After two years of being completely virtual, the 2023 Sundance Film Festival is welcoming moviegoers back to Park City and Salt Lake City with a slate of more than 100 films.
On the heels of some major successes — last year saw “CODA” win the Oscar for best picture and “Summer of Soul” take the Oscar for best documentary feature — this year’s festival runs from Jan. 19 through Jan. 29.
Here’s a list of 13 movies on our radar, including big-name documentaries, feature films and a couple of kids’ flicks.
A number of personality-driven films are premiering at this year’s festival, ranging from NBA star Stephen Curry to actor Michael J. Fox. Below are our top five picks.
‘It’s Only Life After All’
“It’s Only Life After All” dives into the lives of the folk-rock duo Indigo Girls, singer-songwriters Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, who started performing together in high school and played local clubs for years before rising to fame with the hit song “Closer to Fine” in the late 1980s.
“Intimate, fun, and filled with great music, ‘It’s Only Life After All’ allows Ray and Saliers to look back on their musical partnership, personal demons, and careers spanning three decades with self-criticism, humor, and honesty,” a description on the Sundance Festival website reads.
At the helm of the documentary is Alexandria Bombach, who previously won best directing in the U.S. Documentary Competition at the Sundance Film Festival with 2018’s “On Her Shoulders.”
‘Judy Blume Forever’
It’s a big year for Judy Blume. Her classic 1970s coming-of-age novel “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” is hitting the big screen later this year.
“I was and still am a die-hard Judy Blume fan,” the film’s director, Kelly Fremon Craig, recently told Entertainment Weekly. “It was one of those experiences as a kid where you just are like, ‘Someone gets me now. I need to read absolutely everything this person does because somebody out there sees me.’ It was like she had a little window into my very personal, complicated thoughts and feelings and desires, and was putting it all down in print.”
But before that film comes to life, the 84-year-old author is sharing her own coming-of-age story at Sundance. “Judy Blume Forever” chronicles the author’s life from being a “fearful, imaginative child to storytelling pioneer who elevated the physical and emotional lives of kids and teens, to banned writer who continues to fight back against censorship today,” according to the festival’s website.
‘Stephen Curry: Underrated’
“Stephen Curry: Underrated” chronicles Curry’s rise from an undersized high school basketball player to an NBA star, according to a description on the festival’s website. The documentary follows Curry through the 2021 NBA season, telling the story of how the Golden State Warriors sought an NBA championship following one of its worst seasons in history.
The documentary is directed by Peter Nicks, who won the Sundance Directing Prize with “The Force” in 2017 and who was nominated for Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize with “Homeroom” in 2021. “Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler is also listed as a producer.
‘STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie’
“STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie” chronicles the “Back to the Future” star’s rise to fame — “the improbable tale of an undersized kid from a Canadian army base who rose to the heights of stardom in 1980s Hollywood,” according to a synopsis sent to the Deseret News.
Fox’s story unfolds through a combination of documentary, archival and scripted elements, diving into his public and private life — including the years that followed his Parkinson’s disease diagnosis at the age of 29.
The film explores “what happens when an incurable optimist confronts an incurable disease,” according to the synopsis. “With a mix of adventure and romance, comedy and drama, watching the film will feel like … well, like a Michael J. Fox movie.”
‘Willie Nelson & Family’
Described on the Sundance Film Festival website as “the first and only documentary on the iconic Willie Nelson,” “Willie Nelson & Family” is a five-part series that explores the Red Headed Stranger’s seven-decade career and personal life, including his activism and philanthropy.
With “Willie Nelson & Family,” filmmakers Thom Zimny (“Springsteen on Broadway”) and Oren Moverman create an “intimate and cinematic memoir,” “traversing the highs, lows, and in-betweens of Willie’s personal life and professional career,” according to the Sundance Festival’s website. “Alongside close friends and family who have accompanied him on a remarkable journey, Willie tells his story in his own voice.”
5 feature films — and a documentary
On the surface, “Cat Person” has a lot going for it. The film stars Emilia Jones of “CODA” fame — “CODA” was a breakout hit at Sundance that went on to win the 2022 Oscar for best picture — and Nicholas Braun of “Succession.” According to the Sundance Festival website, the film is “inspired by the most-read piece of fiction ever published in The New Yorker,” Kristen Roupenian’s 2017 short story “Cat Person.”
Described as a “provocative portrait of modern dating,” “Cat Person” tells the story of Margot, a college sophomore who goes on a date with an older man, Robert, who she met while working at the movie theater. Margot discovers that Robert is different in person than he is in text messages, highlighting “the dangerous projections we make in our minds about the person at the other end of our phones,” according to a synopsis sent to the Deseret News.
‘Flora and Son’
A late addition to the Sundance Film Festival lineup — and coming from “Sing Street” director John Carney — “Flora and Son” stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a guitar teacher.
The film tells the story of Flora, a young mother in Dublin, who struggles to understand her son, Max. Ultimately, the mother and son “connect over a twice-discarded used guitar,” and “the uniting power of music brings them closer than what simple proximity can provide,” according to a description on the Sundance Festival website.
‘Sometimes I Think About Dying’
Starring Daisy Ridley of “Star Wars” sequel trilogy fame, “Sometimes I Think About Dying” tells the story of Fran, a woman who is perfectly content to spend her day alone in her cubicle at work, daydreaming in isolation. But this dynamic changes when outgoing Robert begins to work at the office: “Though it goes against every fiber of her being, she may have to give this guy a chance,” the synopsis reads.
Ultimately, the film is described as “an unexpected fable on the virtues of living.”
‘The Longest Goodbye’
“The Longest Goodbye” examines the reality of spending months on a spaceship — “not the romanticized, exciting vision of a space mission, but the fundamentals of day-to-day reality: the isolation, confinement, and lack of privacy and social contact,” reads a description on the festival’s website.
While discussing the possibility of sending humans to Mars, “The Longest Goodbye” delves into the tug-and-pull between the need for connection and the desire to explore the unknown.
Featuring Broadway Star Ben Platt — the original Evan in “Dear Evan Hansen” — and Will Ferrell as a producer, “Theater Camp” was a no-brainer addition to this list. When the founder of a theater camp in upstate New York falls into a coma, it’s up to her “clueless ‘crypto-bro’ son” to keep things running, according to the film’s description.
‘You Hurt My Feelings’
The cast alone is enough to put “You Hurt My Feelings” on this list. Featuring “Seinfeld” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tobias Menzies of “The Crown,” “You Hurt My Feelings” tells the story of novelist Beth, who begins to question her longstanding marriage when she overhears her husband giving his honest reaction to her latest book.
The comedy explores whether loving someone also requires you to love their work, and is directed by Sundance veteran Nicole Holofcener, who co-wrote the screenplay for the 2018 film “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
‘Aliens Abducted My Parents and Now I Feel Kinda Left Out’
This movie wins the award for best title. Filmed in Utah, “Aliens Abducted My Parents and Now I Feel Kinda Left Out” introduces viewers to teenager Itsy, an aspiring journalist who moves with her family to the small town of Pebble Falls. While struggling to adjust, Itsy meets her space-obsessed neighbor Calvin, who believes his parents were abducted by aliens and that it is his mission to locate them and join them in space. As they work to solve the mystery, Itsy and Calvin form an unexpected but heartwarming friendship.
“Blueback” tells the story of a marine biologist named Abby, who is researching Australia’s deteriorating coral reefs when she learns that her mother, Dora, has suffered a stroke. Abby begins to reflect on her childhood and her mother’s efforts to protect the waters — an effort that often put a strain on their relationship. When Abby befriends a rare fish named Blueback, she is reminded of her love for her mother and the water.
The film is based on Tim Winton’s 1997 novella of the same name, and stars Mia Wasikowska, who starred as Alice in Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” in 2010.
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It’s time to Sundance! Here are 13 movies we’re excited to see
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