Alongside Cannes and TIFF, Sundance has shaped up to be one of the biggest film festivals in the world. Although this year's festival was initially due to take place in person, the Omicron variant prompted Sundance to hold this year’s festival online.
This year’s line-up consisted of 82 feature-length films, which is significantly less than pre-pandemic numbers (usually around 120 features) but more than last year’s 73. From documentaries about underground abortion activists, to heartwarming coming-of-age dramas, this year’s Sundance Film Festival was one of the most interesting yet. So, without further ado, here are its best films.
After Yang dir. Kogonada
Announced back in 2018, Kogonada’s follow-up to his meditative 2017 film Columbus is finally here, and it’s the best film to come out of this year's festival. After Yang tells the story of a family in the near future, whose robot companion suddenly shuts down one night. What follows is a tender story about love, acceptance, and what it means to be human. No need to fear when you’ll get to check this gem out—it’s already backed by A24 and is set to have a theatrical release (paired with a Showtime streaming release) on March 4th.
Resurrection dir. Andrew Semans
Coming from the festival’s Premiere section (where films are screened for the first time) is Resurrection, a tense and terrifying thriller with knock-out performances from Rebecca Hall and Tim Roth. The film follows Hall’s character, a single mom who seems to have a perfect life. One day, someone from her past makes an appearance which causes her life to completely unravel. By the end of the film’s runtime, your stomach will be turning—it’s the most grueling story of Sundance’s 2022 slate. IFC has acquired the theatrical and streaming rights to the film.
Cha Cha Real Smooth dir. Cooper Raiff
Director, writer, and star Cooper Raiff has crafted what is sure to be one of the next great coming-of-age films. Cha Cha Real Smooth follows a freshly-out-of-college Andrew, who bides his time working at a fast food joint, like any other 22-year-old. Soon, he comes into a job as a bar mitzvah party-starter. There, he meets Domino (played by a fantastic Dakota Johnson) and bonds with her and her daughter, who quickly change the course of his life, and teach him about what it means to grow up. Apple TV + quickly acquired the film's distribution rights, so hopefully it will be coming to viewers soon.
God’s Country dir. Julian Higgins
Thandiwe Newton gives the performance of a lifetime in this languid neo-western. God’s Country follows a Black college professor whose mother has just passed away, and is at odds with her career and life. When two white men begin to use her property as hunting ground, her life and psyche begin to unfold rapidly, making for a tense character study. It’s becoming rare to see films like this: ones that bask in the quiet moments. God’s Country lets its lead character realize things as the audience does, allowing her to breathe and process. While it may be a fault to some films, this is one where the runtime feels earned, and hopefully we’ll see it gracing theater screens sooner than later. No distribution companies have picked it up yet.
Emily the Criminal dir. John Patton Ford
Internet princess Aubrey Plaza stars as the titular Emily, a down-and-out 30-something who’s weighed down by her school debt and a minor criminal record. As she struggles with debt and never-ending retail jobs, desperation gets the best of her, and she gets involved in a credit card scam that quickly draws her into the criminal world of Los Angeles. Plaza is her best here, witty and sharp and delivering some of her most complex work since Ingrid Goes West. As of right now, there has been no word on anyone buying the distribution rights to the film.
Meet Me in the Bathroom dir. Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern
An introspective documentary, Meet Me in the Bathroom offers an immersive look at the last true decade of rock and roll. The film moves from pre-9/11 New York City to 2011, capturing the birth of bands like The Strokes, LCD Soundsystem, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The film takes you along as these bands go from obscurity to stardom almost overnight—immersing you in tight concert venues all the while. As we just now begin to return to live music (and rock and roll), this documentary couldn’t have come at a better time. There’s currently no distribution set for the film, but in the meantime, you can pick up the book that inspired the documentary.
The Janes dir. Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes
This powerful documentary looks back at an underground organization from Chicago called the Janes, who from the late 1960s to the early ‘70s performed almost 11,000 illegal abortions. The Janes is better in almost every way than its fictionalized counterpart, Call Jane: it’s rawer, more intimate, and more informative than the fictionalized version attempts to be. The documentary allows us to spend time with women who were there before Roe v. Wade was enacted—women who didn’t let the legality of their actions stop them. HBO Documentary Films will release The Janes later this year.
Master dir. Mariama Diallo
Socio-political horror has become all the rage, and for good reason. Mariama Diallo’s feature debut Master is the latest film in this vein, and it tackles the inherent whiteness of academia and how it affects not only the students on campus, but the professors. Gruelingly potent, the film brings up questions that have been salient in the past few years about college campuses and how Black people are treated within academic circles. Diallo pulls no punches exploring these topics, and it makes for a tense (and oftentimes depressing) film. Before its premiere at Sundance, Amazon bought the distribution rights to the film; Prime Video will be releasing it in March of this year.