In just a few short weeks, the Academy Awards will hand out coveted golden statues to the best films of last year. Meanwhile, the annual Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah just introduced audiences to some of the best new films coming out this year. From hard-hitting dramas to stomach-churning revenge thrillers to hilarious zom-coms, this year’s Sundance Film Festival had a little something for everyone. Here are the films you definitely won’t want to miss once they finally make their way to theaters or streaming services
One of the most exhilarating experiences I have had in a theater in a long time, Apollo 11 is a thrilling, awe-inspiring testament to human ingenuity. Culled from 11,000 hours of newly uncovered 65mm footage of the moon landing mission, Apollo 11 makes history come alive in a way that is rarely accomplished by a documentary. You can read my full review here, but honestly just take my word for it and experience that giant leap for mankind for yourself at your earliest convenience.
Blinded by the Light
If you need a feel-good coming of age story about discovering the perfect music at exactly the right time in your life, then Blinded by the Light is precisely what the doctor ordered. The film tells the story of a Pakistani British teenager growing up in Margaret Thatchet’s austere London during the late 1980s and having his mind blown by the music of Bruce Springsteen. Much like the criminally overlooked Sing Street, Blinded by the Light is a movie that “takes you to that place where pop can be everything,” according to Variety’s Owen Gleiberman.
Getting snowed in can be a fun way to bring the family together as you ride out inclement weather with one another. Unless you get snowed in with your new stepmother and as you try to uncover dirt about her past, you wind up unearthing some seriously deep-seated psychological trauma and demons from her deeply religious past. Then you’re in for a claustrophobic, chilling nightmare from the directors of Goodnight Mommy. According to RogerEbert.com’s Brian Tallerico, it’s “the kind of horror film that rattles you on an almost subconscious level,” which is great news if you hate ever sleeping again.
I Am Mother
After mankind is wiped out, a highly advanced A.I. (voiced by Rose Byrne) in a heavily fortified facility containing 60,000 human embryos takes one of them and raises it as her daughter. Raised to fear the outside world and believing it to be uninhabitable, the girl’s entire worldview is upended when a mysterious, wounded woman shows up at the facility’s airlock. What follows is “electrifying, thought-provoking, and unforgettable,” according to Slashfilm’s Ben Pearson, who also calls I Am Mother “a new sci-fi classic.”
Every year, the Sundance Film Festival produces a midnight movie so delightfully demented, off-kilter, and unexpectedly charming that it feels destined to become an instant cult classic. Last year gave us the Nicolas Cage psychedelic revenge thriller Mandy, and this year those honors go to Abe Forsythe’s zombie comedy Little Monsters. With a dynamite cast including Lupita Nyong’o and Josh Gad, a deliciously dark sense of humor, and a surprising amount of heart (both within ribcages and torn asunder by the undead), Little Monsters breathes new life into a stale genre.
One of the films I most regret missing at this year’s festival is Lulu Wang’s The Farewell. Starring Crazy Rich Asians and Ocean’s Eight breakout Awkwafina, The Farewell tells the heartfelt story of a young woman whose grandmother is diagnosed with terminal cancer, but the family decides not to tell their ailing matriarch about it. Rather, they make a beeline to China where they throw a fake wedding as a means of getting the family together for one last covert hurrah with their grandmother. “There’s so much going in every frame of The Farewell that even the perpetually blinded entertainment business should take notice of Wang, a major new talent, and her familial masterpiece,” raves Polygon’s Matt Patches.
For her follow-up to The Babadook, Jennifer Kent is embracing real-world horror over the supernatural with a brutal, unrelenting revenge story set in the wilds of nineteenth century colonial Tasmania. Powerful performances from Aisling Franciosi and Sam Claflin and gorgeous cinematography anchor this unforgettable film. This is a movie that will leave you reeling and stick to your ribs long after the credits roll. It might be the most challenging movie you’ll see all year, but it’s well worth your while.
Brittany Runs a Marathon
Anyone who has seen Workaholics or 22 Jump Street already knows that Jillian Bell is one of the funniest actresses working today. With Brittany Runs a Marathon, though, she should achieve sorely deserved superstar status. After a learning that her weight is causing major health problems, Brittany begins trying to take control of her life by starting to run, one city block at a time. It’s a film that will “lift you up if you’re in a lousy mood,” according to Collider’s Matt Goldberg, which is something to be cherished when the world is as dark as it is.
Cold Case Hammarskjöld
If last year’s Three Identical Strangers checked off all of your boxes for real-life story with a truly insane twist, then Danish director Mads Brügger’s investigation into the mysterious 1961 plane crash that killed U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld is going to blow your mind like that one guy in Scanners. (You know the one.) With unexpected twists enveloping mercenaries, international intrigue, and a long history of African genocide, Cold Case Hammarskjöld is a shocking film that will have “you start thinking about buying tinfoil in bulk as soon as you leave the theater,” according to Vulture.
Did Alfre Woodard just launch her Oscar campaign in Park City? Because Clemency, which Woodard produced and stars in, is easily one of the best films of the year. Writer-director Chinonye Chukwu’s searing drama about a prison warden (Woodard), a death row inmate hoping for a stay of execution (Aldis Hodge), and the people in both their lives is an emotional tour-de-force that may well have you revisiting your stance on the death penalty. Examining the human cost and the psychological toll that executions take on both prisoner and prison workers alike, Clemency is a film that demands to be seen.
For our complete coverage of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, click here.