Sundance 2023 Roundup – 10 Films We Recommend

We’re already covered a number of horror films that played Sundance this year – but here are ten non-horror films we caught at the festival that you might want to keep an eye on!

1. Magazine Dreams (Elijah Bynum)

Jonathan Majors is incredible in this. In the Paul-Schrader inspired tradition of Taxi Driver and The King Of Comedy, a male bodybuilder tries to live up to his hero and rise above. But when do dreams become delusions?

2. Shayda (Noora Niasari)

A young Iranian mother finds refuge in an Australian women’s shelter with her six-year-old daughter.Superb performances across the board, but particularly from Zar Amir Ebrahimi (Holy Spider) as the mother. Director Noora Niasari orchestrates the tension very well – this is based on her own life growing up – as the father circles like a shark.

3. Animalia (Sofia Alaoui)

Itto, a young woman from a modest rural background, is suffocating under the codes of her husband’s family. But when supernatural events put the country in a state of emergency, Itto finds herself separated from her husband and new family. Alone, pregnant and looking for her way back, what will become of her as the world seemingly falls apart? I saw two movies in one day about religious faith in the face of an apocalypse, and reader, this one was better than Knock At The Cabin.

4. Fair Play (Chloe Domont)

Men would really rather tank their entire life rather than go to therapy!

An unexpected work promotion for a young woman at a cutthroat hedge fund pushes her relationship with a co-worker to the brink, threatening to unravel not only their recent engagement but their lives.

This tight, overwrought melodrama is pretty silly in places, but it succeeds by going for BIG EMOTIONS and having the boyfriend be THE WORST. (Though the plot requires the main character to also be fairly dumb.) The finance-speak was clearly researched but pretty thin – her big presentation was 100% vapid. “We employ a range of strategies when it comes to active management!” Sure to be a conversation starter for couples going to see it.

5. Heroic (David Zonana)

A young Mexican man, desperate for medicine for his mother, signs up for the the armed forces and goes straight to a hell of bullying – and maybe worse. I’m seeing some people compare this to the directorial work of (producer) Michel Franco, but I thought this was significantly more successful. That said, Kubrick did this all better in the first part of Full Metal Jacket.

6. Sometimes I Think About Dying (Rachel Lambert)

Fran (Daisy Ridley, from all those Star Wars films) likes thinking about dying, and not talking to people. But when she makes her new co-worker laugh, it leads to a date. But will this develop into anything more, or will Fran return to silence and morbid daydreams?

This was sweet. It felt more lived-in than the original short… they let the material breathe. Also they made a late decision to ditch the voiceover which… I approve. More people should ditch their voiceovers. I also loved Megan Stalter in a small role, doing lovely, well-considered work as the boss.

7. Scrapper (Charlotte Regan)

Georgie (Lola Campbell) is a 12-year-old girl with a dead mother, who lives happily alone in her London flat, filling it with dreams and magic and manipulating the social services so that they think she has a guardian on the premises. But the spell is broken when her estranged father turns up out of nowhere. This British drama was sweet but under developed. The limited use of psychological fantasy wasn’t well integrated and quickly fell by the wayside – a remnant of an earlier script iteration? This works as well as it does thanks to Harris Dickinson and his relationship with Lola Campbell.

8. Fancy Dance (Erica Tremblay)

Since her sister’s disappearance, Jax (Lily Gladstone) has cared for her niece Roki (Isabel Deroy-Olson) by scraping by on the Seneca-Cayuga Reservation in Oklahoma. At the risk of losing custody to Jax’s grandfather, Frank, the pair hit the road and scour the backcountry to track down Roki’s mother in time for a big upcoming powwow. But can they truly find justice in a colonised world? Lily Gladstone is excellent as ever, and Deroy-Olson is a superb find. Shea Whigham also does some solid supporting work. The thinking man’s Wind River – with all the problematic issues of that film resolved.

9. The Accidental Getaway Driver (Sing J Lee)

During a routine pickup, an elderly Vietnamese cab driver is taken hostage at gunpoint by three recently escaped Orange County convicts.

The four-way interactions were good, but the mystical flashbacks didn’t cover the weight needed for me, and just served to slow the film down. Also this didn’t need to be almost two hours long. When it works it works, though. Nicely played by the central two guys, and it looks great throughout. Based on a true story.

10. Mamacruz (Patricia Ortega)

Cruz is a grandma who’s spent years, decades actually, without having an orgasm. Religiously devout, it wasn’t something that she considered particularly important, or that she’d even given much thought to… until, one day, she chances across some internet porn.

I felt like there was very little to this, much as it’s been given a nice treatment. Like a dew films at this Sundance, this felt sweet but undercooked. It’s definitely worth watching for the sensitive lead performance, though.

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