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20 Films We Can’t Wait to See at Sundance 2024

After a couple years of online festivals, Sundance returns this week as a largely in-person event, and we'll be there. Yes, there's an online component, but it doesn't kick off until next week, and doesn't include all the titles. Clearly, Sundance wants people to come back to Park City. 

What will they find when they get there? New films by Steven Soderbergh, Jane Schoenbrun, Yance Ford, and a few more familiar faces, but the real draw of Sundance has always been the promise of discovery. We can't wait to see the best films of the year that we have no idea about today. Having said that, here are 20 that look great on paper and that we plan to cover. Come back for the next two weeks for detailed reviews by Brian Tallerico, Robert Daniels, Marya E. Gates, Monica Castillo, Tomris Laffly, and Niani Scott. See you on the other side!

The American Society of Magical Negroes

A young man, Aren, is recruited into a secret society of magical Black people who dedicate their lives to a cause of utmost importance: making white people’s lives easier.

If The Birth of a Nation by D.W. Griffith is proclaimed “the greatest picture ever made,” then the “Magical Negro” — a Black supporting character who exists solely to serve a white protagonist’s storyline — has been a stock character trope since the inception of American cinema.

Debut director Kobi Libii engages this trope in this clever satire and delightful fairytale-like romantic comedy about the coming of age of a young Black man who is propositioned to become a real-life Magical Negro upon narrowly escaping death after a string of racial microaggressions get out of hand.\

The American Society of Magical Negroes is a must-see satire about what it means for Black people to protect and care for ourselves and each other. Libii’s auspicious debut is destined to find its place in the cinematic canon of essential films about American culture.

“A Different Man”

Aspiring actor Edward undergoes a radical medical procedure to drastically transform his appearance. But his new dream face quickly turns into a nightmare, as he loses out on the role he was born to play and becomes obsessed with reclaiming what was lost.

Writer-director Aaron Schimberg’s latest film is a surreal, singular tale of one man’s desire to self-actualize. Sebastian Stan is Edward, a man overcome by the reality of his appearance, intent on curing his alienation and transcending his self- and socially enforced artistic potential. Adam Pearson and Renate Reinsve carefully embody foils to Edward’s ambition, an artistic and philosophical juxtaposition of his, and our, conceits.

Through a haunting score and folkloric magical realism, a unique psychological thriller emerges. A stylish vision of the theatrical currents of New York stages a universe where reality and fiction blend in beautiful ways; where lies, expectations, and internal turmoil weave a man’s consequentially incipient senses of truth and becoming. A Different Man is a reflexive allegory for the modern tortured artist, a subversive, gothic fairytale that deftly begets obsession.

“Exhibiting Forgiveness”

Utilizing his paintings to find freedom from his past, a Black artist on the path to success is derailed by an unexpected visit from his estranged father, a recovering addict desperate to reconcile. Together, they learn that forgetting might be a greater challenge than forgiving.

This soulful, sophisticated, and beautifully crafted debut feature blossoms a hard-to-tell story about destructive parenting, the seasons of angst weathered by an abused child becoming a successful human being, and the deep meaning and salve of creative practice.

Oscar-shortlisted filmmaker and celebrated painter Titus Kaphar turns his attention again to cinema to innovate a fresh cinematic language that incorporates the language of paint and canvas to tells the story of Tarrell (André Holland), an art star reckoning with his own traumatic childhood by creating powerful and transcendent paintings.

At the radiant heart of Exhibiting Forgiveness is Tarell’s artistic process, which illuminates how a creative practice can redeem illnesses of the soul, forge pathways toward regaining power over one’s own destiny, and forgive and transform despite the spiritual damage.

“Freaky Tales”

In 1987 Oakland, a mysterious force guides The Town’s underdogs in four interconnected tales: Teen punks defend their turf against Nazi skinheads, a rap duo battles for hip-hop immortality, a weary henchman gets a shot at redemption, and an NBA All-Star settles the score. Basically another day in the Bay.

Since premiering their short Gowanus, Brooklyn at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden have forged careers marked by fresh story sensibilities, rigorous character complexities, and outstanding performances. A mind-blowing mixtape and joyful ode to the ’80s, Freaky Tales imaginatively fuses styles and cinematic influences with giddy abandon, yielding a pastiche of pulp, pop, comic books, anthology horror, Old Testament wrath, and kung fu by way of a bloody crescendo that leaves no appendage unsevered. The supernatural storm brewing above Oakland empowers its ensemble of underdog warriors with a spirit of righteous retribution as they take on bullies, corruption, racism, misogyny, the Man, and the Lakers. A stirring anthem to solidarity and Oakland’s egalitarian, countercultural, and multicultural spirit, Freaky Tales reminds a world of wrongdoing that this is what you get when you mess with the underdogs — after all, there are more of us.

"Girls State”

Teenage girls from wildly different backgrounds across Missouri navigate a week-long immersive experiment in American democracy, build a government from the ground up, and reimagine what it means to govern.

Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss’ anticipated return to the captivating world of teenage-led politics follows ambitions unfolding as hundreds of teenage girls gather to build a representative government in Missouri during a session of Girls State co-hosted alongside Boys State. As the girls run for office, including governor and supreme court seats, they also methodically preside over a reproductive rights case while the real-life overturning of Roe v. Wade hangs in the balance. McBaine and Moss stay embedded in Girls State, following several charismatic candidates, but these aspiring change-makers keenly take note of the Boys State program, and the differences between the programs, sparking outcry and awakening.

Girls State deftly reflects urgent issues around gender equality and our political landscape through the energetic and tenacious lens of youth. The candidates’ resilience and adaptability shine through, revealing that no closed doors are stopping these girls.

“Handling the Undead”

On a hot summer day in Oslo, the newly dead awaken. Three families faced with loss try to figure out what this resurrection means and if their loved ones really are back. Based on the book by John Ajvide Lindqvist.

Reuniting Renate Reinsve and Anders Danielsen Lie (The Worst Person in the World, 2022 Sundance Film Festival), Handling the Undead is a visually expansive experience, full of arresting images and subtle performances that collapse the space between the living and the dead. Director Thea Hvistendahl’s steady directorial hand leaves her characters room to breathe, to mediate the moral gray area, letting the minutiae of grief lead them as they feel their way through an extraordinary circumstance. Hvistendahl’s interpretation of Lindqvist’s novel addresses daunting questions about the body, the soul, loss, and moving on, pushing viewers to get to the root of reanimation: What would you do, and how would you feel, if someone you loved returned?

“I Saw the TV Glow”

Teenager Owen is just trying to make it through life in the suburbs when his classmate introduces him to a mysterious late-night TV show — a vision of a supernatural world beneath their own. In the pale glow of the television, Owen’s view of reality begins to crack.

Writer-director Jane Schoenbrun’s “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” (2021 Sundance Film Festival) introduced us to a new genre of their own design: emo horror. Their follow-up feature builds upon that vibe, worming its way into the subconscious with an equally potent autopsy of reality versus fiction. As Owen, Justice Smith exudes a quiet vulnerability, while co-lead Brigette Lundy-Paine displays a confident yet awkward conviction. Schoenbrun has a knack for portraying the trappings of adolescent family life with nuance and a welcome ambiguity, freeing audience members to relate in a way that is best suited to their own experiences. “I Saw the TV Glow” forces us to consider whether the memories of our youth betrayed us, or if something more sinister is at play.

“Little Death”

A middle-aged filmmaker on the verge of a breakthrough. Two kids in search of a lost backpack. A small dog a long way from home.

Acclaimed music video director Jack Begert’s idiosyncratic debut feature, co-written with Dani Goffstein, takes a cockeyed but sensitive look at Hollywood dreams and disappointments. Little Death is a dark comedy about a screenwriter’s (David Schwimmer) midlife identity crisis and a crime drama about a pair of taco truck entrepreneurs (Talia Ryder and Dominic Fike) in search of their next opioid fix. In true Los Angeles fashion, these characters collide at a tragicomic intersection, and the film shifts gears from barbed showbiz satire to an introspective hangout vibe. Throughout, Little Death stays deeply attuned to the inner lives of its restless dreamers, examining their efforts to find meaning and connection while struggling against the fickleness of fate and the illusion of free will. Begert deploys disorienting bursts of surreal montage and oddball AI animation to convey Schwimmer’s fractured psyche and draws on a terrific ensemble including Jena Malone, Gaby Hoffman, and Karl Glusman.

Love Lies Bleeding

Reclusive gym manager Lou falls hard for Jackie, an ambitious bodybuilder headed through town to Las Vegas in pursuit of her dream. But their love ignites violence, pulling them deep into the web of Lou’s criminal family.

Following her critically acclaimed first feature Saint Maud, Rose Glass makes her Sundance Film Festival debut with a bombastic, larger-than-life sophomore effort. An off-the-wall, rambunctious lesbian love story crashes into a family drama of the darkest ilk in this muscular thriller. As a small-town gym and a ravine just outside city limits become the playground for all flavors of mischief and mayhem, a heightened Americana sensibility and Glass’ deliciously distinctive, bold style create a world that is at once familiar and entirely fresh. Helmed by Sundance regular Kristen Stewart (Speak, Adventureland, Certain Women) and Katy O’Brian, Love Lies Bleeding is somehow as sweetly romantic about loyalty as it is doggedly hedonistic. With a vaulting imagination and its roots in deeply human places, this film packs a gut punch unlike any other.

“Love Me”

Long after humanity’s extinction, a buoy and a satellite meet online and fall in love.

As filmmakers Sam & Andy demonstrate in their wildly imaginative debut feature, telling the love story of a smart buoy and an orbiting satellite that spans a billion years and probes the mysteries of being and consciousness requires legit storytelling dexterity. Love Me's whimsically philosophical, shape-shifting structure ingeniously weaves together the real, the virtual, and the surreal. Its star-crossed, web-paired metallic protagonists — inhabited in different forms by Kristen Stewart and Steven Yeun — awkwardly navigate romance and companionship, equipped only with untold petabytes of archived web data, social media, and online videos. Awash in these mediated experiences and fabricated expressions of love and identity, they yearn to understand who they are, whether their feelings are real, and for that matter, whether they are real.

Never Look Away

New Zealand–born groundbreaking CNN camerawoman Margaret Moth risks it all to show the reality of war from inside the conflict, staring down danger and confronting those who perpetuate it.

Moth’s intrepid energy and kinetic lust are rendered beautifully in this documentary, which deftly captures both her powerful personality and the nascent development of the 24-hour news cycle. “Never Look Away” asks hard-hitting questions about where our desire for conflict coverage comes from, whether it can ever be satiated, and what we are running from when we are absorbed by work and by relentless global news. Moth's indelible commitment to her work, her striking aesthetic, her deeply mysterious nature, and her gargantuan contributions to the field of journalism all come to the fore in this potent biopic.

Renowned actor Lucy Lawless (Xena: Warrior Princess, Battlestar Galactica, Parks and Recreation) steps behind the camera in this impressive directorial debut. Lawless creates a distinctively female, Kiwi lens to cover this titanic career, showing both the horrors and life-affirming dimensions of war from a woman’s point of view.

“The Outrun”

After living life on the edge in London, Rona attempts to come to terms with her troubled past. She returns to the wild beauty of Scotland’s Orkney Islands — where she grew up — hoping to heal. Adapted from the bestselling memoir by Amy Liptrot.

Nora Fingscheidt’s poignant adaptation of Amy Liptrot’s fearless memoir details the author’s liberation from drug and alcohol addiction, a triumph forged on the enchanted, wind-battered coasts of her childhood home. The Outrun traces Rona’s false starts and setbacks on the road to recovery through harrowing flashbacks to her downward spiral in London and her reckoning with reality in a strict rehab program. But Fingscheidt is more concerned with Rona’s final destination — deliverance from personal demons through transcendent communion with nature. Grounded in local lore and rich with Liptrot’s journalistic digressions on the land and its life-forms, The Outrun artfully ties Rona’s healing to her growing environmental stewardship. Four-time Academy Award nominee Saoirse Ronan gives a heartbreaking, humane performance that moves from woozy self-annihilation to serene calm.

Power

Driven to maintain social order, policing in the United States has exploded in scope and scale over hundreds of years. Now, American policing embodies one word: power.

A cogent essay film inviting conscious engagement and reflection on a system of control that has gone largely unquestioned, Power is a sweeping chronicle of the history and evolution of policing in the U.S. With assured precision and deep insight, filmmaker Yance Ford (Strong Island, U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Storytelling, 2017 Sundance Film Festival) compellingly argues that the perceived danger of race to the status quo is central to the origins of policing and to its unchecked expansion. Asking pointed, uncomfortable questions about privilege and class; about who belongs to the social order and who is excluded; and about our collective responsibility in actively or tacitly permitting those in power to escape accountability, Power confronts us with the prescient words of Frederick Douglass: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

“Presence”

A family moves into a suburban house and becomes convinced they’re not alone.

In every project of his legendary career as a director, producer, screenwriter, cinematographer, and editor, Steven Soderbergh has brought a vital energy, curiosity, and unique vision to storytelling that has few parallels in filmmaking history. Following groundbreaking work like sex, lies, and videotape (1989 Sundance Film Festival, Audience Award: Dramatic) and The Girlfriend Experience (2009 Sundance Film Festival), he returns to Park City with a film shot entirely in one location that will haunt audiences with its otherworldly story and constantly awe-inspiring visuals. Working from a taut, mysterious script by David Koepp and featuring an exciting cast of known actors and newcomers, Presence is a thrilling cinematic ride that reifies Soderbergh’s status as an icon of American independent film.

“A Real Pain”

Mismatched cousins David and Benji reunite for a tour through Poland to honor their beloved grandmother. The adventure takes a turn when the pair’s old tensions resurface against the backdrop of their family history.

Writer-director Jesse Eisenberg (“When You Finish Saving the World,” 2022 Sundance Film Festival) returns to the Festival with a poignant, funny exploration of the unexpected permutations of intergenerational trauma. Eisenberg’s intimate, resonant script complements the tension and humor of the two very different cousins’ tumultuous road trip with a sensitively drawn reckoning of the legacy of World War II among the survivors of survivors.

While Benji’s irreverent charm only partially masks his deep melancholy, David’s frustration with and genuine love for his cousin become achingly clear. Eisenberg and Kieran Culkin give devastating, funny performances as characters grappling with their grandmother’s history and the ways their own lives have diverged. Michał Dymek’s eloquent cinematography and a Chopin-driven score bind the tour group’s complicated, emotional reaction to the Polish setting into the texture of the film.

“Sasquatch Sunset”

A year in the life of a singular family.

Sasquatch Sunset is, indeed, an utterly singular filmmaking feat. Deploying a daring approach with ferocious commitment, David and Nathan Zellner’s imaginative work captures quotidian sasquatch life with detail and rigor that is simply unforgettable. The Zellner brothers continue their long-standing contributions to the Sundance catalog with this zany gem, after collaborating on memorable Festival standouts like Damsel (2018), Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2014), KID-THING (2012), and even the felicitously titled short Sasquatch Birth Journal 2 (2011).

In a time where likenesses are of the utmost preciousness to actors, the dynamic duo Jesse Eisenberg and Riley Keough eschew traditional appearances and ego in a fantastic display of raw performance chops, dazzling dedication, and rare boldness. Eisenberg returns to Sundance after many performances (first in 2009 with Adventureland) and most recently his 2022 directorial debut, When You Finish Saving The World, as does Keough (starting in 2016’s The Girlfriend Experience and most recently with Zola in 2020), but this time in stunning, definitively never-seen-before fashion.

“Suncoast”

A teenager who, while caring for her brother along with her audacious mother, strikes up an unlikely friendship with an eccentric activist who is protesting one of the most landmark medical cases of all time. Inspired by a semi-autobiographical story.

Writer-director Laura Chinn makes an unforgettable debut with a script inspired by her own teenage experience. Set in 2005 in St. Petersburg, Florida, Suncoast is a sensitively told coming-of-age story as Chinn’s young heroine finds friendship through unexpected connections and gestures and is forced to reckon with the gravity of her brother’s health. In a breakout role, Nico Parker embodies Doris, an awkward high schooler whose unique and troubling home life ultimately provides opportunities for her freedom and an unexpected entrée into the popular kids’ clique. Laura Linney shines as Doris’ preoccupied mother and finds complex human behavior under unimaginable circumstances. Separately and together, a mother and daughter face a situation bigger than themselves that builds to a crescendo of deep emotional power and pathos.

“Tendaberry”

When her boyfriend goes back to Ukraine to be with his ailing father, 23-year-old Dakota anxiously navigates her precarious new reality, surviving on her own in New York City.

Writer-director Haley Elizabeth Anderson’s moving debut feature is an intimately scaled character study and an openhearted love letter to Brooklyn. Tendaberry’s elliptical narrative unfurls in an intricate patchwork of lyrical handheld cinematography, found footage fragments, spectral home movies, and documentary digressions. Anderson devotes the film’s first movement to a tender and clear-eyed portrait of young love before shifting her attention to Dakota’s (Kota Johan) life after loss and her struggles to stay afloat and forge community with fellow migrants in a rapidly gentrifying landscape. Tendaberry sensitively charts Dakota’s inner journey while also looking outward to craft an elegiac portrait of the city she calls home. In a breakout performance, Johan brings Dakota’s delicate but defiant voice to the foreground, both through poetic narration and lovely musical performances.

“War Game”

A bipartisan group of U.S. defense, intelligence, and elected policymakers spanning five presidential administrations participate in an unscripted role-play exercise in which they confront a political coup backed by rogue members of the U.S. military, in the wake of a contested presidential election.

Award-winning filmmakers Jesse Moss and Tony Gerber seize a unique opportunity to bring audiences tableside to a simulation that dramatically escalates the threat posed by January 6, 2021. With the grip of a thriller, War Game posits active-duty military breaking ranks to join an insurrection that soon spreads to other state capitals, yielding a chilling moment when it’s unclear whether the president fully commands the armed forces. The simulation’s outcome hinges on several inflection points, from the government’s capacity to counter the disinformation that’s effectively spread by the insurgent side to the potential invocation of the Insurrection Act (i.e., the last resort). While the exercise served to stress test our institutions, the film is a critical wake-up call, underscoring the urgent need for bipartisanship in safeguarding American democracy.

“Winner”

Reality Winner is a brilliant young misfit from a Texas border town who finds her morals challenged while serving as an NSA contractor. A sarcastic, gun-lovin, vegan, yogi, and CrossFit fanatic, Reality is an unconventional whistleblower who ends up being prosecuted for exposing Russia’s hacking of the 2016 election.

At once heartwarming and hard-hitting, Winner captures a depth of character, nuance of ideology, and historical detail that brings Reality Winner’s story to the screen with vibrancy and emotional thrust. Rarely can a true story be adapted so cinematically and with such fidelity to its subject matter. Weaving together the story of one unique family and a political landscape that has abandoned truth, Winner is a refreshing ode to people who have conviction and are willing to sacrifice to prove it.

Writer-director Susanna Fogel returns to the Premieres section with this tender political drama after bringing Cat Person to the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Sundance regular Emilia Jones (star of CODA, Fairyland, and Cat Person) once again leads up Fogel’s terrific cast including Connie Britton, Zach Galifianakis, Kathryn Newton, and Danny Ramirez.

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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