Watchlist: Pull Up a Seat at These Sundance Film Dinner Tables this Holiday Season

By Stephanie Ornelas

We’re in the thick of the holiday season, and you know what that means — dinner parties. Whether with a small group or a large family gathering, we all know the chaos that can sometimes erupt when someone says or does the wrong thing at a large dinner table. 

Filmmakers often use dinner party scenes to bring characters together and watch the sparks fly  in one iconic setting. We’ve seen this time and time again within hilarious comedies, terrifying thrillers, and captivating shorts. Let’s not forget Liz Tuccillo’s Gone to the Dogs, a short film that screened at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival about a get-together that goes awry when one of the guests brings their dog. Festgoers also remember Duke Merriman’s 2016 short So Good to See You, which examines the realities of friendship when a dinner party goes sour. 

That’s why we’ve compiled this list of relatable (and sometimes bizarre) films that screened at past Sundance Film Festivals. After all, there’s no better way to prepare for your next holiday dinner gathering than watching a film that shines a light on the hilarious and awkward moments we experience around the table. Though captivating, some of these projects might just make you think twice before RVSPing yes to your next invite. 

Complete Unknown (2016 Sundance Film Festival)

Joshua Marston’s psychological drama follows the mysterious Alice (Rachel Weisz), who has reinvented herself countless times, assuming different identities. But at a dinner party, when she unexpectedly reunites with a former lover (Michael Shannon), secrets surface, and the boundaries between truth and deception blur. As the evening unfolds, Alice’s unexpected presence unravels a night of revelations and uncertainties while the characters grapple with the enigma of her ever-changing identities. Check here for viewing options.

The House of Yes (1997 Sundance Film Festival)

This dark comedy, based on the play by Wendy MacLeod, introduces us to the quirky and dysfunctional Pascal family as they prepare for Thanksgiving dinner. 

“[Director Mark] Waters takes the family dynamic and pushes it into a hysterical, emotional free fall. He lets the action play out like the finale of an insane symphony while controlling the underlying fever pitch with just the right amount of restraint,” writes John Cooper in the Festival program. Check here for viewing options.

Serial Lover (1999 Sundance Film Festival)

Claire is living the life — she has a meaningful career at a publishing house specializing in crime novels, and she has four boyfriends. When she decides to host a dinner party for her 35th birthday, she invites her boyfriends and a good friend over so she can select her would-be fiancé. As the awkward competition begins and Claire moves to the kitchen to bring out her delectable meal, James Huth’s dark comedy turns into absolute chaos. Purchase the DVD here

The Perfect Host (2010 Sundance Film Festival)

Pour a glass of your favorite red, and have a seat with David Hyde Pierce and Clayne Crawford. Frasier fans might balk at a character of Pierce’s drinking anything but sherry, but The Perfect Host’s wine-swilling Warwick is just as eccentric as the iconic Dr. Niles Crane. When John (Crawford) is desperate for a place to hide after robbing a bank, he shows up on Warwick’s doorstep posing as a friend of a mutual friend from out of town. Over dinner, the two realize that looks can be very deceiving. Check here for viewing options.

The Last Supper (1996 Sundance Film Festival)

Stacey Title’s dark comedy will make you laugh and leave you spooked all at the same time. When a stranded student (Ron Eldard) gets a ride from trucker Zack (Bill Paxton), he invites him in for a dinner party with his four roommates (Cameron Diaz, Courtney B. Vance, Jonathan Penner, Annabeth Gish). But when Zack starts praising Hitler and acting violently toward the group, they make a decision that ends in murder. Rationalizing the act as a service to humanity, the self-proclaimed vigilantes start to invite more offensive individuals like Zack over for dinner. Check here for viewing options.  

What’s Cooking? (2000 Sundance Film Festival)

Director Gurinder Chadha invites audiences to a tasty Thanksgiving dinner that will transport them to four different worlds for one meal. The comedic drama follows four ethnically diverse families as they prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving Day. 

“Gurinder Chadha, an Englishwoman of Indian descent now living in Los Angeles, working with a wonderful cast and superbly talented collaborators, has created what could well become a classic holiday film of immense charm and energy,” wrote Geoffrey Gilmore in the Festival program. Chadha received support through Sundance Instittue’s Screenwriters Lab in 1997 before her film premiered at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival. Check here for viewing options.

Dinner with Family with Brett Gelman and Brett Gelman’s Family (2016 Sundance Film Festival)

When comedian Brett Gelman hosts a seemingly ordinary family dinner with his parents for their 40th anniversary, it quickly turns bizarre. As the evening progresses, the atmosphere becomes increasingly surreal, with uncomfortable conversations and unexpected twists. Jason Woliner’s satirical short film is an unsettling exploration of familial relationships and societal expectations. Check here for viewing options.

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