The Overnighters (directed by Jesse Moss)
I really shouldn't say why this stunning documentary belongs on this list -- or anything about it, for that matter. The less you know going in, the better. But I will say that Jesse Moss' "The Overnighters" does a remarkable job at incapsulating so much of what is wrong in contemporary American in its story of a North Dakota pastor trying to figure out how to affect change in his community. It'll likely be at every doc festival this year -- just go see it.
Lilting (directed by Hong Khaou)
Ben Whishaw stars in this devastating film about a young man who, in mourning the death of his boyfriend, decides to try and build a relationship with said boyfriend's Chinese mother (a remarkable Pei-pei Cheng). Except she both doesn't speak English and didn't even (officially, at least) know that her son was gay. Continuing a trend in Sundance's LGBT films in dealing with ideas of finding human connection and intimacy during moments of hardship (see "Love is Strange," "The Skeleton Twins" and "Jamie Marks Is Dead" -- all on this list), "Lilting" marks the extremely promising debut of UK-based director Hong Khaou, who will definitely leave your heart significantly melted with his first feature film.
Love is Strange (directed by Ira Sachs)
John Lithgow and Alfred Molina give heartbreaking, complex and perhaps even career-defining performances in Ira Sachs' all around lovely "Love Is Strange." As Ben (Lithgow) and George (Molina), the two portray an aging gay couple who -- after finally getting the chance to tie the knot after 39 years together -- run into serious financial troubles when George is fired from his job at a Catholic private school when word gets out about his nuptials. This evolves into a nuanced, beautiful portrait of not only their love but the love of the many friends and family members around them, with Lithgow and Molina providing the centerpiece of an impressive ensemble (that includes Marisa Tomei and Cheyenne Jackson). Overall, it's really a testament to Sachs, who continues to prove himself one of American independent cinema's truest voices of humanity.
My Prairie Home (directed by Chelsea McMullan)
This gorgeous National Film Board of Canada musical documentary takes us on a journey through both the landscapes of the Canadian west and of the mind of marvellous transgender singer Rae Spoon. Director Chelsea McMullan uses endlessly stunning cinematography to interpret Spoon's songs (which are really quite fantastic), intercut with raw and affecting interviews with Spoon as the singer recalls life growing up as a transgendered youth in a troubled, religious household.
The Skeleton Twins (directed by Craig Johnson)
"The Skeleton Twins" gave us a very notable new queer voice in co-writer and director Craig Johnson (who deserves Sundance breakout status for his on stage performance before a "Twins" screening alone). Starring Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as estranged siblings who come together after Hader's openly gay character tries to kill himself, "Twins" mixes melancholy and hilarity in its ode to family needing to stick together. And while Wiig is reliably great, Hader gives probably the most layered, moving performance I saw at Sundance. Between this and Stefon, Hader is quickly drifting into gay icon territory, as far as I'm concerned.
White Bird in a Blizzard (directed by Gregg Araki)
"White Bird in a Blizzard" was Gregg Araki's ninth film at the festival following "Kaboom" (2011), "Smiley Face" (2007), "Mysterious Skin" (2005), "Splendor" (1999), "Nowhere" (1997), "The Doom Generation" (1995), "Totally F***ed Up" (1994), and "The Living End" (1992). And while definitely one of his least queer, it still -- without giving too much way -- falls comfortably into this list. A sexy, hilarious, brutal and altogether Arakian take on late 1980s surburbian teenage angst, "White Bird" follows Kat (Shailene Woodley) as she comes of age amidst the disappearance of her disturbed trainwreck of a mother (Eva Green, in a glorious Mommy Dearest-type performance that should alone make it worthy of inclusion here).