The 12 Best Movies Of Sundance

    from murderess mermaids to beautiful biopics

    by · February 03, 2016

    Last week in Park City, Utah, film nerds and celebrities alike bundled themselves in parkas and flocked from theater to theater, soaking up the majesty of movies premiering at the Sundance Film Festival. And this year’s lineup did not disappoint. From the mind-blowingly unique—singing mermaid sisters who eat men, anyone?—to historical, politically charged biopics, this year’s array of cinema had us buzzing long after our planes landed back home. We were particularly moved by the intersectional awareness present in the films, with a diversity of experiences and identities represented across the board. It was hard to pick our favorite, so we narrowed it down to 12. Ahead, the films that got stuck in our brains—and that are sure to continue attracting attention.

    Photo courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.

    The Lure

    A horror musical about mermaid sisters in Poland who work at a nightclub and eat men for fun might sound more like a dream than like the plot of a film that could be put into production and accepted into a prestigious festival, but rest assured, it’s real. Perhaps more destined for a cult following than for mainstream critical acclaim, this trippy, loud, gruesome, whimsical flick was unlike anything else at Sundance. Watch it for the outrageously creative concept, and prepare to get hooked (pun intended) on the bond between the mermaid sisters.

    Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute.

    Certain Women

    Certain Women is, above all else, about a group of loosely interconnected women and how lonely they are. It’s more slice-of-life stuff than a plot-driven narrative, and moves pretty slowly, but is riveting to watch thanks to stunning performances by Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, and Laura Dern. It’s not exactly a feel-good film: Think long, painful pauses that communicate more than dialogue ever could, gorgeously shot landscapes, and poignant missed connections that’ll make you ache along with the characters.

    Photo courtesy of A Casual Romance Productions.


    A Lena Dunham-produced documentary that’ll be premiering on HBO in June, Suited follows clothiers Daniel Friedman and Rae Tutera of Bindle & Keep as they fit gender-nonconforming clients for bespoke suits. The documentary interweaves the clients’ stories, revealing how something that seems so simple, like the need for nice clothes, can present such a complicated issue for anyone who can’t shop off the rack—notably, trans people. Suited highlights the intersection of fashion, gender expression, and class in a groundbreaking way, calling attention to an issue that serves as a metaphor for trans issues in general.

    Photos courtesy of Hard Working Movies.


    Like a modern-day Paris Is Burning, this documentary takes us into the world of LGBTQ youth of color as they come together to hold dance-offs, vogueing their way right into our hearts. It’s an important, poignant look at what life is like for young queer people who don’t fit into the white, middle class, gender binary version of the contemporary gay rights movement—and how for many people, families are chosen, not given.

    Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute.

    First Girl I Loved

    This coming-of-age high school romance is about two girls falling in love, which sounds like a simple premise but is actually pretty groundbreaking for a feature film aimed at a mainstream audience. With tender, moving perfomances and uniquely authentic storytelling (text messages play a big role in their budding relationship, not unlike real life) this film is destined to become a classic of queer cinema.

    Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute.


    The quiet, meditative pacing of So Yong Kim’s film also helps it feel wildly personal. It was, after all, filmed in her house, written by her and her husband, and executed with an intimacy that has come to characterize Sundance films. The two leads—Riley Keough and Jena Malone—certainly are powerful names, but Lovesong finally gives them a vehicle to be something other than character actors. The first act traces their long-neglected friendship and the blurred lines of affection in a sleepy, languid road trip filled with lots of longing looks. The second half, however, opens raw wounds in an emotional, painfully real depiction of the love between all women.

    Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute.

    Manchester By The Sea

    Hailed by many as the actual best film of Sundance, Manchester By The Sea is a moving meditation on loss, grief, and ultimately, healing. Casey Affleck gives a breathtaking performance as a handyman in Boston who, after the sudden death of his brother, is given custody of his teenage nephew. Watch with tissues and someone to hug.

    Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute.

    Under The Shadow

    Set in Tehran, this horror flick is unlike anything in its genre. A mother and daughter experience supernatural forces in their bombed-out building—it’s a great scary movie, but so much more, exploring the mother/daughter relationship as well as shedding light on the anxieties of living in a war-torn place.

    Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute.

    Green Room
    The best part of this indie thriller is entering it pretty blind; the tone twists and turns, with a gritty, authentically punk bent on a high-stakes situation. The backwoods Oregon locale, along with the Chelsea haircuts, Doc Martens, and Dead Kennedys references worked together to create an eerie amalgam of an America lost in time. As we were leaving the film, we heard it described this as “Assault On Precinct 13 With Skinheads,” and they weren’t wrong.

    Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute.

    Fundamentals of Caring

    At once funny and incredibly moving, this Paul Rudd flick centers around the unlikely relationship between a caregiver and his first client—a teenager with muscular dystrophy. One road trip plotline and a sprinkling of Selena Gomez later, and this has all the makings of a major feel-good hit.

    Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute.

    The Birth Of A Nation

    The film that had everyone in Park City buzzing with excitement was well worth the hype. Telling the story of former slave Nat Turner who lead a liberation movement in Virginia in 1831, this powerful biopic depicts slavery with a raw honesty that had (until 12 Years A Slave) been conspicuously absent from Hollywood. It’s confrontational, violent, and provocative, thanks in no small part to the impressive talents of writer/director/producer/actor Nate Parker.

    Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute.

    Love & Friendship

    Surprised to learn Jane Austen was hilarious? So were the viewers of Love & Friendship, based on Austen’s novella Lady Susan. This mean-girl comedy gets its substance from its time period—during which women didn’t have rights and often had to take matters into their own hands. The matter in the plot here is class, as Lady Susan seeks a better position in society through marriage.

    Tags: film, sundance
    Main: Permalink:
    Last updated: 2016-02-03T18:00:44-05:00
    NYLON Media I, LLC

    More By This Author

    Stories We Love