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The 5 best movies of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival

PARK CITY, Utah — Every January, when we’re all tired of blah blah blah blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

In the lovely but pricey ski town of Park City, Utah, a bustling independent film festival has woken us up, set the tone for the upcoming film year, and given us a glimpse into the thinking of innovative filmmakers.

The 45-year-old festival returned to the scene for the first time since 2020, with scandals (Sundance was rocked by a belated request that all films be closed captioned), shockers (Alexander Skarsgard with his clones wrestling naked) and celebrities even donning parkas despite their enthusiastic chauffeurs direct from the St. Regis to the red carpet.

But what stands out to me the most is the optimism for Epilogue to win the Best Picture Oscar in 2022, after a series of excruciatingly dismal lineups, pervades the list of 99 feature films. A feel-good feast, for sure.

Here are the five best films of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

Past and Present

Greta Lee and Teo Yoo as childhood sweethearts "past life."
Greta Lee and Teo Yoo play childhood sweethearts in Past and Present.
jon parker

The standout film at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and what could very well be one of the Oscar nominees we’re still talking about 12 months from now, is writer-director Celine Song’s stunning film Past Lives. Spanning 24 years, the sizzling A24 studio film tells the story of two childhood sweethearts in Seoul, South Korea, who are separated when little Nora’s family moves to Toronto. Fast-forward 12 years and Nora (Greta Lee), a writer in New York, reunites with an old flame, Hae Sung (Chang Yu), on Skype. I know the setting of Past Lives sounds simple, but Song’s writing and Lee and Yoo’s realistic performances will blow your mind.


Starring Anne Hathaway (left) and Thomasin McKenzie "Erin." Premiere at Sundance.
Anne Hathaway (left) and Thomasin McKenzie dance in “Erin.”
Courtesy of the Sundance Film Festival

Anne Hathaway sexy and mysterious in a 1960s Boston prison? certainly! “Erin” is a thriller about a shy 24-year-old secretary played by Thomasin McKenzie, who has a miserable life in the prison where she works. The administrator (Hathaway) has undergone a sea change. It’s far from a joyride, but the film is filled with uncertainty. We were very nervous trying to figure out exactly where William Oldroyd’s film adaptation of Ottessa Moshfegh’s novel was going. As soon as a tense story begins, you’ll gasp and your upstairs neighbors will slam to the floor.

Playing Varsity in Mariachi

"Join the Mariachi Varsity Team" Transports viewers to the competitive high school Mariachi circuit in Texas.
“Going Varsity In Mariachi” takes viewers into the competitive high school Mariachi circuit in Texas.
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

My favorite documentary has taught me things I didn’t know before and has as much passion and memorable characters as any great drama or comedy. The excellent “Boys State,” opening at Sundance in 2020, is one such film. My “the more you know” in this touching doc is that Texas has a 100-strong high school mariachi competition circuit – who knew? – Our lovely cast includes Mariachi Oro from Edinburgh North High School, led by brilliant teacher Abel Acuña.


"extreme," Starring Eugenio Derbez, it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
“Radical,” starring Eugenio Derbez, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Actor Eugenio Debez, who played the music teacher in “The End,” delivers another inspirational lesson in “Radical.” Here, he arrives at a struggling school in Mexico, confounding colleagues and children alike with his unconventional methods: no lesson plans, no tests, lots of listening. Yes, it sounds a lot like “Dead Poets Society” or “For the Love of Mister,” but based on a true story and set south of the border, it ups the stakes and brings tears.

you hurt my feelings

Julia Louis-Dreyfus is hilarious "You hurt my feelings."
Julia Louis-Dreyfus is hilarious in “You Hurt My Feelings.”
Zheng Pu

In a revival of the post-Seinfeld era, Julia Louis-Dreyfus has struggled to find the right movie role since the end of HBO’s Veep. “Downhill” goes downhill, and her MCU part is a paycheck. But in “You Hurt My Feelings,” she’s her comically perfect self, as a mid-level writer who learns that her husband secretly hates her new book. Writer-director Nicole Holofcener’s observant comedy tells the lies, big and small, we tell our loved ones to get through the day.

Worst of all: cat people

Starring Emilia Jones and Nicholas Braun "cat people," Premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
The worst film at Sundance was “Cat People,” starring Emilia Jones and Nicholas Braun.
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Emilia Jones (“The Epilogue”) and Nicholas Braun (“The Inheritance”) star in Kristen Roupenian’s 2017 cult New Yorker short story, which is thrilling The finger-pointing adaptation blew my mind. An outspoken man in a magazine about the horrors of modern dating has been turned into a real, campy horror movie with an incredible new ending. Title recognition means you’ll probably see it, but I hope the bad reviews nip it in the bud.

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