The Sundance Film Festival is the mecca of indie films. Filmmakers across the globe craft their visual masterpieces in the hopes of getting recognized and being awarded the prestigious label of “Official Selection.”
The films chosen to be screened at Sundance have a unique voice, a definitive style and a message that both speak to and defines a generation. Their titles become imprinted in our brains, their provocative and controversial content keeps us talking (or arguing) for decades, and their messages leave such an impression that they can change the way we view the world, our food and even ourselves.
7 films Sundance introduced to my generation that shaped us, spoke to us and changed us
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Bloody, rough around the edges, violent and brutally funny, Reservoir Dogs was the 90’s Mean Streets. In 1992, Todd McCarthy for Variety Magazine called it “A show-off piece of filmmaking that will put writer-director Quentin Tarantino on the map.” He could not have been more accurate: Tarantino has since become a permanent and celebrated fixture in Hollywood and pop culture.
Hoop Dreams (1994)
This moving documentary (with a rare 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) follows two inner-city teenagers enrolled in an elite basketball program at a predominately white school. Hoop Dreams honestly explores the many contrasts between the two worlds along with the dreams and challenges that pulled those worlds together. The film stands out as a piece of history that chronicles racial tension, economic status, and social issues that were specific to the early ’90s but still endure in American culture.
The Usual Suspects (1994)
Keyser Söze. The name speaks for itself. If it doesn’t ring a bell, then I don’t want to ruin it for you. But I can promise you this cool, fresh and twisty thriller will not disappoint. It is a must-see film, although we’ll never be able to see any of our one-time favorites with Kevin Spacey in quite the same way again.
Horror movies have never been the same after the release of this visual nightmare. Saw was the birth of the new Villian—Jigsaw—of a new franchise and a new genre of films boldly labeled “torture porn.” Although the Saw franchise has many of us rolling our eyes these days, the original film was incredibly daring and original. It stuck with you, got under your skin and haunted your thoughts. More than 15 years later you can still hear the cringe as people groan, “Ah, the part with foot.” For better or for worse, Saw definitely left its mark.
Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
Napoleon Dynamite is the epitome of a film that was made for a specific time and a specific generation. Its quirkiness, its theme and its glorification of “the nerd” illuminates the changing landscape of comedy in the early 2000s. Much like Cheech and Chong, Freaks and Geeks and American Pie, it was a defining moment in comedy. If you didn’t get it, you weren’t ever going to get it. You were likely a minute too old, too young or just not cool enough, gosh!
Supersize Me (2004)
Millennials were a generation raised on McDonald’s, so when filmmaker Morgan Spurlock chose to expose the toxicity of the fast-food giant, it was devastating to us chicken-nugget-addicted young-ins. However, the nasty truth inspired viewers to consider the food they were consuming and its effects on the body and the planet. Supersize Me paved the way for a slew of food-conscious websites, books and groundbreaking documentaries like Food Inc., Fed Up, Forks Over Knives and That Sugar Film.
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
By the time Little Miss Sunshine arrived on the screen, Millenials were inundated with violence, competitive reality TV shows and endless images of wealth and beauty we would likely never attain. We needed a break. And that break came in the form of Olive Hoover—a chubby and awkward seven-year-old with big dreams. The trailer offers a taste of her journey to win the coveted title of Little Miss Sunshine. She and her family warm our hearts (and then break them), make us laugh, make us cry and remind us what truly matters in life. Hint: it’s not looks, success or fame.
Bonus: This year’s standouts
This year’s Sundance Film Festival continued its tradition of debuting many challenging and artistic films. Notably, On the Record is timely, controversial and poignant. The documentary addresses allegations of sexual assault in the music industry attempt to uncover the truth of the hip hop world and explores accusations against music mogul Russell Simmons. In the generation of the #MeToo movement, the controversy surrounding the film is just as critical to discuss as the film itself. Oprah Winfrey was set to be the Executive Producer, but withdrew her support citing “creative differences” and was concerned about “inconsistencies” in stories from accusers.