Arts & Entertainment

Sundance Festival’s films with buzz and big stars in 2023

PARK CITY, Utah — It’s safe to say Sundance Film Festival is for movie lovers. If you’re a movie-liker and Sundance simultaneously interests and overwhelms you, look no further for films people are talking about. For many film enthusiasts, the Sundance Film Festival is the chance to be introduced to new artists, directors, actors, and world views. Others want to know which stars are in which films and which films to expect on the small screen in the near future, as Apple TV, Netflix, and other streaming platforms often pick up films throughout the festival.

If you’re looking for a rundown, here’s a look into this year’s films with actors recognizable by name or face from that one thing you watched a while back.

A Little Prayer (Premieres)

Tammy (Jane Levy; Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, Don’t Breath) and husband David (Will Pullen; Greyhound, The Unforgivable) lead a quiet life in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, sharing a home with David’s parents, Bill (David Strathairn; Good Night, and Good Luck, Where the Crawdads Sing) and Venida (Celia Weston; Dead Man Walking, The Talented Mr. Ripley). David and Bill work together and have always been closely involved in each other’s lives. When Bill begins to suspect that David is straying in his marriage, he is drawn into a relationship minefield, caught between wanting to protect his amicable daughter-in-law and trying to understand his impulsive son. As Bill confronts the limits of patriarchal influence, he is also forced to reckon with disheartening behavioral patterns that may be transcending generations. Recognizable stars Anna Camp (Pitch Perfect) and Dascha Polanco (Orange Is the New Black, The Heights) are also featured in the film.

A still from All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt by Raven Jackson, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute, photo by Jaclyn Martinez.

All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (U.S. Dramatic Competition)

Tender caresses and enveloping embraces are portals into the life of Mack, a Black woman in Mississippi. Winding through the anticipation, love, and heartbreak she experiences from childhood to adulthood, the expressionist journey is an ode to connection — with loved ones and with place. This film stars Chris Chalk (Perry Mason, Shining Girls), Moses Ingram (Obi-Wan Kenobi), Sheila Atim (The Woman King), and Zainab Jah (Farewell Amor, Only Murders in the Building).

The Amazing Maurice (Kids)

Maurice (Hugh Laurie; House) is a sassy, street-smart cat with a sneaky disposition. Together with his band of rats and pied-piper friend Keith (Himesh Patel; Tenet, Yesterday), he travels across the countryside, swindling villagers with a staged rat plague. All seems well when the gang sets its sights on a scenic market town, though they quickly realize that something more nefarious is afoot. The town is already plagued by food-snatching rats, a pair of criminals, and a mysterious boss at the heart of the trouble. Others in this truly star-studded cast are David Tennant, Emilia Clarke, David Thewlis, Gemma Arterton, Peter Serafinowicz, and Hugh Bonneville.

Bad Behaviour (World Cinema Dramatic Competition)

Lucy (Jennifer Conelly; A Beautiful Mind, Requiem For A Dream) seeks enlightenment. The former child actress makes a pilgrimage to join her guru, Elon Bello (Ben Whishaw; Skyfall, Paddington, No Time to Die), for a silent retreat at a beautiful mountain resort with a Tesla-crammed parking lot. Before she shuts off her phone to the world, Lucy reaches out to her daughter, Dylan (Alice Englert; Ginger & Rosa, Beautiful Creatures) — a stunt person training for a dangerous fight scene — to interrupt her concentration and announce that she will be unavailable and out of range, and that she is very worried about her, and that she might extend her stay. It is codependent, bad behavior. When a young model/DJ/influencer at the retreat is paired up with Lucy to do a mother/daughter role-playing exercise, hellfire stokes Lucy’s bad behavior to an astonishing low.

Blueback (Kids)

While researching Australia’s deteriorating coral reefs, marine biologist Abby (Mia Wasikowska; Alice in Wonderland,) receives word of her elderly mother Dora’s (Radha Mitchell; Man on Fire) stroke. As she rushes to her seaside hometown to care for Dora, Abby recalls her childhood years spent living in concert with the ocean, and her mother’s efforts to protect the bay from greedy developers and invasive fishermen alike, often to the detriment of their own relationship. Among the coral gardens, Abby also befriends a rare fish, the blue groper — affectionately named Blueback — a tether to her environmentalism, and the key to reminding Abby and Dora of their love for each another and the vulnerable waters they call home. Also starring, Eric Bana (Troy, Lone Survior, The Time Traveler’s Wife).

Cat Person (Premieres)

Margot (Emilia Jones; CODA), a college student working concessions at an art house theater, meets frequent filmgoer — and rather older local — Robert (Nicholas Braun; Succession), on the job. Flirtation across the counter evolves into continuous texting. As the two inch toward romance, shifts between them, awkward moments, red flags, and discomforts pile up. Margot feels both attached and reticent, as her gnawing hesitations blossom into vivid daydreams where Robert realizes his most threatening potential. As her distrust and uncertainty mount, an evening, their relationship, and possibly their lives unravel. Isabella Rossellini (Blue Velvet, Fearless), Michael Gandolfini (The Many Saints of Newark), Hope Davis (American Splendor, About Schmidt), and Fred Melamed (A Serious Man, Barry) appear in this film.

A still from Eileen by William Oldroyd, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Eileen (Premieres)

Based on the book of the same name by literary powerhouse Ottessa Moshfegh, Eileen follows a peculiar young woman whose dreary life stretches on toward unending misery. In frigid 1960s Boston, Eileen (Thomasin McKenzie; Jojo Rabbit, Last Night in Soho) shuffles between her father’s dingy, emotionally haunted home and the prison where she works alongside colleagues who have ostracized her. When an intoxicating woman (Anne Hathaway; The Devil Wears Prada, Rachel Getting Married) joins the prison staff, Eileen is taken. Just when the possibility of a salvational friendship (or maybe more) takes hold and forms a singular glimmer in Eileen’s darkness, her newfound confidant entangles her in a shocking crime that alters all.

Fair Play (U.S. Dramatic Competition)

Hot off the heels of their new engagement, thriving New York couple Emily (Phoebe Dynevor; Bridgerton) and Luke (Alden Ehrenreich; Solo, Hail, Caesar!) can’t get enough of each other. When a coveted promotion at a cutthroat financial firm arises, supportive exchanges between the lovers begin to sour into something more sinister. As the power dynamics irrevocably shift in their relationship, Luke and Emily must face the true price of success and the unnerving limits of ambition.

Fairyland (Premieres)

Following the sudden and tragic death of her mother, young Alysia (Emilia Jones) is uprooted by her father Steve (Scoot McNairy; Argo, 12 Years A Slave) in hopes of restarting his life. They move to 1970s San Francisco where Steve develops his poetic and personal writing and begins to openly date men. Steve’s bohemian lifestyle clashes with the expectations of parenthood from both the outside world and Alysia herself, who occasionally wishes for less of the independence her father gives her. As Alysia grows into a young woman on the cusp of adulthood, their bonds and duty to each other are tested in painful and sudden ways. Geena Davis (Thelma & Louise, A League of Their Own), Bella Murphy (Coming 2 America), Cody Fern (American Horror Story, Father Stu), and Adam Lambert (American Idol) appear in the film.

A still from Flora and Son by John Carney, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Flora and Son (Premieres)

Flora (Eve Hewson, Bad Sisters, Bridge of Spies), a young mother living in Dublin, lost touch with aspiration long ago. She juggles a sustenance-necessitated child care job and a fraught co-parenting arrangement with her unkind ex as she tries to raise her son, Max. Flora and Max’s brash rapport is both hilarious and revealing of their struggle to understand each other — she searches for autonomy and self-love masquerading as selfishness, while his longing for independence and self-expression manifests as delinquency. When the two connect over a twice-discarded used guitar, the uniting power of music brings them closer than what simple proximity can provide. Flora’s online guitar teacher is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception, 500 Days of Summer, 10 Things I Hate About You).

Infinity Pool (Midnight program)

James (Alexander Skarsgård; True Blood, Big Little Lies) and Em Foster (Cleopatra Coleman; Dopesick, In the Shadow of the Moon) take off to an all-inclusive beach getaway in the fictional state of Li Tolqa to help jump-start his writer’s block. Their lazy days are spent relegated to their pricey resort, isolated from the surrounding land. Gabby (Mia Goth; Pearl, Emma) introduces herself and her partner, Al, as she’s a fan of James’ last novel, and they would like to spend some time together with the Fosters. The couples plan a secret daytrip outside the compound that ends in a fatal accident with James to blame. For a hefty price, there are loopholes to aid foreign travelers convicted of crimes there, which is how James is first introduced to a perverse subculture of hedonistic tourism.

L’Immensità (Spotlight)

In the early 1970s, Rome is a city in transition. As an emerging middle class supplants an antiquated family dynamic, Clara (Penélope Cruz; Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Vanilla Sky) and her husband, Felice (Vincenzo Amato; Unbroken), move into a new apartment with three children. Stuck in a languid marriage to an unfaithful and abusive husband, Clara focuses her attention on the kids, connecting with them by channeling her own inner child. She relates to 13-year-old Adriana the most, and the two run through the streets yelling at the top of their lungs to escape the adversities of life. Adriana has begun to identify as a boy, Andrew, and proclaims to his mother that he comes from another galaxy — something that Clara definitely relates to.

A still from Landscape with Invisible Hand featuring Asante Blackk and Kylie Rogers. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Landscape With Invisible Hand (Premieres)

Adam is a teenage artist coming of age in the aftermath of an alien takeover. The Vuvv, a species of hyper-intelligent extraterrestrials, brought wondrous technology to Earth, but only the wealthiest can afford it. The rest of humanity, their livelihoods now obsolete, have to scrape together money in the tourism industry. In the case of Adam and his budding love interest Chloe, that means live streaming their courtship for the amusement of the coffee-table sized Vuvv, who find human love exotic and interesting. When Adam and Chloe’s scheme goes sideways, Adam and his mother have to find their way out of an increasingly nightmarish alien bureaucracy. Principle cast includes Tiffany Haddish (Night School, Like A Boss), Kylie Rogers (Yellowstone), Michael Gandolfini, Asante Blackk (This Is Us), and William Jackson Harper (Midsommar, The Good Place).

Little Richard: I Am Everything (U.S. Documentary Competition)

Like a quasar burning past the gaslight, director Lisa Cortés’ eye-opening documentary explodes the whitewashed canon of American pop music. Little Richard: I Am Everything shines a clarifying light on the Black, queer origins of rock ’n’ roll, and establishes the genre’s big bang: Richard Wayne Penniman.

The Pod Generation (Premieres)

A New York couple, Rachel (Emilia Clarke; Game of Thrones) and Alvy (Chiwetel Ejiofor; 12 Years A Slave) live in a not-so-distant future where technology provides ever-more convenient living. A rising tech company executive, Rachel lands a coveted spot at the Womb Center, which offers couples a convenient (and shareable) maternity by way of detachable artificial wombs, or pods. But Alvy, a botanist with an affection for nature, prefers a natural pregnancy. And yet, as Rachel’s AI therapist puts it, why is that “natural”? So begins the tech-paved path to parenthood.

Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields (U.S. Documentary Competition)

Brooke Shields, ’80s icon and household name, was a child model before she came to prominence in Louis Malle’s controversial film Pretty Baby at age 12. With a series of provocative Calvin Klein jeans ads and leading roles in 1980s teensploitation hits The Blue Lagoon and Endless Love, Shields’ early career was defined by a sexuality that she could neither claim nor comprehend.

A still from Radical starring Eugenio Derbez. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Radical (Premieres)

Who will the sixth grade students at Jose Urbina Lopez Elementary in Matamoros become? They are among the worst performing students in Mexico, the world they know is one of violence and hardship, and their classrooms are dominated by an atmosphere of overbearing discipline, not possibility. It might seem like a dead end… but it is also the perfect place for new teacher Sergio Juarez to try something different. There’s just one problem: Sergio (Eugenio Derbez; CODA, Instructions Not Included) has no idea what he’s doing.

Run Rabbit Run (Midnight)

Fertility doctor Sarah (Sarah Snook; Succession) begins her beloved daughter Mia’s seventh birthday expecting nothing amiss. But as an ominous wind swirls in, Sarah’s carefully controlled world begins to alter. Mia begins behaving oddly and a rabbit appears outside their front door — a mysterious birthday gift that delights Mia but seems to deeply disconcert Sarah. As days pass, Mia becomes increasingly not herself, demanding to see Sarah’s long-estranged, hospitalized mother (the grandmother she’s never met before) and fraying Sarah’s nerves as the child’s bizarre tantrums begin to point her toward Sarah’s own dark history. As a ghost from her past re-enters Sarah’s life, she struggles to cling to her distant young daughter.

Scrapper (World Cinema Dramatic Competition)

Following her mother’s death, a resourceful 12-year-old girl, Georgie (Lola Campbell), continues to live alone in their London-outskirts flat. She makes money stealing bikes with her friend, Ali (Alin Uzun), and keeps the social workers off her back by pretending to live with an uncle. It works like a charm until Jason (Harris Dickinson; Where the Crawdads Sing; See How They Run) shows up. Apparently, he’s her father — so long estranged that she doesn’t recognize him. Sizing him up as a rubbish dad (absent, messy, can’t cook), Georgie wonders why he’s suddenly taking an interest; especially when she’s doing just fine on her own, thank you very much.

Sometimes I Think About Dying (U.S. Dramatic Competition)

Lost on the dreary Oregon coast, Fran (Daisy Ridley; Star Wars) wastes her daylight hours in the solitude of a cubicle, listening to the constant hum of officemates, occasionally daydreaming to pass the time. She is ghosting through life unable to pop her bubble of isolation. And then Robert (Dave Merheje; Ramy)starts up at the company. He is new to town and the dynamics of the office. He is a naturally friendly person who keeps trying to chat with Fran. Though it goes against every fiber of her being, she may have to give this guy a chance.

The Starling Girl (U.S. Dramatic Competition)

Seventeen-year-old Jem Starling (Eliza Scanlen; Little Women, Sharp Objects) struggles to define her place within her fundamentalist Christian community in rural Kentucky. Even her greatest joy — the church dance group — is tempered by worry that her love of dance is actually sinful, and she’s caught between a burgeoning awareness of her own sexuality and an instinctive resistance to her mom’s insistence that the time has come to begin courting. She finds respite from her confusion in the encouragement of her youth pastor Owen (Lewis Pullman; Top Gun: Maverick), who is likewise drawn to the blossoming Jem’s attention.

A still from Stephen Curry: Underrated, part of the Special Screenings program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Stephen Curry: Underrated (Special Screenings)

Award-winning filmmaker Peter Nicks returns to Sundance (Homeroom) with his documentary Stephen Curry: Underrated, an intimate look at NBA superstar Stephen Curry’s improbable coming of age at tiny Davidson College, where, under the wing of coach Bob McKillop, the team made a thrilling run in the 2008 NCAA tournament. With access to Curry throughout the 2021 season, the film also weaves the Golden State Warriors’ attempt to win another NBA championship following one of the worst seasons in franchise history.

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie (Premieres)

At age 16, an undersized army brat landed a part as a 12-year-old on a Canadian television show. Confident he could make it in the U.S., he moved into a tiny apartment in the slums of Beverly Hills. Three years later, he was struggling to scrape by and ready to retreat. But then came his breakout roles — Alex P. Keaton on the sitcom Family Ties and Marty McFly in the Back to the Future trilogy — and a superstar was born. Michael J. Fox (Danny Irizarry) dominated the industry for most of the 1980s and ’90s, but a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease at age 29 threatened to derail his career.

A still from Theater Camp with Molly Gordon and Ben Platt. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Theater Camp (U.S. Dramatic Competition)

As summer rolls around again, kids are gathering from all over to attend AdirondACTS, a scrappy theater camp in upstate New York that’s a haven for budding performers. After its indomitable founder Joan (Amy Sedaris; Strangers with Candy, Bojack Horseman, Elf) falls into a coma, her clueless “crypto-bro” son Troy (Jimmy Tatro; American Vandal, 22 Jump Street) is tasked with keeping the thespian paradise running. With financial ruin looming, Troy must join forces with Amos (Ben Platt; Pitch Perfect, Dear Evan Hansen), Rebecca-Diane (Molly Gordon; Booksmart), and their band of eccentric teachers to come up with a solution before the curtain rises on opening night.

You Hurt My Feelings (Premieres)

New York novelist Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus; Veep, Seinfeld, Enough Said) has been working for years on the follow-up to her somewhat successful memoir, sharing countless drafts with her approving, supportive husband Don (Tobias Menzes; The Crown, Casino Royale). Beth’s world quickly unravels when she overhears Don admit to her brother-in-law, Mark (Arian Moyed; Succession, Inventing Anna), that actually, he doesn’t like the new book. She vents to her sister Sara that decades of a loving, committed marriage pale in comparison to this immense betrayal. Meanwhile, therapist Don faces his own professional problems as he finds himself unable to care about or even recall his unhappy patients’ issues anymore… and they’ve begun to notice.

Young.Wild.Free (Next)

Being a teenager is rough, and Brandon (Algee Smith; Detroit, Judas and the Black Messiah) is no different. Between struggling in school, caring for his two younger siblings, and having just been let go from his job, Brandon often uses his art as an escape from the confines of his subdued day-to-day life. Enter Cassidy (Sierra Capri; On My Block), a bedazzled bad girl dripping in confidence, freedom, and danger. Lured in by her whimsy, Brandon teams up with Cassidy, seamlessly slipping into the role of Clyde to her Bonnie as they make their way down an increasingly perilous path. Also starring Sanaa Lathan (Love & Basketball) and comedian Mike Epps (Next Friday, Friday After Next).

Honorable mentions with buzz: Cassandro (Gael García Bernal; Old, Mozart in the Jungle), Fancy Dance, Drift (Cynthia Eviro; Harriet), Rotting in the Sun (Jordan Firstman; Big Mouth, The Other Two), Rye Lane (David Jonsson; Industry), Shortcomings directed by Randall Park (Always Be My Maybe, WandaVision).

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