Was This the Best Sundance Narrative Feature Year Ever?

Or has my bad movie radar just improved?

Maybe this year’s narrative features at Sundance were the best ever, or maybe my mediocre-movie radar has simply improved. In any case, I didn’t find a bad title in the bunch; here are five to watch for as they make their way to theaters and streaming services later this year.

Magazine Dreams

Jonathan Majors is spectacular as an aspiring bodybuilder in this uber-intense drama, which at times is genuinely tough to watch. His character, Killian Maddox, gives off Taxi Driver/Joker vibes as he tries to make a name for himself via steroids, binge eating, and relentless weight lifting. His slowly unraveling mental state, supercharged by racism and toxic masculinity wafting around him, makes his every interaction with other people unsettling, particularly a date with his supermarket co-worker (Haley Bennett). The title takes on an alarming double meaning as he starts to think about other ways to make the world remember him.

You Hurt My Feelings

I’d say Nicole Holofcener is the new Woody Allen, but that feels like too-faint praise. In her latest wordy, neurotic comedy, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is Beth, a Manhattan-based author who overhears her husband Don (Tobias Menzies) saying he doesn’t actually like her new book. Don, meanwhile, struggles to give a shit about any of his therapy clients, and Beth’s sister (a brilliant Michaela Watkins) tries and fails to find meaning in her career as an interior designer. David Cross and Amber Tamblyn, a real life couple, make a recurring appearance as Don’s kvetchy patients. God, it’s funny.

Polite Society

This rom-com genre mashup was my second-favorite watch of this year’s fest after Holofcener’s. Ria Khan (Priya Kansara) is a British high schooler with dreams of becoming a stunt woman. She’s even got a tagline: “I am the fury!” Her sister Lena (Ritu Arya) is an art-school dropout who falls for a brilliant young geneticist looking to settle down. The sisters grapple with marriage-minded parents in a hat tip to Jane Austen, while bold chapter titles and fight sequences nod at martial-arts classics and Tarantino. Watch for the leg-waxing-as-torture scene, a standout even in a movie (a debut feature, no less!) that delighted me from beginning to end.

Run Rabbit Run

Creepy kids and whispery soundtracks make for the best horror movies, in my opinion. Sarah Snook stars as Sarah, a single mom whose 7-year-old daughter Mia is starting to freak her out, first by drawing weirdly violent portraits of herself and her pet rabbit and then by claiming she’s Sarah’s late sister. Greta Scacchi appears as Sarah’s estranged mother, grappling with dementia in a retirement home. If the film overstays its welcome a bit in its midsection, it makes up for it with a hair-raising ending I’m still mulling.

Sometimes I Think About Dying

Daisy Ridley gets about as far as one can from action movies in this low-key portrait of Fran, an office-worker introvert who hits it off with a new co-worker (Dave Merheje). Like Fran, the movie’s got a wry sense of humor, and its best moments are capturing its protagonist’s total unwillingness to engage in smalltalk. Points for subtlety, but director Rachel Lambert could have brightened things up a bit by leaning more into Fran’s titular fantasies, or just exploring her inner monologue. Also, I’d like a call a moratorium on signifying a character’s melancholy via their wearing a brown parka. Fran’s quietly brilliant performance at a murder mystery party, though, makes it all worthwhile.

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Sara Stewart

Sara Stewart is a film critic and a culture and entertainment writer whose work is featured in the New York Post, CNN.com, and more. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Sara's work can be fully appreciated at sarastewart.org. But not on Twitter, because she’s been troll-free since 2018.

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