121 feature-length films from 37 countries premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Nobody but the programmers saw them all. But we were lucky enough to check out the following twelve standouts – from Miles Teller's wild opening night film Whiplash to the Indonesian fight flick The Raid 2 – and if you're smart, you'll catch them soon when they hit a theater near you. —Logan Hill and Katie Van Syckle
A heartbreaking tale of warring paleontologists, this documentary centers on the custody battle surrounding a complete set of South Dakota-found T-Rex bones – the dinosaur otherwise known as Sue. Based on the memoir of lead researcher Pete Larson (who made the discovery), 13 offers insight into the animosity between commercial and academic dinosaur hunters, charts Larson's byzantine legal battles and warns of unfettered federal power when 65 million-year-old bones are at stake. —K.V.S.
An indie rock musical sounds like trouble. But the same festival that championed Hedwig and the Angry Inch in 2001 again proves the two can mix. With God Help The Girl, Belle & Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch presents a delightfully, whimsical tale of summer fun in Glasgow. Sundance jurors agreed, giving Murdoch the uniquely titled "World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for the Delightful Ensemble Performance, and How the Director Brought His Own Unique Universe into Cinema." Written, directed and scored by Murdoch, the film stars Emily Browning, Olly Alexander and Hannah Murray as three friends forming a band whose lives keep turning into a Belle & Sebastian song. —K.V.S.
It takes a while to get used to the idea of SNL vets Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader as suicidal siblings in Craig Johnson's drama, but they wield their late-night chemistry with sobering strength. (Johnson shared the Sundance screenplay award with co-writer Mark Heyman.) Then, as soon as you're settled down, they slap on the nitrous masks and improvise a hysterical dentist's office bit, complete with fart gags. A few scenes later, they're singing a showstopping rendition of Starship's pop ballad "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now." We knew Wiig had range, but Hader too? Nothing's gonna stop them now. —L.H.
When hacktivist Aaron Swartz committed suicide in early 2013, he became an instant icon for the information-wants-to-be-free movement. This documentary burnishes his brainy legend while explaining his intellectual evolution and pointedly critiquing the feds who scapegoated him. It's a celebration of a kid who hacked his own brain, an excoriation of tone-deaf government that hounded him and the tragedy of a man who couldn't code his way out of depression. —L.H.
Summoning the heartland Americana of Robert Frank, the class sensitivity of Barbara Kopple and the eye-level empathy of Spellbound or Hoop Dreams, Andrew Droz Palermo and Tracy Droz Tragos's intimate doc won the grand jury prize for U.S. documentary. The film burrows into the interior lives of three kids growing up in rural Rich Hill, Missouri (population 1,396) and is a marvel of hard-won heartbreak – a story about boys who have the decked stacked against them and are determined to play their hands, whether they understand the game or not. —L.H.
This is just a short, but Andre Hyland is so damn funny you get the feeling he's going to be around for a long, long time. To describe the film would spoil it, so just check out the breakout Los Angeles comedian's mock-epic road-trip ramble for yourself here. —L.H.
As inexplicable and willfully strange as Nick Cave's oracular persona, this Bad Seed bio (which picked up Sundance honors for directing and editing) blurs the line between documentary and incantation: Staged, stylized and weird as fuck, it's the rare rock film that raises more questions than lighters. —L.H.
Winner of a well-deserved special jury prize for breakthrough talent, writer-director Justin Simien delivers a sharp satire about a campus race riot that breaks out after frat bros plan a hip-hop-themed costume party. A pointed rebuke to Tyler Perry and fat-suit farces, the film is relentlessly self-aware but doesn't get lost in the critique thanks to grounded turns by two emerging actors: Tessa Thompson and Everybody Hates Chris' Tyler James Williams. —L.H.
Twentysomething writer-director-star Desiree Akhavan's shambolic shuffle through the wilds of bisexual Brooklyn earned her scores of comparisons to Girls creator Lena Dunham. It makes sense: Like Dunham, she has a kind of self-possessed swagger, a knowing command of her craft and a taste for WTF exhibitionism. But the Iranian, bisexual Akhavan is very much her own artist – with a polyglot urban voice that comes off like an unholy cross between Fran Lebowitz, Junot Diaz, Tina Fey and Hanif Kureishi. Hands down, Akhavan's Behavior was the festival's most ready-for-prime-time debut. —L.H.
Chances are you missed Gareth Evans's first two fight flicks, Merantau and The Raid: Redemption. But you won't be able to escape the buzz for his Raid sequel, once again starring rising action stud Iko Uwais. Bigger, badder and more brutal than any fight flick in years – yet shot almost entirely in real time with minimal post-production tricks – it's both neck-snappingly new and as old-school as a fist to the face. —L.H.
An opening night film about a white jazz drummer determined to be the best couldn't possibly work, could it? Yet a tremendous Miles Teller (as the drummer) and a phenomenally foul J.K. Simmons (as his sadistic teacher) jam like motherfuckers in Damien Chazelle's single-minded anthem of perfectionist monomania. They left Park City with the U.S. dramatic and audience awards. You'll leave and want to beat on something. —L.H.
Making three films that followed the same characters over 18 years (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight) wasn't ambitious enough for Richard Linklater, so he decided to tell the ultimate coming-of-age tale in Boyhood. Shot annually for twelve years, the film tracks the youth of a boy who's just six in the first scene, and eighteen in the last (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette play his divorced parents). Unique in cinema history, it's a time-lapse life story that weds the intimacy of home movies to the restless vision of one of America's most innovative and open-hearted filmmakers. —L.H.