2022 Sundance Selects

The Letterboxd team selects the fifteen titles we’re most excited to see at this year’s all-virtual Sundance Film Festival.

As we head into the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, taking place from January 20–30, things look unfortunately a little similar to how they did last year. While the festival had hopes to make this year’s fest a combination of in-person and virtual screenings, after a fully digital fest in 2021, the Omicron surge put a late stop to those plans.

While folks are going to miss out on donning their parkas to cavort in Park City with their indie besties, the festival still has a bounty of exciting cinema to offer attendees from the comfort of their own homes. With two films each from Dakota Johnson and Regina Hall, the final performance of the late, great Michael Kenneth Williams, the latest features from filmmakers Cooper Raiff and Riley Stearns, and plenty more, we’ve put together a list of our most anticipated titles of this year’s festival.

Make sure these are hitting your watchlists, and stay tuned throughout the fest for all of the coverage from Letterboxd’s Sundance team. Words below by Mitchell Beaupre, Dominic Corry, Ella Kemp and Isaac Feldberg.


892

Directed by Abi Damaris Corbin, written by Corbin and Kwame Kwei-Armah

The debut feature from director Abi Damaris Corbin, 892 would have had enough going for it to put it on this list even if it weren’t for the fact that it features Michael Kenneth Williams in his final screen role. That added component makes it a must-watch for anyone, giving us one last look at one of the best actors of his generation. The film centers on Brian Easley (John Boyega), a former Marine separated from his wife and child and living out of a motel. When Brian decides to rob a bank and hold hostages, the media circus swirls to cover this story of a man whose life has become unmoored and desperate for meaning. With actors including Boyega, Williams, Nicole Beharie and Connie Britton filling out this cast, it’s clear that the material here had something a lot of talented folks wanted to be a part of. MB

Alice

Written and directed by Krystin Ver Linden

Keke Palmer is about to have quite the year. Before we see her taking the lead in Jordan Peele’s new summer horror, Nope, Palmer has the central role in this time-shifting Sundance premiere from debut writer-director Krystin Ver Linden. Enslaved on a rural Georgia plantation under the watch of the violent Paul (Jonny Lee Miller), Palmer’s Alice runs away, finding herself mysteriously transported to 1973 where she runs into Black activist Frank (Common). Yes, this initial premise reads a little too uncomfortably like 2020’s maligned Antebellum, but Ver Linden isn’t looking for cheap shock thrills. Alice is billed as an audacious mix of grim historical fact with exceptional fiction, inspired by true accounts of Black Americans who were kept in peonage for more than a hundred years after the end of slavery. This sounds like a trip down the rabbit hole well worth taking, with some weighty subject matter to reflect on. MB

Am I OK?

Directed by Stephanie Allynne and Tig Notaro, written by Lauren Pomerantz

The great Tig Notaro makes her feature-directing debut with Am I OK?, pushing herself into a new role after decades of acclaimed work on stage, in front of the camera, and as a writer and director on projects like her Amazon series One Mississippi. Stephanie Allynne (also a writer on One Mississippi) co-directs this one, from a script by Lauren Pomerantz, telling the story of Lucy (Dakota Johnson, one of two films she’s leading at Sundance this year) and Jane (Sonoya Mizuno, of Ex Machina and Devs), best friends whose relationship is thrown for a loop as one prepares a move to London and the other confesses her long-held secret that she likes women. With two great actresses in the parts, and a team of proven talents behind the scenes, Am I OK? sounds like exactly the kind of complicated, heartfelt human drama you hope to see at Sundance. MB

Cha Cha Real Smooth

Written and directed by Cooper Raiff

If anyone knows about pandemic-era film festival breakouts, it’s Cooper Raiff. The fresh-faced filmmaker made his feature debut with the impossibly charming Shithouse at the 2020 SXSW virtual festival, and now follows it up with none other than Dakota Johnson, who’s producing and co-starring in his new film, Cha Cha Real Smooth. Raiff’s playing a bar mitzvah party host (hoping that title comes into focus in a very satisfying way) who connects with Johnson’s character, a single mother, as well as her autistic daughter. Shithouse was pretty romantic, but by moving away from the reliable backdrop of college into a more awkward setting (the bigger the party the more chances for embarrassment, right?), the stakes have been heightened for Cha Cha. Good for the Jews, good for the mums, good for the indie champions, what could go wrong? EK

Dual

Written and directed by Riley Stearns

With every film he puts out, writer/director Riley Stearns becomes a more interesting filmmaker. Dual is only his third feature, but it’s his first full-length film to premiere in competition at Sundance, and promises high-concept sci-fi (in the near future, a woman must fight her clone to the death) with a satirical edge. It was a fun game trying to pin down the exact tone of his previous film, The Art of Self Defense, and seeing that kind of oddness play out in a sci-fi context is a tantalizing prospect indeed. Shot entirely in Finland, the film’s eclectic cast is led by a breakout-ready Karen Gillan (twice), with support from Aaron Paul and New Zealand actor Beulah Koale. DC

Emily the Criminal

Written and directed by John Patton Ford

Aubrey Plaza is the kind of performer you always expect to see at Sundance, so it’s no surprise that she’s back again this year in John Patton Ford’s debut feature Emily the Criminal. What may be surprising, however, is the type of film it is. Unlike the acerbic comedies we’re used to seeing from the star, this one is billed as a taut thriller, describing Plaza’s performance as “nervy and committed”, taking Emily from a put-upon temp to a calm, cool and collected thief as she looks to get rich off a scheme involving stolen credit cards. Plaza has been pushing herself into increasingly interesting territory in recent years with films like Black Bear (a Sundance 2020 debut) and Guy Ritchie’s upcoming Operation Fortune: Ruse de guerre, so it’ll be a thrill to see how she adapts to this new genre. MB

Every Day in Kaimukī

Directed by Alika Tengan, written by Tengan and Naz Kawakami

Sundance is often the perfect launchpad for first-time feature filmmakers, with renowned directors including Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino and Ryan Coogler seeing their debuts premiere at the festival over the years. One filmmaker we have our eye on this year is Alika Tengan whose film Every Day in Kaimukī is a coming-of-age story centered on Naz (Naz Kawakami), a 20-something living in O’ahu, Hawai’i, who gets the chance to move to New York with his girlfriend. Initially an exciting proposition, Naz begins to wonder if uprooting his entire life to head to a strange new world is the right decision for him, in what’s described as a “slice-of-life, kaleidoscopic exploration of what it means to leave everything you’ve ever known behind.” MB

Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul

Written and directed by Adamma Ebo

Southern Baptist mega-churches, in their propensity for scandal as much as their preaching of the so-called ‘prosperity gospel’, represent a uniquely American theology—and, as HBO’s The Righteous Gemstones and Michael Showalter’s The Eyes of Tammy Faye have shown in recent years, constitute something of a godsend for sharp-witted satirists. Honk For Jesus, Save Your Soul—from writer-director Adamma Ebo and producer Adanne Ebo, adapting their short film of the same name—focuses on Trinitie Childs (Regina Hall), the first lady of one such megachurch, who must rebuild its congregation after a scandal involving her husband, Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown). Billed as a scathing part-mockumentary satire of for-profit religion, and led by two performers who've proven themselves able to ride the finest of tonal lines with aplomb, Honk For Jesus is one of the higher-profile world-premiere titles seeking distribution at Sundance. IF

Master

Written and directed by Mariama Diallo

A rising-star filmmaker best known for helming episodes of HBO’s free-flowing Random Acts of Flyness, Mariama Diallo makes her feature directorial debut at Sundance with Master, a horror-thriller set at a prestigious New England university. Regina Hall—an early pick for Sundance MVP this year—stars as the new dean of students uncovering rots in the college’s foundation, as a first-year student and a literature professor face other vestiges of the school’s racist past and haunted present. Expect a scorching, scary examination of white-supremacist hegemony on college campuses, the kind that will be familiar to any college student who’s ever researched the historical figures their dormitories were named for. As a bonus, Never Rarely Sometimes Always breakout Talia Ryder appears in a supporting role. Hall and Diallo set up the film at Amazon, which will distribute Master later this year. IF

Resurrection

Written and directed by Andrew Semans

One of my favorite Sundance experiences in recent years was discovering David Bruckner’s The Night House, a contemporary chiller that remains somewhat underappreciated, despite amazing work from lead Rebecca Hall as a widow facing inexplicable peril. In Andrew Semans’ Resurrection, Hall plays a woman attempting to deal with a ‘monster’ from her past (who may or may not be played by Tim Roth) just as her daughter is about to go off to college. There’s clearly more to the story than what is offered up by the obtuse logline, and I can’t wait to see Hall’s steely resolve at play in this ominous-sounding film. Seman is directing his own script, which appeared on the 2019 Black List. DC

Summering

Directed by James Ponsoldt, written by Ponsoldt and Benjamin Percy

The best coming-of-agers are inclusive and uplifting, giving anyone a voice as long as they have a story. Summering is particularly alluring as it comes from James Ponsoldt, the writer-director who cut his teeth with films like Smashed and The Spectacular Now a decade ago. Bleecker Street has already swooped in on this one, a portrait of four teen girls soon starting middle school anticipating the ways their world is about to change. It sounds sweet, but also sharp and alluring, with a mystery-adventure element that promises cross-generational appeal and life-affirming wisdom. Not that tender growing pains aren’t usually enough in this kind of subgenre, but our ears are certainly pricked in a new way now. EK

Utama

Written and directed by Alejandro Loayza Grisi

Sundance is one of the premier American film festivals, but every year its World Cinema selections present stories from across the globe that generate just as much emotional response as anything stateside. Utama, the feature debut of writer-director Alejandro Loayza Grisi, takes us to the Bolivian Altiplano, where elderly couple Virginio and Sisa live out their humble daily existence. As a drought leaves them without water, and Virginio’s breathing issues become more concerning, the arrival of their grandson Clever presents them with the pressure of leaving their home to move to the city. Billed as “a universal story of epic proportions”, Utama poses the characters these eternal questions of how they must adapt their lives to the merciless changes of environment and time itself. MB

Watcher

Directed by Chloe Okuna, written by Okuna and Zack Ford

Indie scream queen Maika Monroe has yet to star in anything as impactful as her dazzling breakout It Follows, but this thriller seems well-positioned to potentially live up to that modern classic. In Watcher, she plays a young woman convinced she is being… watched… by someone in the building across from the apartment that she and her fiancé just moved into. It’s a brave filmmaker who dares to tread in Hitchcock’s footsteps (as the wildly varied reactions to The Voyeurs can attest), but writer-director Chloe Okuna demonstrated an impressive talent for tension in her section of last year’s anthology horror V/H/S/94. I’ll be watching. DC

When You Finish Saving the World

Written and directed by Jesse Eisenberg

Jesse Eisenberg’s characters are often coiled springs, their squirrely demeanors and hooded eyes displaying a kind of fierce intelligence that makes him equally well-suited to playing nebbish narcissists (The Social Network) and endearing dorks (Zombieland). He turns writer-director for Sundance premiere When You Finish Saving the World, an A24 feature adapted from his award-winning audio play of the same name. Expect Eisenberg’s work behind the camera to display much of the same attention to neurosis and keen character insight that he embodies as a performer. The story focuses on a mother (Julianne Moore) struggling to connect with her teenage son (Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard) amid working at a domestic-violence shelter; that the comedy-drama also enlists composer Emile Mosseri (Minari) and cinematographer Benjamin Loeb (After Yang) places it as firmly in the A24 stable as the film’s themes of intergenerational dissonance and furtive emotional connection. IF

You Won’t Be Alone

Written and directed by Goran Stovelski

Goran Stolevski’s You Won’t Be Alone is set in a village in nineteenth-century Macedonia, where a young girl is taken from her mother and transformed into a witch by an ancient, shape-shifting spirit. Gradually, she comes to assume the bodies of various villagers, living in secret for years until the ancient spirit returns. This all sounds very unnerving and sinister, which makes sense once you learn that Noomi Rapace stars as one incarnation of the witch. Since playing Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Rapace has proven herself a natural fit as the unnatural gravity of all manner of darkly enthralling genre fare, from Brian de Palma’s Passion to Valdimar Jóhannsson’s Lamb. That the Australian first-time filmmaker Stolevski attracted Rapace to the project—along with composer Mark Bradshaw, who’s collaborated frequently with Jane Campion—bodes well for You Won’t Be Alone, as does the involvement of distributor Focus Features, who plan to open the film stateside in April. IF

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