Sundance 2018: Alex's 8 Favorite Films - The Best of This Year's Festival
by Alex Billington
January 31, 2018
The 2018 Sundance Film Festival has finally come to an end and to put a wrap on the fest 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 42 films across 10 days, but I couldn't catch everything and missed a few films getting lots of buzz (Burden, Madeline's Madeline, Never Going Back, Monster, Yardie). I saw a total of 10 documentaries, so instead of separating docs and features this year, I decided to present one big list of my 8 favorite films (in honor of it being 2018). There was no Call Me By Your Name this year (that one stayed my #1 the entire year), but I enjoyed so many other wonderful films and I'm happy I could see so many at the festival. Let's get into this.
One note: I totally love the film Sorry to Bother You, the directorial debut of Boots Riley, but I need to see it again to give it another take. It's a bit rough around the edges, with some sloppy filmmaking because this is Boots first time, but it's still so insanely original and creative and crazy and awesome, and I admire it and love it anyway (read my full review). Unfortunately it did not make the cut for my Top 8 below, but it almost did, and I think it's worth acknowledging because it is so bat-shit insane and cool. Some people are going to hate it, but many others will flip for it, and hopefully it goes on to become a big hit with audiences.
While I saw many films that I liked (my full list of 42 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 8 Favorite \Sundance 2018/ Films:
Directed by Sam Levinson
This is one of the best Sundance Midnight films I've seen in years. It's not just an entertaining, empowering, crazy violent, badass genre film, it has something to say too, with social commentary galore. Sam Levinson's original screenplay for Assassination Nation is exceptionally smart, and combine that with some impressive filmmaking (including a jaw-dropping incredible 10-minute tracking shot during a home invasion scene), a marvelous ensemble cast featuring numerous fierce performances, and all kinds of wacky things going on, and you've got the recipe for an awesome midnight movie. I didn't expect this film to be this smart, and have so many intelligent aspects on top of engaging storytelling, but it is that sharp. I explain in my review: "It's going to be huge. Assassination Nation is a film that puts a mirror up to society and asks us to reflect on ourselves and our ignorance, while giving us an enormously entertaining genre experience." This film rules.
Directed by Jennifer Fox
This might be the most challenging, innovative, provocative film of the 2018 festival. The Tale is a brilliant, unsettling examination of sexual abuse and how it affects a woman later in life once she comes to realize the truth about what happened. Jennifer Fox made something that is so remarkable and uncomfortable, and it's going to be a film that is talked about all year, for good reason. Laura Dern gives a stellar performance in the lead role as a woman who realizes she was sexually abused by a man when she was 13 years old. This is a major #MeToo film. It reinvents storytelling, asks upsetting but necessary questions, and it challenges everything we think we know. It aims to upset to cause discussion. The film is so brilliant in the way it uses filmmaking tricks to look at how memory can be deceptive, and then puts the most upsetting truth in front of us, making us deal with discomfort. The Tale is an example of how cinema can perhaps change the world.
Directed by Marc Turtletaub
I fell head over heels in love with this film and with the lead performance by Kelly Macdonald as Agnes, a housewife who decides it's time to focus on herself and goes off on her own adventure when she realizes she's very skilled at putting together puzzles. Macdonald is perfect in this, and her charm is matched by a heartwarming and often amusing performance by Irrfan Khan as a lonely, wealthy inventor who becomes her puzzle partner. This film is way better than it should be, it doesn't even make sense that it's this good (it's mostly about a woman who loves putting together puzzles), but it is. And I'm not ashamed to say I love it for exactly what it is. There's something so lovely and endearing about it, thanks in part to the score by Dustin O'Halloran, but mostly due to the light touch of director Marc Turtletaub and the way he tells the story so naturally with such grace. This one became an instant favorite for me - I loved every last second.
Won't You Be My Neighbor?
Directed by Morgan Neville
Trust in Morgan Neville, this guy knows how to make outstanding documentaries (20 Feet from Stardom, Best of Enemies: Buckley vs. Vidal, Keith Richards: Under the Influence). Won't You Be My Neighbor? is his latest creation, telling the life story of Fred Rogers, better known as the lovable Mr. Rogers, creator of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood". It's not just a film about him, but also about how to make the world a better place by putting goodness and kindness above all. There's no big twist, this doc is all about how wonderful Fred Roger was, and how he dedicated his life to children. He knew that speaking honestly, and openly, to children and reminding them they're all lovable could maybe make the world better. From my review: "This is the documentary we all need right now… The film made me cry, in a good way. It will reach right into your heart, not because of anything tragic, but because it's so joyful and he was able to see the good in everyone."
Directed by Aneesh Chaganty
This film! As I stated in my review, there's everything before Search, and everything after - it sets a major precedent for computer-screen storytelling and it will be hard to ever top this. The main reason that Search is so damn good is because there's a very powerful, very authentic emotional core that it's built around. This emotional core remains important throughout the entire film and drives much of the storytelling, giving us something powerful to feel connected to as it plays out. Director Aneesh Chaganty has crafted a totally incredible modern thriller, utilizing the "gimmick" of telling a story entirely through computer screens for an effective, moving film about our digital lives. It all works so perfectly. This film will get your adrenaline pumping and have you feeling re-energized by the end. Plus, John Cho is excellent in this, as he always is.
I Think We're Alone Now
Directed by Reed Morano
I love encountering one-of-a-kind indie sci-fi films, and this was easily the best sci-fi film at Sundance this year. Reed Morano's polished feature is set after-the-apocalypse in small town where a man happily lives in solitude, cleaning out houses day-by-day. Everything changes when a young woman suddenly shows up in his tiny town, shattering his perfect existence in a world without any other people around. Peter Dinklage and Elle Fanning make for a great post-apocalypse team, representing two opposing personalities, though they eventually learn to respect each other. The film actually has some big sci-fi ideas hidden within, making it feel more like an episode of "Black Mirror" or "The Twilight Zone". And I love it even more realizing that, because it's beautiful filmmaking combined with an imaginative sci-fi story that doesn't really answer all the questions. And I love the kind of sci-fi films that you'll instantly want to discuss with friends after watching.
Minding the Gap
Directed by Bing Liu
This is one of the best documentaries from Sundance this year, and I've been thinking about it non-stop ever since first watching it. And hopefully it will find an audience, because it deserves to be seen. Made by the very talented Bing Liu, Minding the Gap follows three kids from a small city in Illinois as they start to grow up and realize life isn't all about parties and skateboarding. The cinematography is stunning, featuring very fluid shots of them skating, as well as intimate interviews and coverage of their personal lives. It's also an immensely honest film, confronting the tough-to-admit realities of who they really are, and their troubled family lives, and how hard it is to live a good life. From my review: "I hope everyone can appreciate all that Bing Liu has achieved with Minding the Gap, and cherish it as a worthwhile examination of American youth, highlighting the importance of skateboarding as personal expression, and the endless pursuit of living a good life." Even if you don't love documentaries, I still recommend seeing this one, it is something special.
Directed by Jason Reitman
Jason Reitman is back!! And this is one of his best films. Tully is Reitman's latest collaboration with screenwriter Diablo Cody, and it's their finest film together since Juno. The film is lead by two remarkable performances by Charlize Theron and Mackenzie Davis, and it all works so well because both of them bringing their best. Theron plays a mother of three young kids, overwhelmed by the task of looking after them, so she reluctantly hires a "night nanny" for help and discovers how much her generosity makes a huge difference. There's more going on here than it seems, and I loved following this story even though I'm not a parent myself. Reitman gets back to his roots and makes a meaningful film that tells a deeply personal story, with plenty of sharp humorous touches thanks to a very clever script. From my review: "It is authentically about a mother and just how hard it is to be one, how challenging it is to have a life while raising children."
To find all of Alex's Sundance 2018 reviews and updates: Follow @firstshowing
For other Sundance 2018 best of the fest lists mentioning more films we didn't see or didn't include on this list, check out: The Film Stage's Best Films at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, BuzzFeed's 14 Movies You Should Know About, Rolling Stone's 20 Best Movies and Performances at Sundance 2018, Thrillist's 15 Best Movies at Sundance 2018, Vox's 7 Documentaries You Can't Miss + 9 Breakout Sundance Movies to Watch For, plus RogerEbert.com's Best Performances of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Our list isn't the only list of favorites from Sundance 2018! There are many other outstanding indie films from this year that deserve your time & attention whenever they show up in your neighborhood. Keep an eye out for all of these.
You can find all our Sundance 2018 coverage and reviews in this category. This wraps up our coverage of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, our 12th year in a row in Park City. Read my recap on innovative cinema.
Up next I'm headed to the Berlin Film Festival starting on February 15th. Until then, my full list of films that I screened at Sundance 2018 is included below - in the order in which I saw them during the fest. Bis später!
Here's my final list of all the films I saw at the 2018 festival with quick reaction. Links go to reviews/tweets.
Alex's Sundance 2018 Films:
1. 306 Hollywood (dirs. Elan Bogarin & Jonathan Bogarin) - Liked It
2. Private Life (dir. Tamara Jenkins) - Liked It
3. Blindspotting (dir. Carlos López Estrada) - Loved It
4. Monsters and Men (dir. Bart Layton) - Liked It
5. American Animals (dir. Reinaldo Marcus Green) - Liked It
6. Juliet, Naked (dir. Jesse Peretz) - Liked It
7. Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot (dir. Gus Van Sant) - Just Okay
8. Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind (dir. Marina Zenovich) - Liked It
9. The Tale (dir. Jennifer Fox) - Loved It
10. Wildlife (dir. Paul Dano) - Just Okay
11. Sorry to Bother You (dir. Boots Riley) - Loved It
12. Tyrel (dir. Sebastián Silva) - Just Okay
13. Piercing (dir. Nicolas Pesce) - Hated It
14. I Think We're Alone Now (dir. Reed Morano) - Loved It
15. What They Had (dir. Elizabeth Chomko) - Liked It
16. Bodied (dir. Joseph Kahn) - Loved It
17. Skate Kitchen (dir. Crystal Moselle) - Loved It
18. Assassination Nation (dir. Sam Levinson) - Loved It
19. We The Animals (dir. Jeremiah Zagar) - Liked It
20. The Miseducation of Cameron Post (dir. Desiree Akhavan) - Just Okay
21. Ophelia (dir. Claire McCarthy) - Just Okay
22. Beirut (dir. Brad Anderson) - Liked It
23. Search (dir. Aneesh Chaganty) - Loved It
24. Chef Flynn (dir. Cameron Yates) - Loved It
25. Puzzle (dir. Marc Turtletaub) - Loved It
26. Kusama: Infinity (dir. Heather Lenz) - Liked It
27. Damsel (dirs. David Zellner & Nathan Zellner) - Loved It
28. Bisbee '17 (dir. Robert Greene) - Just Okay
29. Eighth Grade (dir. Bo Burnham) - Liked It
30. Mandy (dir. Panos Cosmatos) - Loved It
31. Nancy (dir. Christina Choe) - Just Okay
32. The Kindergarten Teacher (dir. Sara Colangelo) - Liked It
33. Tully (dir. Jason Reitman) - Loved It
34. Won't You Be My Neighbor? (dir. Morgan Neville) - Loved It
35. Hearts Beat Loud (dir. Brett Haley) - Loved It
36. The Long Dumb Road (dir. Hannah Fidell) - Liked It
37. Leave No Trace (dir. Debra Granik) - Liked It
38. The Sentence (dir. Rudy Valdez) - Liked It
(I also screened the following films below either before the festival or via screener so I don't count them.)
0. RBG (dirs. Julie Cohen & Betsy West) - Liked It
0. Minding the Gap (dir. Bing Liu) - Loved It
0. The Guilty (dir. Gustav Möller) - Loved It
0. Three Identical Strangers (dir. Tim Wardle) - Liked It
Those are the
38 42 films I saw this year. If you're interested in any, ask me for more thoughts on a specific film, as there were so many I watched and I can discuss more pretty much any of them. See you next year.