20 Must-See Movies at the Sundance Film Festival, 2022
Widely known for screening fresh voices out of Park City, Utah, the Sundance Film Festival had to withhold its in-person screenings for a consecutive second year. Sundance 2022 was supposed to be a hub for new indie filmmakers who, in the hope of showing their movies for the first time on the big screen had opted to not show their films anywhere else.
Sadly, due to the rise in the cases of the new COVID-19 variant, the festival team has decided to cancel all its in-person event. The fest, which was supposed to take place in a hybrid format in 2022, has instead shifted to a totally online event this year, yet again.
With a heavy heart, and going with the desperate times, the team at Sundance managed to make the transition just i time. The festival now has online screening open for all residents of the USA, who can enjoy incredible new voices right from the comfort of their homes.
However, with a slate of more than 200 movies, it becomes an arduous task to pick the right one. Which is why I have decided to do that job for you. Here are the 20 movies that I think deserve all your attention and are a must-see at Sundance 2022.
1. After Yang
Director: Kogonada | Language: English | Runtime: 96 Minutes
When Yang — a lifelike, artificially intelligent android that Jake and Kyra buy as a companion for their adopted daughter — abruptly stops functioning, Jake just wants him repaired quickly and cheaply. But having purchased Yang “certified refurbished” from a now-defunct store, he’s led first to a conspiracy theorist technician and then a technology museum curator, who discovers that Yang was actually recording memories. Jake’s quest eventually becomes one of existential introspection and contemplating his own life, as it passes him by.
An aesthete at heart, Kogonada only vaguely hints at the futuristic science fiction setting (and accompanying climate catastrophe), instead crafting a serene, meditative, compassionate story that inverts the trusted theme of robots exploring what it means to be human, by showing a human trying to understand this artificial being who was part of his family. Punctuated with humor and joyousness, After Yang’s quiet power lies in its timely contemplation of how we create meaning and experience loss.
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2. Am I ok?
Directors: Stephanie Allynne, Tig Notaro | Language: English | Runtime: 86 Minutes
Lucy and Jane are the best of friends. They finish each other’s sentences, predict every detail of each other’s food order, and pretty much know everything about each other. But when Jane is promoted at work and agrees to move to London for her new position, Lucy confesses her deepest, long-held secret: She likes women, she has for a long time, and she’s terrified by this later-in-life realization. Suddenly, their friendship is thrown into chaos as the two choose different routes by which to navigate the unexpected changes in their lives.
Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne’s directorial feature debut is an exceptionally sweet and charming love story about two adults working through the complexities of self-discovery and personal awakening. Anchored by endearing performances and the undeniable chemistry between Dakota Johnson as Lucy and Sonoya Mizuno as Jane, AM I OK? is a relatable, poignant, and often humorous look at the transformative power of human vulnerability.
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Director: Bradley Rust Gray | Language: English, Japanese | Runtime: 111 Minutes
Widow Chloe (Carla Juri) travels to Japan for work where she is welcomed by an old friend, Toshi (Takashi Ueno). Sliding between the melancholy of loss and the awe of perspectives changed, Chloe wanders an unfamiliar landscape where love has carved all the guiding grooves. blood explores the site where fragile love can emerge from immovable pain. With quiet restraint, fresh rhythm, and unforgettably rich performances, this subtle study of togetherness and apartness captures the vibrancy of internal life. Writer-director-producer Bradley Rust Gray observes the resilience of life and love, the surprise of desire, the barriers of language, and the staggering impact of relationships.
In this tacitly potent piece, Gray proves the gentle power of his directorial hand. blood marks the return of partners and longtime collaborators Gray and So Yong Kim to the Sundance Film Festival after the world premiere of Lovesong (co-written by the duo and directed by Kim) in 2016. Their deft understanding of romance and finely tuned meditative style is displayed gorgeously by this new work.
4. Cha Cha Real Smooth
Director: Cooper Raiff | Language: English, Japanese | Runtime: 107 Minutes
Fresh out of college — but now what? Higher education failed to provide 22-year-old Andrew with a clear life path going forward, so he’s stuck back at home with his family in New Jersey. But if college did teach him one thing, it’s drinking and partying — skills that make him the perfect candidate for a job party-starting at the bar and bat mitzvahs of his younger brother’s classmates. When Andrew befriends a local mom, Domino, and her daughter, Lola, he finally discovers a future he wants, even if it might not be his own.
Cooper Raiff follows up his 2020 SXSW Grand Jury Prize-winning debut feature, Shithouse, with a tale of young love that brims with emotional honesty. He writes, directs, produces, and stars in this charmer that respects all its characters’ struggles, even in moments when its protagonist can’t see beyond himself. Featuring a fantastic ensemble cast including Dakota Johnson, Leslie Mann, and newcomers Vanessa Burghardt and Evan Assante, Cha Cha Real Smooth is made for the hopeless romantic living inside us all.
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Director: Riley Stearns | Language: English | Runtime: 95 Minutes
Recently diagnosed with a rare and incurable disease, Sarah is unsure how to process the news. To help ease her friends’ and family’s impending loss, she is encouraged to participate in a simple futuristic cloning procedure called “Replacement,” after which Sarah’s last days will be spent teaching the clone how to live on as Sarah once she’s gone. But while it takes only an hour for a clone to be made, things become significantly more challenging when that double is no longer wanted.
This darkly off-kilter comedy marks a welcome return to the Festival from writer-director Riley Stearns (The Cub, Sundance 2013). He straddles a curious line between deadpan satire and high-concept storytelling to take us on a sci-fi journey into the ways a catastrophic life change can force reconsideration of one’s entire existence. In the lead dual role, an oddly charming Karen Gillan proves the perfect match for Stearns’s strange, strange cinematic world.
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Director: Carey Williams | Language: English | Runtime: 105 Minutes
Straight-A college student Kunle and his laid-back best friend, Sean, are about to have the most epic night of their lives. Determined to be the first Black students to complete their school’s frat party legendary tour, the friends strap in for their ultimate assignment, Solo cups in hand. But a quick pit stop at home alters their plans when they find a white girl passed out on the living room floor. Faced with the risks of calling the police under life-threatening optics, Kunle, Sean, and their Latino roommate, Carlos, must find a way to de-escalate the situation before it’s too late.
Two-time Sundance alum Carey Williams (R#J, 2021) makes his U.S. Dramatic Competition debut with Emergency, the darkly comedic and wildly hard-hitting feature version of his short by the same name (a Special Jury Award winner in 2018). Bringing K.D. Dávila’s sharp and layered writing to life through an incredibly talented breakout cast, Williams hazes us with a timely and biting satire in which racial dynamics unmask a world so absurd that it could only be real.
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Director: Mimi Cave | Language: English | Runtime: 114 Minutes
Frustrated by scrolling dating apps only to end up on lame, tedious dates, Noa takes a chance by giving her number to the awkwardly charming Steve after a produce-section meet-cute at the grocery store. During a subsequent date at a local bar, sassy banter gives way to a chemistry-laden hookup, and a smitten Noa dares to hope that she might have actually found a real connection with the dashing cosmetic surgeon. She accepts Steve’s invitation to an impromptu weekend getaway, only to find that her new paramour has been hiding some unusual appetites.
FRESH is an intoxicating ride, nesting a penetrating thriller about the perils women face on the modern dating scene within a ferocious allegory for the commodification of their bodies. Director Mimi Cave’s feature debut brings Lauryn Kahn’s shrewd, witty script to the screen with a knowing zeal, deploying a soundtrack of retro deep-cut bangers to highlight the film’s over-the-top verve. Daisy Edgar-Jones captivates as Noa, who defiantly turns her vulnerabilities into strengths, while Sebastian Stan delivers a deliciously wicked performance as the roguish Steve.
8. Girl Picture
Director: Alli Haapasalo | Language: Finnish | Runtime: 110 Minutes
Best friends Mimmi and Rönkkö work after school at a food court smoothie kiosk, frankly swapping stories of their frustrations and expectations regarding love and sex. Volatile misfit Mimmi, unexpectedly swept up in the thrill of a new romance with Emma (a driven skater training for the European championships), struggles to adjust to the trust and compromise required by a lasting relationship. Meanwhile, the offbeat, indefatigable Rönkkö hits the teen party scene, stumbling through a series of awkward encounters with members of the opposite sex while hoping to find her own version of satisfaction.
Girl Picture manifests its uninhibited characters’ youthful energy and smartly centers the chemistry between its three terrific leads. Within the film’s tender, funny exploration of the fears and confusions of discovering one’s identity and sexuality, a refreshingly positive portrait of the power of female friendship emerges. Writers Daniela Hakulinen and Ilona Ahti consistently present the film’s teen protagonists as complex individuals, while director Alli Haapasalo, rather than aestheticizing the girls’ femininity, vibrantly depicts their trials and tribulations through their own eyes.
9. God’s Country
Director: Julian Higgins | Language: English | Runtime: 102 Minutes
Sandra (Thandiwe Newton) is very tired. It’s been years of trying (and failing) to please her recently deceased mother, while also navigating the challenging politics and power dynamics at the college where she teaches. And then there is the racism, sexism, and toxic masculinity she encounters wherever she goes. But it’s a confrontation with two hunters trespassing on her property that ultimately tests Sandra’s self-restraint, pushing her grief and mounting anger to their limits. God’s Country examines one woman’s grieving process and determination to be taken seriously amid her refusal to surrender to the confines of society.
Newton shines as Sandra in director Julian Higgins’s impressive feature debut. The script, co-written by Higgins and Shaye Ogbonna, offers Newton the opportunity to create a character who is masterfully understated, yet complex and believable. Newton occupies almost every frame of the film; close-ups of her calm, grief-stricken face reveal the despair and tension of a crumbling human spirit. She remains cool and composed, but no longer willing to yield.
10. Good Luck to you, Leo Grande
Director: Sophie Hyde | Language: English | Runtime: 97 Minutes
Nancy Stokes (Emma Thompson) doesn’t know good sex. Whatever it may be, Nancy, a retired schoolteacher, is pretty sure she has never had it, but she is determined to finally do something about that. She even has a plan: It involves an anonymous hotel room, and a young sex worker who calls himself Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack). Leo is confident, dapper, and takes pride in being good at his job. He also appears to be intrigued by Nancy — one of many things to surprise her during their time together.
Sophie Hyde (52 Tuesdays, Animals) returns to the Sundance Film Festival with this charming, intimate comedy about genuine human connections, sex postivity, and female pleasure. McCormack shines as the witty and empathetic Leo Grande, whose chemistry with Thompson’s wonderfully complex Nancy is captured by Hyde’s tender direction and Bryan Mason’s attentive camerawork. Written by comedian Katy Brand, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande strikes the perfect balance between unapologetic humor and an earnest study of the art of (self-)acceptance.
Director: Audrey Diwan | Language: French | Runtime: 100 Minutes
In 1963 France, Anne, a promising young university student, is devastated to learn she’s pregnant. She immediately insists on termination, but her physician warns of the unsparing laws against either seeking or aiding abortions, and her tentative attempts to reach out to her closest friends are nervously rebuffed. As weeks pass, without support or clear access, an increasingly desperate Anne unwaveringly persists in seeking any possible means of ending the pregnancy in hopes of reclaiming her hard-fought future.
Adapting Annie Ernaux’s memoir, Diwan creates an expressively evoked period piece of undeniable current resonance. Happening never sensationalizes, but directly and graphically details not only the dangers and indignities of Anne’s harrowing quest but also how the surrounding indifference escalates her plight. Anamaria Vartolomei stuns as the unrelenting Anne, immersing us in her character’s certainty that the failure to end this pregnancy would surely be the end of her life as well.
Director: Maryna Er Gorbach | Language: Ukrainian | Runtime: 100 Minutes
July 2014. Expectant parents Irka and Tolik live in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine near the Russian border, disputed territory in the early days of the Donbas war. Their nervous anticipation of their first child’s birth is violently disrupted as the vicinal crash of flight MH17 elevates the forbidding tension enveloping their village. The looming wreckage of the downed airliner and an incoming parade of mourners emphasize the surreal trauma of the moment.
As Tolik’s separatist friends expect him to join their efforts, Irka’s brother is enraged by suspicions that the couple has betrayed Ukraine. Irka refuses to be evacuated even as the village gets captured by armed forces, and she tries to make peace between her husband and brother by asking them to repair their bombed house.
Writer-director Maryna Er Gorbach creates a meaningful, empathetic ode to resilience as KLONDIKE viscerally delineates the couple’s dawning uncertainty of life in a warzone. The camera pans the damage to their home and village in poignant recognition that the fabric of their lives has also been permanently altered.
13. Leonor Will Never Die
Director: Martika Ramirez Escobar | Language: Filipino | Runtime: 99 Minutes
Leonor Reyes was once a major player in the Filipino film industry after creating a string of successful action films, but now her household struggles to pay the bills. When she reads an advertisement looking for screenplays, Leonor begins tinkering with an unfinished script about the quest of young, noble Ronwaldo, forced to avenge his brother’s murder at the hand of thugs. While her imagination provides some escape from reality, she goes all-in after an accident involving a television knocks her out, sends her into a coma, and transports her inside the incomplete movie. Now Leonor can play out her wildest dreams firsthand and discover the perfect ending to her story.
With her feature film debut, writer-director Martika Ramirez Escobar expresses a joyous love for cinema through the film’s irreverent form and the wide-eyed, endearing lead performance from Sheila Francisco. Ramirez Escobar concocts a winning mixture of zany misadventures, awesome period re-creations, and self-reflective storytelling while grounding the story in the genuine emotions of a family suddenly torn apart.
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Director: Andrew Semans | Language: English | Runtime: 103 Minutes
Margaret (Rebecca Hall) leads a successful and orderly life, perfectly balancing the demands of her busy career and single parenthood to her fiercely independent daughter Abbie. But that careful balance is upended when she glimpses a man she instantly recognizes, an unwelcome shadow from her past. A short time later, she encounters him again. Before long, Margaret starts seeing David (Tim Roth) everywhere — and their meetings appear to be far from an unlucky coincidence. Battling her rising fear, Margaret must confront the monster she’s evaded for two decades who has come to conclude their unfinished business.
Writer-director Andrew Semans has crafted a surreal and deeply disturbing film, blending drama and horror to deftly unearth a nightmare that feels all too real. Hall masterfully embodies Margaret’s trepidation as her firmly controlled world begins to unravel, while Roth’s David diabolically begins to pull the rug out from underneath her. Resurrection promises a gripping excavation of an inescapable past.
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15. Sharp Stick
Director: Lena Dunham | Language: English | Runtime: 86 Minutes
Sensitive and naive 26-year-old Sarah Jo lives in a Los Angeles apartment complex with her influencer sister and her disillusioned mother. She is also a wonderful caregiver to Zach, a child with an intellectual disability. Eager to lose her virginity, Sarah Jo embarks on an exhilarating affair with Zach’s dense but affable father, Josh. In the wake of the doomed relationship, Sarah Jo grapples with heartbreak by dedicating herself to unlocking every aspect of the sexual experience that she feels she’s missed out on for so long.
In an exciting return to feature filmmaking 11 years after Tiny Furniture, Lena Dunham reestablishes herself as a major voice in independent cinema. With her signature unflinching and provocative approach, Dunham explores the vulnerability of her characters, whose dreams and expectations are elusive. Through Sarah Jo, who has been defined by her past trauma for too long, Dunham makes a bold statement about body and sex positivity. With humor and warmth, Sharp Stick redefines family and celebrates differences as it follows a young woman’s path to self-discovery.
16. Something in the Dirt
Directors: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead | Language: English | Runtime: 116 Minutes
Levi has snagged a no-lease apartment sight unseen in the Hollywood Hills to crash at while he ties up loose ends for his exodus from Los Angeles. He quickly strikes up a rapport with his new neighbor John, swapping stories like old friends under the glowing, smoke-filled skies of the city. One day, Levi and John witness something impossible in one of their apartments. Terrified at first, they soon realize that this could change their lives and give them a purpose. With dollar signs in their eyes, these two random dudes will attempt to prove the supernatural.
DIY wonderkids Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson make their Sundance Film Festival debut, serving as co-directors, co-stars, co-editors, writer (Benson), and cinematographer (Moorhead) of this twisted, sci-fi talkie. Their oddball chemistry shines on screen and in the script, as these two isolated and unfulfilled individuals spur each other toward wormholes and away from reality. Something In The Dirt tells a tale of these paranoid times, where every answer imaginable is just a Google search away.
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17. The Worst Person in the World
Director: Joachim Trier | Language: Norwegian | Runtime: 127 Minutes
Julie is young, beautiful, smart, and not exactly sure what she desires in a career or partner. One night she meets Aksel, a well-known graphic novelist 15 years her senior, and they quickly fall in love. Wondering if this will be the rest of her life, she meets a coffee barista, Eivind, who is also in a relationship. Julie has to decide, not just between two men but also who she is and who she wants to be.
In the final installment of his Oslo Trilogy about contemporary existence in the Norwegian capital, director Joachim Trier beautifully captures a specific moment in life when the restless energy of the immense possibility of youth mixes with the melancholic feeling that you probably should have figured all this out by now. Featuring one of the most memorable moments in recent film history, The Worst Person in the World is an existential romp about accepting the most difficult person you may ever meet: yourself.
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18. When you Finish Saving the World
Director: Jesse Eisenberg | Language: English | Runtime: 88 Minutes
From his bedroom home studio, high school student Ziggy performs original folk-rock songs for an adoring online fan base. This concept mystifies his formal and uptight mother, Evelyn, who runs a shelter for survivors of domestic abuse. While Ziggy is busy trying to impress his socially engaged classmate Lila by making his music less bubblegum and more political, Evelyn meets Angie and her teen son, Kyle, when they seek refuge at her facility. She observes a bond between the two that she’s missing with her own son, and decides to take Kyle under her wing against her better instincts.
In his carefully observed, aesthetically pleasing directorial debut, Jesse Eisenberg adapts his audio project of the same name to tell the story of a mother and son who fail to understand each other’s values. With gentle humor and pitch-perfect dialogue, When You Finish Saving the World reflects a moment of internet fame and youth activism, but it also recounts the timeless tale of parents and children struggling to connect across the generational chasm that separates them.
Director: Chloe Okuno | Language: English | Runtime: 91 Minutes
Julia joins her husband when he relocates to his family’s native Romania for a new job. Having recently abandoned her acting career, she finds herself frequently alone and unoccupied. One night, people-watching from her picture window, she spots a vague figure in an adjacent building, who seems to be looking back at her. Soon after, while alone at a local movie theater, Julia’s sense of being watched intensifies, and she becomes certain she’s being followed — could it be the same unknown neighbor? Meanwhile, a serial killer known as The Spider stalks the city.
Utilizing near-vacant Bucharest streets and expansive luxury apartments, director Chloe Okuno and cinematographer Benjamin Kirk Nielsen design compositions that are both exquisite and unsettling, with every shadow offering cover for potentially imminent danger. But beneath the tension of Okuno’s hypnotic auteur vision, Watcher is an elegantly simple depiction of one woman calculating in real time whether to trust her own sense of peril. Maika Monroe vividly conveys Julia’s nervous discomfort as no one takes her intuitions seriously and she pivots.
20. You Won’t Be Alone
Director: Goran Stolevski | Language: English | Runtime: 108 Minutes
In an isolated mountain village in 19th-century Macedonia, a young girl is taken from her mother and transformed into a witch by an ancient, shape-shifting spirit. Left to wander feral, the young witch beholds the natural world with curiosity and wonder. After inadvertently killing a villager and assuming her body, she continues to inhabit different people, living among the villagers for years, observing and mimicking their behavior until the ancient spirit returns, bringing them full circle.
The debut feature of Australian-Macedonian writer-director Goran Stolevski, You Won’t Be Alone is wonderfully unlike any witch film you’ve seen. Its striking artistry and aestheticism blends supernatural horror (there’s no shortage of blood and entrails) with poetic fable, yielding a sensory meditation on life that is unexpectedly emotional and profoundly humanistic. Even the malevolent ancient spirit, born of suffering and loneliness, is a contoured character. And the young witch (played by multiple actors, including Noomi Rapace, Alice Englert, Carloto Cotta, and Sara Klimoska) suggests a transcendent spirit who, across successive lives — woman, man, mother, child — experiences what it means to be human.