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12 Must-See Sundance Successes

The buzziest films to come out of this year’s festival

whiplash sundance

Daniel McFadden

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

Rich Hill

Andrew Droz Palermo

‘Rich Hill’

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.

20,000 Days On Earth

Amelia Troubridge

‘20,000 Days on Earth’

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. 

Dear White People

Ashley Beireis Nguyen

‘Dear White People’

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.

Appropriate Behavior

Chris Teague

‘Appropriate Behavior’

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.

The Raid 2: Berendal

Sundance Institute

‘The Raid 2: Berendal’

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.

boyhood

Boyhood

‘Boyhood’

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.

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