Netflix Films at Sundance 2020: What the Critics are Saying

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Sundance Film Festival Attendee Miss Americana Picture: Kevin Mazur / GettyImages

As the curtain comes down on another Sundance Film Festival, Netflix can look back on the 2020 edition as one of their biggest in terms of the volume of films premiered, with twelve titles in the festival between original productions and exclusive acquisitions. But it was very much a case of quantity over quality for Netflix this year as their slate of fiction films, in particular, received a tepid reception. Not a single one of the company’s seven fiction films ended up in a major critic’s list of highlights from the festival, even if some won prizes and were decently reviewed. Others received mixed reviews and still others out and out bombed.

Here Christopher Meir from Netflix Original Movies Reviewed provides a rundown of the company’s entire slate from the festival, tells us how the films did with critics and, when possible, provides an idea of when you can expect to see the films on the service.

Movies Coming to Netflix from Sundance

Horse Girl (production) – Alison Brie (Mad Men, GLOW) writes, produces and stars in this character study of a quirky misfit whose life descends into mental illness. The film has received mixed reviews, with most saying that its tone is problematic, even if Brie herself gives a very good performance. It is also the latest film under the Duplass brothers deal with Netflix, so if you liked Paddleton, this one might be for you as well. On Netflix from February 7th.

His House (acquisition) – This British horror film was picked up by Netflix during the festival. The premise involves an immigrant family from the Sudan who discovers an evil presence waiting for them when they arrive in a small English town. The film’s reviews have been very positive, both in terms of its timely commentary on immigration and its scariness as a horror film. Netflix launch date TBD.

The Last Thing He Wanted (production) – Anne Hathaway’s Elena gets caught up in the world of gun-running after an encounter with her estranged father in this political thriller from Dee Rees (Mudbound). This was one of the most anticipated of Netflix’s films at Sundance, with the director of one of its most critically acclaimed originals and an A-list cast that includes Hathaway, Willem Defoe, and Ben Affleck. Despite all that, the film was the most poorly received film of the festival for Netflix, with critics complaining about its poor screenplay and editing in particular. On Netflix from February 21st.

Sergio (production) – Fans of Narcos may be excited to see this star vehicle for Wagner Moura (aka Pablo Escobar in the Netflix series) who plays the titular character in this biopic of Brazilian UN diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello. Reviews have been middling, saying more or less that Moura and co-star Ana de Armas are very good but that the film is too reverential towards its subject and too long on the whole. On Netflix from April 17th.

Lost Girls (production) – A scripted adaptation of a nonfiction novel about a serial killer operating on Long Island, Lost Girls had a lot going for it on paper. The film stars Amy Ryan, is directed by Liz Garbus, the accomplished documentarian making her fiction film debut, and has the hook of a real-life serial killer story. The reviews, however, were not kind, mainly complaining about the film’s lack of drama, which seems like a problem for a film that centers on a grief-stricken mother’s search for justice. On Netflix from March 13th.

Cuties (acquisition) – This film is concerned with a tween growing up in the Parisian banlieue with strictly traditional Senegalese Muslim parents but also with a love of urban dance, setting her on a path towards a clash between the two cultures she inhabits. Reviews were mixed, leaning towards positive with the film’s powerful message being the main attraction. The film won a prize at the festival for Best Direction in a World Cinema for its director Maimouna Doucoure. Netflix launch date TBD.

The 40-Year-Old Version (acquisition) – Bought in the last days of the festival, The 40-Year-Old Version is about the mid-life crisis of a female African-American playwright who takes up rap music to get her creative juices flowing again. The film is said to have a gentle comic tone and has been described as a crowd-pleaser. The film won a prize at the festival for Best Dramatic Direction for its director Radha Blank. Netflix launch TBD.

Documentaries Coming to Netflix from Sundance

In contrast with its fiction slate, Netflix’s Sundance documentary slate has been very well received and if the reviews are to be believed, this promises a wide range of compelling films that should be in the Oscar conversation at the end of the year.

Crip Camp (production) – Following on the heels of the highly acclaimed American Factory, this is the latest film to come out of the Obamas’ deal with Netflix. The film itself is concerned with the disability rights movement, tracing its origins to a camp for disabled teens in the 1970s. Critics are saying the film is inspirational, moving and another likely Oscar contender for the Obamas and Netflix. Adding to its feel-good credentials is the fact that the film won the Documentary Audience Award at the festival. Release date TBD.

Mucho Mucho Amor (acquisition) – As the title indicates, this is a loving biopic of campy Puerto Rican astrologer Walter Mercado, a global icon of sorts, known as much for his outlandish look and behavior as he was for his reputed powers. The reviews have largely been positive for the film, saying it offers a warm and funny portrait of recently departed Mercado. Release date TBD.

Into the Deep (production) – What started out as director Emma Sullivan’s profile of an eccentric Danish inventor turned into a true-crime documentary when its subject murdered journalist Kim Wall on board his submarine. The film’s premise and reviews make it sound like this will be a genuinely disturbing, “WTF!?” type of documentary. In other words, I am really looking forward to it. Release date TBD.

Dick Johnson is Dead (production) – This was perhaps the most enthusiastically well-received film among Netflix’s docs. The film is about the eponymous Dick Johnson, the father of the film’s director Kirsten Johnson, who suffers from dementia. Father and daughter decide to come to terms with his illness and eventual death by staging a series of fake deaths for Dick, with subsequent resurrections of course. Critics are saying the film is funny, moving and inventive in equal measure. The film won a prize at the festival for Innovation in Non-Fiction Film-Making. Release date TBD.

Kirsten Johnson of “Dick Johnson Is Dead” – Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images

Miss Americana (production) – In what is likely to end up being Netflix’s most popular documentary from the festival, Taylor Swift gets the behind-the-music treatment. The film’s reviews have been mainly positive and fans of the singer are sure to love it whereas non-fans will have a way into knowing the singer and her music. Release date January 31st.

Written by

Christopher operates a Twitter and blog dedicated to covering Netflix Original films. He's also a specialist in film and television history at the Universidad Carlos II de Madrid receiving his doctorate from the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom.