Sundance 2017: Alex's 7 Favorite Films - The Best of This Year's Festival
by Alex Billington
January 31, 2017
The 2017 Sundance Film Festival has finally come to an end and to put a wrap on things and finalize our nearly two weeks of coverage, it's time to present our Best of the Fest list. I was able to see a total of 36 films across 10 days, but I couldn't catch everything and missed a few films getting lots of buzz (Novitiate, Where is Kyra?, Thoroughbred). I saw a total of 8 documentaries, so instead of separating docs and features this year, I decided to present one big list of my 7 favorite films (in honor of it being 2017). My #1 by a mile is Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name, I love this film so much. It will likely end up on my Top 10 of the year, but many other films from this fest are worth seeing when they come your way. Let's get into it.
While I saw many films that I liked (my full list of 36 here), there were quite a few I missed even though I heard good things about them. But these are my favorite films from this year's festival that I did get to see.
Alex's Top 7 Favorite \Sundance 2017/ Films:
Call Me By Your Name
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Call Me By Your Name is on a whole other level. This film is an absolute masterpiece, an exhilarating and exciting cinematic experience that will whisk you away to Italy for two hours and make you forget about wherever you are. The lead performance by young actor Timothée Chalamet is breathtaking, it's one for the ages, packed with nuanced emotions and multiple languages. I felt like I was high on cinema after seeing this film, dancing around the snowy streets of Park City, raving about it for hours with a friend over dinner. It's infused with so much sensuality, yet is also sensitive and seductive, telling a wonderful love story. Love is love is love. The cast includes Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Amira Casar, who also give astonishing performances that elevate this beyond just a good story to something that will be remembered and revisited for years. I can't wait to see this film again, it's sublime, and the final shot is utter perfection.
Directed by Jeff Orlowski
THIS is how you make an wonderful documentary about the harmful effects of climate change that actually engages and inspires and encourages everyone to take action. Chasing Coral is the follow-up to filmmaker Jeff Orlowski's powerful climate doc Chasing Ice, and it's even better than that film. Orlowski dives in head first to examine the catastrophic coral bleaching events taking place all over the world. His goal is to capture time-lapse footage of the coral dying due to rising water temperature, and the footage he gets is unforgettable. I was wiping away tears throughout this doc, it's so heartbreaking and infuriating, but instead of letting those emotions take over, Orlowski inspires us with hope. He follows passionate people who love coral, who just want to save the world, and who want us to wake up and realize we can help. All of this is topped off by a fantastic score from Dan Romer & Saul Simon MacWilliams. I really enjoyed this doc.
Directed by Dave McCary
I love Brigsby Bear! This one completely caught me off guard, not only is it a hilarious comedy, but it's also as a heartfelt film about the power of friends and passionate storytelling. Brigsby Bear stars Kyle Mooney as a kid who grew up inside an underground bunker where he was only ever allowed to watch new tapes of a cheesy 80's kids show called "Brigsby Bear" featuring an animatronic bear who saves the universe. When he enters the real world, things are a bit awkward, and it takes more than just time for him to acquaint himself with modern society. Along the way he makes a few unlikely friends and discovers that there's actually nothing wrong with his love for Brigsby Bear. This film should break out big out of Sundance, it's not only laugh-out-loud funny throughout, but there's an inspirational side to it that will leave you in a good mood.
Directed by Charlie McDowell
I'm a sucker for science fiction, especially cerebral, thought-provoking sci-fi films that push the genre to its limits and challenge conventional storytelling ideas. The Discovery is one of the best sci-fi films out of Sundance this year, with a story centered around the concept that life after death has been scientifically confirmed. The One I Love director Charlie McDowell establishes a world where, after the discovery, people are killing themselves to "get there" and start a new life. Jason Segel plays the son of the scientist who made the discovery. Most of the film focuses on his relationship with Rooney Mara, a suicidal women he meets along the way. But it builds to an extraordinary conclusion, that will have your mind reeling. I saw the film on the second day of the festival (read my review) and it stayed on my mind the remaining eight days.
Directed by Bryan Fogel
This is a helluva documentary. I liked Icarus even more than CitizenFour, and they are very similar. Icarus starts as an intriguing story of an amateur cyclist (the director - Bryan Fogel) trying to take performance enhancing drugs and get away with it. So he befriends a Russian biochemist who helps him establish the routine to beat the system, in an investigate attempt to determine whether it's actually possible. Along the way, it turns out, his Russian friend is one of the leaders of their doping program and he runs one of the testing labs in Moscow. The story then changes course as Grigory Rodchenkov becomes a whistleblower, and like CitizenFour, Bryan captures footage of the moments when the information he provided to the press becomes breaking news worldwide. Then they get word that the Russians are trying to take him out. It's a remarkable tell-all, eye-opening, entertaining documentary about how deep doping in Russian sports goes.
Directed by Zoe Lister-Jones
Another outstanding comedy, and a completely original creation. Zoe Lister-Jones stars in, writes, directs and produces this relationship comedy about a married couple living in Los Angeles that decides to turn their arguments into songs and start a band while at it. Not only did I laugh way more than expected, and some of the songs are damn good, but it has so much to teach us about relationships and the importance of communication and compassion. Co-star Adam Pally, playing the husband in the film, is just as enjoyable on his side, as is Fred Armisen, playing their awkward neighbor who becomes the drummer in their band. The dialogue in the film is so natural and on-point, it felt like these two were actually a real couple bickering about nonsense, and dealing with very real emotional problems. One of my favorite comedies of the festival.
Directed by Taylor Sheridan
This snow noir directional debut from screenwriter Taylor Sheridan not only features another signature Sheridan script packed with intricate themes and nuances, twists and turns, and complex characters, but the cinematography is stunning and the film is thrilling to watch. Jeremy Renner stars along with Elizabeth Olsen in a murder mystery story set in the snowy wilderness of Wyoming. For the first half this plays out like any typical investigative procedural about a murdered Native American woman, but it becomes so much more in the second half, with some shocking twists and big revelations that lead to a heart-racing payoff at the end. I love Sheridan's scripts, they have so much going on in them, and they're always breathtaking to experience. Wind River shows that he has so much potential as a director, and even though he may go on to make better films after, this debut is still thoroughly satisfying. It's also one of Renner's best performances.
To find all of Alex's Sundance 2017 reviews and updates: Follow @firstshowing
For other Sundance 2017 best of the fest lists mentioning more films we didn't see, check out: The Film Stage's 16 Best Films at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, SlashFilm's Best Films of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, Tomris Laffly's Five Under-the-Radar Movies From Sundance 2017, Buzzfeed's List of 8 Sundance Breakouts, The Verge's Favorite Films from Sundance 2017, and Rolling Stone's List of the 15 Best Movies and Performances of 2017. Our list isn't the only list of favorites from Sundance 2017! There are many other outstanding films from this year that deserve your attention whenever they show up in your neighborhood.
You can find all our Sundance 2017 coverage and reviews in this category. This wraps up our coverage of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, Alex's 11th year in a row back to Park City to see films. Read the full recap.