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15 Sundance movies to watch for, from social issue documentaries to ghost stories

You’ll be hearing about these ones again.

Abby Quinn, Edie Falco and Jenny Slate appear in Landline by Gillian Robespierre, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Abby Quinn, Edie Falco and Jenny Slate appear in Landline by Gillian Robespierre, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Chris Teague / Sundance Institute

Not every movie that screens at the Sundance Film Festival will end up playing at your local multiplex: Distributors “shop” at the festival for movies to buy, and only then do they start making plans for theatrical and streaming release.

That means some of the films they pick up might not arrive in theaters for a year or more — no matter how good they are. (For instance, I first saw The Witch at Sundance in January 2015, but it didn’t make it to cinemas until February 2016.)

But while definitive release dates are still few and far between, the 2017 festival offered plenty to get excited about — whether you like socially conscious dramas, prefer to stick documentaries and biopics, or consider goofy comedies your jam. Here are 15 entries that you can expect to hear about again.

A Ghost Story (David Lowery)

A film still from A Ghost Story by David Lowery, an official selection of the NEXT program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
A film still from A Ghost Story by David Lowery, an official selection of the NEXT program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Andrew Droz Palermo / Sundance Institute

Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck star in a playful and eerie — but not scary — fable about a love, grief, and longing. Directed by David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Pete’s Dragon), A Ghost Story is one of the festival’s breakout hits, with critics raving about its delicate touch and inventive story.

A Ghost Story was acquired by A24 and is awaiting a release date.

Call Me by Your Name (Luca Guadagnino)

Michael Stuhlbarg, Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer appear in Call Me by Your Name by Luca Guadagnino, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.
Michael Stuhlbarg, Timothée Chalamet, and Armie Hammer in Call Me by Your Name by Luca Guadagnino, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Sundance Institute

Guadagnino’s 2016 A Bigger Splash was critically beloved, and this follow-up, the warm, passionate, and gorgeous Call Me by Your Name, was hailed at the festival by critics and audiences alike. As David Ehrlich writes at Indiewire, Guadagnino “stays attuned to the raw energy of trying to feel someone out without touching them, of what it’s like to live through that one magical summer where the weather is the only part of your world that doesn’t change every day.”

Call Me by Your Name was acquired by Sony Pictures Classics and is awaiting a release date.

Columbus (Kogonada)

Haley Lu Richardson and John Cho appear in Columbus by Kogonada, an official selection of the NEXT program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Haley Lu Richardson and John Cho appear in Columbus by Kogonada, an official selection of the NEXT program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Elisha Christian / Sundance Institute

In Columbus, a young Korean-born man (John Cho) is stuck in an Indiana town because his father is in a coma at a local hospital, and he meets a young woman (Haley Lu Richardson) who’s staying there to care for her drug-addicted mother. Brian Tallerico wrote at RogerEbert.com: “There are parts of Columbus that feel like one of Linklater’s Before films, capturing people walking and talking, impacting each other through their remarkable character instead of contrived action.”

Columbus is awaiting acquisition.

Ingrid Goes West (Matt Spicer)

Elizabeth Olsen and Aubrey Plaza appear in Ingrid Goes West by Matt Spicer, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Elizabeth Olsen and Aubrey Plaza appear in Ingrid Goes West by Matt Spicer, an official selection of the US Dramatic Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Sundance Institute

The rare movie that actually seems to grasp how the internet can skew our perceptions of reality, Ingrid Goes West is part farce, part very dark comedy. Aubrey Plaza plays a young woman who obsesses over Instagram celebrities and figures out how to become friends with one (Elizabeth Olsen). It all goes south, but along the way it’s hilarious, with great performances, dishy details, and a lot of thoughtfulness too.

Ingrid Goes West was acquired by Neon and is awaiting a release date.

Landline (Gillian Robespierre)

Jenny Slate and Abby Quinn appear in Landline by Gillian Robespierre, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Jenny Slate and Abby Quinn appear in Landline by Gillian Robespierre, an official selection of the US Dramatic Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Jojo Whilden / Sundance Institute

Robespierre’s last film was 2014’s acclaimed Obvious Child, starring Jenny Slate as a young woman who has an abortion after a drunk hookup; now Robespierre and Slate have collaborated once again in this comedy about a family in the 1990s, where Slate plays the older sister to Abby Quinn. At Flavorwire, Jason Bailey writes that the “movie is full of moments that ring with endless truth and tenderness, and of scenes where people try desperately to make things right, to do what they believe is expected of them, and can’t pull it off. ... This movie is wise, and witty, and wonderful.”

Landline was acquired by Amazon and is awaiting a release date.

Mudbound (Dee Rees)

Garrett Hedlund, Mary J. Blige and Rob Morgan appear in Mudbound by Dee Rees, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Garrett Hedlund, Mary J. Blige, and Rob Morgan appear in Mudbound by Dee Rees, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Steve Dietl / Sundance Institute

The toast of the 2017 festival, Mudbound is the story of two families adjusting to life after World War II amid racism in Mississippi. “Slowly, Rees threads the needle of an extraordinary drama,” Jordan Hoffman wrote at the Guardian, “rising with the hardships of the period. Mixing poetic voiceover and gorgeous cinematography, time and again the frame fills with extraordinary observations and grace notes.”

Mudbound is awaiting distribution.

Patti Cake$ (Geremy Jasper)

Danielle Macdonald appears in Patti Cake$, an official selection of the US Dramatic Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Danielle Macdonald appears in Patti Cake$, an official selection of the US Dramatic Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Sundance Institute

Patti Cake$ took Sundance by storm. It’s a crowd-pleasing movie about a North Jersey girl (Danielle Macdonald) who raps and dreams of having her work heard while living with her troubled mother (Bridget Everett); at Indiewire, Eric Kohn praises writer-director Geremy Jasper for “channel[ing] his music video experience into a winning musical ride that hits some familiar beats while using them in service of a satisfying tale of big dreams and funky talent.”

Patti Cake$ was acquired by Fox Searchlight and is awaiting a release date.

Quest (Jonathan Olshefski)

PJ Rainey, Christine’a “Ma Quest” Rainey and Christopher “Quest” Rainey, appear in Quest directed by Jonathan Olshefski, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
P.J. Rainey, Christine’a “Ma Quest” Rainey, and Christopher “Quest” Rainey, appear in Quest directed by Jonathan Olshefski, an official selection of the US Dramatic Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Jonathan Olshefski

Quest was shot over about 10 years, a cinéma vérité documentary portrait of the North Philadelphia–based Rainey family, who operate a recording studio. But life (and movies) doesn’t always go as planned, and when tragedy hit the family, the documentary took an unexpected turn. It is, by far, one of the most moving documentaries I’ve ever seen, and vital viewing that somehow captures the past 10 years of the American experience better than the family or director Olshefski could have ever imagined.

Quest is awaiting distribution.

Strong Island (Yance Ford)

A still from Strong Island by Yance Ford, an official selection of the US. Documentary Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
A still from Strong Island by Yance Ford, an official selection of the US Documentary Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Sundance Institute

In 1992, when Ford’s brother was killed by a mechanic over a dispute about car repairs, her life changed forever. Strong Island is Ford’s intensely personal journey into figuring out what happened, why, and how it affected her. At the Wrap, Dan Callahan writes that “Strong Island takes the worst that life might do to us and transforms it into about as poetic and unsparing a statement as can be made with the documentary form.”

Strong Island is awaiting distribution.

Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities (Stanley Nelson)

A still from Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities by Stanley Nelson, an official selection of the Documentary Premieres program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
A still from Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities by Stanley Nelson, an official selection of the Documentary Premieres program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Sundance Institute

Tell Them We Are Rising is a fascinating and well-researched documentary that traces a line from slavery to the present day by looking at the challenges and triumphs that have faced historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Through interviews with scholars and historians as well as archival photos and footage, Tell Them We Are Rising builds the case that HBCUs are an integral, complex part of the American story, and that we can’t understand the 20th century without them. It’s very much a PBS documentary aimed at educating the viewer, but it’s well worth watching for the ways the history informs today.

Tell Them We Are Rising will air on PBS later this year as part of the network’s Independent Lens series.

The Big Sick (Michael Showalter)

Zoe Kazan and Kumail Nanjiani appear in The Big Sick by Michael Showalter, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Zoe Kazan and Kumail Nanjiani appear in The Big Sick by Michael Showalter, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Nicole Rivelli / Sundance Institute

Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani wrote the screenplay for this movie based on their real-life relationship. Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) plays himself as a rising comedian in Chicago who meets Gordon (Zoe Kazan), a divorcée with a dim view of life. As Dominick Suzanne-Mayer writes at Consequence of Sound, “The Big Sick fits perfectly into the long tradition of its genre, but elevates itself beyond the vast majority of its peers with a wholly unique comic sensibility. It’s a perfect marriage of direction, performances, and writing, the kind of comedy that people eagerly wait for.”

The Big Sick was acquired by Amazon and is awaiting a release date.

The Force (Peter Nicks)

An image from Peter Nicks’s The Force, which premiered at Sundance in 2017.
An image from Peter Nicks’s The Force, which premiered at Sundance in 2017.
Sundance

In The Force, documentarian Peter Nicks spends two years following the embattled Oakland Police Department, which was put under federal supervision in 2003 after a wave of misconduct and other public offenses. The film starts out seeming hopeful, but it soon becomes clear that the Oakland PD’s situation is extraordinarily complicated, and that any possible solutions will be wildly complex. At ScreenDaily, Tim Grierson writes: “The Force shows what’s possible when police departments try to be the force of good they’re designed to be — but this documentary is also clear-eyed about how often they fall short.”

The Force is awaiting acquisition.

Thoroughbred (Cory Finley)

Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy appear in Thoroughbred by Cory Finley, an official selection of the NEXT program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy appear in Thoroughbred by Cory Finley, an official selection of the NEXT program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Claire Folger / Sundance Institute

A comedy and a thriller, Thoroughbred is about two teenage girls in suburban Connecticut (Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke) who rekindle their friendship — and then things get very dark. At RogerEbert.com, Brian Tallerico writes that the film “looks amazing, reflecting the opulent lifestyles of its characters, but it’s a beauty that hides an ugly core. ... Thoroughbred might be the most finely-tuned film of Sundance 2017 — a puzzle of a film in which every piece fits perfectly.”

Thoroughbred was acquired by Focus Features and is awaiting a release date.

To the Bone (Marti Noxon)

Keanu Reeves and Lily Collins appear in To The Bone by Marti Noxon, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Keanu Reeves and Lily Collins appear in To the Bone by Marti Noxon, an official selection of the US Dramatic Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Gilles Mingasson / Sundance Institute

A remarkably well-directed feature debut from TV veteran Marti Noxon (UnReal), To the Bone stars Lily Collins as a 20-year-old girl with anorexia who is about to hit rock bottom. She ends up under the care of an unconventional doctor (Keanu Reeves), and moves into a group home with others who struggle with disordered eating. The film intelligently and humorously humanizes its characters. But it doesn’t bend on what’s essential: To the Bone is a strong, smart film about choosing to live.

To the Bone was acquired by Netflix and is awaiting a release date.

Wind River (Taylor Sheridan)

Jeremy Renner appears in Wind River by Taylor Sheridan, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Jeremy Renner appears in Wind River by Taylor Sheridan, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
Sundance Institute

Taylor Sheridan is having a good 2017 so far: While Wind River was playing at Sundance, he snagged an Oscar nomination for writing 2016’s Hell or High Water, which is in the running for Best Original Screenplay as well as Best Picture. Sheridan, who also wrote 2015’s Sicario, went behind the camera for Wind River, which stars Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner in a serious-minded movie about FBI agents investigating a murder that happened on a Native American reservation.

At The Playlist, Noel Murray writes that “Sheridan as always shows a remarkable sense of place, paying attention to everything from the weather to the predators to the differences between white neighborhoods and the Native Americans’ homes. He also does an acceptable job as a director — aside from a tendency to load up on establishing shots and excess verbiage.”

Wind River is awaiting acquisition.

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