Advertisement

The 17 Best Films of Sundance 2024 (And How to See Them)

That’s almost a wrap, folks, as this year’s Sundance Film Festival concludes its eleven-day run tomorrow. While Team IndieWire has already decamped back to their various home bases (eleven is a lot of days), we’re all still enjoying what this year’s festival has to offer through both its virtual screening platform (and you can, too) and our already-fond memories of the best films we saw at this year’s festival.

And what films are those, you might ask? We’re all too happy to share, care of the following list of 17 standout features from this year’s festival, hereby termed the best of the fest. The following list includes over a dozen films one (or, in most cases, more) IndieWire staffer really wanted to highlight. Narratives and documentaries, first-time filmmakers and old favorites, comedies, dramas, horror films, and so much more, this list also captures the breadth of filmmaking prowess put on display at this year’s festival.

More from IndieWire

If you’re looking for more of our Sundance coverage, you can find it all right here. Want to check out our video interviews from our studio? They live here. And, if you’re really wanting to bone up on your Sundance 2024 knowledge, head on over to our list of the festival’s biggest breakout talents.

Of note: At the time of publication, a number of these films have already been picked up for distribution; some even have release dates ready. In those cases, we’ve made a note of when and how you can check them out; for everything else, we’ll keep updating this article as more announcements are made, so feel free to keep it bookmarked.

Christian Blauvelt, Marcus Jones, Chris O’Falt, Anne Thompson, and Brian Welk also continued to this article.

Jason Schwartzman and Carol Kane in Between the Temples
“Between the Temples”Between the Temples

“Between the Temples”

No film this side of “A Serious Man” has confronted the mysteries of tsuris as directly as Nathan Silver’s “Between the Temples,” a spiky, hilarious, and thoroughly unorthodox screwball comedy about a grief-stricken cantor who loses his voice, only to find that he’s surrounded by a chorus of well-intentioned people who are happy to speak for him. Played by a note-perfect Jason Schwartzman (the “Asteroid City” star delivering another fumblingly wistful performance as a widower trying to make sense of his pain, this one inspired by the music of David Berman), Ben Gottlieb is begging to be run over by passing trucks when his fortunes are turned around by a chance encounter with his childhood music teacher (Carol Kane!), whose own grief is leading her closer to the same faith that Ben has just lost.

All sorts of razor-sharp antics ensue as these two lonely souls develop an unusual friendship based on mutual understanding, mushroom-laced tea, and the fury of their less open-minded Jewish families, their bond forming the basis for this cockeyed but eminently wise little movie about the pursuit of happiness.

How you can see it: The film is still looking for distribution, but we will update you ASAP when that changes. —DE

“Daughters”

Natalie Rae and Angela Patton’s documentary “Daughters” doesn’t feel like a political film, but it will leave a lasting sting about the state of America’s prison system nonetheless. “Daughters” follows incarcerated fathers who must complete a 10-week counseling course for a chance to attend a Daddy-Daughter Dance and spend time with their girls, in many cases for the first time in years. That’s because we learn most prisons have adopted an ugly practice of abolishing “touch visits” and replaced them with pay-per-view video visits.

This dance, the brain child of the co-director Patton, is an escape and a much-needed chance to feel human. But the emotional power of “Daughters” comes in the largely verité style filmmaking that sees both the heart-wrenching effort and honesty these dads put into this program and the impact on the girls from being separated from a masculine father figure for much of their childhood. It’s a deeply moving, tear-jerking, and at times inspiring story of parenthood and resilience.

How you can see it: The film is still looking for distribution, but we will update you ASAP when that changes. —BW

Sebastian Stan in "A Different Man"
“A Different Man”A24

“A Different Man”

Aaron Schimberg’s mordantly funny the-universe-is-a-cruel-joke film “A Different Man” stars Sebastian Stan as Edward, a New York actor who undergoes an experimental facial reconstruction surgery only to end up cast as himself in a play about his former life. The playwright is Edward’s former neighbor, the eccentric Ingrid (Renate Reinsve, playing the type of woman who loves to watch things die), and the play is interrupted by a man with neurofibromatosis named Oswald (Adam Pearson), who is Edward’s doppelganger and a charisma machine who outpaces him in every way.

Schimberg, directing Pearson for the second time after “Chained for Life,” fuses the more surreally fatalistic “Synecdoche, New York” side of Charlie Kaufman with his own dark metaphor about disability. Edward’s facial deformities are erased because of the procedures, but his life is ruined and his career destroyed. “A Different Man” exists in its own alternate-reality vision of New York still stalked by Woody Allen (who gets a final brain-bending homage here), a fitting portrait of an artist who has crumbled to the ground.

How you can see it: A24 produced the film and will release it later this year. —RL

“Exhibiting Forgiveness”

Artist Titus Kaphar writes and directs an autofictional feature debut about a successful painter whose life goes into a tailspin once his former addict father attempts to reconnect with him. Led by André Holland and John Earl Jelks as the aforementioned pair, the cathartic drama conveys how difficult a situation it can be to come into contact with someone that has demonstrably improved, but is still guilty of past sins that shaped one’s personal struggles.

Also starring Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor and Andra Day, who both radiate warmth, and Kaphar’s own world-renowned works of art, the emotionally immersive film plays out a challenging situation that feels all too common, performed by actors firing on all cylinders.

How you can see it: The film is still looking for distribution, but we will update you ASAP when that changes. —MJ

“Gaucho Gaucho”

A stunningly beautiful black-and-white Western and the winner of the Sundance U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Sound, this documentary set in water-threatened Argentina cattle country was produced and directed by Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw (“The Truffle Hunters”) who seek out endangered cultures and capture them on film.

These cowboys, male and female, merge with their horses and fly when they run. One father teaches his son the ways of the gaucho, and is lonely when the kid returns to school. The opening shot shows a sleeping gaucho who slowly gets up from his horse and coaxes him to stand. These moments are indelible. Backed by Impact partners, the film is seeking distribution.

How you can see it: The film is still looking for distribution, but we will update you ASAP when that changes. —AT

ghostlight Kelly O'Sullivan and Alex Thompson
“Ghostlight”Sundance

“Ghostlight”

“Saint Frances” duo Kelly O’Sullivan and Alex Thompson return with another delicate charmer, this one starring real-life acting family Keith Kupferer, Tara Mallen, and Katherine Mallen Kupferer as a family dealing with tragedy in unexpected ways. The cure: community theater Shakespeare. Really!

We know things aren’t right in the Mueller family long before O’Sullivan and Thompson ever-so-delicately dole out the details of a tragedy that still pulls at the trio. It involves a looming lawsuit, the sense the family is incomplete, unsaid feelings, and an ultimate reveal too artfully handled to be spoiled here. O’Sullivan and Thompson are aces at tucking themes, concepts, and ideas into their films that, in other directors’ hands, might feel a bit cheesy or chintzy. Instead, the duo handles them with the utmost respect and care. Audiences may eventually start to see where this is heading and how it will all braid together, but that doesn’t dilute the joy of seeing it actually unfold.

O’Sullivan and Thompson gently fold their story together, finding humor and heart at every turn, leading to the kind of ending that somehow inspired the film’s very first audience at Sundance to laugh and cry. Again, we know how this sounds, but — it’s funny! and good! And a reminder of how bright a light one story can shine on everyone.

How you can see it: IFC Films and Sapan Studio picked up the film at Sundance, and will release it in theaters sometime this year. —KE

“Good One”

A slight but sensitive and fantastically assured debut that unfolds with the pointillistic detail of a great short story, India Donaldson’s “Good One” is a coming-of-age story that jettisons all of the genre’s most familiar trappings in favor of a long walk in the woods. It’s a camping trip, really, as a queer 17-year-old girl named Sam (extraordinary newcomer Lily Collias) tags along with her dad Chris (character actor James Le Gros, feasting on a nuanced leading role) and his equally divorced friend Matt (Danny McCarthy) for a weekend hike through the wilds of upstate New York. Things in nature turn out to be pretty similar to how they are at home, as the grown-ups are too busy relying on Sam to keep the peace and take care of them that they fail to appreciate that her sense of self is evolving right before their very eyes. That failure will have consequences.

Modest and casual until the exact moment when the film’s master plan suddenly clicks into place like the hammer of a gun transforming a neutral tool into a deadly weapon, “Good One” is the kind of movie that tightens its complete lack of tension into a knot in the pit of your stomach. Donaldson’s story is carried forward on a loose string of almost subliminal micro-aggressions, but all it takes is one of those aggressions to tip into macro territory and suddenly everything around it snaps into place, as this immaculate debut resolves into a shattering portrait about the ways that kids lose touch with their parents, and how the lines of communications between them tend to petrify whenever keeping them open becomes too painful.

How you can see it: The film is still looking for distribution, but we will update you ASAP when that changes. —DE

I SAW THE TV GLOW, from left: Justice Smith, Brigette Lundy-Paine, 2024. © A24 /Courtesy Everett Collection
“I Saw the TV Glow”Courtesy Everett Collection

“I Saw the TV Glow”

Jane Schoenbrun’s beloved debut “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” set the bar high for their Emma Stone- and A24-produced second feature, which the writer/director managed to soar above with “I Saw the TV Glow.” The fragile, insular, suburban world of Owen (Ian Foreman as a child, who ages into Justice Smith) is opened, ever-so-slightly, by Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and the introduction of her favorite TV show “The Pink Opaque,” bringing both a world of danger and possibility of transcendence.

As David Ehrlich’s review beautifully gets at, one of the miracles of “Glow” is how it is “sinister and liberating in equal measure.” According to Schoenbrun, the film was written at the lowest point early in their transition, and the utter despair the film captures is shattering, making the risk of a portal to another life that much more enticing. A film in conversation with, but never derivative of David Lynch (in particular “Twin Peaks,” Season 3), what is so impressive is how Schoenbrun and team create such a cinematically evocative world with limited resources, the dark edges of the frame glowing and pulsing with an energy that mark the distinct imprint of a filmmaker who will (hopefully) be with us for a long time.

How you can see it: A24 produced the film and will release it later this year. —CO

“It’s What’s Inside”

The $17 million Netflix spent to pick up “It’s What’s Inside” was worth every penny. Greg Jardin’s directorial debut is genre-bending, a mind-fuck, and a misnomer to call it a “horror” movie, despite its place in the Midnight section of the festival. But it’s also a layered character drama and satire about the male gaze, suffocating relationships, and our obsessions with social media.

Does all that even hint at how colorful, funny, and commercial this film is? No, it does not, nor does the logline do it any justice, which is about a pre-wedding party gone wrong after an estranged friend brings a mysterious suitcase to play a party game. “It’s What’s Inside” is destined to become a cult classic and a Netflix hit, but it’s best watched with a group of friends who are going in as cold as you are.

How you can see it: Netflix picked up the the film at the festival and will release it later this year. —BW

"Kneecap"
“Kneecap”Sundance Film Festival

“Kneecap”

Sundance’s NEXT section continues to play host to some of the most daring, inventive, and just plain fun films at the festival. This year, the standout amongst a crowded field has to be Rich Peppiatt’s debut feature “Kneecap,” a true-ish story about the rise of very real Irish rap group Kneecap, starring its actual members (all huge stars in the making) in a spiky, wildly entertaining origin story.

As Adam Solomons wrote in his review of the film, it’s “the fictionalized origin story of the real-life rap group (all playing themselves) and their unlikely role in a campaign to save the Irish language in a place where only a few thousand speak it. Whether you call it the North of Ireland or Northern Ireland depends on a few things, but the band knows where they stand. Naming their band after the common form of punishment handed out by violent neighborhood watch-types to those caught dealing drugs, Naoise Ó Cairealláin raps as Móglaí Bap, his best friend Liam Óg Ó Hannaidh is Mo Chara, and — best of all — local music teacher JJ Ó Dochartaigh is the balaclava-clad DJ Próvaí.”

While Solomons sagely points out that the film really doesn’t know what to do with co-star Michael Fassbender (who plays Ó Cairealláin’s father, a former IRA member on the run), everyone else is so, so good in the film, it’s hard to fault it. Sony Pictures Classics surely saw the allure when the outfit picked up the film early in the festival, and we’re guessing the rollout will include lots of wild activations and performances. I’m first in line to see it again.

How you can see it: Sony Pictures Classics picked up the the film at the festival and will release it later this year. —KE

“Love Lies Bleeding”

Violent, sexy, and tense the hardest ’80s crime thrillers courses through the veins of this film by director Rose Glass, whose follow-up to her breakthrough “Saint Maud” more than delivers. From the opening shots of a sweaty gym in the middle of desert, Glass grabs her audience by the throat and doesn’t let go, demonstrating a control of the medium and raw filmmaking chops that’ll surprise even the biggest fans of her debut.

The story of Lou (Kristen Stewart) and Jackie (Katy O’Brian) is a love story set against a treacherous landscape of evil men (Ed Harris supplying one of his best villain turns, and the normally lovable Dave Franco is magnificently despicable), plus Stewart in a badass role she can finally sink her teeth into opposite O’Brian’s magnetic turn as a determined bodybuilder with a secret past. Much will be made (and debated) of the more fantastical elements of the film’s third act, but with the wild ride proceeding it, Lou and Jackie could have pulled a “Thelma & Louise” and gone off a cliff, started to fly, and it’d have made logical sense.

How you can see it: A24 produced the film and will release it on March 8. —CO

Luther Vandross in Luther: Never Too Much
“Luther: Never Too Much”Sony Music Entertainment

“Luther: Never Too Much”

Through interviews and archival footage, Sundance veteran Dawn Porter reminds viewers of Luther Vandross’s innumerable contributions to R&B music all the way up to his death in 2005. It also unpacks his feelings about being so associated with the genre, never feeling as if he’d crossed over, despite having worked with David Bowie and Bette Midler, and worked on “Sesame Street.”

Watching the film, it can be devastating to think about what could have been had Vandross lived to see a more progressive future, but at the same time each live performance that’s played has the audience ready to hop out their seats and dance.

How you can see it: The film is still looking for distribution, but we will update you ASAP when that changes. —MJ

“The Outrun”

Saoirse Ronan could be looking at Oscar nomination number 5 for her work in “The Outrun.” It may go without saying she’s a brilliant actress, but this is a side to her we haven’t seen yet. Playing a recovering alcoholic, Ronan is at times introspective and conveying an ocean of feelings in a single stare, while in other moments, she’s as volatile, physical, and unhinged as she’s ever been. She lends gravitas to the poetic and profound prose from author Amy Liptrot’s memoir on which the film is based, and she elicits remarkable empathy despite playing an oft unlikable person.

But “The Outrun” is hardly just a performance showcase. Director Nora Fingscheidt (“System Crasher,” “The Unforgivable”) goes above and beyond the typical alcoholism story by weaving a non-linear narrative rife with the unpredictable ups and downs of recovery and relapse. The film basks in the magnificent cliffs and beaches on Scotland’s most remote islands. And you certainly don’t expect to come away from the film learning as much about seals, waves, and endangered Scottish birds as you do.

How you can see it: The film is still looking for distribution, but we will update you ASAP when that changes. —BW

A still from Power by Yance Ford, an official selection of the Premieres Program at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.
“Power”Courtesy of Netflix

“Power”

Yance Ford’s documentary about the history of policing in America is like a college seminar condensed down to just 87 minutes. Bought by Netflix, the film presents a “how did we get here?” breakdown of how policing in the U.S. is rooted in three strands: escaped-slave patrols in the South, Western militias that genocidally persecuted Indigenous Americans, and strike-busting anti-union security forces like the Pinkertons.

Why do we see so many abuses today? Because that particular history hasn’t been grappled with. It’s a history of prioritizing property over people, security over actual safety. Though it’s talking-head driven, much of the film also features extraordinary archive footage, and a recurring interview with a Black police investigator in Minneapolis who’s trying to grapple with the difficulties of reforming the system from the inside. —CB

How you can see it: Netflix produced the film and will release it later this year. —CB

“A Real Pain”

Triple threat writer-director-actor Jesse Eisenberg’s gem of a sophomore feature took home the Sundance Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award U.S. Dramatic. (Eisenberg also produced, along with Dave McCary, Ali Herting, Emma Stone, Jennifer Semler, and Ewa Puszczyńska.) Long obsessed with the home of his forebears, Poland, Eisenberg figured out a way to explore his family’s roots within a funny and moving story about two cousins (Eisenberg and Kieran Culkin), once close, on a Poland tour.

When Culkin read the script for the third time, seeking a reason to bail, he said, he could find no flaws in it. And when he watched Eisenberg’s first film “When You Finish Saving the World,” he felt he had to make the movie. Both actors give calibrated performances that blend perfectly with the ensemble, but Culkin is especially heartbreaking.

How you can see it: Searchlight Pictures picked up the the film at the festival and will release it later this year. —AT

Sasquatch sunset
“Sasquatch Sunset”Courtesy of Bleecker Street

“Sasquatch Sunset”

Nobody — but nobody — does it like the Zellner brothers, a pair of sibling iconoclasts who march to the wild beat of their own drum with such conviction that you can’t help but get on their rhythm and let the good times roll. Fresh off directing three episodes of “The Curse,” the “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” filmmakers are back in the feature business with the kind of movie nobody else would think to make, which is the only kind of movie the Zellners do.

A gross, hilarious, and dementedly poignant ethnographic drama that follows a family of Sasquatches (played to perfection by Jesse Eisenberg, Riley Keough, Nathan Zellner, and Christophe Zacaj-Denek, all unrecognizable under their incredible costumes and makeup) as they roam the Pacific Northwest over the course of a very eventful year, “Sasquatch Sunset” may be entirely conveyed through errant grunts, failed sexual overtures, and prolific amounts of pissing and shitting, but it somehow manages to cohere into a heartbreaking — and all too human — story about a species oblivious to its own demise.

How you can see it: Bleecker Street picked up the film before the festival and will release it on April 12. —DE

Will Ferrell and Harper Steele appear in Will & Harper by Josh Greenbaum, an official selection of the Premieres Program at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.
“Will & Harper”Cinetic

“Will & Harper”

A documentary that’ll have you experiencing an entire spectrum of emotions in the first five minutes, “Will & Harper” is the film America needs heading into what’s sure to be the roller coaster of 2024. Will Ferrell received an email during the pandemic from his friend, the former longtime head writer of “Saturday Night Live,” announcing that she was coming out as a trans woman. To better understand her experience and what their friendship means now, Ferrell and Harper Steele (whose friendship with Ferrell was so close that she wrote “Casa de mi Padre” and “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga”) embarked on a two-week road trip across the country for this documentary directed by Josh Greenbaum.

What unfolds is a picaresque of America right now, a place deeply divided but still full of deeply good, welcoming people who want to do the right thing. And some whose kneejerk response is one of hate. Steele always gravitated to Red State Americana: dive bars, stock car races, steak-eating contests. Is that America still there for her? We should also mention: This film is really funny too! Ferrell is at his vintage best, with an improvisatory, in-the-moment looseness that’s astounding — while also mining a depth that hasn’t always been in his work to date. Being just himself, and knowing when to share the spotlight, he delivers one of his very best films.

How you can see it: The film is still looking for distribution, but we will update you ASAP when that changes. —CB

Best of IndieWire

Sign up for Indiewire's Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.