable. The entire cast works together perfectly, and their relationships seem true to life. While I will say that I think Obvious Child is a bit funnier, Landline is more relevant and touches upon themes that are more universal.
I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore
I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore is a unique comedy that blurs the lines of genre. While on the surface, Elijah Wood and Melanie Lynskey seem like an odd pairing, the reality is that these two talented actors bounce off one another with such ease. Macon Blair has created such a weird world that is somehow grounded in reality. You have to appreciate a film that pokes fun at how people treat others. Individual scenes are hilarious because they are situations that most people are forced to face on a daily basis. Blair’s film is over the top with some of these scenes being humorous while others are extremely violent. These two extremes work well in this crazy world that Blair creates. If you like films that dare to be different, I highly recommend giving this one a look when it premieres on Netflix later this month.
The Big Sick
The Big Sick is Michael Showalter’s most mainstream project to date. The film tells the story of Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani who also wrote the film’s screenplay. While Kumail plays himself in the film, his wife Emily is portrayed by Zoe Kazan. This is another one of those situations where you look at the casting decision and can’t help but think that will never work, but sure enough, it does. What I enjoyed about this film wasn’t just the love story but rather the relationships that shaped the characters. Holly Hunter and Ray Ramano steal the film away from Kumail at times, but that doesn’t mean that this isn’t his baby. The Big Sick is a well-made romantic dramedy that isn’t afraid to be edgy and dark. This one is a real crowd-pleaser.
Before I Fall
Zoey Deutch owns this role and delivers one of the best performances of her career thus far. It is so refreshing to see a film that has a female-driven cast which isn’t afraid to make the characters unlikeable. It showcases a lot of talent to make audiences care about unlikable teenagers but Before I Fall achieves this goal. Based on a popular book like so many other films these days, Before I Fall will leave you feeling inspired and hopeful about life. For a film about teenagers, I do believe there is something for everyone to take away from this film and it’s message. Before I Fall is made by females starring women which is such a refreshing change of pace from the standard book to screen adaptations.
Their Finest is a great film about the golden age of Hollywood as well as the effects of war. The film has an incredible cast that includes Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy and several others. The story pokes fun at the idea of creating a propaganda film but stays faithful to the era. I loved Jake Lacy’s take on the character Carl Lundbeck who is this pretty boy actor that cannot act to save his life. The film is a love letter not only to those who have been lost due to war but also to passionate filmmakers of all ages. It is a great little film that I feel will sadly be overlooked here in America due to its mostly British cast. If you love films about history, cinema, war, or just a great love story, Their Finest has something for almost everyone.
Colossal is a unique look at a woman played by Anne Hathaway battling her inner demons. This is one of those films where I believe that the less you know about it, the better it is. All I will say about the film is that this is truly unlike any other film you have ever seen where a woman struggles with things such as a bad relationship and alcoholism. Colossal is well-acted, visually stunning, and a wild ride. It is one of most original films that I have seen in years.
I was so excited to see Patti Cake$ but it turned out to be a completely different film than I expected. I went into Patti Cake$ expecting a comedic coming of age tale similar to Dope but that wasn’t even close. While Patti Cake$ does have some humor to it, it is a dark drama about an overweight white girl who lives in an industrial area of New Jersey. The film shows her trying to pursue her dreams as a rapper while taking care of her mother and grandmother. The reason why Patti Cake$ became the breakout film of Sundance 2017 is because it is different and isn’t afraid to be different. The fact that the main girl in this film is an overweight white girl who dreams of being a successful rapper is something that we have never seen before. The story of a teenage girl struggling with her deadbeat mother is a very popular storyline in a lot of urban dramas but when was the last time that you saw a film showcase a white female protagonist in this way. Let me not forget that even though I am not a fan of rap music (at all) that some of the music in this film is sublime. I loved the whole PBNJ song as well as the final music number that had many around me in tears. Patti Cake$ might not be a flawless masterpiece but it dares to be different and is a real crowd pleaser. I think this film has a little something for everyone and is a nice change of pace from the typical Sundance breakout film.
A Ghost Story
Leave it up to David Lowery to create a film where the audience spends 90 minutes watching a ghost look over a house where he once lived without any scares to be found. Lowery’s film is incredibly poignant as it deals with love, life, loss, and time. It is a remarkable yet simple film that expects a lot from its audience because there isn’t a whole lot that happens. A Ghost Story is the type of film that is geared towards mature moviegoers who don’t rely on a lot of action or dialogue in their films. There are numerous long takes that last about five minutes at a time. The film has a lot to say by saying very little. It’s a special little film that I think will be a hard sell to most but those who have seen and loved Lowery’s previous independent projects they are in for a real treat with this one.
Taylor Sheridan is on fire. The man wrote Sicario in 2015, Hell or High Water in 2016, and now, Wind River in 2017, which he also happened to direct. Truth be told, Wind River wasn’t even on my list of movies to watch at Sundance, but something inside me told me that I should check it out. Wind River is an intense well-made thriller, which twice in less than a year proves that Jeremy Renner is one of Hollywood’s most underrated actors. He is such a bad ass in this film and I love how the film slowly builds to such a rewarding ending that is filled with violence and redemption
Jordan Peele has created a new cult classic in the horror genre. Get Out is not only a great horror film but an incredible film that asks big questions about race and the underlying racism that occurs daily in our society. I admire this film for a lot of reasons, but the biggest reason is that it dares to be edgy in an entertaining way. On the surface, Get Out could simply be seen as an homage to many great horror films but there is a lot of ballsy social commentary present throughout the film. I applaud Universal for giving Peele the opportunity to make a horror film that goes against the grain and isn’t afraid to bring up a few important issues along the way. The film had me hooked from the opening scene featuring Keith Stanfield which was nothing short of brilliance.
I knew from about 20 minutes into Band Aid that no other film at Sundance would connect with me as much as this film did. Band Aid is one of the most original and honest portrayals of a marriage that I have seen on the big screen in quite some time. Adam Pally and Zoe Lister-Jones play a frustrated married couple that fights all the time. After couples counseling doesn’t help solve their problem, the two decide to turn their fights into songs. With the help of their next door neighbor played by Fred Armisen, the couple starts a band as a way to challenge their frustrations with one another through a creative outlet. Pally and Lister-Jones are perfect together, and their relationship touches on a certain level of honesty that is rarely captured on camera. I admire that film took such a depressing subject matter and added comedy to it while also being intelligent and authentic. This is a great film for anyone who is married and struggles with the frustrations of daily life while trying to keep their marriage healthy and together.