The Best Films of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival

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The reviews have been filed, the awards have been handed out, and the stars and cinephiles have left Park City: it’s time to close the book on the Sundance Film Festival for another year. Last week we brought you our quick impressions of every single film we saw at Sundance 2017. Today we’re rounding out our coverage with a ranked list of our very favorite movies from the fest. Click through to find out what we loved.

We won’t bother going into the nitty-gritty details of our methodology, but we should talk a bit about the goals of this list. Between the three of us, Peter Sciretta, Ethan Anderton, and I saw 37 films (plus three TV pilots). There are still dozens and dozens more that we missed. We tried to make our rankings reflect our collective feelings about the festival as a whole, but even then there was no perfect way to do that, especially since The Big Sick is the only movie that all three of us saw. So with that in mind, here are our 12 favorite movies from the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. To find out how each individual /Film writer voted, click on through to the last page.

Jessica Williams in The Incredible Jessica James

12. The Incredible Jessica James

The very best thing The Incredible Jessica James has going for it is its heroine. Blessed with a quick wit and an acid tongue, Jessica makes a big impression from her first moments. (Said first moments involve her scoffing that she’s “rather be on my period for 1,000 years” than listen to her boring Tinder date attempt small talk, so that’s the kind of straight shooter we’re dealing with here.) Jessica Williams slips easily into the role. She delivers Jessica’s snarky one-liners with relish, as you’d expect from an actress who cut her teeth on The Daily Show, but proves almost as compelling when she reins it in to expose Jessica’s uncertainty and vulnerability. She’s well matched by Chris O’Dowd, who’s doing a more charming and more self-assured version of his nice-guy cop from Bridesmaids. He and Williams share an easygoing chemistry that makes them easy to root for. (Read Angie’s full review.)

Nobody Speak Hulk Hogan, Gawker and the Trials of a Free Press

11. Nobody Speak: Hulk Hogan, Gawker and the Trials of a Free Press

The documentary is so relevant to the here and now that it features footage from Trump’s inauguration and the march that occurred just days ago. That must be a record first for a documentary premiere, right? (Read Peter’s full review.)

The Discovery

10. The Discovery

The Discovery has shades of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, both in its economical, practical production design, but also in its surprisingly simplistic approach to a high concept that is driven by carefully crafted characters. In addition, the path to the shocking, moving climax has plenty of influence from Flatliners, and a bit from the indie favorite Primer. Despite all these influences, the movie never feels like it’s overtly borrowing from them, but merely emulating certain thematic elements. (Read Ethan’s full review.)

Tokyo Idols (2)

9. Tokyo Idols

Tokyo Idols is a fascinating must-see documentary which explores the disturbing world of super fandom in the Japanese Idol scene. The mainstream cultural phenomenon has overtaken Japan and is supposedly a one-billion-dollar industry. Imagine spunky, cheery Japanese school girls dressed in anime outfits singing and dancing to clubs filled with middle-aged men. The Idol superfans, usually aged 35 to 50, follow the young teenage female singers and girl bands, some even spending most of their earnings and quitting their jobs to devote their lives to the fandom. (Read Peter’s full review.)

The Yellow Birds

8. The Yellow Birds

The Yellow Birds is guaranteed to attract a certain amount of attention simply because it’s Alden Ehrenreich‘s last major role before Han Solo, and Star Wars fans will be gratified to see that Lucasfilm’s faith in him is not misplaced. He puts in an unforgettable lead performance as Bartle, a young soldier who’s deployed to war and comes back a haunted man, for reasons he’s unwilling or unable to articulate.

But The Yellow Birds is far more than an acting showcase for Ehrenreich’s talents, and would deserve to be seen no matter what big franchises its stars were doing next. It’s a war drama that’s far less interested in the heroism of battle than its cost, as told through the story of a single soldier and those in his immediate orbit. (Read Angie’s full review.)

Ingrid Goes West

7. Ingrid Goes West

Ingrid Goes West is not just your average comedy film, but a smart commentary on our social media obsessed world. How many people do you follow on Instagram or Twitter that you feel like you know personally even though you don’t? We follow so many people from afar through their update streams and develop a connection that doesn’t really exist. Also, we fill our streams with a polished fantasy version of the life we want to have, and not the imperfect reality that we live day to day. (Read Peter’s full review.)

Mudbound

6. Mudbound

So many films about America’s past treat our sins as though they’ve all been washed away. Mudbound, like the best of its ilk, knows that’s not the case. It lingers on small indignities and tiny moments of grace, on the millions of little ways that people lift each other up or push each other down, and those still resonate today, even as we pat ourselves on the back for being past the days of Jim Crow. I watched Mudbound just two days after Donald Trump was inaugurated as president, having run on the promise to return America to the spit-shined, sparkling good ol’ days, when white men ruled and black people knew their place. Mudbound is a reminder that even in those days, the truth of daily existence was a lot, well, muddier. (Read Angie’s full review.)

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