15 Films We Can't Wait to See at Sundance 2023

This year's lineup includes timely docs, fascinating biographies, relationship dramas, a potential horror hit, and Jonathan Majors in a speedo.

by | January 20, 2023 | Comments


Alexander Skarsgard and Mia Goth in Infinity Pool (2023)

(Photo by ©Neon)

Sundance is back! Well, to be fair, the fest never went anywhere, and even in Park City absentia the fest still managed to launch one of 2021’s selections, CODA, all the way to a Best Picture win at the Oscars (a first for any film that premiered at Sundance). But even though the fest happened online in 2021 and 2022, and we got a ton of great movies out of those lineups, it wasn’t quite the same without standing in the cold and eating bad pizza from tents.

But now here we are, and the first in-person Sundance since the pre-Covid Before Times successfully began last night in Park City, Utah. Because nearly every Sundance film is a world premiere, and most of them are by filmmakers fairly early in their careers (or just starting them), the Sundance lineup is never flush with movies that feel like sure things in quite the same way as Cannes, Telluride, or Toronto. But that’s part of the thrill; Sundance is a discovery festival, where critics and audiences fall in love not just with new, unheralded films, but also with new filmmakers.

This year’s lineup has just shy of 100 world premieres, some of which will surely enter the cultural zeitgeist, or become part of next year’s awards conversation, or even kick off the career of the next Taika Waititi, Chloé Zhao, Ari Aster, or Ryan Coogler. Which films might those be? Here’s our take on the 15 films at this year’s fest that we’re most excited for.

(And don’t forget, several of these are available to watch online, and you can still buy tickets!)

20 Days in Mariupol (2023)

Image from 20 Days in Mariupol (2023)

(Photo by Courtesy of ©Sundance Institute)

Sundance has long been known as the best festival for documentaries, but sometimes it’s hard to look at the lineup and have any sense for which docs will really pop. In the case of 20 Days in Mariupol, it’s not hard. As the first major documentary to capture the War in Ukraine, 20 Days in Mariupol will undoubtedly have a ton of eyes on it, and if it captures the hearts of Sundance audiences, it could quickly become an early frontrunner in this year’s documentary awards race.

All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (2023)

Image from All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt

(Photo by Courtesy of ©Sundance Institute)

Aftersun was the first feature film produced by Barry Jenkins that he didn’t also direct, and it became one of 2022’s biggest critical darlings. All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt is now his second film as producer, and on top of that it’s an A24 film, so that’s a double dose of great taste that we can get behind. The film is by first-time feature writer/director Raven Jackson, and it’s a decades-spanning portrait of a Black woman’s life in Mississippi. While the U.S. Dramatic competition at Sundance is always impossible to predict, All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt is the early favorite.

Cat Person (2023)

Emilia Jones and Nicholas Braun in Cat Person (2023)

(Photo by Courtesy of ©Sundance Institute)

Adapted from the most popular piece of fiction ever published in The New Yorker, Cat Person stars the indie It Couple of our wildest dreams: Emilia Jones (fresh off last year’s Best Picture winner CODA) and Nicholas Braun (better known as Cousin Greg, everyone’s favorite Succession Nepo Baby). That’s already plenty to put Cat Person high on our Must See list, but add in that the film is directed by Susanna Fogel, who co-wrote 2019’s Booksmart, and we’re beyond sold.

Eileen (2023)

Anne Hathaway and Thomasin McKenzie in Eileen (2023)

(Photo by Courtesy of ©Sundance Institute)

One of the best directorial debuts of the last decade was 2017’s Lady Macbeth, which immediately launched a then-unknown Florence Pugh to the top of every casting director’s wish list. Director William Oldroyd is finally back with his second film, and it’s another period piece about a young woman making potentially dangerous choices. This time we’re in 1960s Massachusetts, Thomasin McKenzie plays the titular young woman, and Anne Hathaway plays her new friend, whose presence might portend bad tidings.

Fairyland (2023)

Scott McNairy and Emilia Jones in Fairyland (2023)

(Photo by Courtesy of ©Sundance Institute)

Let’s start with the cast: Emilia Jones, Scoot McNairy, Geena Davis, Adam Lambert, and Maria Bakalova. Five actors we love who don’t exactly seem like they belong in the same movie. Sofia Coppola is one of the producers of this story set in 1980s San Francisco, based on Alysia Abbott’s best-selling 2013 memoir about growing up with her single father in the epicenter of the world’s AIDS crisis. Fairyland was written and directed by Andrew Durham, making his feature film debut after a celebrated career as a magazine photographer.

Flora and Son (2023)

Eve Hewson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Flora and Son (2023)

(Photo by Courtesy of ©Sundance Institute)

No one is consistently better at making movies about the power of music than John Carney, who wrote and directed Once, Begin Again, and Sing Street. He’s back with his first film in seven years, and this time he’s joined by Eve Hewson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as two people in Dublin whose lives are changed by finding a beat-up old guitar in a dumpster. With any other director, that premise may sound hopelessly hokey, but in the hands of John Carney, it’s somehow perfect.

Infinity Pool (2023)

Several of the best horror films from the last decade have premiered at Sundance, including Get Out, The Witch, and Hereditary. This year’s best bet to continue that legacy is Brandon Cronenberg’s third feature, Infinity Pool, which appears poised to fully launch him onto the horror A-List after 2020’s Possessor primed the pump. Mia Goth and Alexander Skarsgård (who are both basically already horror royalty) star, and this story about a beach vacation gone very, very wrong will begin its theatrical rollout at the end of this month.

Judy Blume Forever (2023)

Image of Judy Blume in Judy Blume Forever (2023)

(Photo by Courtesy of ©Sundance Institute)

The Sundance documentary slate often has several biodocs of important figures, and this year is no different, with films about Stephen Curry, Michael J. Fox, and Brooke Shields all in the lineup. But the biodoc that really has our attention is this portrait of legendary young adult author Judy Blume, who helped countless millions of girls get through childhood and puberty with seminal books like Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Blume’s work feels more relevant than ever in our current media climate, and we welcome her reintroduction to the cultural conversation.

Justice (2023)

Image from Justice (2023)

(Photo by Courtesy of ©Sundance Institute)

Sure to be one of the most hotly talked about films in Park City this year, Justice is a documentary not just about the fight to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, but also about why the investigation into his past stalled, and what else might have been unearthed if it had continued. Justice marks the documentary debut of director Doug Liman, who has been one of Hollywood’s most successful filmmakers over the last three decades with movies like Swingers, The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and Edge of Tomorrow.

Kim's Video (2023)

Image from Kim's Video

(Photo by Courtesy of ©Sundance Institute)

The NEXT section is always one of the most fascinating parts of the Sundance lineup, where oddball little films with a singular directorial vision can be discovered. Recent NEXT films include Tangerine and A Ghost Story, and the film from this year’s NEXT sidebar that most excites us is this film about the titular NYC video rental store, which was a legendary mecca for generations of cinephiles. But Kim’s Video isn’t just a portrait of the shop, it’s also an investigation and quest to find out what happened to the Kim’s Video archive when the store closed, and how the inventory of 55,000 titles ended up in Sicily.

Landscape with Invisible Hand (2023)

Asante Blackk and Kylie Rogers in Landscape with Invisible Hand (2023)

(Photo by Courtesy of ©Sundance Institute)

Between Thoroughbreds, his 2017 debut, and then 2019’s Emmy-winning Bad Education, filmmaker Cory Finley is two for two on making enjoyable, stylish films with a biting wit. But while those were both domestic dramas, his third feature is anything but. In Landscape With Invisible Hand, Earth has been taken over and aliens control the economy, but two teenagers have a plan to save their families. It sounds ridiculous, but we have faith in Finley and the cast he’s assembled (which includes Tiffany Haddish, Josh Hamilton, and William Jackson Harper).

Magazine Dreams (2023)

Jonathan Majors in Magazine Dreams (2023)

(Photo by Courtesy of ©Sundance Institute)

No actor seems more poised to have a massive breakout in 2023 than Jonathan Majors, who plays the villain in two of this spring’s major blockbuster hopefuls (Creed III and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania). That seemingly inevitable breakout could be further bolstered by this film, in which his otherworldly physique will be on full display. Majors plays an amateur bodybuilder, and this story about his relentless drive and isolation sounds a bit Whiplash-like (which we obviously mean as high compliment).

Polite Society (2023)

The plot says it all: Polite Society is about a young Indian woman calling upon her formidable martial arts skills to rescue her older sister from an impending arranged marriage. That already sounds like a perfect movie, but then Focus Features dropped the trailer a few days ago, and now we’re even more excited. Writer/director Nida Manzoor is making her feature debut with Polite Society, but she also wrote and directed every episode of the beloved British comedy series We Are Lady Parts.

Shortcomings (2023)

Justin H. Min and Sherry Cola in Shortcomings (2023)

(Photo by Courtesy of ©Sundance Institute)

Adrian Tomine has been one of the world’s greatest graphic novelists (not to mention New Yorker cover artists) for 20 years, but Shortcomings represents his debut as a screenwriter. Tomine adapted his acclaimed graphic novel of the same name, and popular comedic actor Randall Park makes his directorial debut with Shortcomings, which is about the romantic struggles between Asian friends in the Bay Area, how their Asian identities affect those struggles, and whether or not one of them actually has a fetish for white women.

You Hurt My Feelings (2023)

Julia Louis-Dreyfus in You Hurt My Feelings (2023)

(Photo by Courtesy of ©Sundance Institute)

Nicole Holofcener and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. As the kids say, “That’s it. That’s the tweet.”

The Sundance Film Festival runs from January 28 to February 3.

On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.