Sundance 2023 Best Films: Where to Watch Our Favorites

As the festival returned to in-person viewing after two mostly virtual years, audiences were treated to a variety of gems. Here are our favorites.

As this year’s Sundance comes to a close on its final weekend, awards winners have been announced, big deals have been brokered, and buzz has reached a fever pitch. And thus, the inevitable: a list of all our own favorite films of the festival, the entries we’ve been yapping about for days on end and that we just can’t wait for more people to see and enjoy.

Of this year’s batch of best-of-fest, we fell hard for films like “Eileen,” “Fair Play,” “Past Lives,” and “Passages,” which all arrived at Sundance with strong headwinds, but were also delighted by dark horses like late entry “Flora and Son” and little gems “Scrapper” and “Radical.”  here are narrative features and documentaries among these picks, along with plenty of first-time filmmakers making big debuts and new offerings from some of our long-time favorite directors. And some of the festival’s prize winners, picked by both the juries and the audience, also appear here, including multi-award-winning NEXT breakout “Kokomo City.” It’s a wonderful sampling of the depth of films that arrive each year at Sundance.

At the time of publication, a number of these films have already been picked up for distribution; some even have release dates ready. In those cases, we’ve made a note of when and how you can check them out; for everything else, we’ll keep updating this article as more announcements are made, so feel free to keep it bookmarked.

Ryan Lattanzio, Jude Dry, and Christian Blauvelt also contributed to this article.


How and When You Can See It: Shudder produced the film and will release it at a later date.

God bless Shudder for picking this up and giving Moss the creative freedom to make one of the most naturalistic — and, it must be said, saddest — horror movies in recent memory. In what would make a great double feature with “A Still Small Voice,” “Birth/Rebirth” is a horror movie about grief: a hospital nurse (Judy Reyes) loses her six-year-old daughter to bacterial meningitis. She crosses paths with the hospital pathologist (Marin Ireland), who believes she has a radical method of bringing the dead back to life — but at what cost? A women-led “Frankenstein” story follows that derives most of its squirms and gross-out moments from what are actual medical procedures and hospital-set traumas that anyone could potentially face. Certainly childbirth itself being among them. Will this be “too real” a horror movie for some people? Possibly. But the best horror always taps into what it means to live as much as what it means to die, and the ethical compromises that pop up as these two women try to revive this little girl are horror indeed. Also horrific? That fact it makes you face your own answer to this question: just how far would you go, what morality would you discard, to bring back to life a lost loved one? —CB



Courtesy of Sundance Institute


How and When You Can See It: The film is currently seeking distribution.

In the first scene of “Eileen,” the protagonist stakes out in her car on a dreary winter lakefront lovers’ lane in the Boston outskirts. As another couple makes out in a backseat of the next car, Eileen watches, glowering lustily, and grabs a handful of muddy snow, shoves it down her pants, and masturbates.

The rest of “Lady Macbeth” director William Oldroyd’s second feature never quite matches the giddy perversity of that image, but no matter, because this stylish 1960s-set noir adapted from Ottessa Moshfegh’s mean and pungent novel of the same name is a dark treat throughout. Thomasin McKenzie, playing the title character, and Anne Hathaway, playing the alluring blonde-headed woman that seemingly drops from the sky and into her life, give career-best performances in an oddly touching queer almost-romance that feels like a cross between “Carol” and Hitchcock (Moshfegh herself has named his film “Rebecca,” which shares a name with Hathaway’s character here, as a touchstone). But it’s also entirely its own weird, beautiful thing, even if it doesn’t quite rub audiences as deeply in the muck of Eileen’s miserable existence as the novel did. —RL

“Earth Mama”

How and When You Can See It: A24 produced the film and will release it at a later date.

Learn the names Savanah Leaf, first-time feature filmmaker, and Tia Nomore, first-time feature actress, right now, because their debut film “Earth Mama” is a shimmering stunner. A former Olympic volleyball athlete, Leaf has a canny eye for locating the subversion and beauty within a welfare-system drama about a single mother fighting for her life and children. What sounds, on paper, like a challenging sit is a stirring 97-minute feature, whose director and star are obviously poised for greatness.

Any film tackling the petty and punishing bureaucracies of the foster care system risks wading into melodrama or cliche, but “Earth Mama” largely avoids those rookie traps, and with an unpredictable and fiercely focused actress at its roots. Leaf searched far and wide for a Bay Area non-actor to embody Gia, a young Black mother whose son and daughter from an all-but-nonexistent father are in foster-care limbo while she recovers from drug addiction and has barely a dollar to her prepaid cell phone credits. Tia Nomore, frequently seen on the Bay Area freestyle battle-rap circuit, had been training to become a doula for Black families when she was cast, and her personal connection runs through the material. A tremendously moving film. —RL

Paulina Urrutia and Augusto Góngora appear in The Eternal Memory by Maite Alberdi, an official selection of the World Documentary Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by the press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

“The Eternal Memory”

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

“The Eternal Memory”

How and When You Can See It: MTV Documentary Films purchased the film at the festival and will release it at a later date, complete with a theatrical rollout.

“The Mole Agent” director Maite Alberdi is now the great chronicler of resilience in old age, as this moving follow-up proves. The intimate chronicle of married Chilean couple Augusto Góngora, a veteran journalist who covered the Pinochet dictatorship, and actress Paula Urrutia, follows the pair as Góngora suffers from Alzheimer’s disease while struggling to retain his memories. This tragic condition doubles as a metaphor for the country’s relationship to its troubled past, as Góngora himself wrote extensively about the need to retain a connection to the struggles of dictatorship despite the progress of democracy.

As a result of these multiple threads, “The Eternal Memory” is a touching two-hander with a lot on its mind: It’s a heartbreaking romance, a medical document, and a rousing call to action all at once. —EK

“Fair Play”

How and When You Can See It: Netflix purchased the film at the festival and will release it at a later date.

From the moment the hotshot couple at the center of “Fair Play” sneak off to the bathroom for a quickie, only to wind up bathed in period blood, it’s clear that writer-director Chloe Domont isn’t here to sanitize her subject. In her taut debut, the power couple of Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) can’t seem to agree on who has the upper hand: Both work in a cutthroat financial firm that dominates their lives, but when Emily gets promoted and becomes Luke’s manager, the hierarchy is clear to everyone but him.

The first big sale of Sundance 2023 (Netflix, $20 million) recaptures the subversive intrigue of icy corporate thrillers, from “Disclosure” to “American Psycho,” while bringing its own suspenseful rhythms to a dark two hander in which the power dynamic keeps getting thornier. The first #MeToo movie about the one percent is sure to get people talking about a cutthroat world dominated by masculine cruelty in which the philosophy of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” is the ultimate tragedy of the modern age. —EK

Flora and Son

“Flora and Son”

Courtesy Sundance Film Festival

“Flora and Son”

How and When You Can See It: AppleTV+ purchased the film at the festival and will release it at a later date.

After taking a break from feature filmmaking for nearly eight years, John Carney returns with a familiar tune: a cozy Irish musical about the ways in which music can bond people together, the joy of creation, and the pleasure of someone unpacking their soul, all with that lovely Irish lilt. To premiere his “Flora and Son,” Carney has also returned to familiar ground, bringing the low-key and lo-fi charmer to Sundance, where both his breakout hit “Once” and his crowd-pleasing gem “Sing Street” debuted in previous years. Given the spontaneous clap-a-long and rapturous standing ovation the film earned during its first screening, Carney’s instinct to deliver this particular winner to this particular audience was bang-on.

Set in working-class Dublin, Carney’s latest concerns the messy lives of the eponymous Flora (a wonderful Eve Hewson), her troubled young son Max (a very charming Oren Kinlan in his first starring role), and Flora’s soon-to-be ex-husband Ian (returning “Sing Street” star Jack Reynor). Nothing has quite worked out for this fractured family the way they’d hoped, and it will take something special – like a tossed-off guitar that Flora literally fishes out of the garbage – to start them on a road to healing, all set to peppy original jams. So far, so cute. The film screams “crowdpleaser,” so here’s hoping that whole crowds get a chance to see it when Apple releases it. It’s a gem. —KE

“Judy Blume Forever”

How and When You Can See It: Amazon produced the film and will release it on Prime Video on April 21.

As Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok’s warm-hearted documentary “Judy Blume Forever” approaches its final minutes, even the most stone-faced of audiences are likely to shed a few tears. Throughout the Judy Blume-centric feature, the beloved American author is joined by a number of talking heads — a classy assortment, from Blume’s own kids and childhood pals to fellow authors like Mary H.K. Choi and Jacqueline Woodson, plus famous devotees like Lena Dunham and Molly Ringwald — but none are as meaningful as Lorrie Kim and Karen Chilstrom, two long-time fans who have corresponded with Blume for decades. It should come as little surprise that the best-selling author gets (even to this day!) tons of fan mail, but that Blume delights in saving much of it, often responding to it, and truly cherishing it is just one of the delights to be found in the doc.

Organized mostly chronologically, Blume herself walks us through some of her biggest books and what was going on in her life at the time she was writing them (cute and kicky animations provide a backdrop when Blume reads aloud from her works). Firstly, though, there is her childhood, which sheds light on how some of Blume’s most essential obsessions formed. A child of World War II (she keenly remembers turning seven as it ended), Blume still recalls the feeling that adults weren’t being totally truthful with her about the big stuff. The war was “far away” and couldn’t hurt her. She didn’t need to worry about her father’s health. Being happy was easy. Even as a kiddo, Blume knew it was bunk.

But who could tell other kids that? Eventually, Judy Blume could. This charming doc is perfect for both fans of Blume and those looking for an introduction to a bonafide American icon. Also on deck this spring? The long-awaited big screen adaptation of Blume’s “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” Looks like the Blume-assiance is in full, well, bloom. —KE

"Kokomo City"

“Kokomo City”

D. Smith/Courtesy of Sundance

“Kokomo City”

How and When You Can See It: Magnolia purchased the film at the festival and will release it at a later date.

To say “Kokomo City” is about the lives of four Black trans sex workers would be true, but it doesn’t give a full picture of its artistry. Making a triumphant directorial debut, filmmaker D. Smith also shot and edited her gorgeous black and white film, adding a host of original songs to her eclectic score as well. Smith employs a lyrical photographic style reminiscent of “Hale County This Morning, This Evening” with a touch of “Shakedown,” but gives her subjects enough space to express themselves that a satisfying character study emerges. In intimate conversations that typically only happen behind closed doors, Liyah, Daniella, Koko, and Dominique share their thoughts on living stealth, what led them to sex work, and the hypocrisy of the men who see them on the down low. It’s as if they’re speaking to a friend (and maybe they are), using a shorthand that forces the viewer to keep up or risk missing the jokes.

Smith often shoots the women from below, placing herself on the floor at their feet, so they hover like queens above the camera. Sometimes, she’ll use a painful anecdote to narrate an erotic photoshoot on a bed, showing the girls luxuriating in their femininity. She interviews a few trans-attracted men, too, and cuts their energetic sermons with footage of a graceful male ballet dancer. The film’s electrifying final shot feels like both a provocation and a celebration; a full-throated embodiment of the bravado and beauty we’ve just been entrusted to witness. May audiences be humble enough to recognize the privilege. —JD


How and When You Can See It: MUBI purchased the film at the festival and will release it at a later date, complete with a theatrical rollout.

A signature new drama from a director whose best work (“Keep the Lights On,” “Love Is Strange”) is at once both generously tender in its brutality and unsparingly brutal in its tenderness, the raw and resonant “Passages” is the kind of fuck around and find out love triangle that rings true because we aspire to its sexier moments but see ourselves in its most selfish ones. Those highs and lows all stem from Franz Rogowski’s Tomas, a needy and short-sighted filmmaker who careens through life with the same drama that he commands on set, but little of the same intentionality.

Tomas’ impulsive decision to cheat on his husband (Ben Whishaw) with a schoolteacher he meets at a Paris nightclub (Adèle Exarchopoulos) sets off a chain reaction of jealousies and regrets that toys with your sympathies until the very last shot, as this skeletal drama gradually fleshes out into one of Sachs’ most scarring films. Not that you would expect anything less from a movie that casts three of the world’s most riveting and unusual young actors in a queer love triangle full of desperate reversals and wordless sex scenes that speak to us through the screen like monologues. —DE

A still from Past Lives by Celine Song, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Jon Pack

“Past Lives”

Jon Pack

“Past Lives”

How and When You Can See It: A24 produced the film and will release it at a later date.

Destined to be remembered as one of 2023’s best movies, Celine Song’s perfectly measured debut finds the accomplished playwright and first-time filmmaker tracing the angles of her own heart for this autobiographical story about a Korean-born immigrant named Nora (an astonishing Greta Lee), the white Jewish man (John Magaro) she meets and marries 12 years after moving to North America, and the boy she loved as a child in Seoul (Teo Yoo), who reappears in Manhattan another 12 years after that.

Based on that brief plot description, “Past Lives” might sound like a diasporic riff on a Richard Linklater romance — one that condenses the entire “Before” trilogy into the span of a single film. In practice, however, this gossamer-soft love story almost entirely forgoes any sort of “Baby, you are gonna miss that plane” dramatics in favor of teasing out some more ineffable truths about the way that people find themselves with (and through) each other. Here is a romance that unfolds with the mournful resignation of the Leonard Cohen song that inspires Nora’s English-language name; an unforgettable movie less interested in tempting its heroine with “the one who got away” than it is in pushing her to reconcile with the version of herself that she gave to her childhood sweetheart as a souvenir on the day that she left Seoul all those years ago. —DE


How and When You Can See It: The film is currently seeking distribution.

I know, I know, why do we need another inspirational teacher movie? I thought that too, before seeing Zalla’s riveting, suspenseful, and, yes, ultimately inspiring character study about a teacher (Eugenio Derbez) who rethinks what really is meaningful in education for his students and for himself. It’s not test scores, it’s not rankings and prestige nonsense, it’s about actually inspiring curiosity, an incessant desire to learn new things. (And then of course the test scores, rankings, and prestige nonsense will flow from that.) Zalla’s dramatization of this true story, inspired by a Wired article from Joshua Davis, is unlike any classroom drama before it, because it makes the children so clearly the heroes of the narrative, with their personalities distinct and exquisitely drawn. Three of the child actors (Jennifer Trejo, Mia Fernanda Solis, and Danilo Guardiola) deliver some of the best performances ever by juvenile performers, and the drama and anxiety of their situation keeps a high level of tension in the story. Thrilling, nerve-wracking, and heartbreaking. —CB

Rotting in the Sun

“Rotting in the Sun”

courtesy of Sundance Institute

“Rotting in the Sun”

How and When You Can See It: The film is currently seeking distribution.

Sebastián Silva tends to make movies that start as frivolous comedies before he twists the knife, from “Nasty Baby” to “Tyrel.” The welcome revelation of his riotous satire “Rotting in the Sun” is the way it does that while tapping into the appeal of his earlier, more contained work like “The Maid.” Silva stars as himself as a depressed filmmaker who meets goofy gay Instagram influencer Jordan Firstman at a nude beach; Firstman wants to hang, screw, and make art together, while Silva just wants to brood by himself.

Needless to say, none of those things end up happening, as this eccentric meta movie transforms into something much darker and more insightful by recentering its narrative around the experiences of a housekeeper played by the extraordinary “Maid” star Catalina Saavedra. As a playful mockery of self-obsessed creatives, “Rotting in the Sun” is a gleeful crowdpleaser; as a scathing, nihilistic takedown of the social media age, it cuts deep. Sundance crowds were left in stitches that stung. —EK

“Rye Lane”

How and When You Can See It: Searchlight Pictures produced the film and will release it on Hulu on March 31.

Raine Allen-Miller’s sparkling feature debut is, much like John Carney’s darling “Flora and Son,” the kind of rousing crowdpleaser that benefits from being experienced with an audience…but is just as enjoyable in the comfort of your own home. Allen-Miller is clearly a devoted student of the romantic comedy, but her South London-set entry into the genre takes all the tropes and tricks and twists them into something truly fresh and new.

Meet-cute? Got it, but this one takes place in a bathroom. Broken hearts on the mend? Got that, too, as Dom (David Jonsson) and Yas (Vivian Oparah) are both recovering from relationships in different ways. A day-long walk-about in a vibrant city? That’s here, too! It’s also funny, sweet, smart, and filled with actually unexpected upheavals. As Esther Zuckerman wrote in her review from the festival, Allen-Miller “takes a simple premise and infuses it with warm performances and a distinct sense of place.” We can only call this thing “delightful” so many times, but sometimes, that’s the only word that will do. —KE

Harris Dickinson and Lola Campbell appear in Scrapper by Charlotte Regan, an official selection of the World Dramatic Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. | Photo by Chris Harris. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.


Chris Harris


How and When You Can See It: The film is currently seeking distribution.

Boasting a story that unfolds like a winsome mash-up between “Aftersun” and “Big Daddy,” a tone that’s caught in a well-balanced tug-of-war between Mike Leigh and Wes Anderson, and a pair of fiercely self-possessed lead characters who owe nothing to anyone but themselves (least of all each other), Charlotte Regan’s “Scrapper” is a vintage Sundance movie done right.

Plucky newcomer Lola Campbell plays Georgie, a seemingly orphaned miscreant who struggles to uphold her reputation as the baddest 12-year-old on the block after her beloved mother dies of cancer. But as word of Georgie’s loss begins to travel beyond the London-outskirts council where she lives, a wiry thirtysomething club promoter named Jason (Harris Dickinson, typically sullen but then revealingly heartfelt) shows up claiming to be her long-lost father. Children of different sizes — one who was forced to grow up too fast, the other who’s done everything in his power not to grow up at all — Regan’s odd couple become perfect foils for each other as they each begin to recognize that self-sufficiency is a coping mechanism, not a strength. That process is sometimes funny, often movingly bittersweet, and always charming as hell. People will be falling in love with this movie for a long time to come. —DE

“The Starling Girl”

How and When You Can See It: The film is currently seeking distribution.

Laurel Parmet’s “The Starling Girl” tells a tale as old as time — the broad strokes of its story about the affair between a naïve teenage girl and a married older man who swears that he’ll leave his wife adhere to convention from start to finish — but the power of this sensitive and devilishly detailed coming-of-age drama is rooted in the friction that it finds between biblical paternalism and modern personhood.

While young women have always been taught to be ashamed of their desires (hot take!), Parmet’s self-possessed debut about an evangelical Christian named Jem Starling (Eliza Scanlen) who’s seduced to commit sinful acts with her hunky youth pastor (Lewis Pullman) is uncommonly well-attuned to how garbled that gospel might sound to a God-loving girl who’s been raised amid the echoes of a secular culture in the internet age. Parmet’s decision to firmly anchor this story from Jem’s POV allows “The Starling Girl” to pulse with its young heroine’s ecstasy and confusion, while the performances she elicits from her cast allow the film to embrace predictability without ever becoming trite. —DE

“A Still, Small Voice”

How and When You Can See It: The film is currently seeking distribution.

When’s the last time a documentary made you cry? If you’re really a cinephile, you will have an answer to that question. “A Still Small Voice” is virtually guaranteed to be the next one to make you weep. After his “Midnight Family” focused on a paramedic team in Mexico City, Lorentzen stays in the medical world and turns his attention to a chaplain-in-training at New York City’s Mt. Sinai hospital during the Covid pandemic. “A Still Small Voice” follows Mati, whose role is to be there to grieve with patients and their families dealing with the most devastating life-and-death situations imaginable — situations that, though we may choose not to think about it in the course of our daily lives, are ones every single one of us will inevitably face as well. Grief is the most universally shared yet underdiscussed and acknowledged part of (at least) American culture. (Over a million dead from Covid, and where’s the public memorial?) With astonishing empathy, Lorentzen captures moments of real-life heartbreak and Mati’s own difficulties in sharing so much of other people’s emotion. “A Still Small Voice” isn’t just a great film. It’s the stuff life is made of. —CB

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