5 Sundance Films We’ve Already Seen (And Can Recommend)

By  · Published on January 22nd, 2015

Roadside Attractions

The best part of any film festival is the possibility of discovery, of finding not just a new film, but a new director or star or entire genre that you can love, champion, and talk about (perhaps a smidge too much) for months (or years) to come. That’s no different at Sundance, which consistently debuts an upwards of one hundred new films each year. As the calendar year’s first major film festival, Sundance has the honor of debuting a giant slice of the year’s cinematic pie – and last year’s festival just might have bowed the film that will ultimately go on to win Best Picture – but that doesn’t keep Sundance from recognizing other great films from previous festivals. In fact, the festival has an entire section dedicated to such films, Spotlight, which the fest describes as: “regardless of where these films have played throughout the world, the Spotlight program is a tribute to the cinema we love.”

It should come as little surprise that the features that round out the Spotlight section include some of the year’s very best (still unreleased) festival titles. This year’s Spotlight section includes nine titles, five of which we’ve already seen and can recommend to you whole-heartedly (well, except for one, but that’s just Rob Hunter’s vicious critical mind speaking). Sundance might be about discovery, but if you’re looking for a sure thing, these are your best bets.


If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush to jumpstart your movie-going heart (or even a feature to get your blood pumping when you inevitably start feeling festival fatigue), Yann Demange’s period-set action drama is exactly what you need. Starring rising star Jack O’Connell, the film traces one solider who (unwittingly, accidentally) is left behind enemy lines during the height of the conflict between Ireland and Britain. From our NYFF review:

“Raw, fast, unsettling and endlessly unnerving, ’71 an adrenaline high of a movie, the kind that relentlessly piles on pulse-pounding action that feels both visceral and very, very real. Demange and screenwriter Gregory Burke are obviously uninterested in making expected choices, and the feature manages to cleverly fold in giant, seat-jumping scares with believable narrative movements that keep it pushing ever-forward. Once the film wraps up its streamlined 99-minute runtime, it will likely take audiences an additional hour and a half to lower their pulse.”

99 Homes

Ramin Bahrani bounces back big time with this Florida-set drama about family bonds and financial foreclosures. Starring Andrew Garfield, Laura Linney and Michael Shannon, it’s a veritable explosion of actorly panache. From our TIFF review:

“Despite Bahrani’s even-handed approach, the director is prone to infusing his feature with unnecessary tics – mainly, a handful of dim-witted coincidences that feel too clean and too neat – that diminish the film’s power. Dennis’ downfall is punctuated by a fraught relationship with Frank Green (Tim Guinee), the father of one of Connor’s classmates who we meet early on in the feature as he too goes to court to battle for his house. The pair interact throughout the film, and 99 Homes’ emotionally rich but logically unsound final act is entirely build on their dueling aims and a tension-filled race to see who will emerge victorious.

Garfield’s intense on-screen vulnerability – the kind that’s clear in Boy A, but that’s decidedly lacking in his Spider-Man outings – is on full display here, and his ability to telegraph big emotions with small looks is astonishing. These are the kind of films the actor should be making, and he succeeds mightily in his role. Shannon is somewhat more restrained than we’re used to seeing him, although Rick is prone to big outbursts, big talking and big speeches (with a love for e-cigs t0 boot), and he’s still one of our finest working actors, and his chemistry with Garfield is potent.”


Unz unz unz. Europe, style, flair and house music, Mia Hansen-Love’s acid trip has been hyped up at an endless number of festivals, and for a good reason: it’s great. From our NYFF review:

“Hansen-Love’s other trump card is the way that she uses time. Elision is perhaps the most signature element of her directorial style, going all the way back to her first feature, 2007’s All Is Forgiven. Eden‘s script does cover over 20 years, but not in the most intuitive of linear paths. Important events are left out, elided because they are unnecessary. Every film does this, of course, skipping the boring details. What makes Eden different is that it consciously leaves out things like major break-ups, the births of children, crisis of employment and sanity. Each shot feels all the more deliberate, each scene underscored in importance by the absence of other, less interesting but more traditionally crucial moments.”

The Tribe

On occasion, our chief film critic Rob Hunter hates things (or, at the very least, doesn’t like them as much as other people). Buzz on The Tribe, about a literal tribe of deaf kids at their specialized boarding school, has gotten mostly good buzz elsewhere. We’ll give it a half-recommend, because we love Rob. From our Fantastic Fest review:

“Visually the film is basically a series of long takes, and while many of them draw attention to themselves by virtue of their dullness, several others stand out as immersive and impressive. Cinematographer Valentyn Vasyanovych follows characters through winding stairwells and train car walkways, and watches unblinking as they engage in acts both carnal and banal. There are memorable sequences here – the final ten minutes in particular – but some are due to less than positive reasons. Watching characters rummage through cupboards or literally fill out forms for ten minutes at a time is unnecessary and excessive.”

Wild Tales

Perhaps the most unexpectedly wonderful find of the festival year, Damián Szifron’s Argentinian feature has already been nominated for an Oscar, so you’ve still got time to say “oh, I saw that film ages ago.” From our TIFF wrap-up:

“If possible, I’d recommend going into Wild Tales blind. Forget looking up a plot synopsis, or even watching a trailer. Diving headfirst into Damián Szifron’s riotous stroke of comedy, drama, and satire was the best decision I made at TIFF (aside from that third coffee at 3 A.M. to make deadlines). Although a pejorative description in context, David Ehrlich said it best when he called this Argentinian excursion ‘a David Wain remake of Amores Perros.’ That is exactly the type untamable lunacy at work in Wild Tales, a film with six disparate stories all connected by a revengeful ‘rage against the machine, fuck government bureaucracy’ mentality.”

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