Everything I Watched at Sundance 2022


Will Teare

It may have been virtual, but that didn’t stop me from going to Park City, Utah, to ski, take in the area’s natural beauty, and watch new, exciting cinematic voices from one of the world’s most famous film festivals. 

Note: When rating full-length films, I’ll be using our traditional 5 point scale. When rating short films, we’re going with either “Like” or “Dislike” because justifying a rating of a less than 10-minute film just seems like I’ll be taking away from saying whether it was actually that good or bad. Additionally, I’ll be talking about them in the order I watched them.

I now present the 13 features and 2 shorts I saw at Sundance 2022.

Sundance Program Key (for the ones I saw): 

U.S. Dramatic Competition: A fiction world premiere film that will compete against 10 others for a single prize. 

U.S. Documentary Competition: A non-fiction world premiere film that will compete against 10 others for a single prize.

World Dramatic Competition: A fiction world premiere film that will compete against 10 others for a prize. 

World Documentary Competition: A non-fiction world premiere film that will compete against 10 others for a prize. 

Premieres: A showcase of exciting new world premiere films, both fiction and non-fiction.

Spotlight: A film not part of a competition and is not a premiere. It’s a film that Sundance chooses to highlight from the previous year.

NEXT: Bold, experimental films to push the limit of cinematic storytelling.

Short Film: New voices of cinema in only a few minutes.

Anniversary Short Films: It’s not unusual for a short film to break through and become popular or even become a fully produced feature film through the Sundance system. Making their return to the festival, here they are.

The Worst Person in the World (2021) Dir. Joachim Trier

Program: Spotlight 

Rating: 5/5

Source: The New York Times

What a way to start the festival. I’ve been hearing things about this movie ever since it hit Cannes this past summer with additional hype from the awards circuit, and I’ve been not-so-patiently waiting ever since. To be honest, I was worried about how it would live up to the version I crafted in my head from everyone’s praise of Renate Reinsve and one banger of a trailer.

But, it lived up to everything in spades. The film is helmed by Joachim Trier and is the final installment in his “Oslo Trilogy,” an anthology love letter to his home. The story follows Julie (an unbelievable performance by Renate Reinsve), a young woman struggling to find love and who she really is amidst her relationships and occupations. 

Trier’s control over what he’s showing you is incredible, going from an insane mushroom-induced trip through Julie’s psyche to a quiet and intimate scene between two people discussing art and morality. I hate how pretentious this will sound, but it’s about the fleeting human experience and making the most of it while you can. But also asking questions like, “How does one make the most of your life?” and “How could you possibly quantify that?” I could not recommend this film enough when it reaches a wide audience in the states. Best of luck when it inevitably gets nominated for Best Foreign Film in the upcoming Oscars.   

2nd Chance Dir. Ramin Bahrani

Program: Premieres

Rating: 4/5

Source: Deadline

Following that up was the new Ramin Bahrani film, 2nd Chance, which was his first documentary. I’ve heard of Ramin Bahrani before through his films being put into the Criterion Collection and Roger Ebert’s praise of him over the years. Still, I’ve never seen a movie from him before. 

2nd Chance is about Richard Davis, the man who shot himself 192 times to prove the safety of the concealable bulletproof vest that he invented himself. It’s a fascinating character study on the egotistical, eccentric man who went from marine to pizzeria owner to body armor titan. Bahrani can show you this man from all angles possible from interviews by the people he’s saved, his ex-wives, son, co-workers, friends (or lack thereof), and his enemies. While not the most mind-blowing, it’s a tale of greed and the American dream while being a nice text on the follies of living in the dangers of capitalism. Despite Bahrani’s monotone narration, he shows a ton of empathy towards his subjects in the latter part of the film, which is always great to see. 

When You Finish Saving the World Dir. Jesse Eisenberg

Program: Premieres

Rating: 2.5/5

Source: Entertainment Weekly (Beth Garrabrant)

This one was a little rough. When You Finish Saving the World is the directorial debut from Jesse Eisenberg, starring Finn Wolfhard and Julianne Moore. Because of that fact alone, I was pretty excited to have all those talents at Sundance. We have four A-listers attached to one movie, which was intriguing (the fourth being my dear Emma Stone in a producing role with her husband).

Wolfard is an aspiring musician and wannabe famous person (as he says MANY times). He has 20,000 followers on his streams worldwide! Moore is his mother, who works at a shelter for domestic abuse victims trying to forge some semblance of a connection with her distant son.

The execution simply wasn’t there. There are flourishes of a good movie, but they were simply too far and few between. Nothing is offensively bad, and I know who these characters are and why they’re doing what they’re doing, but it left no impact on me whatsoever. There are moments where it’s trying to be a comedy that actually worked and gave me some hope, but frankly, I watched it only a few days ago, and I already forget the beats this movie goes through. I do remember the ending being largely inconsequential to the rest of the film. Sure, it’s a resolution that makes sense, but because of the execution of it, it completely misses the mark. Again, it wasn’t offensively bad, but it is, in fact, the worst movie I saw at Sundance 2022.

Lucy and Desi Dir. Amy Poehler 

Program: Premieres

Rating: 4/5 

Source: Deadline

And now, Amy Poehler’s debut with the documentary, Lucy and Desi. Lucy and Desi was not only able to repair my confidence in the festival after that last one, but it was able to restore my love for Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz after a highly underwhelming Being the Ricardos.

But to be perfectly honest, I was worried about this one. Based on how Amy Poehler introduced the documentary, I was worried this would be just a highlight reel of I Love Lucy or a glorified table reading of their respective Wikipedia pages. In a way, it is…but it’s so difficult not to be all caught up in it! It’s such a light, charming story that gives a lot of context to these titans of Television.

I watched this with Lucy and Desi stans and people we begrudgingly had to explain I Love Lucy to; both parties had fun with this. Sure, it’s not anything we don’t know, as their lives and legacy have been part of the collective cultural consciousness for what seems like forever. But near the end, we had some teary eyes and big smiles. Was it that I didn’t like the first one that made this look so much better? Honestly, yes, but even so, I really do love Lucy.

Cha Cha Real Smooth Dir. Cooper Raiff

Program: U.S. Dramatic Competition

Awards: U.S. Dramatic Competition Audience Award

Rating: 4.5/5

Source: Variety

Cha Cha Real Smooth is everyone’s favorite at Sundance this year. Not one person has said anything bad about it. It’s the sophomore picture by Cooper Raiff who’s previous work was Shithouse, which won the Grand Jury Prize at SXSW for Best Narrative Feature.

In Cha Cha Real Smooth, he is the director, writer, producer, editor, and film star. Cooper plays a recently graduated college student who falls for a mom in his hometown (Dakota Johnson). He is immediately taken with her charms despite having a fiancé. Raiff is absolutely unbelievable in this movie. His charisma is next level, and the mumble-core-like story/presentation is so easy to get caught up in and fall head over heels for. Everyone’s chemistry with Raiff is so pure and real. It shines through the artificiality of movies and shows the audience that the whole cast was friends off-screen, which is always nice to hear, but even better when you actually feel.

Sure, it’s that classic indie-darling Sundance crowd-pleasing rom-com, but it’s really good at what it is. I’d tell you more, but this is such a fun watch on its own, so go out and see it. Apple acquired it for $15 million, making it the most significant purchase by far. 

Alice Dir. Krystin Vir Linden

Program: U.S. Dramatic Competition

Rating: 2.5/5

Source: Variety

Alice is interesting. I can’t say it’s bad…but it’s not that good either. For the sake of not spoiling in case people are interested, I will not say the synopsis because I’m curious about the discourse when it is eventually released. I’d like people’s reaction to it. That being said, I’ll review it vaguely.

The concept, although intriguing, was introduced much too late into the story for any actual impact. We don’t hit the twist they spoil for you in the synopsis until roughly 40 min into the film, which is a little ridiculous. Once we hit that twist, it does get a burst of energy but then brings us crashing down with a very by the numbers fish-out-of-water story we’ve seen 1000 times before. Keke Palmer carries a great performance here, and the direction in parts was good. Still, the pacing was that of a very new director, which Krystin Vir Linden is. The way certain characters will learn something stunningly quickly or extremely slowly was jarring, to say the least. However, I will commend her for all these little moments and lines that show some great control and are very promising for the rest of her career, but it seemed too bogged down by lousy plotting that these good little moments get lost in the shuffle.

The ending seems remarkably tacked on and too “Hey, isn’t this great? The good guys are winning!” despite the content of this story desperately requiring some dialogue about the revelations these characters have. I do see the angle Vir Lindin is going with a fun and pulpy blaxploitation type beat with the Pam Grier of it allbut it left me remarkably cold after the immediacy of me thinking, “Hey! I know what Coffy is too!”.

In the end, you’re left with something unresolved, unfulfilling, and very poorly paced. What’s even worse is that I’m being kind to this film from what I’ve read. People say it’s terrible, and I assure you, it’s not; it’s just sloppy.   

Riotsville, U.S.A. Dir. Sierra Pettengill

Program: NEXT

Rating: 3/5

Source: Screen Daily

This film is part of the NEXT category, which I honestly didn’t know coming into, and I wish I did. I’ve seen experimental films before, but not an experimental documentary, and it caught me off guard. Riotsville, U.S.A is a documentary told entirely in found footage of the fictional town of Riotsville that the military built to train police on how to suppress civil rights protests in the ’60s.

Getting to the origin of the militarization of U.S. law enforcement should be an interesting, disgusting yet informative watch, and it is, and it isn’t. Because of the surrealist presentation, sometimes it was difficult to connect with the subject on an emotional level beyond an alarming statistic told coldly in text or seeing the police have access to military-grade weapons and vehicles. Although I understand that is what Sierra Pettengill and her team were going for, it left me really cold when the subject matter should leave me with anything but cold. Nevertheless, it was an interesting way of presenting the story. I still learned quite a bit about the origin of systematic oppression in the modern era and the U.S.’s blatant disregard for human lives and plain facts. 

Resurrection Dir. Andrew Semans

Program: Premieres 

Rating: 3.5/5

Source: Deadline

Resurrection is wild. Starring Rebecca Hall and Tim Roth, it’s about a very put-together, career-driven, and successful single mom. But, when she’s visited by a ghost from her past, everything crumbles. Now, we’ve seen the classic “woman has urgent problems, is gaslit into thinking nothing’s wrong, turns out she is right” and all that; it’s nothing new.

But, there’s a jaw-dropping five-minute one-take monologue Hall does that is a perfect example of what sets this apart from the rest. It’s an insane ride into the complete spiral of Rebecca Hall’s character that feels like a car crash you can’t look away from (in the best way, though). Any horror fans (AKA not me) who need a fix of something dark and frankly pretty weird, this is definitely your movie.

Dual Dir. Riley Stearns

Program: U.S. Dramatic Competition

Rating: 4/5

Source: Variety

Dual is the second movie I’ve seen by Riley Stearns, the first being Casque (a great short film starring my celebrity crush since Sky High, Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Dual has that same off-beat deadpan humor I have come to truly love in my cinematic journey. 

Dual is a soft-sci-fi film about Sara (Karen Gillian), who, upon discovering she has a terminal illness, decides to clone herself so her family won’t miss her. When Sara realizes she’s actually healthy and the clone deviates from Sara’s personality, taking over Sara’s entire life, Sara turns to the only reasonable option: a formal duel to the death.

I loved this movie. Karen Gillian seriously delivers here. It’s not even the fact that she plays Sara and her clone; it’s all the weird moments of suppressed raw emotion and impeccable comedic timing. The line delivery perfectly places her in this weird world and is a testament to her previous work in the Jumanji sequels and the Guardians films as a talented physical performer. I haven’t seen Dr. Who at all, but if Gillian is just as good there as she is in her film work, I may give it a watch. While it doesn’t have a ton of lasting power and re-watchability that I would actively seek out, if someone asks me, “Hey, me and few people were gonna watch Dual…wana come?” I will 100% drop what I’m doing just to see it again. 

Emily the Criminal Dir. Andrew Semans

Program: Premieres

Rating: 3.5/5

Source: The Hollywood Reporter

Aubrey Plaza returns to Sundance in…a very…not Aubrey Plaza way. I’m a pretty big fan of hers and how she approaches a role with that signature Aubrey Plaza kind of way. But here, she suppresses that awkwardness to be in a pretty decent thriller.

Plaza stars as Emily, a woman who’s down on her luck and turns to a seemingly easy shoplifting job. Emily soon finds herself in deep with the local crime scene and does her best to make it out alive. The movie is pretty good at what it does, but Plaza is the main talking point. She’s amazing here, trading in comedy for a jaded personality with flashes of her style that’s very fun to watch throughout the film. However, it’s a by-the-numbers film that gets a bit more forgettable each day that goes by from when I watched it but boosted by an excellent performance.

The Janes Dir. Tia Lessin, Emma Pildes

Program: U.S. Documentary Competition 

Rating: 4/5

Source: Variety

The Janes is an incredible documentary. It’s about a team of women in 70’s Chicago who operated under the codename “Jane” who provided free abortions when it was very illegal. It’s a truly captivating narrative from start to finish interviewing most of the women that took part in the operation, the “doctor” that helped them out, and even the cop that arrested them. Although a very important subject matter and genuinely informative and entertaining, I did find myself checking the time a little bit. A movie about women getting stuff done, and an empowering one at that. Additionally, the Supreme Court is debating whether or not to overturn Roe v. Wade, making this a timely and important text on an equally important group of incredible women.

Short Term 12 (2008) Dir. Destin Daniel Crettin 

Program: Anniversary Short

Rating: Like

Source: The Sundance Institute

This short is from quite a while ago, but I really wanted to see the short before the movie of the same name. The feature is written and directed by Daniel Destin Crettin, who recently directed Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Especially because that feature film is a crucial starting point for multiple A-list actors of today (look it up, it’s kind of mindblowing). The short is decent, and overall I like it. I see the groundwork of what could be a good movie, but I really didn’t see more than a decent short film. The lead performance is a little lacking, and from what I’ve heard; Brie Larson is a much better choice. In contrast, I’m glad Lakieth Stanfield stayed with Destin Daniel Crettin to go on to the feature. 

Navalny Dir. Daniel Roher

Program: U.S. Documentary Competition

Awards: Festival Favorite Award, U.S. Documentary Competition Audience Award

Rating: 5/5

Source: Sundance Film Festival

Navalny was the most awarded film at Sundance. This HBO doc features Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader against Vladimir Putin. This chronicles Navalny through his rise, subsequent poisoning by Putin’s assassins (that he remarkably survived), and Navalny and his team hunting down and outing his assassins.

Navalny, both the man and the doc, is unbelievably entertaining incredibly relevant, and I genuinely believe this is the best thing to come out of the festival. I cannot recommend Navalny enough for a film that almost anyone can enjoy and strikes up an even more engaging discussion.

The Headhunters Daughter Dir. Don Josephus Raphael Eblahan

Program: Short Film

Awards: Grand Jury Prize Winner

Rating: Like

Source: Rappler

This was the Grand Jury Prize winner for short films. I just liked it. It’s a very pretty short that is an excellent slow-burn that says as much as it does when there is dialogue and says just as much when it’s just ambient sounds and great 4:3 visuals. Frankly, I’m missing why this was the big winner out of the many, many shorts at Sundance, but it wasn’t a waste of time at all. 

Emergency Dir. Carey Williams

Program: U.S. Dramatic Competition

Awards: Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award

Rating: 3.5/5

Source: ScreenAnarchy (Quantrell Colbert/ © 2021 Amazon Content Services LLC)

Emergency was fun but an ever so slightly underwhelming way to end the festival. The pitch is about 3 college kids in their senior year who just want to party. When they get back home, the three are greeted with a dangerously intoxicated passed-out white girl. The boys, being minorities, struggle to figure out how to handle a highly complex decision on how to save this girl and not get in trouble or, even worse, be arrested. Now, that sounds like a very intense watch, but it was actually…a comedy? Sounds weird, I know, but it actually really works! Not every joke lands, but there’s a pretty good line every now and then.

Additionally, it knows precisely what it is and manages tone very effectively. This film knows exactly when it wants you to laugh, when to get emotional, and when to get genuinely tense at how these kids will survive the night. Because at the end of the day, these are kids you’re watching. They struggle, they argue, they make bad decisions, and they make smart ones too. But all of them have a strong bond and what feels like genuine love and care for each other. Even better, they are fully fleshed-out characters, making this movie a good time. I’d also note that this got the best screenplay which, although it’s not my favorite, it’s the best one I saw.

Everything comes back around and full circle; it’s funny, it’s tense, it checks every box, the whole nine yards. The only major issue is that it’s definitely one of those you see once and go, “that was great!” and give it a few thoughts later. Not a bad thing at all; I don’t have an actual problem with the movie. It’s just lacking in that re-watchability factor or a natural edge.