The Best Movies From the 2024 Sundance Film Festival

Ben Friedman


This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Sundance Film Festival. A landmark in promoting indie filmmakers, many A-List directors have participated in the festival over the years, including Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh, James Wan, Paul Thomas Anderson, Kevin Smith, and Darren Aronofsky.


While the festival does not represent the be-all and end-all for discovering indie films, it has consistently showcased a knack for unquestionable quality. Following the success of Coda’s Best Picture win at the 94th Academy Awards, studios are desperate to find the next diamond in the rough. Mix that with the continued need for content as created by the rise of streaming services, and what we see is enormous sums of money being paid out by studios to acquire distribution.


As of January 28, 2024, the biggest deal at this year’s festival was Netflix’s $17 million acquisition of the horror film It’s What’s Inside. Yet, as we often find ourselves wrapped up in the allure of big-name titles, it becomes easy to forget that the point of this revered festival is to celebrate the art of film, and as always, Sundance offered another exciting crop of films this year.



Most Exciting Premiere: Skywalkers: A Love Story

Nothing gets audiences amped up quite like love found in dangerous situations. The past few years have brought us such documentaries as Free Solo, and Fire of Love, which explore love in the pursuit of something far more dangerous. Skywalkers: A Love Story follows that trajectory, but instead of scaling Half Dome, or studying volcanoes, we follow Angela Nikolau and Vanya Beerkus as they embark on a journey to follow their passion for rooftopping. For those unfamiliar, the act of rooftopping is the unsecured ascent of tall structures, often illegally. Skywalkers captures the psyches required to do such a daring stunt juxtaposed with the dangers of falling in love.



Most Talked About Premiere: A Real Pain

Jesse Eisenberg’s directorial debut When You Finish Saving the World came and went, thus excitement for his sophomore effort seemed muted. Luckily, as a filmmaker, Eisenberg had lots of room to grow. Taking all the right lessons from his previous work including his ability to direct actors and his comfort with comedic timing allowed Eisenberg’s latest directorial effort A Real Pain to be far more successful. The film follows two cousins who travel to Poland to go on a Holocaust tour in remembrance of their recently deceased grandmother. In his storytelling, Eisenberg showcases the uncomfortable process of family trauma. Yet, his most successful element is his utilization of the film’s star Kieran Culkin to convey the larger themes of the film. Culkin is sensational in A Real Pain, demonstrating that the Succession star has the makings of a real A-List star.


The Best Performance: Nico Parker - Suncoast

Tell me if this premise sounds familiar. A teenage girl must come to terms with her brother’s illness, all while balancing the pressures of high school. Yet in its familiarity, Suncoast allows an actor to make their mark in the coming-of-age genre. Nico Parker is more than up to the challenge, delivering a devastatingly raw, yet often funny performance as the film's lead, Doris. Partnered alongside Laura Linney, who portrays Doris’s mom, allows Parker to shine as she goes toe-to-toe with one of our great veteran actors. Yet, her best scenes come opposite Woody Harrelson who plays Paul, a man who has gone through a similar tragedy. Harrelson’s character's storyline is baffling and inexplicable, but he and Parker have such a natural, breezy chemistry that it allows the film to find heart, despite the screenplay’s lackluster characterization. Suncoast begins streaming on Hulu on February 9, and I think we’ll see a lot more of Nico Parker soon.



The Best Movie: Rob Peace

Admittedly, I am dubious of actors turned directors. Often their films can seem like vanity projects, designed to put themselves in the best role to succeed and take command of the screen, all while failing to adhere to the basic principles of filmmaking. So when I heard one of our great actors, Chiwetel Ejiofor, would be making his directorial debut at this year’s festival, I found myself questioning his ability to succeed. I am happy to report my distrust to be completely misguided, as his directorial debut, Rob Peace was the best film I saw at this year’s festival.

The film tells the true story of Rob Peace, an intelligently gifted Black man who finds himself forced to sell drugs while attending Yale University to support his father who was arrested for a murder he claims to have been wrongly convicted of. What Ejiofor achieves in his directorial debut is a wonderful sense of control. He was able to relate to this story and the timeframe in which this movie is set, thus giving the film credibility in its tone, emotion, and environment. Ejiofor directs incredible performances from Jay Will, who stars as the titular character, and Mary J. Blige, who stars as the mother. Ejiofor himself steps in front of the camera to star as Peace’s father, lending the film further credibility as he portrays a complicated, yet sympathetic character. While the story beats may be familiar, Ejiofor crafts a compelling coming-of-age film that showcases a bright future for the star if he decides to return to directing.



Most Audacious Movie: Love Me

In Love Me, a buoy played by Kristen Stewart falls in love with a satellite portrayed by Steven Yeun. That’s not a metaphor; it's actually what happens. Confused? Don’t worry, that is the point. Love Me explores the metaphysical power capable of penetrating logistical reason: love. In Love Me, directed by the Zuchero Brothers, love is inexplicable. Love is confusing. Most importantly, love is real. Somehow, in 92 minutes, the filmmakers behind Love Me made me fall in love with two inanimate objects, initiating a romance that traverses millions of years. Love Me is not necessarily successful at all times. The second act of the film struggles to maintain storytelling cohesion and the visual language is offputting; yet, despite its faults, I admired the boldness required to make Love Me, a film that is both wholly original and tenderly sweet.


Author Bio:

Ben Friedman is a freelance film journalist and a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine. For more of his reviews, visit, his podcast Ben and Bran See a Movie, or follow him on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube: The Beniverse.


For Highbrow Magazine


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