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Critics Survey: The Best Movies of Sundance 2024, According to 166 Critics

Last year may have been the official return of the Sundance Film Festival to an in-person experience, but the just-concluded 2024 edition felt even more lively: This wasn’t just back to business, this was a full-on coming-out party, with A-list talent on-hand even beyond what you could have expected from the festival in its last couple pre-COVID years.

The best movies of the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, as determined by IndieWire’s annual critics survey, are an eclectic mix, full of starpower and starmaking turns. And undoubtedly, having all the competition titles screen virtually in the last five days of the fest buoyed the visibility of some — if the celebrities all descended on Park City, Utah, this year, some journalists who used to be in-person regulars opted instead for just the online experience.

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If the journalists who responded to IndieWire’s survey, 166 in total, are fewer in number than the past, this has something to do with it: Some who only attended the festival remotely felt that they had not seen enough to participate.

Regardless, whether in-person or remote, the attendees who did vote this time around powered one film to overwhelming dominance in most of the categories: Jesse Eisenberg’s “A Real Pain” towered over this survey to a degree almost no film has in the six years I’ve been compiling it — though last year’s “Fair Play” came close, but even that was much more in a neck-and-neck race with “Past Lives,” while the gap between “A Real Pain” and second-place is much wider in its categories.

As is always the case with IndieWire polls, voters vote via preferential ballots in which first-place votes rank higher than second-place votes, and so on. Think of how the Academy does its Oscar voting. It’s possible, under this scheme, for something to get more first place votes than anything else but still place lower than something which received more overall votes.

“A Real Pain” comes in at number one in Best Film, Best Performance (Kieran Culkin), Best Director (Eisenberg), and Best Screenplay (Eisenberg) — every category for which it was eligible. Not even the eventual Best Picture winner at the Oscars, “CODA,” achieved such a feat when it topped the Best Film category of this poll in 2021: It fell short in the other categories. The films that top the IndieWire Critics Survey are sometimes tipped for Oscar glory, as “CODA” showed: “Minari,” which topped the poll in 2020 also went on to receive a Best Picture nomination.

Just to show you much “A Real Pain” resonated with IndieWire’s voters: A third of all respondents placed it among their Top Three films of the festival, with 17.5 percent putting it at number one. The film that came in at number two on the Best Film list, “I Saw the TV Glow,” received half as many mentions.

Best Performance for Kieran Culkin and Best Director for Eisenberg were a little less in the way of runaway dominance, but then there’s the Best Screenplay category, in which Eisenberg’s script appeared on 41 percent of all ballots and 21 percent of all ballots in the number one spot. Clearly, Eisenberg’s personal film — of Polish descent himself, he’d just received his Polish social security card the day before IndieWire’s studio interview — resonated in a powerful way, one that makes Searchlight’s $10 million acquisition seem like a bargain.

“Daughters,” the moving non-fiction glimpse at incarcerated fathers prepping for a daddy-daughter dance, topped the Best Documentary category. Netflix is allegedly sewing up a deal to buy it, and winning the Audience Awards for Festival Favorite and U.S. Documentary Competition should put it in good stead. And “Good One,” India Donaldson’s thought-provoking camping trip drama that should draw comparisons to the work of Kelly Reichardt, is still looking for a home — “Good One” topped the Best First Film category in our survey, and placed at number three in the overall Best Film list.

“Dìdi (弟弟)”<cite>Sundance Film Festival</cite>
“Dìdi (弟弟)”Sundance Film Festival

“I Saw the TV Glow” may not have gotten the most votes overall in its categories, but of those votes cast for it, more skewed toward being number one picks than any other film: Jane Schoenbrun actually received the most number one votes for Best Director, just fewer overall than Eisenberg in that category. That suggests “I Saw the TV Glow” may not be for everyone, but will inspire intense devotion from those who love it. A perfect A24 title then! And it came into the festival with the indie distributor having already bought it.

One film that deserves a closer look from distributors is “Didi (弟弟),” Sean Wang’s U.S. Dramatic Competition title. It placed at number four on the Best Film list, number seven on Best Director, and number two on Best First Film.

A still from Ibelin by Benjamin Ree, an official selection of the World Documentary Competition at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.
“Ibelin”

The aforementioned “Daughters” topped the Best Documentary list, but Netflix acquisition “Ibelin,” winner of the Audience Award in the World Cinema Documentary competition, came in at number two. The film, about a young man who died of a degenerative disease at the age of 25 and formed his most meaningful relationships in “World of Warcraft,” prompting an outpouring of emotion from his fellow gamers after his death, impressed many with its use of animation and “World of Warcraft” recreations to tell its moving story.

Check out the full results of the critics survey below.

Best Film

1. “A Real Pain”
2. “I Saw the TV Glow”
3. “Good One”
4. “Didi (弟弟)”
5. “Between the Temples”
6. “Love Lies Bleeding”
7. “Thelma”
8. “Exhibiting Forgiveness”
9. “A Different Man”
10. “Girls Will Be Girls”

Best Documentary

1. “Daughters”
2. “Ibelin”
3. “Black Box Diaries”
4. “Union”
5. “Soundtrack for a Coup d’Etat”
6. “Skywalkers: A Love Story”
7. “Power”
8. “Gaucho Gaucho”
9. “Sugarcane”
10. “Seeking Mavis Beacon”

Best Performance

1. Kieran Culkin, “A Real Pain”
2. Andre Holland, “Exhibiting Forgiveness”
3. June Squibb, “Thelma”
4. Saoirse Ronan, “The Outrun”
5. Lily Collias, “Good One”
6. Residente, “In the Summers”
7. Brigette Lundy-Paine, “I Saw the TV Glow”
8. Carol Kane, “Between the Temples”
9. Justice Smith, “I Saw the TV Glow”
10. Katy O’Brian, “Love Lies Bleeding”

Best Director

1. Jesse Eisenberg, “A Real Pain”
2. Jane Schoenbrun, “I Saw the TV Glow”
3. Rose Glass, “Love Lies Bleeding”
4. India Donaldson, “Good One”
5. Steven Soderbergh, “Presence”
6. Alessandra Lacorazza, “In the Summers”
7. Sean Wang, “Didi (弟弟)”
8. Nathan Silver, “Between the Temples”
9. Aaron Schimberg, “A Different Man”
10. TIE: Astrid Rondero, Fernanda Valadez, “Sujo”; Benjamin Ree, “Ibelin”

Best Screenplay

1. “A Real Pain”
2. “Between the Temples”
3. “Good One”
4. “Thelma”
5. “In the Summers”
6. “My Old Ass”
7. “I Saw the TV Glow”
8. “Ghostlight”
9. “A Different Man”
10. “Stress Positions”

Best First Film

1. “Good One”
2. “Didi (弟弟)”
3. “Thelma”
4. “Seeking Mavis Beacon”
5. “In the Summers”
6. “Exhibiting Forgiveness”
7. “Suncoast”
8. “Kneecap”
9. “Brief History of a Family”
10. “It’s What’s Inside”

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