Sundance 2022, in spite of last-minute in-person cancellation, boasted an impressive lineup of movies that people saw from the comfort of their homes. In true accordance with the last few years, the 2022 lineup has a diverse panel of filmmakers and clearly focused on voices that tell an urgent story.
In what feels like a common thread that ran through most of the films; there were stories about oppression, freedom, and the need to tackle contemporary issues that plague the world right now. 4 films in the lineup looked at pregnancy and how a woman’s right to her own body needs to be prioritized.
Anyway, out of the movies I was able to catch up during Sundance 2022 these were the ones that stood out and could be called the best of the festival:
1. After Yang
Life is a gift that not all of us are grateful for. We often motion through our days without appreciating the little things that make it a whole. Kogonada’s sophomore film ‘After Yang,’ is set in the near future, but its core remains pretty similar to his brilliant debut ‘Columbus.’ At once about grief and memories, this is a truly meditative and intimate look at the human condition and what really makes a family.
Following the life of a couple with extremely busy lives, After Yang takes place after their family android (someone who had taken care of their adopted daughter for a long time), somehow malfunctions. As the family (seen mostly through a focused look at the father) grapples with the possibilities of fixing Yang (Justin H. Min), some long-lasting memories come to the surface; allowing them to rethink and introspect the powerful nature of togetherness.
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Winner of the Golden Lion at the 2021 Venice Film Festival, French filmmaker Audrey Diwan’s Happening is plotted like a ticking bomb. Following the life of Anne (played by an incredible Anamaria Vartolomei) – a bright and young Literature student who shows a great and promising career ahead of her, Happening is all about her accidental pregnancy and the helplessness that follows.
Set in the 60s – a time when abortion was illegal in most parts of the world, Diwan’s drama feels almost like a thriller where a young girl’s life is put on the pedestal for the world to judge. However, instead of an exploitative gaze, the director presents a sensitive, almost urgent look at the realities of a world that gets aggressively unfair when a person isn’t allowed to take control over their own bodies.
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3. Cha Cha Real Smooth
It wouldn’t be wrong of me to say that Cooper Raiff presents the side and type of men that have been firmly missing from mainstream movies for a long long time. His characters are more sensitive, gentle and embody a kind of spirit that truly feels unique. Cha Cha Real Smooth, Raiff’s follow-up to his breakout indie-hit Shithouse, is yet another winner in that accord.
Following the life of Andrew (played by Raiff himself) – a fresh out of college but clueless young man, the film is about his freewheeling endeavors once he lands up in his younger brother’s bedroom and with a job that he doesn’t like. Failing each day to make his life worthwhile, while slowly falling in love with an older woman, Cha Cha Real Smooth is an absolute charmer that is smart and moves you in unexpected ways. It also helps that Dakota Johnson and Raiff share a kind of chemistry that makes us root for both of them to be okay in life.
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4. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande
This film is essentially a two-handler chamber piece. Most of it takes place in a hotel room where Nancy (Emma Thompson) – a 60-year-old widowed teacher is looking to have a good time with the charismatic Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack), a sexy and young sex worker who she has booked for the first time.
While it all feels like a recipe for disaster that could, at any point in the narrative, turn into a cringe-fest, director Sophie Hyde and writer Katy Brand imbibe it with such genuine charm, warmth, humor, and moments of catharsis, that it almost becomes irresistible. Props go out to Dame Emma Thompson and McCormack, who are absolutely electrifying in a film that puts ‘pleasure’ first.
There are movies that talk of racism and then there are some that just shut the door on your face if you fail to acknowledge its actual repercussions in spite of having experienced it first-hand. Emergency is the second kind of movie.
Following straight-A medical student Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins) and his always-vaping, slacker best friend Sean (RJ Cyler) as they navigate through the last few days of school before Spring break, Emergency both leaves you with a haunting, sinking feeling and a subtle afterthought. Something that only great films manage to do. Especially when they are born out of a single line of thought, and somehow belong to a crowded genre of college comedies.
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6. Am I Ok?
Every line in Tig Notaro, Stephanie Allynne’s ‘Am I Ok?’ is loaded with a bitter wit that steams out of the delusion and confused existence that 30-somethings live with. It is that time of our life where we are expected to finally grow the fuck up and our exact reaction is ‘How?’ Following the life of two inseparable best friends Lucy (Dakota Johnson) and Jane (Sonoya Mizuno), this is a true blue and wholesome film about female friendship.
With exceptional work from Johnson and Mizuno, who do feel like they have been friends since – forever, ‘Am I Ok?’ is the kind of comedy that we need on our days of feeling low. As a film about a woman trying to navigate the hard path of having control over her life, this is as good as anything else out there.
7. The Cathedral
D’Ambrose’s film is heavily structured in a template, essay-film sort of way. It is almost experimental to the tee and you either accept the world the filmmaker is showing, or you don’t. Characters are important to the overall story progression, but at the same time, they are subsidiaries to the narrative that relies more on the context, than it does on people.
His choice of making this a mood piece, almost similar to flipping a family album, closely intercuts through the baggage of emotional investment. What he does instead is slide through memories and changes via a shape-shifting American landscape. “The Cathedral” is what I would call a really observant and original portrayal of personal spaces.
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8. When You Finish Saving the World
Jesse Eisenberg, in spite of a very restricted, overly anxious sub-genre of films, has always been a true champion of American indie cinema. The actor has proved, now and again, that his mumbling existence can be utilized only by the best of directors out there. This is why his directorial debut ‘When You Finish Saving the World’ comes with a strange kind of expectation from cinema lovers.
While his film as a director does have his visibly anxious energy all over it, it is also a clever and wise takedown of white-privilege. Following the life and relationship between a son and a mother, played with extreme caution and ease by Finn Wolfhard and Julianne Moore, Eisenberg takes a piercing look at family dynamics and how people within that confine can be far removed and different from one another. In a way, the film preaches the need for acceptance and makes its various turns feel worthwhile.
Julia (Maika Monroe) is a young, failed American actress who decides to uproot her life in the country to move to Bucharest with her husband for a job that asks a little too much out of him. Since he is almost always unavailable and away, Julia, who is awry of the language and the new surroundings starts to dive into paranoia when she thinks that a shadowy figure from across the road is stalking and looking at her every day.
With the absence of the husband and a truly untrustworthy protagonist, director Chloe Okuno channels us into a narrative that burns on mid-flame. This is a truly suspenseful and curious new film that looks at the constant fears that women have to live with. In addition, it also uncovers the often faux masculine intellect that rationalizes these insecurities and normalizes them. Making Watcher a genre exercise that works wonders.
Riley Stearns is known for his pitch-black comedies that also satirize issues plaguing contemporary America. With Dual, he takes a stab at the capitalist system that makes us fight among ourselves and quite easily replaces us like cogs in a wheel.
Starring Karen Gillian as Sarah – an earnest if a somewhat lonely woman who spends most of her time either eating to her heart’s desire, drinking entire bottles of wine, or waiting for her boyfriend to talk to her about his day on a video call, this is a movie that combines a high-concept idea with straight-faced comedy. The results, though somewhat uneven, are often amusing.