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My All-time Top Ten Sundance Films



This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Sundance Film Festival. As a long-time blogger and attendee of Sundance, I and many others were asked to give my top ten list of favorite films I had the pleasure of experiencing firsthand during my years covering the festival. Believe me, when I tell you, It was really not easy narrowing this down! During the past twelve years of attending the festival, not only was I able to see some amazing films from first-time directors who are now major talents, I had the privilege of seeing these incredible gems before they were available to the rest of the world--without any marketing or reviews to shape my expectations.


10. CODA

I remember the experience of seeing CODA at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival so vividly. In a way, it was one of the most important films in the festival's history because it was tasked with being the opener during the most unorthodox year they'd ever had! Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sundance had to change course and for the first time, it shifted to being an online film festival. As a lover of the festival, I was so skeptical if it could be the same! But CODA was just the right type of Sundance magic to bring attendees together even if we were apart. It had heart, humor and that crowd-pleasing energy that is so special to Sundance and it made me feel all the feels, even if I wasn't sitting in Park City at the Eccles. It quickly won me over and became one of my favorite movies to come out of Sundance, and I wasn't alone! Its overwhelming support eventually carried it to an eventually successful Oscar campaign, resulting in Sundance's first-ever Best Picture win. Read my original Sundance review of CODA HERE


9. MASS

Along with CODA, Mass was another reason 2021's festival was so special. If you had told me when that festival ended that one of the movies at Sundance would have ended up the best picture winner of the year, I would have been sure it would have been Mass. It's actually crazy to me to think how ignored this film was by basically everyone after the festival ended! It is such an incredibly powerful film with some of the best acting of that year. Mass is such a devastating heartbreaker. It's truly a shame it seems to be so forgotten, but for those who know... they know! Read my original Sundance review of Mass HERE


8. BROOKLYN

Brooklyn is actually one of the few films from the festival that had to grow on me, instead of being instantly enthralled with it. I saw it back to back with the next entry on my list, and I think I was still so absorbed with thinking about that one, that Brooklyn just felt too simple in comparison. But the more time went on the more I appreciated Saoirse Ronan's quietly understated performance as well as the film's beautiful portrayal of the life of a young immigrant, torn between her new home and her old. There are so many wonderfully poignant moments throughout, Brooklyn is just a gem. Read my original Sundance review of Brooklyn HERE


7. THE WITCH

On a crisp January day in 2015, I had a double feature of The Witch and Brooklyn. My screening of The Witch has to be among my all-time favorite Sundance experiences. I had no idea what to expect from this film. Was it a historical drama or a horror film? It wasn't placed in the horror section, but with its title and image, I was very hopeful that it would be. The answer came early on in a rather shocking fashion and the tension the audience felt from that point forward was palpable. The Witch was the slowest of slow burns, but oh that payoff was more than worth it. The final images stayed with me for a very, very long time. Plus, seeing then-unknowns Anya Taylor-Joy and director Robert Eggers get their start here is truly incredible to look back and see. Read my original Sundance review of The Witch HERE


6. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

From the moment I read the 2016 Sundance film guide while planning my schedule, I had a really good feeling that Manchester by the Sea would be a really good solid drama. I just could never have foreseen HOW good! Manchester by the Sea is one of the most powerful films I've ever had the privilege of seeing at Sundance and there wasn't a dry eye in the house by the time the credits rolled. It features some of the most incredible performances I've ever seen in my hears at the fest, with Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams giving some of the best performances of their careers. Then newcomer Lucas Hedges in one of his first major roles was excellent too. Casey and Michelle would later be recognized by the Academy with Affleck winning Best Actor, while Michelle was nominated for supporting actress but lost to Viola David in Fences. Read my original Sundance review of Manchester by the Sea HERE


5. PAST LIVES

Past Lives is the newest film to join the list, in fact, in the original list I submitted to Sundance I realized I had omitted it. Yet here it is, cracking my top five. Though this might be recency bias talking, the thing is, it's just SO GOOD. From the very first scene, you can just tell that this is something special. The fact that this was Celine Song's directorial debut still absolutely floors me. It has a beautiful simplicity, yet there is so much left unsaid. Everything in Past Lives is happening under the surface and what it accomplishes is truly incredible. Read my original Sundance review of Past Lives HERE


4. THE WAY WAY BACK

I have such a special place in my heart for The Way Way Back and the experience of seeing it at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. The Ogden Egyptian Theater was one of my all-time favorite venues (it's a long shot, but PLEASE bring it back someday!!) and the energy for this film in that theater was infectious. Every joke landed to perfection and it felt like the perfect summer escape on a cold winter's day. What could have been a throwaway generic teen movie was a fantastic coming-of-age film with genuine heart. The ending puts a lump in my throat every time. It's such an underrated film, but one I always look at with fondness. Read my original Sundance review of The Way Way Back HERE


3. SING STREET

From the second I saw Sing Street I was absolutely obsessed with it and recognized its potential as a true instant classic. I wasn't alone either, because I could feel the audiences' affection for it growing with every passing minute of screen time. I loved every moment and every song. I couldn't wait for its soundtrack to be released upon seeing it, and when it finally came out it was on repeat in my car for a good two years afterwards. John Carney brought a magic to the festival with Sing Street that I'm not sure anyone else since (including Carney himself with his follow-up Flora & Son), has quite been able to duplicate. Just as with The Way Way Back, I could watch Sing Street at any time and be just as delighted as I was the first time I saw it. I love this movie with all of my heart. and it is truly one of my all-time favorites. Read my original Sundance review of Sing Street HERE


2. HEREDITARY

Aside from some amazing coming-of-age films, Sundance also has reliably screened some of the best horror films of the last decade. When I went to a screening of Hereditary in 2018, I expected a run-of-the-mill spooky child horror movie but what I got was so much more. The genius of it is thinking you know exactly which way it’s going to go, only to be completely blindsided midway through. You realize that you are along for a ride and that you have absolutely NO idea where you’ll end up. The utter boldness of Ari Aster had my instant respect, but apart from its originality and unpredictability it also boasted some of the most daring performances ever seen in the genre. Toni Collette gave a performance for the ages and I’m still upset it wasn’t recognized by the academy. Hereditary was one of the most confident debuts I’ve ever seen at the festival and would be the number one debut, if not for my number one pick. Read my original Sundance review of Hereditary HERE


1. WHIPLASH

Whiplash was the opener of the 2014 Festival, and from the moment it debuted, it was almost all anyone would talk about the entire festival. It wasn’t really on my radar before that because it just seemed like an average teacher drama, and I didn’t really have any plans to try and see it. But as a Utah local, I received the best of fest passes and was eventually excited when Whiplash was announced to be the film playing at my screening at the end of the festival. None of that small hype I heard beforehand could have prepared for what an absolute ride Whiplash is and how tense it would be! It's more anxiety than most horror films Read my original Sundance review of Whiplash HERE


HONORABLE MENTIONS: PALM SPRINGS, ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL, LIBERAL ARTS, NINE DAYS, PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN, BEFORE MIDNIGHT


And a special shout out to (500) Days of Summer, my favorite Sundance movie of all time and the one that inspired me to start attending the festival so I'd never miss out on these gems again.

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