sundance 2022

18 Sundance Movies We Can’t Wait to Watch (from Home)

Photo: FilmNation Entertainment/Netflix

This year’s Sundance Film Festival was always supposed to have a virtual component, but until the first week of 2022, the plan was that the country’s premiere showcase for indies would be happening in person, in Park City, UT, the way it used to. Then the omicron variant put a stop to that, and to all other upcoming events hoping for a return to something closer to normalcy. The good news is that the Sundance slate is accessible to everyone with the means to buy tickets, and the slate is filled with riches — from horror stories with racial undertones to comedies about working bar mitzvahs, documentaries about volcanologists in love and Kanye West, and directorial debuts from familiar figures like Jesse Eisenberg, as well as a slew of new creative voices. Here are 18 movies to look forward to at this year’s festival.

Sharp Stick

Sharp Stick is Lena Dunham’s first movie since her 2010 Sundance hit Tiny Furniture, meaning it’s bound to generate a lively conversation (if not some light controversy, as is so often the case with Dunham’s work). In the classic Dunhamian tradition, the film follows a “young woman’s path to self-discovery” — namely that of 26-year-old Sarah Jo, a caregiver in Los Angeles who embarks upon a “doomed” affair with one of her clients’ fathers and then “dedicates herself to unlocking every aspect of the sexual experience” in the wake of their breakup. The cast is just as intriguing as that synopsis: Zola’s Taylour Paige, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tommy Dorfman, Scott Speedman, and Dunham herself. — Rachel Handler

jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy

More than two decades into his run as hip-hop’s most trailblazing rapper-producer, audiences have seen many facets of Kanye West: hitmaker, firebrand, tabloid fixture, fashion designer, bipolar disorder sufferer, presidential candidate. Until this three-part, 270-minute documentary, however, fans never saw the iteration that started it all: Ye as underdog. Largely comprised of long-suppressed, previously unreleased behind-the-scenes footage shot by one of the star’s longtime confidants, the first two chapters chart West’s defiant rise from obscurity to the top of the charts. It will debut at Sundance ahead of the film’s limited theatrical release and streaming run on Netflix next month. — Chris Lee


Nikyatu Jusu’s short Suicide by Sunlight, which premiered at Sundance in 2019, elegantly blended the grounded and the horrific in a main character whose custody battle for her daughters was complicated by the fact that she’s a vampire, albeit one able to go out in the day and pass as human because of the melanin in her skin. Jusu’s feature debut, Nanny, similarly blends unsettling elements of the supernatural into the everyday toil of Aisha (Anna Diop), a Senegalese immigrant who takes a job caring for the young daughter of two wealthy Manhattanites (Michelle Monaghan and Morgan Spector) who have many demands but always seem short on cash whenever it’s time to pay her what she’s owed. Aisha, who’s saving to bring her son over from Dakar, is haunted by her own lack of leverage and visions of two different figures out of West African folklore who are either trying to undo her efforts or give her a warning. — Alison Willmore

When You Finish Saving the World

If you are a 30-something actor with downtown cred and A24 doesn’t allow you to make your directorial debut, what are you even doing? Sundance’s Day One premiere is a generation-gap study from Jesse Eisenberg, adapting his Audible Original about a mom who runs a women’s shelter (Julianne Moore) and her internet-famous son (Finn Wolfhard). Seventeen years ago, Eisenberg played a Noah Baumbach stand-in; let’s see how much he learned from the master of interfamilial awkwardness. — Nate Jones

Phoenix Rising

Testifying before the senate in 2019, Evan Rachel Wood first detailed horrific allegations of domestic abuse she says she suffered at the hands of an unidentified ex-boyfriend widely speculated but never confirmed to be shock rocker Marilyn Manson. In the two-part documentary directed by Amy Berg (Janis: Little Girl Blue, The Case Against Adnan Syed), the first part of which will premiere at Sundance before airing on HBO in the spring, Wood comes forward to recount her survivor story: what she has described as being “brainwashed and manipulated into submission” by Manson during their relationship — he insists everything was consensual — en route to helping create the Phoenix Act, a California law extending the statue of limitations on domestic violence felonies. — Chris Lee


Some will complain that the world doesn’t actually need an English-language remake of the Akira Kurosawa classic Ikiru about a repressed, aging civil servant dying of cancer. But the idea of transposing Kurosawa’s 1952 tale to the submerged world of postwar London feels just right. Also, it stars Bill Nighy. Also, the adaptation was written by Kazuo Ishiguro. Also, let’s face it, some of history’s most notable films have effectively been Kurosawa remakes, from A Fistful of Dollars to Django to The Magnificent Seven to (yes) Star Wars.  — Bilge Ebiri

We Met in Virtual Reality

Filmed entirely on the virtual-reality platform VRChat, Joe Hunting’s charming documentary is both an artifact of the pandemic and an idealistic missive in favor of what the promised metaverse could be like. Pegged to three couples — two romantic and one platonic — We Met in Virtual Reality is less about what it means to have a relationship in the virtual world than about what it means to seek out a type of intimacy that might be purer, as the interviewees insist, because it’s formed in a world in which the physical has been replaced by often-fantastical avatars of the participants’ own choosing. Peeking into sign language classes, amusement park dates, exotic dance palaces, and community meetups, the film finds tenderness, community, and beauty as well as the singular spectacle of a giant hawk performing improv comedy. — Alison Willmore

We Need to Talk About Cosby

Directed by stand-up comedian–cum–political provocateur W. Kamau Bell, this four-episode docuseries unpacks the “life, career, and crimes” of Bill Cosby in the aftermath of 60-plus women coming forward to accuse him of various sexual violations and rape (as well as the incarcerated star’s recently overturned conviction for aggravated indecent assault). Fellow comedians, educators, journalists, and Cosby survivors engage in candid discussion about “America’s dad” — processing both Cosby’s legacy and the unexpected ramifications for an industry that effectively enabled his predations. Bell, for his part, has expressed humble aspirations: “Selfishly, I hope this film doesn’t ruin my life.” — Chris Lee

The Princess

Diana, The Crown, Spencer — we’re running out of nouns for Lady Di projects! But luckily there’s still one good title left for documentarian Ed Perkins’s study of the late royal, which promises “a distinctive formal approach.” No talking heads (except perhaps on the soundtrack): The Princess is composed solely of archival footage, aiming not just to deconstruct the public image of the most famous woman of her era but also explore Diana’s relationship to the political turbulence of ’80s and ’90s Britain. After Sundance, the doc will play on HBO Max, further sating streaming audiences’ appetites for all things Princess Diana. — Nate Jones

Fire of Love

Married volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft lived for volcanoes, and in 1991, they died because of one, a fact acknowledged at the start of Sara Dosa’s mesmerizing documentary. Crafted from the funny, beautiful, and frequently astonishing footage that the Kraffts shot during their years as traveling scientists, explorers, and pioneers in their field, and punctuated by occasional talk-show appearances and media interviews, Fire of Love is a portrait of two people who discovered in one another not just a soul mate but a partner in fascination with a vast natural force that rendered them specks against the rushing lava flow. An idiosyncratic voice-over by Miranda July provides the film a touch of the Werner Herzog, which is appropriate, given that the Kraffts were such Herzogian figures that they also figured into Herzog’s 2016 doc Into the Inferno. — Alison Willmore

Riotsville, USA

The last few years have given us a lot of interesting documentaries about recent protest movements and uprisings in the U.S., but Sierra Pettengill’s film appears to take a more historical — and revealing — perspective, focusing on the U.S. Army’s creation of model towns in the 1960s where they could train the police and military in how to combat and quell protests. The subject matter already makes Riotsville a fascinating proposition, but it sounds formally exciting as well: Pettengill has assembled the film entirely from archival footage, either from broadcast TV or recently unearthed military records.  — Bilge Ebiri

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande

Emma Thompson is Nancy Stokes, a retired schoolteacher and widow who “doesn’t know good sex” after spending her life in a dull marriage. To fix that problem, she decides to hire a sex worker, a 20-something man named Leo Grande (Daryl Mccormack) who’s known for being quite good at his job. In a twist that surprises Nancy, Leo is “intrigued” by her — likely in a delightful, rom-com way, as this is a British production involving Emma Thompson. Director Sophie Hyde, whose Animals was a funny, bittersweet look at female friendship that premiered to critical acclaim at Sundance in 2019, adapts a script from comedian Katy Brand that purports to focus on “sex positivity and female pleasure.” — Rachel Handler


Margaret Brown was born and raised in Mobile, Alabama, and in 2008, she directed The Order of Myths, an astounding documentary about the city’s Mardi Gras celebration, which is the oldest in the country, predating the better-known one in New Orleans, and which also happens to be completely segregated. Her new film returns to her hometown for another deft exploration of how the atrocities of the past are submerged in the present — literally, in the case of the Clotilda, the last known slave ship to reach U.S. shores decades after the trafficking of captives from Africa was made illegal. Descendant is about the search for the wreckage of the Clotilda, about the descendants of the people brought over on that ship and the community they established, about how violence, zoning laws, and heavy industry have been used against its members to silence and take from them, and about how the truth gets told, even after a century and a half of being hidden in the mud of the river. — Alison Willmore


James Ponsoldt’s small, human-size dramedies The Spectacular Now and The End of the Tour were the kind of movies Sundance was created to showcase. After 2017’s ill-fated literary adaptation The Circle, Ponsoldt went over to TV, which has become a more hospitable environment for directors of his ilk. Now he returns to Sundance with a coming-of-age film about four tweens who stumble into a mystery on their last weekend before starting middle school. Is five years too short a gap to call this a comeback? Probably, but we’re glad to see him anyway. — Nate Jones

2nd Chance

Ramin Bahrani has long been one of American cinema’s most vital voices — with films like Man Push Cart, Chop Shop, 99 Homes, and the recent White Tiger to his credit. Now, he’s made a documentary, and the subject is a doozy: It’s the story of Richard Davis, a pizzeria owner who invented the modern bulletproof vest and then launched one of the biggest body armor companies in the world only to eventually experience a spectacular downfall. The character seems very much in line with Bahrani’s ongoing fascination with dreamers, hustlers, and hucksters. — Bilge Ebiri

You Won’t Be Alone 

The trailer makes this look like a terrifying folk horror flick, but the actual description sounds more dreamlike and emotional: An ancient spirit turns a young woman in a remote 19th century Macedonian village into a witch, and the witch then spends years assuming the bodies of others and living among the villagers, marveling at the wonders of life. It sounds like The Witch meets Under the Skin meets…A.I. Oh, and it stars Noomi Rapace, who was probably born to play this part. — Bilge Ebiri

Meet Me in the Bathroom

Lizzy Goodman’s oral history of the early-aughts indie scene gets the documentary treatment, spotlighting unseen concert footage from those halcyon days on the Lower East Side. Sundance has introduced a revolutionary screening system for this one — you won’t be able to watch it unless you have floppy hair and a skinny tie. — Nate Jones

Cha Cha Real Smooth

Cooper Raiff — who won the 2020 SXSW Grand Jury Prize with his coming-of-age comedy and feature debut, Shithouse — has bravely done what so many writer-directors have shamefully neglected to do for years: cast Dakota Johnson as a woman named Domino in a comedy about New Jersey bar mitzvahs. Raiff plays the film’s protagonist, Andrew, a recent college grad living at home who stumbles into a gig as a local bar mitzvah dancer–slash–hype-man — the guy whose job is to show dozens of fumbling 13-year-olds how to do the “Cha Cha Slide” before inviting Grandma up to perform the blessing over the challah. Soon, he befriends local mom Domino and her autistic daughter (Vanessa Burghardt) and, according to the press notes, “discovers a future he wants, even if it might not be his own.” — Rachel Handler

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18 Sundance Movies We Can’t Wait to Watch (from Home)