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15 Best Movies and Performances of 2017 Sundance Film Festival

From fringe-movement docs to a baker’s dozen of Cate Blanchetts – these were the films and unforgettable turns that made our festival

15 Best Movies and Performances of Sundance 2017

From fringe-movement docs to a baker's dozen of Cate Blanchetts – our picks for the 15 best movies & performances at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

Sundance (3)

We went in to the 2017 Sundance Film Festival with 25 titles we were dying to catch – and some 40 movies, numerous long shuttle rides, dozens of snow flurries and several bottles of eye-drops later, we returned from Park City, Utah, wowed by movies that ran the gamut from high-fiber documentaries to high-caliber dramas to a mood piece featuring Casey Affleck under a sheet that made us feel high. Per usual, the 2017 edition coughed up a handful of expected treasures, some real out-of-nowhere stunners and occasional disappointments … and even some of those latter ones came blessed with some acting turns that stayed with us long after we trudged into the slush outside the theater. Here are our choices for the best movies and performances from this year's Sundance.  

Woody Harrelson, ‘Wilson’

Yes, this movie of Daniel Clowes' 2010 graphic novel (adapted by the indie comics' legend himself) feels a bit like Clowes lite. But that doesn't subtract from Woody Harrelson's go-for-broke take on the titular misanthrope, a chatty cynic who has the ability to ruin any social situation in seconds flat. It's hard to think of anyone who could have pulled off the part's balancing act of oddball sunniness and self-loathing, or make you believe Wilson could charm an entire cellblock without playing down the character's irritiable edges. Kudos also go to Laura Dern, who proves that nobody can end a sentence with the word "man" and imbue it with so much bone-deep bitterness.

‘Oklahoma City’

The bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995 was not just the biggest act of domestic terrorism in the U.S. to date – it was also the culmination of fringe anti-government sentiments that had moved from actively threatening the Feds to acting out. Like O.J.: Made in America, Barak Goodman's look at the tragedy goes to great lengths to contextualize what happened and why; by the time Timothy McVeigh finally comes on the scene right before the halfway point, you completely understand how and why he felt compelled to such grand-scale violence. And given the doc's emphasis on the growing American militia/alt-right movement, this could not be timelier.

Zoe Lister-Jones, ‘Band Aid’

As a writer-director, Zoe Lister-Jones does a good job of setting up this comedy-drama's premise: Rather than try couples' therapy to save their failing marriage, a couple decides to start a band and sing their frustrations out to each other. It's as a performer, however, that the triple-threat really sells the concept, adding layers to what might have been a one-note-joke protagonist. Everyone focused on the movie's clever college-rock ditties, but it's the way she sings them with such cathartic glee – and communicates the way her half of the hipster Angeleno duo navigates regret, frustration, lust and confusion with more nuance than you'd think necessary – that lifts this out of the usual indie über-quirk ghetto. She's a keeper.


Never mind the celebrity talking heads (a moratorium on in-film Eli Roth interviews, please); this fascinating close-read of one of the most famous movie sequences of all time – Psycho's shower scene – not only explains how Hitchcock set up the shots but reminds you why it's still such a masterclass in miniature re: horror moviemaking. Academics, art historians and Janet Leigh's body double all weigh in about the particulars of background painting choices and the art of covering up on-set nudity, while famous fans admire the technique. But the real takeaway is in seeing Hitch push the envelope both creatively and sociologically with his master plan – then incinerate the envelope altogether.