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Eileen
Photograph: Courtesy of Sundance Institute.Thomasin McKenzie and Anne Hathaway in ‘Eileen’

Sundance Film Festival 2023: all the movies you need to know about

This year's indie big hitters feature Emilia Clarke, Anne Hathaway and a tell-all Brooke Shields doc

Written by
Ed Gibbs
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The crowds are about to descend on Park City, Utah for the first time since the pandemic with Sundance kicking off on January 19. There, this month’s Sundance film festival looks set to knock it out of the park with an irresistible mix of breakout hits, cutting-edge docs, episodic series and much more. The best of Sundance might even nudge its way into in 2024’s Oscars race, following 2022 winner Coda to Best Picture glory.

Candidates for that breakout status include Sofia Coppola-produced LGBTQ+ drama Fairyland, a new musical treat from the filmmaker behind Sing Street and Once, and buzzy new Little Richard and Michael J Fox docs.

This year’s festival still has an online component for US and Canadian audiences to enjoy, as well as physical tickets, although for most of us, it’s about clocking the hits and breakouts ahead of their cinema releases. And maybe spot the next superstar of tomorrow early, and immediately bore your mates about them. To help narrow it all down, here are 15 of the hottest new indies to look out for at the fest. 

Films to look out for at Sundance 2023

Polite Society 
Photograph: Courtesy of Sundance Institute | Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh

Polite Society 

Fans of UK TV’s punky sitcom We Are Lady Parts will lap up this delirious genre-mash-up from filmmaker Nida Manzoor. Kicking her way into infamy, too, is newcomer Priya Kansara as Ria, who’s determined to become a stunt woman. But when her sister Lena (Ritu Arya) quits art school for a suspicious shotgun wedding, Ria takes matters into her own hands. Described as a Jane Austen-esque action comedy, heist, martial arts, Bollywood, social horror, it’s should be a kick-ass showcase for fresh, edgy British talent. 

Rye Lane 
Photograph: Sundance Institute

Rye Lane 

Another big debut from an emerging British talent, adopted South Londoner Raine Allen-Miller’s Peckham-set romcom sees heartbroken Dom (Industry’s David Jonsson) and Yas (Vivian Oparah) find each other in a tough spot. Cue a lively 24 hours around Peckham’s pubs, clubs and karaoke bars as our two likeable leads seriously hit it off. Rye Lane has already been picked up by a major studio and will be in UK cinemas in March.

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Eileen
Photograph: Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Eileen

Brit filmmaker William Oldroyd follows up his icily gripping period drama Lady Macbeth (which catapulted Florence Pugh to fame) with an erotically-tinged thriller with a twist. Dour prison secretary Eileen (Last Night in Soho’s Thomasin McKenzie) falls an incoming counselor (Anne Hathaway). But guess what? The newcomer has a dark and deadly secret. Fans of novelist Ottessa Moshfegh, whose book forms the source material, will already be right across this one.

Scrapper
Photograph: Courtesy of Sundance Institute | Photo by Chris Harri

Scrapper

This charming, gritty social drama from music video director Charlotte Regan is executive-produced by Michael Fassbender. It sees a father and daughter reunite after years apart, with unpredictable consequences. Newcomer Lola Campbell is Georgie, a resourceful 12-year-old who ducks and dives her way out of trouble with best pal Ali (Alin Uzun). When her dad Jason (Triangle of Sadness’s Harris Dickinson) shows up, Georgie is less than impressed. It’s another starring role for London at the fest.

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Bad Behaviour
Photograph: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Bad Behaviour

This jet-black comedy could catapult actor-turned-filmmaker Alice Englert in a similar trajectory to her mum, Jane Campion. Best known for Sally Potter’s Ginger & Rosa and Campion’s Power of the Dog, her feature debut sees Jennifer Connelly playing former child actress and troubled mum Lucy, who seeks solace at a retreat run by Ben Whishaw’s guru, as she negotiates a stressful relationship with her stunt performer daughter (Englert).

Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields
Photograph: Sundance Institute

Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields

A child star at 12, thanks to Louis Malle’s controversial Pretty Baby, Brooke Shields grew up too fast, while inadvertently becoming the object of male desire in movies like The Blue Lagoon and Endless Love. In this two-part documentary, she looks back on her meteoric rise to fame and everything that came with it – including some of the high-profile relationships that made her a regular in the gossip rags, and her struggles with motherhood.

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The Pod Generation 
Photograph: Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Andrij Parekh

The Pod Generation 

If the thought of A.I. taking over our lives feels unsettling, this comedy sci-fi should ease the nerves. Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke and 12 Years a Slave’s Chiwetel Ejiofor star as a loved-up New York couple looking to start a family. Through a tech giant’s revolutionary new ‘pod’ system, they can literally share the load of pregnancy. But is A.I. superseding nature really such a great idea? Expect to hear plenty more about it in the coming months. 

Infinity Pool 
Photograph: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Infinity Pool 

The name Cronenberg is synonymous with‘body horror. These days, of course, we have both father David and son Brandon keeping the dream/nightmare alive. Here, Brandon Cronenberg casts Alexander Skarsgård and Mia Goth as a cool couple who find themselves caught up in a hedonistic world of depravity inhabited by rich people. In true Cronenbergian fashion, things get dark fast in a satire that’s ripe for our fractured times.

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AUM: The Cult at the End of the World 
Photograph: Sundance Institute

AUM: The Cult at the End of the World 

Doomsday cults offer rich pickings for documentary filmmakers (think Wild Wild Country and Waco: The Rules of Engagement). Here, then, is the story behind one of the most terrifying of them all: the Aum Shinrikyo. The Aum attacked the Tokyo subway in 1995 with its preferred poison of choice, the nerve agent Sarin (also favoured by the Nazis). Fourteen people died and hundreds more were injured. Investigative journo David E Kaplan and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Andrew Marshall lead the search for answers.

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie
Photograph: Sundance Institute

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie

The Back to the Future star looks back at his life and career, which began in his teens in his native Canada before he moved to LA with no money in his pocket. One of the biggest stars of the 1980s (and 1990s), Michael J Fox’s dream run was cut cruelly short when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at age 29. Since then, he’s become known for campaigning around the disease. Here is a touching reminder of why the world went mad for the cheeky pint-sized star, through key scenes, re-enactments and his own personal reflections. 

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Fair Play
Photograph: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Fair Play

Ruthlessly toxic, the world of finance – as seen on the BBC’s crazily addictive Industry series – never fails to entice and ensare. Here, a high-flying New York couple, Emily (Bridgerton’s Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke (Solos Alden Ehrenreich), jump at the chance of joining a plum Wall Street firm, only to discover there can be only one who succeeds. The mighty Eddie Marsan co-stars, hopefully as some kind of unpalatable hedge fund type. 

Shadya
Photograph: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Shadya

Iranian-Australian filmmaker Noora Niasari based this thoughtful film on her own life experience under the shadow of civil unrest and oppression in Iran. A single mum (played by Zar Amir Ebrahimi) flees her abusive husband and ditches her traditional dress for a new life Down Under. But her ex is hot on her trail – and has the law on his side. Niasari has a dream cast at her disposal: Ebrahimi won the Best Actress award in Cannes for Holy Spider. Cate Blanchett and husband Andrew Upton are executive-producers.

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Fairyland
Photograph: Sundance Institute

Fairyland

Set in San Francisco with a cracking cast to boot, this LGBTQ+ drama focuses on a widowed dad (played by Monsters’ Scoot McNairy) who opts for a bohemian, free-loving lifestyle, much to the dismay of his teenage daughter. As dad begins to date men, and allows his daughter more freedom, she pines for their old family life. Like many great dramas, it’s based on a true story. It’s also produced by Sofia Coppola, which bodes extremely well.

Little Richard: I Am Everything 
Photograph: Sundance Institute

Little Richard: I Am Everything 

Rock ‘n’ roll lost its most outrageous pioneer in 2020, just as the world was headed into lockdown. ‘Little’ Richard Wayne Penniman influenced everyone from Elvis to Dylan to Bowie and while they all raved about the man, many chose not to give Richard his due. This timely doc shows how the controversial star became the architect of modern pop music. Rock, pop, soul, funk, hip-hop and R'n'B all owe an incalculable debt to the man. Not to mention Predator fans. 

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Flora and Son 
Photograph: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Flora and Son 

Bad Sisters’ Eve Hewson leads this feelgood, Dublin-set romp from the man behind Sing Street and Once (former Frames muso-turned-filmmaker John Carney). Here, she plays a single mom who’s grafting away, looking for a break. Salvation comes in the form of an online guitar tutor (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and some super-cool blues courtesy of guitar god Gary Clark Jr. What’s not to love?

Sundance Film Festival 2023 runs January 19-29. Head to the official site for full programme info.

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