The Best Films Of The 2016 Sundance Film Festival

After 10 glorious days, the 2016 Sundance Film Festival came to a close last night, with awards handed out Saturday night. And now that the festival is officially over and done with, we at /Film have tallied the movies we saw this year, to present to you a list of our favorites.

Three writers from /Film attended the festival this year: Peter Sciretta, Angie Han, and Ethan Anderton. Just three movies were viewed by all three members of the /Film team: Other PeopleHunt for the Wilderpeople, and Manchester by the Sea. Another 12 were seen by two members of the /Film staff, and 26 were seen by just one person. In all, the three of us caught 41 different movies. So how did the films we watched stack up? Run down the best of Sundance 2016 with us after the jump. 

We won't bore you with all the details of how we calculated our rankings, but in simple terms, each person submitted a weighted top 10. Where there was a tie, we tended to give preference to the films that were seen by more people (in an effort to ensure these rankings reflected all of our tastes), and to the films that ranked higher on individual lists. The resulting top 14 best of Sundance 2016 doesn't represent any one /Film staffer's tastes, but rather our collective experience of the movies that moved us, delighted us, intrigued us, and stayed with us this year.

If you're curious about our individual rankings, click ahead to the final page, where each member of the /Film team has listed every movie they saw at the festival this year in order of preference. There, you can also find a comprehensive, alphabetically ordered list of every review we filed from Sundance 2016.

And now, without further ado...

Swiss Army Man (Daniel Radcliffe)

14. Swiss Army Man

All of the gross gags and twisted humor are just a way into the film's true theme of loneliness — and not just the kind experienced by people who are truly, literally alone. Hank (Paul Dano) is physically separated from society by circumstance, but it becomes increasingly clear that he wasn't much less isolated in the real world. And that, perhaps, there was a good reason for that. As Hank and his dead friend Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) get closer to the real world, our perception of Hank begins to shift from the way he sees himself (and by extension, the way Manny sees him) and toward the way the rest of the world sees him, and it complicates our understanding of the character as we knew him before. (Read Angie's full review here.)

Green Room

13. Green Room (tie with #12)

(Note: Green Room had its world premiere at Cannes last year.)

Blue Ruin director Jeremy Saulnier comes back with a vengeance in this thriller about an indie hardcore rock band who ends up getting caught at the venue owned, operated and attended by Neo Nazis. Full of suspense and tension, this is one hell of a thriller that will have you squirming in your seat. Patrick Stewart steals the show as the calm, methodical leader of this terrifying party, but Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots both make for worthy but terrified adversaries that is full of surprises and plenty of brutal kills. It's great knowing that there's a filmmaker like Saulnier out there crafting outstanding, original thrillers like this. (Ethan)

The Hollars

12. The Hollars (tie with #13)

Yes, it's another story of a man grappling with his creative dreams who must return home from New York City because of a terminally ill mother, and in the process must come to terms with the family he left behind. It probably doesn't help that The Hollars lacks the sexual diversity found in Other People, and as a result sounds even more generic on paper.

Sundance veteran James Strouse (Lonesome Jim, Grace is Gone, The Winning Season, People Places Things) has filled the screenplay subtle and clever moments that elevate it from the broad strokes of a typical Sundance dramedy. And it will make you cry. I know I did — a couple of times. (Read Peter's full review here.)

Morris From America

11. Morris From America

Morris From America is a wonderful and heartfelt cross-cultural coming-of-age tale about an African-American boy trying to adapt in Germany. This hip-hop-infused rite of passage story would work well in a triple feature alongside other Sundance films like Dope and The Wackness. (Read Peter's full review here.)

The Birth of a Nation

10. The Birth of a Nation

Comparisons to 12 Years a Slave will be inevitable, but in truth Birth of a Nation complements, rather than competes with, the other recent slave drama. 12 Years a Slave was the horrifying true tale of a free man forced into slavery. Birth of a Nation is the equally horrifying, equally true tale of a man who's never enjoyed a single day of freedom in his life. To Nat (Nate Parker), bondage isn't a shocking turn of events; it's simply his life as it always was and always will be. In that sense, it's actually a bit like Spotlight, another recent story of insiders gradually coming to realize their own complacency in the face of unspeakable horrors, and deciding to do something about it. (Read Angie's full review here.)

Other People

9. Other People

Comedy and tragedy can be tough to blend, especially when it comes to a topic as heavy as cancer (the disease afflicting David's mom Joanne, played to perfection by Molly Shannon). But Other People maintains that balance better than most. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, many of which are intermingled with sob-out-loud moments. It helps greatly that first-time director Chris Kelly maintains a low-key, naturalistic vibe throughout. When a sad moment yields some laughs, or a funny moment gives way to a tearjerking one, it doesn't feel like he's pulling the audience from one extreme to another. It just feels like the way sad and funny actually do mix, all the time, in real life. (Read Angie's full review here.)

Under the Shadow

8. Under the Shadow

The genius of Under the Shadow lies in the way it builds up the tension: slowly, almost imperceptibly at first, until I suddenly realized I was wound so tightly I wanted to scream. The first act plays more like a family drama than a horror film. Sideh and Iraj discuss her career, comfort their daughter after her nightmares, and argue about whether the family should flee Tehran for the relative safety of the north. But the possibility of death and destruction looms in every second. (Read Angie's full review here.)

Life, Animated

7. Life, Animated

Life, Animated is a joyful film about the true power of cinema. Movies are not disposable entertainment but stories that have the power to inspire and dramatically change our lives. Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Roger Ross Williams tells the story of an autistic boy named Owen Suskind who re-learned language and found understanding through Disney animated movies. (Read Peter's full review here.)

Love & Friendship

6. Love & Friendship

Jane Austen may have a reputation as a romantic, but I'd argue that her real forte is as a humorist. She's second to none when it comes to elegantly written, sharply observed comedies about the foibles of England's upper classes, combining a wry, biting wit with a genuine sense of affection for the characters she's created. Naturally, this makes Austen's work the perfect source of inspiration for Metropolitan and Last Days of Disco director Whit Stillman, who has brought her novella Lady Susan to life in the laugh-out-loud hilarious Love & Friendship. (Read Angie's full review here.)

Indignation

5. Indignation

Indignation is a masterful piece of work from James Schamus, a film that would have been worthy of being release under his Focus Features banner had it been released years before. Every piece of production is remarkable, from the supporting cast, to the production design and more. Schamus has crafted an extraordinary adaptation of Philip Roth's book, a timeless tale of lost love and innocence that deserves to be seen. (Read Ethan's full review here.)

Sleight

4. Sleight

J.D. Dillard is a refreshing new filmmaker who is certainly one to watch. This may be his first feature film, but Dillard has directed some music videos and is also developing a film project for Bad Robot and Paramount Pictures (the details on this project are unknown). When I saw Safety Not Guaranteed at Sundance a few years back, I knew that Colin Trevorrow was about to be tapped for much bigger films (but even I wouldn't have predicted Star Wars and Jurassic Park sequels). I think it's easy to see Dillard will probably also capture the attention of Hollywood genre films — I could definitely see him at the helm of a future Marvel movie. (Read Peter's full review here.)

Sing Street

3. Sing Street

Sing Street is undoubtedly a crowd-pleaser, and another fine example in cinema of music saving someone's life. John Carney has delivered something more conventional than his previous efforts, but he's poured so much genuine care into the proceedings that you can't help but fall in love. This film is truly a triumph, and I can't wait to play the soundtrack on repeat whenever it becomes available. (Read Ethan's full review here.)

Manchester by the Sea

2. Manchester by the Sea

It's easy to imagine a version of this story that smooths over ugly, raw emotions in service of a happy ending, or, alternately, a version of this story that devolves into simple misery porn. Manchester by the Sea takes a more humane approach, guided by director Kenneth Lonergan's deep empathy for his characters. The world around Lee (Casey Affleck) may judge the way he reacts to the blows life has dealt him, or may not even realize what he's dealing with in the first place. But Lonergan presents a portrait of grief that feels almost honest in its ugliness, because it feels truthful. Redemption and hope are hard to come by for these characters, but they're apparently nearly as impossible to extinguish completely. (Read Angie's full review here.)

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

1. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Hunt for the Wilderpeople feels like a throwback to '80s adventure films in some ways, but it mostly just feels like a new childhood classic. It has all the makings of one: it's got wonder and adventure and loads of humor, and ultimately winds up on the side of optimism — but it also has moments of genuine tragedy and danger. It's not tough to imagine kids falling this movie today and feeling nostalgic about it 10 or 20 years down the line, the way Millennials and Gen Xers today wax rhapsodic about The Goonies. Unlike a lot of those movies, though, it's one the parents won't mind either. (Read Angie's full review here.)

Captain Fantastic

Peter Sciretta's Best of Sundance 2016 List

1. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

2. Sleight

3. Manchester by the Sea

4. Indignation

5. Life, Animated

6. Morris From America

7. The Hollars

8. Other People

9. Captain Fantastic

10. The 4th

11. Joshy

12. Tallulah

13. The Land

14. Yoga Hosers

15. Film Hawk

16. Goat

17. Wiener-Dog

18. Belgica

19. 31

Antibirth

Angie Han's Best of Sundance 2016 List

1. Manchester by the Sea

2. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

3. Love & Friendship

4. Under the Shadow

5. The Birth of a Nation

6. Other People

7. Swiss Army Man

8. Sing Street

9. Southside With You

10. The First Girl I Loved

11. Antibirth

12. Belgica

13. The Fits

14. The Lovers and the Despot

15. The Eyes of My Mother

16. Morris From America

17. Complete Unknown

Operation Avalanche

Ethan Anderton's Best of Sundance 2016 List

1. Sing Street

2. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

3. Manchester by the Sea

4. Indignation

5. Life, Animated

6. Sleight

7. Green Room

8. Other People

9. Operation Avalanche

10. Swiss Army Man

11. The Intervention

12. Captain Fantastic

13. The Fundamentals of Caring

14. Goat

15. The Hollars

16. As You Are

17. Christine

18. Joshy

19. Michael Jackson's Journey from Motown to Off the Wall

20. Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise

21. The Lure

22. Yoga Hosers

23. Cemetery of Splendor

The Lure

Best of Sundance 2016: All Reviews