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The Best Films of Sundance 2023 – The Hollywood Reporter


Poet-turned-filmmaker Raven Jackson uses elegantly composed vignettes, minimal dialogue and an immersive style to explore the life of a Black woman in the rural South in her eloquent feature, produced by Barry Jenkins. The story follows Mack (Charleen McClure) across several decades, the fragments of her life coming together in a risky, beautifully realized film. — CARYN JAMES

Gael García Bernal nails his best role in years as groundbreaking lucha libre wrestler Saúl Armendáriz, his performance steeped in cheeky humor, resilience and radical self-belief — not to mention some amazingly nimble moves. Roger Ross Williams’ assured narrative is an exhilarating exploration of fearless queer identity in a macho environment. — DAVID ROONEY

Filled with eye-popping visuals, thrilling competitions and a deftly presented love story, Laura McGann’s documentary feature tells of a record-breaking free diver and a heroic safety diver whose lives intersect. Think Free Solo in descent, with shades of Fire of Love, and you’ll have a sense of the nervous and occasionally exhilarating rush that accompanies this heart-stopping plunge. — DANIEL FIENBERG

The first narrative feature by Olympic volleyball player Savanah Leaf is a delicate stunner about a pregnant mother trying to regain custody of her kids. With an arresting lead performance by Tia Nomore as photographer’s assistant Gia, Leaf digs into the familiar landscape of a Black mother facing an oppressive legal system and pulls from it the most unexpected and humanizing details. This is a quiet film, but one that never once loosens its grip, using an intimate register to speak to the characters instead of about them. — LOVIA GYARKYE

A bracing Thomasin McKenzie and Anne Hathaway, at her most commanding, play employees at a Massachusetts juvenile facility who are complicated and subject to dark impulses, in a spellbinding adaptation of an Ottessa Moshfegh novel from William Oldroyd (Lady Macbeth). The twisty and beguiling thriller ripples with sly humor and a bold command of the tropes of classic Hitchcockian suspense. — D.R.

As she did in The Mole Agent, Oscar-nominated documentarian Maite Alberdi treats the subjects of aging and elder care with grace and compassion in this slice-of-life study. The profoundly personal doc is an intimate collaboration with a woman bravely engaged in a battle to keep the brilliant mind of her husband, a former journalist, functioning as he struggles with Alzheimer’s. — D.R.

Cloaking a family drama in crime-film conventions, the plot of Erica Tremblay’s exceptional directorial debut concerns a young woman’s disappearance from an Oklahoma reservation and her family’s urgent attempts to locate her. As women trying to maintain hope, Lily Gladstone and newcomer Isabel Deroy-Olson deliver standout turns. — JUSTIN LOWE

Riffing on the winning formula of his breakthrough hit, Once, John Carney’s latest revolves around a plot in which romance and making music are inseparable. In this easygoing delight, a Dublin single mother (Eve Hewson) falls for a guitar teacher in L.A. (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), his understated charm creating an opposites-attract dynamic with her brash vitality. — C.J.

Filmmaker Alexandria Bombach tenderly coaxes Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, aka Indigo Girls, to look back on their oeuvre, politics and partnership in this heartfelt rockumentary. As they explore how the alchemical power of their combined songwriting talents inspired an entire generation of young listeners to embrace introspection, the duo’s candidness is the film’s revving engine. — ROBYN BAHR

Junebug screenwriter Angus MacLachlan writes and directs an understated drama centering on a North Carolina family and the messy attempts of its patriarch (David Strathairn) to solve his grown children’s problems and protect his beloved daughter-in-law (Jane Levy) from hard truths. The film’s emotional impact unfolds as a series of quiet epiphanies, with pitch-perfect performances from a cast that also includes Celia Weston, Anna Camp and Will Pullen. — SHERI LINDEN

Lisa Cortés’ wildly entertaining doc captures the blazing comet that was Richard Wayne Penniman, attuned to the complexities of a Black artist who was unapologetically queer and flamboyant one minute, only to renounce his sexuality and hedonism as a man of God the next. Drawing from a bounty of archival material, expert interviewees including Mick Jagger and Tom Jones, and a bundle of electrifying hits, Cortés gives Little Richard the kind of full-throated recognition he was too often denied in his lifetime. — D.R.

A German film director (Franz Rogowski), his English husband (Ben Whishaw) and a Frenchwoman (Adèle Exarchopoulos) form a distorted love triangle in this wise, bitterly funny and unusually wounding work from indie auteur Ira Sachs. Sharp and superbly played, it’s a searing chronicle of romantic chaos. — JON FROSCH

It’s difficult to convey the multilayered beauty of playwright Celine Song’s exquisite debut feature, beyond urging people to see it for themselves and experience its transfixing spell. The melancholy triangulation features Greta Lee as a woman observed at three points in time, with Teo Yoo and John Magaro as the men whose fates are tethered to hers across two continents. — D.R.

Davis Guggenheim has made his strongest film to date, a deeply satisfying portrait of the entertainment superstar who has become the world’s most famous advocate for people with Parkinson’s disease. The cleverly constructed doc delivers the essence of Fox’s appeal. — D.F.

Luke Lorentzen (Midnight Family) brings viewers into the world of hospital chaplains and the patients they counsel in this challenging and sometimes wrenching documentary, packed with complex questions about suffering, faith and the limits of empathy. — S.L.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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