For three years running, the Sundance Film Festival has provided me with my list-topping favorites—the ones I've hung onto for months. First came Boyhood in 2014—and who didn't melt at Richard Linklater's 12-years-in-the-making triumph? Then I was crushed by Brooklyn in 2015, along with the finest performance of the decade, courtesy of Saoirse Ronan. Then last year in Park City, I was stomped by Manchester by the Sea, now en route to Oscar glory. So if I came into this year's edition with a high bar (and a little skepticism), who could blame me? Happily, I had no reason to be worried. Glorious films, many of them unexpected, were there to greet me. Here are my top 10 titles in no particular order. See them all.
A Ghost Story As lovely, mysterious and cosmic as horror movies get, David Lowery's eerie grief drama—starring some dude under a sheet—cast a love-it-or-hate-it spell over Sundance. (The correct folks were in the "love it" camp.) Interrupted by death, a couple's love finds a weird way forward, in this slice of supernatural risk-taking. Rooney Mara eats an entire pie alone in her kitchen. Isn't that enough to raise your curiosity? Read our full review
Where Is Kyra One might as well have asked: Where was Michelle Pfeiffer? The actor bounced back like she hadn’t been in years—like never before, really—in this superb, downbeat drama about a divorced Brooklyn woman slipping through the economic cracks. An intimate, necessary story shot on location in 18 days, the movie was a reminder of what real Sundance movies used to look like. Read our full review
I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore The eventual winner of this year's Grand Jury Prize (a worthy one), writer-director Macon Blair’s scuzzy justice quest was the movie of the moment, filled with distinctly American rage, splattery violence and plenty of dark laughs. The film played like a Trump-state Big Lebowski, with star Melanie Lynskey on a personal rampage against the "assholes." I saw this one early and immediately knew it was major. Read our full review
The Big Sick Adding some much needed cross-cultural tension to the Apatovian rom-com formula, actor-screenwriter Kumail Nanjiani broke out with this autobiographical girlfriend-in-a-coma comedy that signaled his arrival to the top. It worked like a heartbreaker and came with two secret weapons: Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, both uncorking magnificently real performances as parents wrecked by nervousness and, ultimately, acceptance. Read our full review
Walking Out I can't explain the tears that wet my face through much of this boy-and-dad survival story. I will say this: Someone needed to take up the mantle of inspired filmmaker Carroll Ballard (The Black Stallion), and co-directing brothers Alex and Andrew J. Smith were it. Suffused with Montana-shot gorgeousness, existential panic and bruised, hard-earned affection, the movie filled my heart to the brim. Read our full review
Oklahoma City A late-breaking favorite of mine, Barak Goodman’s thorough, ominous documentary was more than just a crucial piece of historical excavation of a terrible tragedy. Oklahoma City is nothing short of an essential primer on the rise of homegrown hate, tracing racist militia yahoos all the way back to the late '70s. As a country, we may have been distracted by 9/11 and the global fight against terror, but these people have only gotten bolder. Read our full review
Call Me by Your Name The undeniable emotional powerhouse of this year's festival, Luca Guadagnino's voluptuous coming-of-age gay romance transported me not only to northern Italy, but to a lazy summer's exchange of books, fruit, glances and power. I already cherished this director for I Am Love, A Bigger Splash and his unerring sense of adult sexiness. But with this one, he's leapt into the company of Bernardo Bertolucci. Read our full review
Beatriz at Dinner Screenwriter Mike White channeled his inner rage and unleashed this savage Buñuelian comedy, one that pits a toxic version of Donald Trump (John Lithgow in the festival's juiciest performance) against a soulful Mexican (Salma Hayek) who, for all her gentleness, might end up murdering this douchebag over dessert. The vibe was pure vengeance; I can't wait for more people to thrill to this film as I did.
Thoroughbred If The Witch didn't convince you that young Anya Taylor-Joy was the real thing, she's now got her own American Psycho to prove it. The movie has a steely sheen and an evil sense of humor: It's about extremely wealthy Connecticut teens with bad impulses. I'm aware that I was supposed to shed a tear for poor Anton Yelchin, giving his final (and best) performance, but I was too busy howling at how amazingly mean this thing was.
Mudbound The collected press flipped out and immediately went to DEFCON Oscar after this film's first screening concluded. But in the cold light of day, Dee Rees's post-WWII drama is a touch more literary than sensational. The film's interracial weave, however, is often glorious, and for that, I'm giving this title my tenth slot, knowing that it will continue to grow in my mind, as it has for days.