The 10 Best Movies on Sundance Now (March 2023)

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The 10 Best Movies on Sundance Now (March 2023)

The best movies on Sundance Now are typically those you could’ve found streaming before on platforms like Netflix or Hulu, outcasts and peripheral classics that Sundance has mixed with undeniable modern masterpieces. No other streaming service will have the early Florence Pugh film Lady Macbeth smattered alongside a weird Nick Broomfield joint like Biggie & Tupac. Like Fandor or MUBI, Sundance Now finds its value in curatorial gems, not the glut of its library (which is only, at last count, around 150 films). We’ve got through its catalog and found the best indies, docs and more.

Here are the 10 best movies streaming on Sundance Now:

1. Biggie & Tupac

Year: 2002
Director: Nick Broomfield

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From its very first moments, Biggie & Tupac—a sort of truther’s glimpse into the murders of rappers Notorious BIG and 2Pac—is an exceptionally strange film. Director and narrator Nick Broomfield speaks in a clipped cadence, as if English isn’t his first language, and Earth isn’t his home planet. That he is somehow able to waddle his way into the most exclusive (and sometimes terrifying) situations is nearly incomprehensible, until one realizes that, to some extent, all his weirdness probably makes him seem so non-threatening that the folks who spill deeply incriminating confessions probably never figure his footage will ever see the light of day. And yet, Biggie & Tupac is endlessly compelling, far from an actually competent procedural but still ringing with enough sincerity that, buried beneath Broomfield’s weirdness and his very dubious journalistic intentions, there must be something true he’s tapping into. I’ve heard Broomfield referred to, among other epithets, as a “bottom-feeding creep,” and it’s not a stretch to see how his methods and results could be construed as the work of such. Yet, the access the man gets … when it comes to documentary film, do the ends justify the means? Because: the last 10 minutes of the film alone are worth the journey, in which an interview with Suge Knight (whom the film pretty clearly portrays as the orchestrator of both murders) reveals unnerving opinions on socioeconomic and racial realities. —Dom Sinacola

2. Long Day’s Journey into Night

Year: 2019
Director: Bi Gan
Starring: Tang Wei, Huang Jue
Rating: NR
Runtime: 138 minutes

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The film that’s broken box office records in China asks that you wait to put on your 3D glasses until you see its title card, which emerges 74-or-so minutes into the film, after our wandering noir-oneiric narrative leads Luo Hongwu (Huang Jue) to a theater where he falls asleep. His 3D glasses perched on the end of his nose, we’re pulled into his dream, a mild-mannered noir (of sorts) of its own, part psycho-sexual sinking into complete delusion and part alternative history, all represented by a 59-minute (or so) single take. It’s anecdote enough to justify broken record talk, but it hardly does any justice to just how enchanting director Bi Gan’s film can be, even before we stumble into the virtuosic stuff, as Luo’s drawn back to his old neighborhood by the death of his father, though mostly preoccupied with finding his long-ago lover. Her name is Wan Qiwen (Tang Wei), and she was probably involved in a criminal organization that probably had something to do with the murder of Luo’s childhood friend Wildcat. Probably—as Luo draws closer to tracking down the woman he remembers with so many charged emotions, his memories return in hyper-stylized fragments, like premonitions for both good and ill, and the prospect of actually finding her becomes more and more laced with dread. But then, we plunge into his head even further, feeling—through unbroken immersion and unpretentious iconism—the many complex ways he’s forever drawn to more than this woman, but to the life that’s died behind him. Bi’s second film after the similarly ravishing Kaili Blues, Long Day’s Journey into Night astounds as powerfully as it refuses to rest on gimmick alone. —Dom Sinacola

3. Boy

Year: 2010
Director: Taika Waititi
Stars: Taika Waititi, James Rolleston, Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu
Rating: R
Runtime: 88 minutes

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At one point the highest-grossing New Zealand film at the country’s box office, Taika Waititi’s sophomore feature (after making his wobbly indie debut with Eagle vs Shark) gives us the writer/director’s skills at sweet oddball comedy and wrenching pathos at their peak. Boy’s search for identity and meaning gives star James Rolleston every available weapon to win us over, and the filmmaking’s blend of tight comedy, realism in depicting a Maori community, and charmingly janky animation dress up its somber heart in flashy colors. A coming-of-age movie about papering over the hardships of life, only to find solace in those using the same techniques and styles, you’ll probably love Boy as much as Boy loves Michael Jackson. —Jacob Oller

4. Meek’s Cutoff

Year: 2011
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Stars: Michelle Williams, Shirley Henderson, Paul Dano, Bruce Greenwood, Zoe Kazan
Rating: PG
Runtime: 104 minutes

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Leave it to Kelly Reichardt to reclaim the Western for women. Western movies tend to be seen as “guy” affairs, less so now in 2017 than in years past; they are manly products about manly men doing manly things and pondering manly ideas, though that’s an oversimplified critique that erases the impact women have had on Westerns in front of and behind the camera. What Reichardt does in Meek’s Cutoff is shunt the men to the side and confront the bullshit macho posturing that is such an integral component of the Western’s grammar (the only man here worth his salt is Stephen Meek [Bruce Greenwood], and even he is kind of an incompetent, entitled scumbag). So it’s up to Emily Tetherow, played by the great and luminous Michelle Williams, to challenge his self-appointed authority and take responsibility for the people in the caravan he has led so far astray from their path. Meek’s Cutoff is a stark, minimalist film, which is to say it’s a Kelly Reichardt film. The stripped-down, simmering austerity of her aesthetic pairs perfectly with the sensibilities of Western cinema. —Andy Crump

5. Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Year: 2012
Directors: David Gelb

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Jiro Dreams of Sushi is about one of the greatest masters of the culinary world, one of whom casual foodies have never even heard. Although Jiro’s work—literally, the dishes he so effortlessly prepares, and then the act of watching him as he watches his customers eating the dishes—is ostensibly the film’s focus, the story is truly propelled by the chef’s relationship with his two sons: the youngest started his own restaurant, and the oldest, at the age of 50, continues to work with his father, training to one day take over Jiro’s infamous restaurant. Devoid of the typical familial jealousy you may expect (and so devoid, arguably, of much conflict at all), Jiro Dreams of Sushi is only a beautifully filmed documentary about three men who have devoted their lives to the pursuit of perfection. Which in itself is conflict enough, as the film airily asks: Where do style, artistry, practice and perfection meet? —Emily Kirkpatrick

6. Short Term 12

Year: 2014
Director: Destin Cretton
Stars: Brie Larson, Rami Malek, Lakeith Stanfield, Melora Walters, Stephanie Beatriz, Alex Calloway, Kaitlyn Dever, John Gallagher Jr.
Rating: R
Runtime: 97 minutes

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As it progresses, Short Term 12 remains rigorously structured in terms of plot; yet it never feels calculated. In fact, the film serves as a fine example of how invisible screenwriting can be. By allowing his characters’ irrational emotions to influence events and instigate key turning points, Cretton capably masks the film’s finely calibrated story mechanics. And while everything seemingly comes to a head during a key crisis, it’s only fitting that the story ends with a denouement that bookends its opening. Cretton’s clear-eyed film is far too honest to try and convince us that there’s been any sort of profound change for Grace or anyone else. Instead, it’s content to serve as a potent reminder that tentative first steps can be every bit as narratively compelling as great leaps of faith. —Curtis Woloschuk

7. Stop Making Sense

Year: 1984
Director: Jonathan Demme
Genre: Documentary, Musical
Rating: NR
Runtime: 99 minutes

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Lester Bangs once wrote an essay about “Heaven,” the Talking Heads song that in so many ways epitomizes and holds aloft Jonathan Demme’s concert film. In it, Bangs fixated on one of David Byrne’s iconic lines: “Heaven is a place where nothing ever really happens.” Heaven, he explained, is—to Byrne’s coke-addled mind—a way of life where all of the stimuli of modern society couldn’t reach him. Couldn’t affect him. Couldn’t whip him up into a frenzy. This, according to both Bangs and Byrne, is truly Nirvana. Stop Making Sense happened over two nights at the Pantages Theater in 1983, and the second song on the setlist is “Heaven,” set against a bare stage on the cusp of a drastic remodel. From there, the set, as well as the band, builds itself—instruments and writhing bodies and elaborately weird backdrops are added, one upon another, until the stage is absolutely seething with life. And so, not only was Stop Making Sense a document of a legendary band at the height of their powers, but it even today seems like an unheralded synergy of movement and sound, of image and artist—so much so that the band allows us to watch as they destroy, and then re-do, their own idea of Heaven. —Dom Sinacola

8. Ida

Year: 2013
Director: Pawel Pawlikowski

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A compelling examination of how the past can shape us even when we don’t know anything about it, Pawel Pawlikowski’s quiet Polish film takes place in the 1960s, when World War II has ended but still grips people’s lives. In the title role, Agata Trzebuchowska—with a well-tuned balance between naivete and curiosity despite being a non-professional actor—plays a nun-in-training who learns that her family was Jewish and killed during Nazi occupation. She embarks on an odyssey to find their graves with her cynical, alcoholic aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza), former prosecutor for the communist government. The relationship between the two characters grows more and more complex as they go deeper down the rabbit hole of their family’s past. Shot in black-and-white and academy ratio (1.37:1) by cinematographers ?ukasz ?al and Ryszard Lenczewski, Ida uses its frame to distinct effect, often resigning characters to the lower third of the screen. The effect can be unsettling, but intriguing; that space could contain the watchful power of Ida’s lord, but it could also be nothing more than an empty void. After a life of certitude, Ida has to decide for herself. —Jeremy Mathews

9. Tower

Year: 2016
Director: Keith Maitland

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The 1966 University of Texas clock tower shooting ought to be a footnote in American history and not a reference point for contemporary national woes. That Tower, documentary filmmaker Keith Maitland’s animated chronicle-cum-reenactment of that massacre, should feel as relevant and of the moment as it does, then, is startling, or perhaps just disheartening. It was 50 years ago this past August that Charles Whitman ascended the university tower with a cache of guns, killed three people inside, and went on to kill another 11 plus an unborn baby over the course of an hour and a half. Back in those days, a public act of violence on this level was an anomaly piercing the veil of our sense of security. Today, it’s just Sunday. Tower wraps the horror Whitman wrought in a rich, rotoscoped blanket, the vibrancy of Maitland’s palette lending urgency and vitality to the horror he and his cast recreate on screen. —Andy Crump

10. The Squid and the Whale

Year: 2005
Director: Noah Baumbach
Stars: Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Kline, Anna Paquin
Rating: R

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Borrowing themes from his previous films—children of failed marriages; characters whose bookish smarts seem to work against them; a floating sense of fatalism—The Squid and the Whale creeps ever closer to Noah Baumbach’s own tempestuous past. His parents’ faltering union isn’t just a detail used to add depth to a certain character. It’s the whole story—a gorgeous, candid portrait of the messy car crash of divorce, from all angles. “It’s hard to even put myself in the mindset of those movies anymore,” he told Paste in 2005. “With Squid, these are reinventions of people that are close to me, and this is the movie I identify with the most. It is a natural extension of what I have intended and what I feel. I trusted myself more on this one.” —Keenan Mayo