Sundance: THR Critics Pick Their 12 Favorite Films (So Far)

Diary of a Teenage Girl still 2 - H 2015
Courtesy of Sundance International Film Festival

Diary of a Teenage Girl still 2 - H 2015

A tale of a girl's sexual awakening, a transgender buddy movie, a Western with Michael Fassbender and a crowd-pleaser about cancer are among the highlights from the first days of the festival (it goes until Feb. 1).

The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Read the review).

In this gutsy and assured debut, Marielle Heller accomplishes just about everything all young indie filmmakers say they want to do when starting out: to create a fresh, distinctive work in their own "voice" that will make their careers. Heller has pulled this off in a remarkably frank look at the emerging sexual life of a teen (the endlessly watchable Bel Powley) in 1970s San Francisco. It's the kind of movie Sundance prays for every year. — TODD MCCARTHY

Dope (Read the review)

Three geeks go gangsta in this entertaining feature from Rick Famuyiwa. Set in Inglewood, Calif., the story focuses on a trio of nerdy kids who end up selling a stash of drugs that accidentally lands in their laps. Armed with snappy dialogue, dynamic camera­work and breakout star Shameik Moore, this is a crowd-pleaser from start to finish. — BOYD VAN HOEIJ

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Read the review)

A smart-ass charmer and merciless tearjerker, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's film got a deserved standing ovation. This accessible and very funny story of the friendship between a misfit (Thomas Mann) and a girl with leukemia has the makings of a mainstream hit. — JOHN DEFORE

Slow West (Read the review)

A wholly enjoyable buddy Western punctuated by occasional shocks of black humor, John Maclean's film follows a wide-eyed Scottish boy as he attempts to find the girl he loves in the Civil War-era American West, where nearly everybody's a recent arrival. Chief among the immigrants is Michael Fassbender, whose reliable charisma carries the day. — J.D.

See more The Scene at Sundance Film Festival 2015

Tangerine (Read the review)

Fierce energy courses through this scrappy mosaic of L.A. street life, which centers on two black transgender prostitutes. But while the flavorful dialogue is a hoot, it's the absence of condescension toward its marginalized characters that makes Sean Baker's film so vibrant. — DAVID ROONEY

Western (Read the review)

Sibling filmmakers Turner Ross and Bill Ross IV use their incisive verite lens to create an eye-opening and memorable portrait of a Texas border town and its twin city in Mexico — a relationship defined by harmony but increasingly threatened by drug-cartel violence. It's a documentary invigorated by its openhearted curiosity and compassion. — SHERI LINDEN

The End of the Tour (Read the review)

The latest from James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now) is an exquisitely elegiac film about David Foster Wallace (a heartbreaking Jason Segel), who's examined over the course of a five-day interview with Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) 12 years before the influential writer's suicide in 2008 at age 46. — D.R.

See more Next Gen at Sundance: Inside The Party With Hailee Steinfeld, Emile Hirsch

Dreamcatcher (Read the review)

Documentary doyenne Kim Longinotto offers a moving portrait of someone who might just qualify for secular sainthood: Chicago-based Brenda Myers-Powell, a former prostitute who now runs the foundation of the title, a nonprofit dedicated to helping sex workers and young women at risk. Longinotto deftly balances character and context, capturing telling moments where subjects reveal themselves in an instant. — LESLIE FELPERIN

Nasty Baby (Read the review)

The latest from Chilean writer-director Sebastian Silva looks at the outset to be a politically correct indie about a gay male Brooklyn couple, who are Latino and black, helping a white woman (Kristen Wiig) get pregnant by supplying sperm. But it turns into a startling drama of moral ambiguity, as well as a thoughtful portrait of life in a very particular gentrified neighborhood. — T.M.

See more Sundance: Exclusive Photos of Kristen Wiig, Jack Black, Ethan Hawke and More

James White (Read the review)

Christopher Abbott (formerly of Girls) gives a bruised, bristling performance as a hard-partying hedonist forced by his mother's terminal illness to put the brakes on his self-destruction in this extraordinarily intimate drama — an arresting feature debut for Josh Mond. — D.R.

Best of Enemies (Read the review)

Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon's wonderful documentary convincingly argues that the William F. Buckley-Gore Vidal debates during the two national political conventions of 1968 marked the beginning of the end of the gray days of "objective" TV news. The film will prove riveting both to those who remember watching the broadcasts and to younger political buffs who may never before have seen these titans of articulation and elocution in action. — T.M.

Brooklyn (Read the review)

Colm Toibin's novel about a young woman (Saoirse Ronan) torn between life and love in her native Ireland and her new home in 1950s New York has been turned into a beautiful and moving film by director John Crowley and screenwriter Nick Hornby. The superbly acted, suspenseful drama provides the feeling of being lifted into a different world altogether, so transporting is the film's sense of time, place and social mores. — T.M.