The Best Movies We Saw at Sundance 2021

Of the more than 70 features at the festival, these are our favorites, including the latest from Ben Wheatley and the first from Questlove.

Sundance Atmosphere Main Street
Sundance Institute (Photo by Jonathan Hickerson)

Congratulations to the Sundance Film Festival on an amazing virtual event, with its incredible films, a remarkable screening system, and record-breaking distribution deals! Among us — including five FSR contributors (Rob, Brianna, Shea, Luke, and Mary Beth) and one representing our sister site, Nonfics (Christopher) — we covered a lot of ground reviewing twenty-seven features and watching numerous others. Now it’s time to spotlight our favorites, many of which we haven’t already reviewed. See our sixteen picks for what you need to watch whenever you’re able to watch them. Speaking of which, be sure to check out our guide to where to see the movies of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival next.


Ailey

Ailey

It was only a matter of time before someone made a film about the life and times of revered Black dancer and choreographer Alvin Ailey. And rightly so. He has been the source of so much carnal beauty, innovation, and inspiration since his rise to prominence in late 1950s New York City. He is one of those rare luminaries who pioneered the way for others, a godfather and catalyst of the craft. Director Jamila Wignot offers a proud and painful look at the artist that is imbued with hope and mourning in equal measure.

As a documentary about a gay man, Ailey certainly could have done more to address his sexuality. But perhaps what went unaddressed was largely unknown. And regardless, the film’s focus on Ailey’s loneliness, perfectionism, and humility seems to have been his lifelong focus, as well. (Luke Hicks)


All Light, Everywhere

Sundance 2021: All Light Everywhere

Explaining All Light, Everywhere is kind of like trying to recount your day. Someone asks what you did, and while you lived it and learned from it, you have a hard time going over the series of events, much less the order in which they took place. There was some 16th-century philosophy and astronomy. A good deal of time is spent observing a police squad as they’re instructed on how to use their first body cameras. We tour the Axos (weapons and tech) facility in Scottsdale, Arizona. Much more comes to pass, and, as the film blossoms, so does our understanding of it.

Given an award for experimentation, All Light, Everywhere takes a novel approach to the concept of an unfolding narrative. By piecing together disparate ideas, the film aims to show how so many loosely connected things form a much more coherent web of issues than one might think. In that sense, there is no narrative. But in another sense, there is a loud, concerned, beating heart at the center, drawing out a grand narrative that we all inhabit. (Luke Hicks)


Censor

Sundance 2021: Censor

In the 1980s, Britain was gripped in a moral panic, blaming so-called “video nasties” for increased violence in the streets. These B-horror exploitation movies were taken to the chopping block where censors would make notes about what to cut to make a film more appropriate. Prano Bailey-Bond’s directorial debut, Censor, is about one such person, Enid (Niamh Algar), who takes great pride in work, seeing it as her civic duty. But when a film reminds her of trauma from her past, she begins to unravel and turn into the very thing she has been trying to fight.

Algar’s performance is downright chilling as she slowly begins to lose control over her life. Bailey-Bond has created a gorgeous homage to exploitation cinema and has no fear about gore. In tackling a genre assumed to be so misogynistic, Bailey-Bond reclaims the narrative that those films can’t have substance. (Mary Beth McAndrews)

Check out Shea’s review of Censor.


CODA

Sundance 2021: Coda

The jokes have already started about how Sian Heder’s feel-good crowd-pleaser is a “typical” Sundance film, but we should be so lucky as to get movies as entertaining and affecting as CODA on a regular basis. The film is a coming of age tale about a teenager who’s the only hearing member of her family, and all three of its deaf members are played by deaf actors. That’s no small thing, as it brings long-overdue representation into a big, fun movie designed for the masses.

CODA finds humor in the situation without ever feeling the need to be cruel or make jokes at the family’s expense, and it’s ultimately overflowing with warmth and love. Anyone who derides this as being a typical Sundance film clearly hasn’t seen enough Sundance films. (Rob Hunter)

Check out Rob’s review of CODA.


Next Page

An author similar to Hydra. Its articles have many authors. It has many heads. Please don’t cut off any of its heads, we’re trying to work here.