The Best Movies at Sundance 2022
Updated: Feb 7, 2022
This year, we covered the virtual festival for AIPT Comics and Film School Rejects. Here's a sampling from that coverage.
There's nothing quite like giving yourself over to a film festival, especially Sundance. It's a beautiful excuse to ditch your ordinary existence and immerse yourself into the lives and perspectives of others. When completed, we often depart feeling a greater connection to the humanity around us. And we are compelled to scream this cinematic kinship from the mountain top...or couch top.
Like last year, the Sundance Film Festival was virtual. Unlike last year, we (Brad and Lisa) covered the 2022 event for Film School Rejects and AIPT Comics. The endeavor was a creative frenzy. We'd stay up late watching movies, get up early, commit some writing, watch some more movies, and repeat. Ten days and thirty movies later, we cobbled together a bunch of reviews.
What you'll find below is a sampling of our work for AIPT and FSR. These are some of our favorite movies from the festival (whether due to quality or just the straight-up conversation they produced in our household). Give these flicks a perusal, and then jump on over to AIPT and FSR and read every dang word. We're pretty frickin' proud of what we achieved this week.
"In 2nd Chance, filmmaker Ramin Bahrani does more than expose the cover-up of Second Chance’s fatal error. 2nd Chance is the autopsy of Richard Davis’s reputation. Knowing that his story ends in devastation and disgrace, Bahrani cracks open the legend of Richard Davis to determine where the degradation of Second Chance’s foundational ideal started.
Bahrani presents his mission of discerning where Second Chance went wrong as one of personal satisfaction. He had learned the story of Richard Davis, and it created a cognitive dissonance that he had to resolve for himself, which is why he made 2nd Chance. With his own curiosity as the crux, Bahrani draws us into the interviews with Davis. Davis is a fascinating guy and a great storyteller. He recounts the incident that sparked the inspiration for a more concealable armor with gusto – he shot four armed robbers in self-defense while delivering a pizza. He took two bullets in the leg, and the idea got stuck in his craw. If he had gotten shot in the chest, he would’ve been done for, and the bad guys would’ve won..."(Read the rest of Lisa's 2nd Chance Sundance review at AIPT Comics)
"After Yang is a touching reminder to invite into our lives what will inevitably make us grieve. Jake and Kyra brought Yang into Mika’s life because they were not equipped to teach her what it means to be Chinese. They brought Yang into their family because they somehow thought that he would be all meaning and no grief.
What they underestimated is that bringing meaning and value to our lives will always eventually break our hearts. But by opening ourselves up in that way, by letting ourselves be that vulnerable, we too will be able to look back at the sum total of our moments and know that we mattered..."(Read the rest of Lisa's Sundance After Yang review at AIPT Comics)
"Like Columbus, Kogonada’s previous film, After Yang is meticulously constructed. His camera sits still, asking you to hang back, watch, and don’t blink. Everything in the frame appears carefully chosen, arduously reviewed, and judged. On the first watch, you’re already excited for the second one. Scenes will play very differently once we’ve processed the narrative entirely. It’s an odd sensation to realize what you’re seeing is not entirely seen at the moment. The anticipation for revelation hangs over everything, starting from After Yang‘s bopping opening credits sequence. There is more here. So much more.
Yes, there is also a distance felt between subject and creator. Kogonada makes relentlessly pristine films, but don’t mistake his distant, outside the toybox hand for a cold touch. After Yangis an exceptionally warm inward investigation, and as the film presses Jake’s inspection further into Yang, the poetry uncovered is sumptuously life-affirming. Yang’s microburst library is worthy of any Norton anthology. Give me the mp3, stat..."(Read the rest of Brad's After Yang Sundance review at Film School Rejects)
"I wish I went into the movie Alice carrying only this logline found on IMDb: “A slave in the antebellum South who escapes from her secluded plantation only to discover a shocking reality that lies beyond the tree line.” Maybe if the details around that “shocking reality” were kept hidden from me, and I were allowed to get smacked by them, the surprise would have been enough to carry me through its weaker elements. Writer-director Krystin Ver Linden has concocted a big-swing movie, and the attempt is magnificent in its own right.
So, if you want that unsullied experience, stop reading, but even the photo above probably reveals too much, and now it’s too late..." (Read the rest of Brad's Alice Sundance review at Film School Rejects)
Am I OK?
"Am I OK? That is what best friends are for – to answer that question. We’re all out in the world, trapped in our heads, doing the best that we can. It’s like we’re just driving along in our brain-cars watching the flow of traffic move around us, and we see the other drivers reacting to us, but we don’t know why. A best friend is someone you can invite into the passenger seat so they can tell you, “you’re driving ten miles below the speed limit. That is why everyone is looking at you like that as they pass you.”
Jane (Sonoya Mizuno) and Lucy (Dakota Johnson) have been besties since high school and even went to art school together, but now that they have entered their thirties, one of them has clearly outpaced the other. Jane has the grown-up job and a devoted boyfriend, while Lucy’s career and love life have stalled. Being a good friend, Jane tries to be constructive, like, ‘how about Ben (Whitmer Thomas)? He’s gotta be into you if he’s helping you install shelving;’ Or, ‘what about your paintings? If you painted more, then you’d be a painter rather than a spa receptionist.’ But Lucy cringes at discussing anything more personal than, ‘doesn’t this picture of cheese look like my old dog, Fritz?’..." (Read the rest of Lisa's Am I OK? Sundance review at AIPT Comics)
"Anyone familiar with Notaro and Allynne will see how much of themselves they inject into Am I OK? The directors met while filming In A World, which premiered at Sundance in 2013. Two years later, a critical moment in their romance was depicted in the documentary Tig. And now, nine years since their first meeting, united by two children and marriage, Notaro and Allynne toast the awkward challenge of finding yourself years after the cultural standard.
Am I OK? is an affirmation of their adventure without directly cribbing it. They bring enough personal stamp to Pomerantz’s script to elevate it beyond its romantic comedy borders. While sexual discovery propels the narrative, the film rests on platonic love and self-discovery. Its success leaves its audience craving similar celebrations from other creators..." (Read the rest of Brad's Am I OK? Sundance review at Film School Rejects)
"For all the technological advancements, dating is still a trust-fall for women. Our daisy-chained tether of vigilance is no match for the vast, conspiratorial network in place to keep women exploitable. The satire of Fresh is dead-on accurate; you can’t help but throw up your hands and say this is both ludicrous and probably fact.
The internet age has made us so cognizant of the perverse, that rule 34 has ceased being relegated to the search bar. If you can conceive of it, no matter how heinous, it is someone’s fantasy, and they are realizing it IRL.
My final warning about Fresh is that, no matter how squeamish, you do not look away. It is Mimi Cave’s gut-wrenching testament to those of us who have survived the treacherous gauntlet of dating by the skin of our teeth..."(Read the rest of Lisa's Fresh Sundance review at AIPT Comics)
Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.
"Writer-director Adamma Ebo has her knives out in Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. But the stabs are never as funny or vicious as their promise. Her initial short film of the same name adheres to a strict mockumentary format, but her feature adaptation refuses us a full This is Spinal Tap feast. Instead, we get a film within a film, or a film throughout a film. This decision does not create greater character clarity — quite the opposite...
In its final minutes, Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. nearly saves itself with Regina Hall’s crackling performance. She rips open, and we’re awash in her sorrow and pain. All those little screams hidden in her laughs are unleashed, and Hall quivers with an energy sorely missing in everything that preceded it. Again, you sense that that might be the intent; here is the real Trinitie Childs in all her glory. But the two films — the mockumentary and the widescreen narrative — spend too much time in conflict with each other to allow us to acclimate.
Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.’s ultimate sin is its bounce between two storytelling styles. Neither are unique enough to support their purpose, and both reduce the other’s potency. When compared to Ebo’s original short film, the feature does not contribute anything new. Beyond its two striking leads, that is. And can you really be too mad about more Sterling K. Brown and Regina Hall in your life? No. No, you cannot..."(Read the rest of Brad's Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. Sundance review at Film School Rejects)
Something in the Dirt
"What Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson have created with Something in the Dirt is a cinematic Gordian Knot. They have left no loose ends exposed. Every thread of logic weaves back on itself and dips under other layers of half-baked theories, misdirections, and lies. You are trapped with John (Moorhead) and Levi (Benson) in the corner of a dank apartment, slowly being suffocated by possibilities. They seem to be collaborating, but it becomes creepily evident that nothing said is actually penetrating – it is all brainstorm with no break. As the narrative becomes more intricately obtuse, you find yourself leaning in, dissecting their demeanors, looking for their performances to betray something, but they are implacable. It is disorienting and unsettling to go from Levi and John antagonizing each other to them antagonizing you.
That antagonism provokes an involuntary and defensive alertness. Everything becomes weighty with conundrum – a passing comment, a snippet of found footage, the creek of a door. Your pattern-seeking brain keeps teasing and tugging, but all tightens around more significant uncertainty. You become so compressed that when you finally break free of the apartment, somehow it is still confining you. Even the open spaces are tight and uneasy. There is something conspiratorial about Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson being the cinematographer, the writer, the directors, and the stars of Something In The Dirt. It is as if they want to keep the satisfaction of knowing all to themselves." (Read the rest of Lisa's Something in the Dirt Sundance review at AIPT Comics)
We Need to Talk About Cosby
"W. Kamau Bell opens his series by asking dozens of people (coworkers, lawyers, actors, therapists, consumers, victims), “Who is Bill Cosby now?” Their answers range from stumbling confusion to vitriolic disgust to broken nostalgia. Within every stab at the question are hurt and sorrow. We do not want to think about Cosby’s betrayal toward us, never mind the many, many, many women he assaulted. Bell, however, never loses sight of their pain.
We Need to Talk About Cosby aims to put it all out there. Throughout its first segment, we witness Cosby’s astronomical rise, behind-the-scenes championing for representation and social justice, and the perception of goodness he injected into every project. But Bell also takes time to highlight the rampant misogyny on display in popular entertainment, from James Bond to casual sexist jabs from news anchors. Bell spotlights some of Cosby’s silly jokes about Spanish Fly and barbecue sauce that makes folks go huggy-buggy that appear dangerously horrific in 2022 hindsight. Cosby is a creature of the culture that supported him..." (Read the rest of Brad's We Need to Talk About Cosby Sundance Review at Film School Rejects)
When You Finish Saving the World
"Movies are not portals away. Movies are portals within. Yes, even Star Wars, but especially When You Finish Saving the World. A movie is an invitation into other perspectives, or as Roger Ebert famously called the medium, “a machine that generates empathy.” We step into Jesse Eisenberg’s domestic combat, and we try it on and compare it to our familial bouts. Through this fitting, we summon an understanding apart from our brains and our hard-practiced notions.
Eisenberg challenges our stamina. His movie drags us through Ziggy and Evelyn’s rigorous self-supremacy, offering respite only in knowing barbs fired at their expense. The ridicule acknowledges our building contempt for mother and son, but it’s not enough to hang a movie. These two have to step away from themselves, but the action may come too little too late for a satisfying conclusion.
When You Finish Saving the World demands compassion from its audience. The worry is that there’s little to give before the movie even starts, let alone concludes. Where you fall on these two probably indicates where you fall with your own family. Are you making dinners work, or are you finding dinners elsewhere?... (Read the rest of Brad's When You Finish Saving the World Sundance review at Film School Rejects)
Lisa's Favorite Films of Sundance 2022
Fire of Love: "For Fire of Love, director Sara Dosa has cracked into the astonishing archive of French volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft. They were a married couple who eschewed convention so they could pursue their passionate love affair with volcanos. The Kraffts documented their trysts and used their scientific findings, photographs, and films to finance their lifetime of adventure. Dosa draws these materials together to create a loving portrait of the Kraffts. The most thrilling is, of course, the footage of these intrepid scientists fearlessly traipsing up to the roiling, gaping maw of the earth.
From the hypnotic, roiling close ups of lava flows, to the stunning silhouettes of a scientist in a reflective suit backlit by a bright orange eruption. But the film also presents the quiet and the intimate with equal curiosity. Over the course of the documentary, narrated by Miranda July, you will see how the Krafts relationship with volcanos matured from unbridled infatuation, to a profound respect for the indifferent life cycles of this planet we call home."
892: "'What do I need to do to get the attention I need right now?' 892 is a crushing thriller, written and directed by Abi Demaris Corbin and co-written by Kwame Kwei-Armah, that speculates on the last, desperate act of Iraq war veteran and father, Brian Easly. John Boyega passionately depicts a principled man driven to the brink by broken, apathetic bureaucracy. In 2017, Easly took two hostages at an Atlanta Wells Fargo, threatening to blow up the bank if his demand was not met.
Awarded a Special Jury Award for its ensemble cast, 892 features exemplary performances from Nicole Beharie, Selenis Leyva, Connie Britton, London Covington, and the beloved, late Michael K. Williams. 892 directs an unforgiving, searing spotlight on a callous system that entices the unprivileged with benefits only to nickel and dime them when their usefulness is spent."
Fresh: "Fresh yanked the rug out from under my expectations and left me gobsmacked, appalled, and exhilarated. I thought I knew where this narrative was going. A charming, handsome man sweeps an unsuspecting lovelorn woman off her feet and off the grid so he can drag her back to her lair and have his way with her. I was not prepared for the jolting left turn this cinematic horror romp would be taking.
Director Mimi Cave relishes in subjecting us to this specific and squeamish variety of depravity featured in Lauryn Kahn’s cutting script, underscoring your repulsion with cloying pop-rock. This is Sebastian Stan as you have never seen him before, with a saccharine, ebullient charm that sours and curdles with each twisted revelation. Daisy Edgar-Jones portrays a woman who may have been tricked but refuses to be outsmarted. With relentless, grisly panache, Fresh delivers an incisive satire that pokes holes at the illusion that the dating game is a level playing field." (Read the other faves from the AIPT staff)
Brad's Favorite Films of Sundance 2022
After Yang: "Kogonada’s sophomore feature is a pleasant sit until it’s not. He makes films that are carefully constructed and profoundly considered. The frame is managed, and you want to hang within it for as long as you can, and he is more than happy to let an image linger for your comfort. But while you’re hanging back, his characters are racing forward. Their evolution from beginning to end is radical, though quiet. And as you appreciate the craft and count the pretty pictures, you’re also falling deeper and deeper into their emotional mayhem.
After Yang concludes silently, but the impact left behind is bombastic. The science fiction ideas may appear grander than what Kogonada sought in Columbus, his first feature, but the internal condition traversed remains the same. The threat technology presents to humanity is self-inflicted. The only thing getting in our way is us."
Fresh: "Fresh is the Sundance movie I’m most excited for others to see. And I really don’t want to talk too much about its plot. There’s a meet-cute. It involves Sebastian Stan and Daisy Edgar-Jones. The movie falls into the Midnight section, and it “contains depictions of violence and gore.” You know things are not going to work out the way that either party initially considered, and you should probably lump yourself into that category as well.
Fresh drops a most-excellent title card, and its surprises only continue to ramp up as the film progresses along its gnarly narrative. Director Mimi Cave and screenwriter Lauryn Kahn gleefully tease those violent, gory depictions, and there’s a toothy grin hiding under their straight-faced execution. Clearly, these filmmakers are having a lot of fun being bad, and their cast throw themselves into this horror show with equal gusto. There are at least three sequences that I will be showing up on opening night to see again, wondering if the crowd will recoil or cheer."
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande: "It’s easy to imagine the unbearable version of this movie. Two actors with zero chemistry are trapped in a hotel room for two hours while a filmmaker fumbles to find new ways to shoot old angles. But Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is not some dreary stage play with delusions of cinema, and director Sophie Hyde is not saddled with antiseptic leads. Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack are endlessly watchable, and they make old angles look new, and they find new ones where you’d never dare to ask.
As a culture, we carry tremendous shame for our bodies, and our muddied perceptions of self frequently prevent us from intimate connection. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande drills into this regrettable mental state, and within its investigation is a permission to love yourself as is. Both actors excel in their roles, and Hyde grants us entry into the narrative in a loving, non-invasive manner. This is not voyeurism; it’s a necessary affirmation."
Something in the Dirt: "Hunkered at the center of Something in the Dirt is a delicious juxtaposition. The film concludes with a joyful dedication to “making movies with your friends,” but propelling Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson’s creepy, paranoid paranormal investigation are two non-friends who’ve failed the Los Angeles gauntlet. Their Levi and John are two specks already teetering on oblivion’s edge when a supernatural phenomenon suddenly presents infinite possibilities.
Their filmmaking puppetmasters flaunt their success by executing Levi and John’s turmoil, and this unseen reality provides an extra layer of unease to the film’s dreadful confrontation with misinformation and the fragility of perception. Levi and John want what Aaron and Justin have, and they will never achieve it. How will I ever be able to enjoy Moon Knight or any of their other future endeavors after surviving such an alluringly unkind meta-tragedy?"
We Need to Talk About Cosby: "W. Kamau Bell, the self-proclaimed metaphorical child of Bill Cosby, plunges into a conversation he and probably many of those watching have been resisting. His four-part docuseries attempts to reckon with the two Cosbys, the one we grew up loving through our television set and the one accused of drugging and raping dozens of women. Bell shows how Cosby used our adoration against his victims and how cultural narrative can create and protect monsters.
We Need to Talk About Cosby is an uncomfortable watch, but maybe not for the reasons you think it to be so. This is a story about us as much as it is about the accused, and Bell manages to tell it while never dismissing the victims. There are villains found within, but heroes as well. Their fight should propel us into action." (Read the other faves from the Film School Rejects staff)