What will the movies look like in the next 12 months? Every year, the Sundance Film Festival gets to set the pace with an offering of new movies — and if this year’s festival (which was fully virtual) is any indication, we’re in for a lot of horror, tales of lonely people finding love, and playful takes on familiar genres. New and seasoned filmmaking talent brought fresh takes on the past and the future to the festival, and the results were often engrossing and invigorating.
Below are the 18 best fiction movies that played at this year’s Sundance to add to your list, and how to watch them in the months ahead.
A Love Song
A woman steps out of her camping trailer, mountains looming behind, and pulls a trap full of crayfish out of a pristine lake. What is she doing here? That’s the slow reveal of A Love Song, in which Dale Dickey plays Faye, a loner and a widow who’s waiting to meet her past, accompanied only by her eerily prescient radio. Max Walker-Silverman writes and directs this small, satisfying drama about what love looks like when you’ve lived your life and are wondering what’s next.
How to watch it: A Love Song is awaiting acquisition.
In the near future, you can purchase a “techno sapien” — a humanoid robot — as a companion. Jake (Colin Farrell, who is terrific) and Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) bought a refurbished model named Yang to befriend their daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja), in part to help her learn about her country of origin, China. But now Yang is malfunctioning, and Jake is desperate to figure out how to bring him back. Directed by Kogonada (Columbus), After Yang moves slowly and quietly and then comes in like a tidal wave, exploring grief and love and memory with aching poignance.
How to watch it: After Yang will be distributed by A24. It is awaiting a release date.
After losing her husband suddenly, photographer Chloe (Carla Juri) travels to Japan to visit her friend Toshi (Takashi Ueno), partly for work and partly to shake herself awake. The feelings she encounters there as she spends time with her friends, especially Toshi, are not at all what she expected, and her heart starts to open again. Bradley Rust Gray’s drama dips into what it takes to experience love after loss, but what’s most striking is how he renders the texture of Chloe’s days — the food, the flowers, the way the place smells and feels and touches her.
How to watch it: Blood is awaiting distribution.
Brian and Charles
Brian (David Earl) belongs to a long line of cinematic British eccentrics in tiny villages. He’s an inventor of all kinds of semi-useless gadgets, and he lives a lonely life. But one day he finds a refrigerator in a junk pile and decides to build a robot, and, to his amazement, it actually works. There’s some Frankenstein and some Wallace and Gromit and some that is entirely Brian and Charles’s own; the mockumentary-style comedy, directed by Jim Archer, is sweet, funny, weird, and heartwarming.
How to watch it: Brian and Charles was acquired at the festival by Focus Features and is awaiting distribution.
The Cathedral is a quietly stunning jewel box of a film, filled with images that together form the captured memories of the main character, Jesse (played by various actors through his childhood and youth). But it’s really the tale of his father (Brian d’Arcy James), whose life doesn’t turn out the way he expected. Ricky D’Ambrose’s drama stitches together Jesse’s memories — of toys, and wallpaper borders, and news events that stick in his mind — to craft the film, a reminder that it’s all the small things that lodge themselves in our minds that build us into who we are.
How to watch it: The Cathedral was acquired prior to the festival by Visit Films. It is awaiting a release date.
Cha Cha Real Smooth
Andrew (Cooper Raiff, who also wrote and directed the film) is a recent Tulane graduate who’s moved back home to New Jersey while figuring out his next step. He meets Domino (Dakota Johnson), a single mother more than 10 years his senior who’s raising Lola (Vanessa Burghardt). They start to form a friendship that will teach them both something about themselves. And if that sounds like standard twee Sundance fare, rest assured — Raiff and Johnson’s performances turn it into something irresistible and lovely.
How to watch it: Apple acquired the film at Sundance. It is awaiting a release date.
The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future
Francisca Alegria’s magical realist tale is the story of a poisoned river in Chile — due to an unscrupulous pulp factory — and its long reach into the community around it. At its center is a story first sung by a choir of voices about a dead woman who rises from the water and returns to land, and, well, that’s what happens. Mía Maestro plays Magdalena, the long-lost mother and wife who returns to her home, only to find that everything is changing. The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future is mysterious and elegiac, a tale of warning about a collapsing ecosystem and about deep family wounds.
How to watch it: The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future is awaiting distribution.
Hovering somewhere between science fiction and a nightmare, Dual is Riley Stearns’s deadpan story of Sarah (Karen Gillan), who is diagnosed with a terminal illness and opts to undergo a duplication procedure. The clone, she’s assured, will help her loved ones not suffer the pain of her passing once she’s gone. But things go sideways, and she has to battle her double in a court-ordered duel to the death, which means she seeks help from a combat trainer (Aaron Paul). It’s a weird and hilarious little film that posits a scary thought: Some upgraded version of you, a better-looking and nicer and smarter version of yourself, might not be much happier than you are right now.
How to watch it: RLJE films acquired Dual at the festival; it is awaiting a release date.
Emily the Criminal
Aubrey Plaza stars in a claws-out dark comedy about Emily, a 30-something trapped in a dead-end catering job who finds herself sucked into the shadowy underworld of credit card fraud and other illegal activity in an attempt to earn her way into freedom. John Patton Ford wrote and directed the movie, which is an entertaining and sharp-edged look at the world in which so many millennials find themselves: saddled with enormous debt, a lousy job market, an exploitative gig economy, and the sinking feeling that nothing’s going to get better if you don’t escape the system.
How to watch it: Emily the Criminal is awaiting distribution.
A startling inversion of the Western, God’s Country, directed by Julian Higgins, stars Thandie Newton as Cassandra, a college professor in the mountainous West who finds herself plunged unwillingly into a tense situation with local hunters. The tale sneaks up on the audience, never quite letting us settle in and taking its cues from the ways the West has never really welcomed, and sometimes actively exterminated, those whom gun-toting cowboys found inconvenient or unworthy. It’s a thriller, a twisty one, and Newton is terrific in it.
How to watch it: God’s Country is awaiting distribution.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande
Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack star in this two-hander, a heartfelt comedy about a 60-something widow who hires a sex worker to — well, she’s not really sure what, but she knows she can’t go on the way she’s living. They meet in a hotel, and slowly reveal themselves to one another, developing a friendship that has implications for them both. Directed by Sophie Hyde and written by Katy Brand, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is a frank and good-natured movie about trying to come to terms with yourself, your history, and your body, and Thompson and McCormack give subtle, generous performances.
How to watch it: Searchlight Pictures acquired Good Luck to You, Leo Grande at the festival. It is awaiting a release date.
Life in a war zone is far from simple, but for the characters in Maryna Er Gorbach’s Klondike, set in Ukraine’s Donbas region, it’s a combination of the mundane and the terrifying. It is 2014, and Irka (Oxana Cherkashyna), heavily pregnant and saddled with a rather frustrating husband, finds herself at a crossroads when an errant bomb blows a hole in the side of her house, and shortly thereafter a Malaysian commercial plane is shot down near their house, killing 298 passengers and crew. Comic in the darkest of ways, and searing in many others, Klondike is a reminder that even in the most precarious of times, the mundanities of life go on — and that war’s toll on ordinary people is often unfathomable.
How to watch it: Klondike is awaiting distribution.
Mr. Williams (Bill Nighy), a soft-spoken bureaucrat who spends his days pushing around paperwork in a 1950s London office, finds out that he has a terminal illness; that realization changes his life. Living is based on Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 masterpiece Ikiru, which was itself based on Leo Tolstoy’s 1886 novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Directed by Oliver Hermanus with a screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro, Living — which looks like it was made in the 1950s, all film grain and vibrance — is an immensely moving memento mori, anchored by Nighy’s breathtaking performance, and a call to live a life with purpose.
How to watch it: Living was acquired by Sony Pictures Classics and is awaiting a release date.
Regina Hall and Zoe Renee star in Master, Mariama Diallo’s overstuffed but still chilling horror movie. It’s about a lot: race at ostensibly woke liberal arts colleges, the long arm of historical violence, and discovering the place you’ve carved out for yourself might not really be for you. Hall is Gail, the first Black woman to be “master” of one of the houses at a mostly white New England college. Renee plays Jasmine, a freshman who finds herself haunted by her classmates and possibly a witch, all while navigating conflict with the college’s other Black female professor (Amber Gray). The movie is so full of ideas that it can be hard to chase down the threads. But Diallo crafts a compelling and smart tale nonetheless, and an engrossing one at that.
How to watch it: Master premieres on Amazon Prime Video on March 18, 2022.
Palm Trees and Power Lines
If you squint at Jamie Dack’s Palm Trees and Power Lines, you might see a horror film, even though the drama about a California teenager doesn’t present as one. Lea (Lily McInerny) is 17 and living through the dregs of summer, miserable with her single mother (Gretchen Mol) and bored by all of her friends. One day, she meets a handsome, charming older man (Jonathan Tucker), and soon finds herself swept away by their relationship. What makes Palm Trees and Power Lines so disturbing is how we can see what’s happening to Lea, even as she can’t — and how plausible the movie’s disturbing conclusion really seems.
How to watch it: Palm Trees and Power Lines is awaiting distribution.
A stone-cold bonkers horror thriller about … well, what? Motherhood? Abuse and trauma? The tricks our minds play on us? I don’t know, but Resurrection, written and directed by Andrew Semans, is such a wildly entertaining film that I don’t mind. Rebecca Hall stars as Margaret, some kind of biotech executive and the single mother of teenager Abbie (Grace Kaufman). She is obsessed with keeping her daughter safe from harms both real and imagined, but her whole life is thrown into chaos when a specter from her past (Tim Roth) shows up. It’s probably Sundance’s bloodiest horror film this year, and maybe the weirdest, and it’s worth coming along for the ride.
How to watch it: Resurrection was acquired by IFC and Shudder, and is awaiting a release date.
Speak No Evil
The moral of Christian Tafdrup’s Speak No Evil is to never vacation with strangers, but the way it goes about it is bleakly hilarious. A Danish couple (Morten Burian and Sidsel Siem Koch) on vacation in Italy with their young daughter hit it off with a Dutch couple (Fedja van Huêt and Karina Smulders) and their son. At their invitation, the Danes come to spend a weekend in the Netherlands. Everything feels just a little off, but politeness keeps them from figuring out what’s actually going on until things have gotten very, very bad. The film really commits to the bit, with a truly twisted, and twistedly satisfying, ending.
How to watch it: Speak No Evil was acquired by Shudder and will premiere in late 2022.
You Won’t Be Alone
An unsettling and oddly life-affirming film, You Won’t Be Alone centers on a young woman in 19th-century Macedonia. For reasons that are mysteriously linked to legend and an ancient witch, she spends most of her life in a cave until she’s lured out, completely new to the world. She begins to learn the pain and joy of a life outside the cave and then, unexpectedly, discovers she has an entirely new power. Goran Stolevski wrote and directed the film, which lives somewhere between horror and poetry, exploring what it feels like to live a full life on the earth and what we lose out on when we don’t.
How to watch it: You Won’t Be Alone opens in theaters on April 1.