The Best Films of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival

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.)

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