Emma Thompson in Late Night (Courtesy of Sundance Institute / photo by Emily Aragones)

Late Night
Emma Thompson plays a veteran late-night talk show host in this broadly appealing comedy—think The Devil Wears Prada meets The Mindy Project—written by Mindy Kaling and helmed by Transparent director Nisha Ganatra. Kaling also stars as Molly, a comically earnest aspiring writer and zealous comedy fan who scores a job in the show’s midtown writer’s room, which until then had been comprised of only white men. The movie is based around an array of hot-button topics: sexism, representation, workplace dynamics. But the story never gets heavy. It’s fizzy and bright, existing in a kind of exaggerated rom-com reality where women are less interested in love affairs than career drive. It was nabbed by Amazon for $13 million.

Vulture calls the script “at the blunter and frankly more exciting spectrum of what Kaling has proven herself to be capable of”; IndieWire finds it “stuffed with truisms and heart” and “funny as hell, and with something to say.”

Jillian Bell in Brittany Runs A Marathon. (Courtesy of Sundance Institute / photo by Jon Pack)

Brittany Runs a Marathon
Sundance is full of surprises, but none were happier than the unbridled runaway success of this by-the-book crowdpleaser from playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo. Based on his own best friend Brittany’s true story, the movie centers on a hot-mess 27-year-old Brooklynite (Jillian Bell) who decides to get her shit together after a doctor suggests that her weight could cause future health problems. The first non-doc to film at the real-life New York City Marathon (it shot in 2017), it’s a superbly executed broad comedy and a perfect vehicle to showcase the chops of comedienne Jillian Bell. Picked up, again, by Amazon for $14 million.

Entertainment Weekly dubs it “a whip-smart comedy;” Variety applauds it as “the best kind of ‘crowdpleaser’: one that earns every emotional beat that might seem formulaic in four out of five similar enterprises.”

A still from Knock Down The House . (Courtesy of Sundance Institute / photo by Rachel Lears)

Knock Down the House
Arguably the biggest personage that was set to appear at this year’s festival wasn’t a Hollywood star, but a celebrated politician: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who, along with three other grassroots female candidates, is the focus of Rachel Lears’s passionate documentary. Though AOC didn’t end up appearing at the fest—the shutdown ended before her premiere—she was present in mood and spirit. The film follows the four hopeful politicians during their runs, spending the most time with AOC, whom Lears documented with unparalleled access from the makeshift start through the famously triumphant end. Netflix is currently closing in on a deal.

The Hollywood Reporter declares “it’s hard to imagine it won’t melt at least a few conservative hearts”; IndieWire calls its conclusion “crowd-pleasing, fist-pumping, jaw-dropping.”

Peter Sarsgaard appears in Sound of Silence (Courtesy of Sundance Institute / photo by Eric Lin)

The Sound of Silence
This slow-burn character study follows a sound savant, played with eerie impassivity by the captivating Peter Sarsgaard, who travels around the city working as a “house tuner.” The job consists of him interpreting the pitch and timbre of various items in your home to ensure they’re in harmony; he’s convinced that dissonant sounds can affect mood and behavior. Stable, focused, and adeptly executed, the film, which is still seeking distribution, is a quiet achievement for first-time director Michael Tyburski, Sarsgaard, and Rashida Jones, who costars as a glum patron turned pseudo-love interest.

Rogerebert.com finds it “fascinating” but “one-note,” while The Hollywood Reporter calls it “a quiet revelation.”

Joshua Boone and Zora Howard in Premature. (Courtesy of Sundance Institute / photo by Laura Valladao)

Premature
New talent Zora Howard co-wrote and stars in this lovely New York coming of age, which follows a Harlem teen named Ayanna who falls for an alluring older guy in the final summer weeks before starting college. She’s an aspiring writer and poet, and she’s often pictured scribbling spoken-word poetry in her notebook. With authentic scenes on the subway, basketball courts, and other familiar city locations, the film offers an appealingly unadorned portrait of a Harlem summer romance.

The Hollywood Reporter calls it “a small but stirring coming-of-ager with a knockout lead turn”; The Wrap raves, “it’s difficult, it’s scary, and it’s heartbreaking at times. That’s what Howard’s beautiful performance conveys.”