While the Oscar nominations have sparked a new round of debate over the best films of 2023, the Sundance Film Festival is the start of 2024’s cinema conversation. This year, the prestigious event offered dazzling documentaries, tender dramas, riveting horror, and an action-comedy that asks, “What if Tom Cruise inspired a 93-year-old woman to get revenge with her own hands?”
Last year our best of the fest list included such gems as Rye Lane, Birth/Rebirth, and Talk to Me. This year, we’ve got a mix of docs, narrative features, and even a TV pilot that hit so good. Whether you’re craving Kristen Stewart in an unconventional romance, a true story of a life lived well and full online, an unnerving exploration of AI’s possibilities, or comedies as touching as they are creative, we’ve got you covered.
Here are the best things we saw at Sundance 2024, and where you can watch them.
The movies we can’t wait to see in 2024
Kristen Stewart and Steven Yeun play lovers in “Love Me.”
Kristen Stewart and Steven Yeun star as will-they-won’t-they lovers in a post-apocalyptic Earth in Love Me. But not in any way you might imagine based on this official still. Written and directed by Sam Zuchero and Andy Zuchero, Love Me is a romance not between two impossibly beautiful humans, but between two AI robots who cross paths long after humanity’s left the chat. One is a buoy programmed to learn. The other is a satellite equipped with a deep vault of information about mankind — including the cached videos of a couple of influencers who relish silly onesies, date night, Friends, and Blue Apron. Naturally, these long-dead lovers become the model upon which robots try to understand relationships. It may sound bonkers or even cynical. But, incredibly, Love Me is warm, funny, and occasionally shocking, finding not only the humanity in its AI bots, but also what’s real in the virtual.
How to watch: Love Me release plans are currently TBD.
I Saw the TV Glow
Justice Smith and Brigette Lundy-Paine in “I Saw the TV Glow.”
One of the most buzzed-about titles out of Sundance 2024 was Jane Schoenbrun’s much anticipated follow-up to their 2021 Sundance stunner, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair. “I Saw the TV Glow picks up that baton and charges headfirst through the screen,” Siddhant Adlakha writes in his review. Starring Justice Smith and Brigette Lundy-Paine, the avant-garde horror film follows two teens who share a passion for a supernatural TV show — and are shaken when it is inexplicably canceled. Through this plotline, Schoenrun offers vignettes and clips of the fictional show to offer a coming-of-age story for trans youth. The surreal imagery and offbeat approach might alienate some viewers. But for those on its wavelength, it is being heralded as “a new queer and transgender classic.”
How to watch: I Saw The TV Glow will be released by A24.
Mats Steen playing video games in “Ibelin.”
In 2020, documentarian Benjamin Ree awed critics with his complicated and compelling portrait of an unusual friendship in The Painter and the Thief. Now, he’s turned his attention to the online communities that can thrive in games like World of Warcraft. Specifically, he explores the life of Mats Steen, a Norwegian gamer whose degenerative muscular disease made socializing in-person difficult and intimidating. But online, he found friends, love, and much more under his WOW avatar, Ibelin. It was a world his family knew little about until after he died at 25. With the family and his WOW guild’s participation, the documentary guides audiences through Mats’ inner life, relying on chat archives and animation. The result is a real tear-jerker of a doc that is ultimately feel-good, validating that the connections we make online may matter more than we could ever imagine.
How to watch: Ibelin was acquired by Netflix out of Sundance. Release plans are TBD.
Kneecap the band in “Kneecap” the movie.
Winner of the audience award in the NEXT slate, Kneecap is a raucous comedy that unfurls the stranger-than-fiction origins of the Irish hip-hop band for which it’s named. Big picture, the Belfast band Kneecap was coming up as the debate around their mother tongue was becoming a hot topic. Their rap lyrics, which integrated English and Irish with a flurry of curse words and references to sex and hard drugs, became an unexpected point of pride for the “ceasefire babies.” But don’t let the political element of this movie fool you. In his directorial debut, writer/helmer Richard Peppiatt brings early Guy Ritchie energy (think Lock, Stock, and Two Smokin’ Barrels) to his high-energy romp. Even more compelling, band members Mo Chara, Móglaí Bap, and DJ Próvaí play themselves in the film, and do a bang-up job — even when appearing opposite a sneering Michael Fassbender as a tough-as-nails dad.
How to watch: Kneecap was acquired by Sony Pictures Classic out of Sundance. Release plans are TBD.
The Greatest Night in Pop
Musicians of every kind got together for “We Are the World.”
Not the strongest doc out of Sundance 2024 but definitely the most fun, The Greatest Night in Pop takes audiences back to 1985, when some of the biggest names in music — Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, Willie Nelson, Bette Midler, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles — came together for a charity single in hopes of making a better world. Centering on interviews of the artists and technicians who made “We Are the World” together, this delightful doc is full of flashy anecdotes, zinging one-liners, and even some heartache. (You deserved better, Sheila E!) While plenty of interviewees offer fun and insights, Lionel Richie, who also produced the doc, proves the MVP, providing not only plenty of context, but also some stellar impressions of Michael Jackson and his exotic pets.
How to watch: The Greatest Night in Pop is now streaming on Netflix.
Seeking Mavis Beacon
Who is the real Mavis Beacon?
For generations of school kids, Mavis Beacon was our mentor in learning how to type through a series of educational video games. But who is the woman behind the memorable mascot? Self-proclaimed e-girl detectives Jazmin Jones and Olivia McKayla Ross set out to seek out the model who became a tech icon. But along the way, they discovered their documentary may be less about the mysterious Mavis and more about misogynoir in tech. A challenging film that grapples with Gen Z’s relationship with internet culture, anti-Black racism, hidden histories, and parasocial relationships, Seeking Mavis Beacon is a wild ride.
How to watch: Seeking Mavis Beacon‘s release plans are currently TBD.
June Squibb and Richard Roundtree kick butt and take names in “Thelma.”
Credit: David Bolen
Inspired by his own beloved and spunky grandmother, writer/director Josh Margolin created an action-comedy centered around a 93-year-old widow (Academy Award nominee June Squibb) dead-set on besting the crooks who scammed her out of thousands. With the help of an old friend (Shaft‘s Richard Roundtree in his final film performance)and her doting grandson (Fear Street‘s Fred Hechinger), Thelma will take on Los Angeles, racing in a mobility scooter, throwing her concerned daughter (Parker Posey) off her trail, and confronting a scowling foe (Malcolm McDowell). As hilarious as it is heartwarming, this is a low-stakes comedy that is sure to thrill.
How to watch: Thelma‘s release plans are currently TBD.
A virtual baby looks upset in “Eternal You.”
Séances meet artificial intelligence in Eternal You. Directors Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck explore the places where technology and grief collide in this documentary that is equal parts informative and infuriating. Invited into the offices, homes, and studio space of innovating tech developers for Project December, YOV, and the South Korean TV show Meeting You, the documentarians explore how AI might be used to bring the dead back in some form — be that by texts, AI-generated audio messages, or even CGI avatars of the dead. While these tech guys talk of magic and motivations, interviews with journalists, a psychologist, and users of these groundbreaking apps give a full and at times heartbreaking picture of death capitalism in the modern age. You may well relate to the user’s desire to hear from their dearly departed. But when Project December co-founder Jason Rohrer cackles over his AI cursing at a grieving subscriber, your blood may well run cold. A thoughtful look into not just the tech, but the people who made it and the people who are turning to it, makes Eternal You essential viewing.
How to watch: Eternal You‘s release plans are currently TBD.
Megan Stott wanders off in “Penelope.”
Have you ever dreamed of ditching your tech and ties and wandering into the woods? That’s the impulse followed by the eponymous heroine of Penelope. This YA TV-drama created by Biosphere‘s Mel Eslyn and Mark Duplass centers on a 16-year-old girl who ditches a family camping trip to strike out on her own. Far from the trauma bomb this setup might have you expecting, the pilot of Penelope offers a winsome story of self-discovery, where a stranger’s just a friend you haven’t met yet. Tender and captivating, the world premiere of this poetic TV show has us eager to see what comes next.
How to watch: Penelope‘s release plans are currently TBD.
Between the Temples
Jason Schwartzman and Carol Kane co-star in a cringe comedy that’s good for the soul. Written by C. Mason Wells and Nathan Silver — the latter of whom also directs — Between the Temples centers on the relationship that blooms between Ben (Schwartzman), a middle-aged cantor who is reeling from being recently widowed, and Carla (Kane), the lively retired music teacher who gives him a new lease on life. He’s lost the spirit to sing. She’s full of it, and interesting in having her long-denied bat mitzvah. In studying Judaism together, they slowly discover their kindred spirits. But along the way, Silver suspends his audience in claustrophobic close-ups, meandering pacing, and skin-crawlingly awkward moments so we can really experience the harried protagonist’s discomfort. Thankfully, once Ben and Carla begin to click, it’s like a deep, calming breath, that gives peace and hope. While a willfully rocky ride, Between the Temples offers a journey that is aching, funny, and ultimately feel-good.
How to watch: Between the Temple‘s release plans are currently TBD.