The Best of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival

Best of Sundance 2018

The 2018 Sundance Film Festival has come to a close, and while the awards have already been handed out from the festival itself, we have our own accolades that we’d like to pass out to some of the best movies from the year’s first major film fest.

Ethan AndertonBen Pearson and Steve Prokopy all chimed in with their picks for their favorite comedy, favorite drama, favorite performances, most pleasant surprise, biggest disappointment and much more. Keep reading to find out our picks for the Best of Sundance 2018.

Favorite Drama

The Tale - Still 1

Ethan Anderton – The Tale

No movie at this year’s festival ever eclipsed how shaken and moved I was by director Jennifer Fox’s autobiographical drama about the sexual abuse she endured as an 13-year old girl. Aside from the unsettling and disturbing subject matter, which makes for one of the most harrowing stories at Sundance this year, the way Fox uses elements like memories to tell the story in a narratively unique way makes it that much more compelling. Combine that with the fact that both Laura Dern and Isabelle Nélisse do an incredible job at playing the traumatized Fox at two different time periods in her life, and Jason Ritter does an equally astounding job at making you hate him. This was not only the best movie I saw at Sundance, but it’s likely to end up being one of the most important movies of 2018.

leave no trace review

Steve Prokopy – Leave No Trace

Debra Granik’s return to feature filmmaking feels very much in her wheelhouse, once again focusing on American families living off the grid. Ben Foster and newcomer Thomasin McKenzie play a father-daughter pair living in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, and both they and the audience wish the outside world would stop intruding. But the film is also a coming-of-age tale that marks a turning point in this delicate family dynamic—she’s curious about the world outside, and he is all too familiar with its pitfalls. The film is sweet, fragile, achingly intimate, lyrical, and ultimately quite heartbreaking, but it also leaves all parties (including the viewer) hopeful that everyone lands exactly where they need to be.

Search review

Ben Pearson – Search

Formally daring, emotionally satisfying, and narratively thrilling, Aneesh Chaganty’s Search was my favorite movie I saw at Sundance. The film goes far beyond its structural gimmick (the whole story is told only across computer screens: PCs, Macs, and iPhones) thanks to an excellent performance from John Cho, who brings an unwavering tenacity to the role of a father whose 16-year-old daughter goes missing. After a quick prologue, the movie basically transitions into a classic detective story but told in the most modern way possible (outside of a VR headset), with Cho’s father sifting through digital clues on his daughter’s computer and learning that there was much more to her than he thought he knew. It’s an electrifying story told with breathless pacing, inventive framing, and heart-stopping suspense that ended up being the most purely entertaining piece of storytelling I’ve seen in a long time.

Favorite Comedy

bodied review

Ethan Anderton – Bodied

This wasn’t an official selection at the Sundance Film Festival, but a last minute sneak preview screening added to the line-up after YouTube announced they had picked up the Joseph Kahn-directed rap battle movie for their YouTube Red subscription service (as well as a theatrical release). Official selection or not, I can’t help but name it my favorite comedy simply because I loved it so much. This movie is a wild, audacious and downright hilarious story of a scrawny, white nerd who works his way up through the underground rap battle ranks and takes no prisoners in the process. It’s full of sharp rap writing, and it takes aim at anyone and everyone who dares to be offended by it, especially our main character, who is anything but a hero. Bodied is a frenetic film in the vein of 8 Mile crossed with Scott Pilgrim vs the World, and it delivers in a big way.

Juliet Naked review

Steve Prokopy – Juliet, Naked

Not a perfect film, but certainly a funny and heartwarming one that made me laugh the most while watching. Sundance isn’t a festival known for featuring an overwhelming number of comedies, but this Judd Apatow-produced adaptation of a Nick Hornby novel from director Jesse Peretz certainly has its fair share of laughs, alongside a few sobering lessons about commitment and the nature of fandom. Rose Byrne plays Annie, the long-suffering girlfriend of Duncan (Chris O’Dowd), who runs an obsessive fan site honoring the life and music of the long-in-hiding musician Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke). Through some fun contrivances, Annie and Tucker start an online relationship, which throws the now-ex-boyfriend Duncan into a tizzy. As with Hornby’s books, the film is smart about music and the relationship between artist and admirer, but it also has hard truths concerning the act of letting a new person into your life.

Sorry to Bother You review

Ben Pearson – Sorry to Bother You

It feels weird to call Sorry to Bother You a comedy because Boots Riley’s directorial debut has so much on its mind, and traditional Hollywood comedies aren’t nearly this daring or sophisticated. But there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments to be found here, whether it’s the fact that David Cross’s voice comes out of Lakeith Stanfield’s body, the antics of a drug-fueled corporate CEO played by Armie Hammer, or the ever-changing phrases emblazoned on Tessa Thompson’s activist character’s earrings. One of the funniest scenes features an extended argument involving two longtime friends in which they aggressively compliment each other instead of insulting each other (trust me, it works in context), and that’s before the laughs of horror and bafflement that come when movie tilts into its utterly bizarre final act. An Idiocracy-inspired aspect reveals that the most popular show on television is called “I Got The Shit Kicked Out Of Me!”, and it’s just as hilariously depressing as the title indicates.

Favorite Dramatic Performance

The Tale - Laura Dern

Ethan Anderton – Laura Dern in The Tale

The Laura Dern-aissance contnues in a big way in this film, which will absolutely shake you and break you. Dern’s role in this film is pivotal as she goes from being dismissive of a seemingly innocent special relationship she had as a young girl to slowly uncovering the repressed memories of her childhood that reveal a traumatic experience that lies dormant in the back of her mind. Her performance is one that becomes more intense, concerned and desperate as time goes on as her character begins to feel the pain that she’s hidden for decades. The real payoff for her performance comes in the film’s third act, but we’ll let you see that for yourself when the movie gets released.

Hereditary Review

Steve Prokopy – Toni Collette in Hereditary

There has certainly been a trend of late of horror films taking on more adult tones and subsequently casting a better-caliber of actor to handle the dramatic load. Case in point, Toni Collette plays Annie Graham in this scare story about a family that is either cursed or simply the unfortunate victim of bad genetics that have passed on severe mental troubles from one generation to the next. Or perhaps it’s a combination of both. Whatever the case, Collette is one of the few living actors who can handle this level of pure psychological torment, while also showing us that Annie wants to be a good wife and mother despite her mind’s wanting to rebel against all that is expected of her. Writer-director Ari Aster give Collette great material to work with, as well as the necessary breathing room to cut loose when the scene calls for it. It’s a raw, gripping performance that I could watch on a loop forever.

lizzie

Ben Pearson – Chloe Sevigny in Lizzie

While there were plenty of flashy performances at this year’s festival, my favorite dramatic performance valued subtlety over style. In Lizzie, which puts a fascinating spin on the still-unsolved murders of Lizzie Borden’s parents in the late 1890s, actress Chloe Sevigny pulls off an impressive feat: she humanizes a notorious murderer and somehow actually makes you want to root for her to kill her parents. Lizzie’s budding relationship with a live-in maid named Bridget (Kristen Stewart) goes a long way toward making you feel sympathy for the title character, but it’s Sevigny’s mixture of quiet internal moments and bursts of pent-up frustration against her male oppressors – especially her wretched father – that truly endear her to the audience. The actress seems to carry the burden of history itself on her shoulders, and by the time she strips off all of her clothes to commit the heinous act, we may cringe at the brutality of the killings, but Lizzie’s decision seems justified.

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