Our 10 Most Anticipated Films at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival
by Alex Billington
January 17, 2023
It's January again, which means it's time for yet another Sundance Film Festival. After two years of only a virtual film festival, Sundance returns in 2023 to an in-person event in the snowy town of Park City, Utah. And we're back again! Ready to start watching, diving into the impressive line-up of films this year. This is my 17th year in a row covering this film festival; I'm always looking forward to returning and watching all the new films premiering at Sundance. Packing in as many as I can catch. Out of the 100+ films showing at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, I've picked 10 films that I'm looking forward to seeing the most. To keep things well balanced, I've chosen 5 feature films and 5 documentaries from the line-up. For 2023, the fest is leaning heavily on unknown directors, first-time filmmakers, and gems with breakout potential. As usual with Sundance, you never can really tell what'll good or bad before, but here's my early picks anyway.
For the full line-up of films showing at Sundance 2023 - click here. Follow my reviews on Letterboxd. This will be my 17th year in a row covering Sundance, starting back in 2007 then ever since. I'm still excited to be watching the latest indie films, even from afar, and I'm hoping there's some good discoveries despite the chaotic times we're living in. The fest is just about to begin, here's my Top 10 most anticipated 2023 films.
Alex's Most Anticipated ~Sundance 2023~ Feature Films:
Directed by Anthony Chen
This is one of my most anticipated just because it sounds so mysterious, as the festival doesn't want to give away too much about what happens and where the film goes. The original Sundance description says: "Jacqueline escapes her war-torn country to a Greek island. She meets an unmoored tour guide and the two become close as they each find hope in the other." It's the first English language feature from an acclaimed Singaporean filmmaker named Anthony Chen, best known for his films Ilo Ilo and Wet Season previously. This one stars Cynthia Erivo as the woman who ends up on the island, along with a cast including Alia Shawkat and Honor Swinton Byrne. Sundance adds more buzz saying: "The film sensitively examines both Jacqueline's fraught attempt to resume life in the aftermath of unimaginable tragedy and her growing bond with a fellow expat. Cynthia Erivo, who was nominated for an Oscar in 2019's Harriet, vividly portrays Jacqueline's bone-deep grief and all-too-fresh fears, as well as her guarded attempts at human connection."
Directed by Raine Allen Miller
I can't wait to watch this one!! Rye Lane looks like it might be the modern Before Sunrise/Sunset breakout from the 2023 festival. It's another film about two young people who randomly bump into each other, and it follows them over the course of the day as they talk about romance and relationships and life and everything else. Searchlight Pictures has already picked this one up, with plans to release it in a few months (only on Hulu in the US - only in theaters in the UK). I'm set to attend one of the first screenings at the festival. "For her visually inventive feature debut, director Raine Allen-Miller launches us into a playful and vibrant world, shaping a romantic comedy that celebrates meeting the right person at the wrong time. Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia’s fresh characters leap off the page at breakneck speed in the hands of Oparah and Jonsson, channeling all the frustrations of swiping fatigue while holding onto the hope of finding the real deal." It stars David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah as the two leads Dom and Yas. Watch the first full trailer here.
Directed by Nida Manzoor
Martial arts awesomeness!! Bring on the unveiling of Polite Society. I've got a feeling this might be one of the big breakouts from the Midnight section at Sundance this year. Polite Society is about a young woman from London who decides to disrupt her sister's wedding because she doesn't want her to become a trophy wife and give up on all of her dreams. Which is a great setup for an action comedy. "Aspiring martial artist Ria Khan believes she must save her older sister, Lena, from her impending marriage. With the help of her friends, Ria attempts to pull off the most ambitious of all wedding heists in the name of independence and sisterhood." Starring Priya Kansara as Ria, and marking the feature directorial debut of filmmaker Nida Manzoor (also known for creating "We Are Lady Parts"), this has cult hit potential all over it. Maybe it will even end up being a mainstream hit, too! Only time will tell. I've got my ticket for the midnight premiere on the first weekend, I know the buzz from that first audience will make it the perfect experience at the festival.
All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt
Directed by Raven Jackson
Sundance is a festival where experimentation and innovation in filmmaking are encouraged, and this sounds like one of the films that will stand out for its originality and authenticity. This is another film produced by the very talented filmmaker Barry Jenkins (who also produced last year's Aftersun). The short description is: "A decades-spanning exploration of a woman’s life in Mississippi and an ode to the generations of people, places, and ineffable moments that shape us." But the longer intro from the festival adds a few more details: "Raven Jackson’s striking debut is an assured vision, unafraid to immerse us in moments of grief and longing, or within the thickness of things left unsaid. Her camera is patient and loving, capturing the beauty of Black bodies and life. Rural quietness is filled with the transportive sounds of crickets, frogs, and water in its many forms. Jackson's nontraditional narrative borrows from the language of memory." I'm definitely in.
Landscape with Invisible Hand
Directed by Cory Finley
After raving about the Hugh Jackman film Bad Education a few years ago, I'm now a big fan of filmmaker Cory Finley. He should already be a mainstream name, but I think this film will finally put him on the map in a big way. He also premiered Thoroughbreds (with Olivia Cooke & Anya Taylor-Joy & Anton Yelchin RIP) at Sundance in 2017, returning with this sci-fi story in 2023. It's adapted from the book of the same name by M.T. Anderson, about aliens on Earth. "The Vuvv, a species of hyper-intelligent extraterrestrials, brought wondrous technology to Earth, but only the wealthiest can afford it. The rest of humanity, their livelihoods now obsolete, have to scrape together money in the tourism industry. In the case of Adam and his budding love interest Chloe, that means livestreaming their courtship for the amusement of the coffee-table sized Vuvv, who find human love exotic and interesting. When Adam and Chloe's scheme goes sideways, Adam and his mother have to find their way out of an increasingly nightmarish alien bureaucracy." I must see this.
Other Features I'm Looking Forward To: Sometimes I Think About Dying with Daisy Ridley, Sophie Barthes' sci-fi The Pod Generation, Susanna Fogel's Cat Person (based on that one article), Ira Sachs' new film Passages, Roger Ross Williams' Cassandro, Elijah Bynum's Magazine Dreams with Jonathan Majors.
Alex's Most Anticipated ~Sundance 2023~ Documentaries:
Directed by Matthieu Rytz
Not to be confused with the cruise ship monster horror movie from 1998 also titled Deep Rising, this is a whole other film - though it's also about the ocean. I'm a sucker for any films about our planet and how we should be taking better care of it, so I'm already sold on this one. Very curious to learn about what's in the deep. It sounds like it might be profoundly important in discussing even more exploitation and destruction. The festival introduces this as: "Narrated by Jason Momoa, Deep Rising illuminates the vital relationship between the deep ocean & sustaining life on Earth. The documentary also follows mining startup The Metals Company, as it pursues funding, public favor, and permission from the International Seabed Authority to mine wide swaths of the Pacific Ocean floor." I definitely won't be missing this documentary at the festival.
Yet another film about how social media is ruining society. One of the best docs from Sundance 2022 that no one watched after the fest was All Light Everywhere, examining of the origins of the camera and how it connects to police body cams. This one sounds like it follows up on that doc with another fascinating visual study. "A meticulous dissection of image-making and a mapping of its movement through society, directors Axel Danielson and Maximilien Van Aertryck use a mind-boggling array of archival footage to collage this sociological study by tracking the transmogrification of photographic philosophy and technology over human history." The festival won't say it outright, but it sounds like it's extra critical of our society today. Their shorter description says "the visual sociologist filmmakers widen their lens to expose both humanity's unique obsession with the camera's image and the social consequences that lay ahead." I'm definitely in.
Any of you remember Kim's Video? The famous video store in New York City? This documentary is about Kim's Video, but it seems to be another one of these "stranger than fiction" stories about what happened to Kim's and all of the 50,000+ movies they used to have. So where did they go? Did this disappear? Are they locked up somewhere? Find out in this documentary film. "In a bid to revitalize tourism, the small Italian village of Salemi, Sicily became home to the archive. But after the initial publicity faded, so too did any sign of the collection. Enter filmmaker David Redmon, who credits Kim's Video for his film education. With the ghosts of cinema past leading his way, Redmon embarks on a seemingly quixotic quest to track down what happened to the legendary collection and to free it from purgatory." I'm so curious what he finds over there and Italy and if he can somehow get his hands on all these lost movies. Very curious to see what this shows.
The Eternal Memory
Directed by Maite Alberdi
I am big fan of Chilean director Maite Alberdi's previous film, The Mole Agent, which ended up with an Oscar nomination in 2021. Alberdi is back at Sundance again with another lovely documentary about elderly people, though this one sounds a bit more heartbreaking and sad. "Augusto and Paulina have been together for 25 years. Eight years ago, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Both fear the day he no longer recognizes her." It's yet another film about Alzheimer's disease and how harsh it is, especially with this story about a couple. "Day by day, the couple face this challenge head-on, adapting to the disruptions brought on by the taxing disease while relying on the tender affection and sense of humor shared between them that remains intact." I'm nervous this doc will be really emotional to watch, but I can't miss it at the fest anyway.
Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie
Directed by Davis Guggenheim
Everyone knows & loves Michael J. Fox! Of course they finally made a documentary about him, and about his struggles with Parkinson's disease. It's made by the acclaimed director of the doc films An Inconvenient Truth and Waiting for Superman before. "Fox's improbable story sounds like the stuff of Hollywood, so what better way to tell it than through scenes from his own work, supplemented with stylish recreations? Owning his own narrative, the actor playfully recounts his journey with intimacy, candor, and humor. In the hands of Davis Guggenheim, Still reveals what happens when an eternal optimist confronts an incurable disease." This will also be sad and tough to watch at times, but I also have a feeling it's going to lean more into being triumphant and uplifting, as Fox seems like the kind of guy who wants us to be empowered by his story not brought down by it. Looking forward to being at the world premiere of this doc on the weekend.
More Docs I'll Be Watching: Tracy Droz Tragos' Plan C, Laura McGann's The Deepest Breath, Rebecca Landsberry-Baker & Joe Peeler's journalism film Bad Press, Milisuthando Bongela's poetic Milisuthando.
For all of Alex's Sundance 2023 reviews and updates: Follow @firstshowing
For more Sundance 2023 previews around the web, highlighting early picks and potential breakouts, also see: The Film Stage's 20 Most-Anticipated Premieres, Indiewire's 27 Must-See Films at This Year's Festival, Rolling Stone's 20 Movies We Can't Wait to See at Sundance 2023, and Hidden Remote's 2023 Sundance most anticipated movies. You never know what might be a big hit, and it's vital to have a pulse on the early buzz – even before the fest starts. There's plenty of intriguing films found in the selection this year, tons of discoveries from first time filmmakers and up-and-coming talent, so let's jump right in and start watching.
You can follow our Sundance 2023 coverage and reviews right here and on Alex's Letterboxd. The festival begins on January 19th and runs until January 29th, with films premiering online + locally. Glad to be back.