The Sundance Film Festival often sets the tone for the entire year in film – it arrives early and plants a flag to announce “these are the first great and most promising movies of the next 12 months.” The /Film team was on the ground in Park City, Utah for the 2019 edition and we saw and reviewed a ton of movies. And we saw so many movies we loved that picking a select few to make a “best of” list turned out to be a bit of a challenge.

But make a “best of” list we did! These are the 15 best movies we saw at the 2019 Film Festival. Silly comedies, intense thrillers, incendiary dramas, horror flicks, feel-good tales…this list has something for everyone and you should put them all on your radar.

Late Night - Emma Thompson

15. Late Night

Mindy Kaling not only starred in The Office on NBC, but she also ended up writing and producing a good chunk of the series too. That’s why it’s great to see her taking both her acting and writing talents to the silver screen in a big way with Late Night. Kaling plays a chemical plant employee turned staff writer for Tonight with Katherine Newbury, a failing late night talk show hosted by an electrifying and smashingly-dressed Emma Thompson. The only problem is she’s the only female writer on staff, and Katherine isn’t exactly the easiest person to work with. That gives us an array of sharp insults, hilarious one-liners, and an endlessly entertaining story akin to The Devil Wears Prada in the world of late night TV. It’s one of the biggest crowdpleasers of the festival, it’s bound to be a hit when it hits theaters sometime this year. (Ethan Anderton)

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

14. The Last Black Man in San Francisco

What’s the difference between a house and a home? That’s one of the key questions posed in The Last Black Man in San Francisco, director Joe Talbot’s moving, expressive drama about two friends dealing with the effects of gentrification in one of America’s most expensive cities. Jimmie (Jimmie Fails) spends his time cleaning up a beautiful Victorian home built by his grandfather, even though he can no longer afford to live there. But when the house goes on the market, Jimmie and his pal Mont (Jonathan Majors) move in and try to reclaim it, with Jimmie addressing his family history and Mont trying to put on a one-man play that summarizes their experience as black men living in the city. It’s a great Sundance movie, emotionally ambitious and wholly unique, and the type of intimate, well-told drama that will touch viewers even if it never ultimately finds a huge audience. (Ben Pearson)

the nightingale review

13. The Nightingale

Jennifer Kent‘s follow-up to The Babadook is so relentlessly brutal that it’s going to prove difficult for some to sit through. Set in 1820s Tasmanian, this revenge drama follows an Irish convict (Aisling Franciosi) chasing down a cruel British officer (Sam Claflin). Along the way, she’s assisted by an Aboriginal tracker (Baykali Ganambarr). With The Nightingale, Kent seems to be pointing the finger at the audience, and daring them to derive some sort of pleasure out of the violence on display here. As movie audiences, we’ve become accustomed to enjoying revenge when it’s enacted on the big screen. But there’s no joy to be had in The Nightingale. Just cold, unrelenting nastiness. This is one of the most challenging films I saw at the festival, and while I don’t know if I’ll ever have the stomach to sit through it again, I can’t shake it either. (Chris Evangelista)

Brittany Runs a Marathon

12. Brittany Runs a Marathon

Sometimes you just feel like a real piece of shit. That’s exactly what happens to twentysomething Brittany (Jillian Bell) when a doctor’s visit tells her that she’s overweight, has high blood pressure and a fatty liver. Normally Brittany just takes life’s hardships in stride with a dose of sarcasm and self-deprication, but this one sticks with her. It’s time to do something about this shitty life. This movie is both about being comfortable in our own skin, but not accepting mediocrity as satisfaction. Bell does a phenomenal job playing Brittany with a balanced level of confidence and insecurity, something each and every one of us feels at one time or another. And first-time writer/director Paul Downs Colaizzo brings the true story to life in a way that is consistently comical, surprisingly inspiring and simply fantastic. (Ethan Anderton)

The Death of Dick Long 1

11. The Death of Dick Long

A twisted, laugh-out-loud Southern comedy, The Death of Dick Long is the story of two idiots (Michael Abbott Jr. and Andre Hyland) who try to cover up the true reason behind their friend’s untimely death. These bumbling morons can’t think more than one step ahead, so they’re certainly not smart enough to implement a complicated cover-up. That doesn’t stop them from trying, though, and their dim-witted attempts result in some of the funniest moments of the year. But fair warning: this movie gets downright disturbing, and once it takes its dark turn, it becomes a different type of film – one that’s more interested in examining its protagonists as flawed, complicated men than just as a pair of goofy screw-ups. It’s a tricky tightrope walk, but director Daniel Scheinert never judges his characters and delivers a movie that’s going to be almost impossible to forget. (Ben Pearson)

velvet buzzsaw review

10. Velvet Buzzsaw

Some audiences will resist Dan Gilroy’s gloriously goofy Velvet Buzzsaw, but I was all in. On one level, this is a satire of the art world. But really, the movie is just an excuse for Gilroy to load a film up with silly characters, and then brutally murder them. Jake Gyllenhaal is hilarious as a snobby art critic who teams up with some others to make a fortune off of some recently discovered paintings. Unfortunately, the paintings are haunted, and violently murder anyone who dares to choose the almighty dollar over the sanctity of art. Consistently funny and overloaded with blood-drenched kills, Velvet Buzzsaw is unique and unapologetically wacky. The over-the-top tone isn’t for everyone, but this pushed all my buttons. (Chris Evangelista)

Native Son

9. Native Son

Bigger “Big” Thomas (Moonlight’s Ashton Sanders) defies stereotypes at every turn: he’s a black man living in Chicago who has green hair and loves punk music and Beethoven. Big is a quiet, curious character, the type who feels like he has a good grasp of 90% of his identity but is still working to figure out that final 10%. Rookie director Rashid Johnson’s adaptation of Richard Wright’s 1940 novel follows Big as he takes a job working for a wealthy white family, exploring issues of race and class and eventually taking a surprising turn that nearly catapults the film into the horror category. Matthew Libatique’s cinematography is top notch, bouncing between crisp brightness and sinister foreboding. Skillful performances from Sanders, Kiki Layne, Bill Camp, and Margaret Qualley and a modernized script from Pulitzer Prize winner Suzan-Lori Parks make this a memorable cinematic debut that’s worth seeking out. (Ben Pearson)

Big Time Adolescence

8. Big Time Adolescence

Coming of age comedies are a dime a dozen at Sundance, and it usually takes something special to make one stand out. In this case, it’s Pete Davidson as a loveable, witty loser named Zeke, and Griffin Gluck as his ex-girlfriend’s teenage brother ,who looks up to the directionless stoner. Each gives two performances that are charming for different reasons. Davidson reminds you of that townie who everyone thought was cool in high school but hasn’t done anything with his life. That might not sound appealing, but Davidson brings such a cool, laid back persona to Zeke that you can’t help but love his presence. Meanwhile, Gluck plays the awkward kid still trying to figure out how to talk to girls, and you’re rooting for him to be cool, even if it’s based on some not so sound advice and guidance by Zeke. This movie from first-time writer/director Jason Orley is exactly the kind of indie you’ll love discovering for yourself. (Ethan Anderton)

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