Best Of The Fest: Top 10 Sundance 2023 Films — Magazine Dreams, Radical, Rye Lane, And More

by Shaye Wyllie
sundance 2023 best films

If you followed my Sundance journey this year on Twitter (or TikTok), then you already know I covered the Sundance Film Festival this year from the snowy mountains of Utah! And I almost made it through my entire Sundance 2023 watch listWhich is a blessing, ’cause sis almost gave TF up after suffering through a few. But this year, I didn’t suffer as much. Most of the films I watched were good! Those that weren’t I let go of and stopped watching, to make room for others to capture my attention.  I know that’s not what all “critics” do, and it’s frowned upon for us to start a film and not finish it. But I don’t feel bad this time around.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have much time for relaxing these days. So I definitely don’t have time to waste. I need to be hooked almost immediately, or at least intrigued enough to feel like watching a film that starts off slow, is worth it. So after ranking all of my Sundance 2023 films on Letterboxd, from best to worst, I’m not shocked these films below made the list!

I am shocked that another documentary snuck its way into my top 5 again this year! But whatever, I guess I’m the kind of girl who watches documentaries and enjoys them now.

Anywho …

These were the films that I enjoyed the most. So if you’re looking to check out a few films that premiered at Sundance this year, these are the ones you HAVE to see! I’ll be recommending them all year long.

Top 10: Best Sundance 2023 Films

1. Magazine Dreams

Jonathan Majors appears in Magazine Dreams by Elijah Bynum, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Glen Wilson

Summary: Killian Maddox lives with his ailing veteran grandfather, obsessively working out between court-mandated therapy appointments and part-time shifts at a grocery store where he harbors a crush on a friendly cashier.

Though Killian’s struggles to read social cues and maintain control of his volatile temper, which amplifies his sense of disconnection amid a hostile world, nothing deters him from his fiercely protected dream of bodybuilding superstardom, not even the doctors who warn that he’s causing permanent damage to his body with his quest.

Thoughts: Y’all!!! First of all … this was one hell of a thirst trap! So I hope y’all make it through the movie without passing out cause the gurls gon’ be in a tizzy with this one. But it’s also a really amazing film! This may be my new fave mental health film. Like Jonathan Majors BODIED that role! (Pun intended.) I couldn’t even see Jonathan! I could only see his character, feel his character! “Magazine Dreams” is definitely heavy but it’s SO GOOD! And that ending? It’s insane!!! Shit almost took me out!! Definitely a must watch. But brace for impact, the guns can be a bit triggering.

Rating: 5/5

2. Young. Wild. Free.

sundance 2023 best films
A still from Young. Wild. Free. by Thembi Banks, an official selection of the NEXT section at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. | photo by Tommy Oliver.

Summary: High school senior Brandon is drowning in responsibilities when his world is turned upside down after being robbed at gunpoint by the girl of his dreams.

Thoughts: And aw man … I wish someone had told me “Young. Wild. Free.” would fck me up like this!!? As someone who worked with kids for about 10 years, I know a Brandon. And this shit hit way too close to home. I definitely cried real big baby tears in the bathroom after watching this, for all the kids I know who never got to live a normal childhood.

I was an emotional WRECK after this! But it’s such a fantastic movie! It’s such a great and creative look into what it’s like being a teen in the hood. And I’d say it’s close to the teen version of “Queen and Slim“, which I loved. Not as traumatic of course, but yeah.

Rating: 5/5

3. Little Richard: I Am Everything

Little Richard appears in Little Richard: I Am Everything by Lisa Cortes, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Summary: “Little Richard: I Am Everything” tells the story of the Black queer origins of rock n’ roll. It explodes the whitewashed canon of American pop music to reveal the innovator – the originator – Richard Penniman. Through a wealth of archive and performance that brings us into Richard’s complicated inner world, the film unspools the icon’s life story with all its switchbacks and contradictions.

Thoughts: This was an incredible way to start my day and kick off my festival movies. This was my first film of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival and I don’t think I could have picked a better film to start with! Docs aren’t my ministry but this was such an INCREDIBLE film! It’s definitely a must watch! I loved every second of this! (Minus his pain & conflictions.) I’m still blown away by how great this was. Black folks really do amazing work with documentaries man!! And if you grew up singing his songs, this is a great way to find out more about the icon.

Rating: 5/5

4. Aliens Abducted My Parents And Now I Feel Kinda Left Out

Emma Tremblay and Jacob Buster appear in Aliens Abducted My Parents and Now I Feel Kinda Left Out, an official selection of the Kids section at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | Photo by Steve Olpin.

Summary: Itsy is new in town and her life seems over until she meets her space-obsessed neighbor Calvin, who believes his parents were abducted by aliens. An aspiring journalist, Itsy decides to write an exposé on Calvin but ends up discovering much more.

Thoughts: The name may be incredibly long but this was really good! Such a heartfelt movie about a small town kid who just wants to find his parents. The twists at the end are superb. And while I gave it a 5 out of 5 score, my 10 yr old, who watched it with me says it’s a 10 out of 5.

Rating: 5/5

5. Radical

sundance 2023 best films radical
A still from Radical by Chris Zalla, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Summary: In a Mexican border town plagued by neglect, corruption, and violence, a frustrated teacher tries a radical new method to break through his students’ apathy and unlock their curiosity, their potential… and maybe even their genius. (Based on a true story.)

Thoughts: Now why would Eugenio Derbez make me wanna cry like this?! “Radical” is all about a teacher who empowers his kids to love learning by allowing them to not just be kids, but to learn how they learn best and that alone was enough to make me love this! But of course when you add in an inspiring performance by the wonderfully talented Eugenio Derbez, and convincing child actors … the story comes alive. And it’s an incredible story! One everyone should watch and remember. Especially those who run our schools. Stop trying to force kids into a box!

Rating: 4.5/5

6. Rye Lane

sundance 2023 best films rye lane
A still from Rye Lane by Luke Lorentzen, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Summary: Yas and Dom, two twenty-somethings both reeling from bad break-ups, connect over the course of an eventful day in South London – helping each other deal with their nightmare exes, and potentially restoring their faith in romance.

Thoughts: I’m so glad “Rye Lane” lived up to my expectations! It’s such a cute little rom com! And it reminds us that something beautiful can always bloom from something unfortunate. British flicks are and will always definitely be my jam, and this one is no different. “Rye Lane” is definitely worth a watch!

Rating: 4.5/5

7. A Thousand And One

Teyana Taylor and Aaron Kingsley appear in a still from A Thousand and One by A.V. Rockwell, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Focus Features

Summary: Struggling but unapologetically living on her own terms, Inez is moving from shelter to shelter in mid-1990s New York City. With her 6-year-old son Terry in foster care and unable to leave him again, she kidnaps him so they can build their life together. As the years go by, their family grows and Terry becomes a smart yet quiet teenager, but the secret that has defined their lives threatens to destroy the home they have so improbably built.

Thoughts: This was good. Slow, but good. I definitely didn’t see that ending coming! (And I’m still a tad confused by it.) But what surprised me the most was Josiah Cross’ performance. They need to put him in “All American. Just saying.

Rating: 4/5

8. Shortcomings

sundance 2023 best films shortcomings
A still from Shortcomings by Randall Park, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Summary: Ben Tanaka is a movie-theater owner who is grappling with the implications of race and culture on the dating scene. Ben lives with his girlfriend, Miko Hayashi, a politically active firebrand whose enthusiasms aren’t shared by her boyfriend; his best friend, Alice Kim, is a lesbian who wants him to pretend to be her boyfriend so her conservative family won’t learn about her true sexual identity.

Thoughts: This was super cute. I definitely laughed a bunch of times at the cheeky one liners. But outside of humor and the relationship commentary about POC idolizing whites vs whites fetishizing POC … it gets dull at times. I just wish it went a little deeper.

Rating: 4/5

9. Drift

A still from Drift by Anthony Chen, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

Summary: Jacqueline, a young refugee, lands alone and penniless on a Greek island where she tries to survive, then to cope with her past. While gathering her strength, she begins a friendship with a rootless tour guide and together they find the resilience to forge ahead.

Thoughts: I’m not ashamed to say “Drift” shocked me something terrible! I did not think I was gonna like this. It’s not a film I’d watch in theaters, but it’s definitely a story worth watching. It’s a reminder that sometimes people leave their homes because they HAVE to, not because they want too.

Rating: 4/5

10. We Were Meant To

A still from We Were Meant To by Tari Wariebi, an official selection of the U.S. Shorts program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Summary: In a world where Black men have wings and their first flight is a rite of passage, Akil must defy fears, insecurities, and societal barriers while discovering his perfect launch into manhood.

Thoughts: This was such a dope concept and story. I only wish they had kept it positive and left it to shine on the “Black Boy Joy” waters it could have thrived on instead of perpetuating the story that Black boys “cant”. I didn’t need this one to be a political statement. Especially since the world reminds us enough that Black men aren’t allowed to just be. But outside of that, it was a good short film.

Rating: 4/5

And there you have it folks! My top 10 films of Sundance 2023, the BEST of the fest. If you come across these films this year, don’t sleep on them! And if you’re looking for full reviews, then hang on there partna! Those are coming up next. So bookmark this site and check back in a few days to start reading what I really thought about these Sundance 2023 films.

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