10 Sundance Film Festival Gems That You Can Stream Right Now

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The small mountain town of Park City, Utah is being invaded this week by thousands of movie lovers eager to see what's premiering at the Sundance Film Festival. But you don't have to be among them to enjoy the Sundance experience. Many of the festival's past hits are available to stream into your own home, where presumably you will not have to stand in line or wear a parka. If you'd like to program your own mini-festival, here are 10 Sundance world premieres to get you started.

1. THE HOUSE OF YES (1997) 

Where to watch it: Amazon/iTunes

Parker Posey, the undisputed Queen of Sundance in the 1990s, won a Special Jury Recognition for her performance in this dark comedy about an unstable, Jackie Kennedy-obsessed young woman who gets very upset when her twin brother (Josh Hamilton) brings home a fiancée. Dysfunctional hilarity ensues as the family's old secrets come to light. The film was by Mark Waters, who later made Mean Girls.

2. HAMLET (2000)

Where to watch it: Amazon/iTunes

Sure, you've seen Hamlet before. But have you seen it set in modern-day New York City, with Ethan Hawke as the Dane, Kyle MacLachlan as Claudius, and Bill Murray as Polonius? Michael Almereyda (who made last year's Experimenter) retains the Bard's language while refitting everything to the present: Elsinore is a luxury hotel; eavesdropping is accomplished via hidden microphone; and instead of staging a play to embarrass his uncle, Hamlet makes an artsy short film. Nothing rotten here!





Where to watch it: Amazon

Want to feel hopeful about the future? Here's a documentary showing that the kids are all right. Or at least they were in 1999 to 2000, when this was shot. Kirby Dick gave video cameras to 10 high school students and had them film themselves for a week before passing the cameras along to someone else. Sixteen kids' weeks were chosen and distilled into the segments in Chain Camera, offering a unique view (and now something of a time capsule) of young life at the turn of the century.

4. MANIC (2001) 

Where to watch it: Amazon

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, future stars of Sundance hit 500 Days of Summer, first appeared together in this low-key drama set in a juvenile psychiatric ward. (Don Cheadle is here, too, as their tough but sympathetic doctor.) Shot on digital video at a time when digital video tended to make things look cheap, Manic overcomes its aesthetic limitations with believable characters and totally natural performances. 

5. PUMPKIN (2002) 

Where to watch it: Amazon/iTunes

Christina Ricci plays a Southern California sorority blonde who's paired up with a mildly disabled fellow named Pumpkin (Hank Harris) during a charity drive, disrupting her rich, clueless life. It's a sunny, exaggerated satire—think Bring It On meets Heathers—and there's an added level of curiosity: the directors, Anthony Abrams and Adam Larson Broder, never made another movie before or since. 


Where to watch it: Amazon/iTunes

Tom McCarthy is up for two Oscars this year for directing and co-writing Spotlight, but he started his directing career (after more than a decade as an actor) with this enormously pleasant comedy about a surly dwarf (Peter Dinklage) who inherits a rural train depot and reluctantly becomes friends with the locals (including Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Cannavale). The film won Sundance's Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award as well as the coveted, regular-people-like-this-too Audience Award.

7. THE SAVAGES (2007) 

Where to watch it: iTunes/Amazon

Not to be confused with Savages, the 2012 Oliver Stone movie, The Savages is a sharply funny comedy starring Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman as over-educated, under-achieving siblings grappling with their father's impending death and their own midlife crises. Writer-director Tamara Jenkins' screenplay and Linney's lead performance were actually nominated for Oscars in 2008, but the film largely slipped away from public consciousness after that. 


Where to watch it: Netflix/Amazon/iTunes

There are some red flags on this one: it's a dark comedy about suicide, and it stars Robin Williams. To enjoy it requires not just a suspension of disbelief, but a suspension of taste. But if you can handle it, it's hilarious, as Williams plays a high school teacher who writes fake diaries to change students' perception of his loathsome son after the latter's death. It was written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, who has emerged as one of the most daring filmmakers in the business.

9. PARIAH (2011)

Where to watch it: Netflix/Amazon/iTunes

One of the more widely praised films at the 2011 festival was this drama about a 17-year-old black lesbian (Adepero Oduye) in Brooklyn trying to navigate her sexuality without upsetting her family. Coming-of-age dramas about gay teens aren't rare (especially at Sundance), but this one has an air of raw authenticity that many lack, and it offers a glimpse into a corner of American culture that will be new to a lot of viewers.


Where to watch it: Amazon/iTunes

It was just two years ago that this dramatic comedy about suicidal siblings—played by Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig—made waves in Park City and earned the festival's screenwriting prize. It went on to make just over $5 million in its limited theatrical release before being forgotten entirely. It deserved better, especially for fans of Hader and Wiig's un-fakeable comic chemistry.