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Sundance 2022: Ten Films We Can’t Wait To See

Jan 23, 2022 By Kaveh Jalinous Web Exclusive
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The programmers of this year’s Sundance Film Festival have a lot to live up to. Even with the pandemic setbacks, last year’s edition of the festival delivered an extraordinarily strong slate of films, including 2022 Oscar contenders like Sian Heder’s Coda, Jonas Peter Ramhussen’s Flee and Rebecca Hall’s Passing.

Playing online across the nation, this year’s Sundance Film Festival lineup is composed of 82 feature films, including narrative features and documentaries in-competition, and some buzzy, out-of-competition premieres.

Picking just ten films was an extraordinarily difficult task, but here are the films that we are most excited to see this year, as selected by Under The Radar film critic Kaveh Jalinous.

1. Cha Cha Real Smooth

Who: SXSW-winning writer-director Cooper Raiff, acclaimed actress Dakota Johnson.

What: “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.”

Why: After shocking audiences with his pensive and heartfelt debut feature, Shithouse, in 2020, Cooper Raiff returns with a film that looks to be as charming as his first film was. Plus, the added talent of Dakota Johnson, who delivered one of 2021’s most unforgettable performances in The Lost Daughter, is more than enough to get us on board.

2. jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy

Who: The one-and-only Kanye West.

What: “One fateful night at Jermaine Dupri’s birthday party in 1998, Coodie, a Chicago public access TV host, first interviewed 21-year-old up-and-coming hip-hop producer Kanye West. Inspired by the film Hoop Dreams, Coodie started to document West’s life to see how far his dreams would take him. When West moved to New York City to land a record deal, Coodie followed with camera in hand. He recorded West for years, from the hustle of his budding producer days through his rise to global icon. You think you know Kanye West, but you really don’t.”

Why: While the 270-minute runtime may initially seem daunting, Clarence “Coodie” Simmons’ and Chike Ozah’s work looks to be the most audacious exploration of Kanye West’s life and career yet. The Netflix series’ expansive scope is definitely beneficial in this case, as jeen-yuhs promises to showcase a portrait of West’s evolution over time, both as an artist and as a human being.

3. After Yang

Who: Video-essayist and film director Kogonada, an extensive cast led by Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith and Haley Lu Richardson.

What: “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.”

Why: After a buzzy premiere at Cannes last year, Kogonada’s sophomore feature film seemed to have all but disappeared from the festival circuit. Thankfully, American audiences will finally get a chance to see the director’s follow-up to his sensational debut Columbus. The subgenre of light science-fiction isn’t where we expected Kogonada to venture next, but if the massive acclaim that the film received at Cannes says anything, this isn’t one to skip.

4. Happening

Who: Director Audrey Diwan, who adapted the script from famed French writer Annie Ernaux’s acclaimed book.

What: “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.”

Why: Firstly, the film won the Golden Bear at last year’s Venice International Film Festival, which is more than enough to pique our interest. Secondly, while adapting Ernaux’s dense and pensive writing for the big screen is a task in itself, based on the critical acclaim for Diwan’s film, it seems that her venture proved successful and we can’t wait to see how she brings this story to the big screen.

5. The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales

Who: Director Abigail E. Disney, the great-niece of Walt Disney.

What: “Americans are working harder for less pay. The rich are getting astonishingly richer, and the poor have come to define the U.S. workforce. The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales is the beginning of a conversation that most Americans, rich and poor, have a hard time talking honestly about — class equity and the shift in our values. The American dream, once the promise of our country, has evaporated in front of our eyes.”

Why: Only recently added to the festival’s lineup, the documentary looks to be an unflinching look at a system that is and has always been based on inequality between distinct social classes. Given Disney’s familial connections, the film also appears to ponder on the glaring inequalities present in her family’s corporation, comparing the imbalances between the company’s employees to the imbalances throughout the United States as a whole.

6. Living

Who: Screenwriter Kazuo Ishiguro, 2017 Nobel Prize Winner for Literature, a cast led by veteran actor Bill Nighy.

What: “A veteran civil servant and bureaucratic cog in the rebuilding of Britain post-WWII, Williams expertly pushes paperwork around a government office only to reckon with his existence when he’s diagnosed with a fatal illness. A widower, he conceals the condition from his grown son, spends an evening of debauchery with a bohemian writer in Brighton, and uncharacteristically avoids his office. But after a vivacious former co-worker, Margaret, inspires him to find meaning in his remaining days, Williams attempts to salvage a modest building project from bureaucratic purgatory.”

Why: Attempting to remake Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru, a film heralded as the one of the greatest of all time, is a daunting task with a lot of room for error. The one ray of hope here, though, is the fact that the incredible author Kazuo Ishiguro is penning the film’s screenplay. If the author’s work here proves to be as successful as his novels have been, then Living will definitely be a fresh and unforgettable film.

7. AM I OK?

Who: Acclaimed comedian Tig Notaro and her partner Stephanie Allynne in their directorial debut, actress Dakota Johnson.

What: “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.”

Why: It’s been a long time coming for a feature film co-directed by Notaro, who has consistently wowed audiences in comedic roles and stand-up specials throughout the years. Plus, with a heartwarming synopsis as well as Dakota Johnson in one of the film’s leading roles, there’s more than enough to look forward to here.

8. Call Jane

Who: Director Phyllis Nagy, who wrote Todd Haynes’ Carol, an all-star cast including Elizabeth Banks, Sigourney Weaver and Kate Mara.

What: “Chicago, 1968. As a city and the nation are poised on the brink of violent political upheaval, suburban housewife Joy leads an ordinary life with her husband and daughter. When Joy’s pregnancy leads to a life-threatening condition, she must navigate a medical establishment unwilling to help. Her journey to find a solution to an impossible situation leads her to the “Janes,” a clandestine organization of women who provide Joy with a safer alternative — and in the process, change her life.”

Why: Call Jane marks Nagy’s first return to the big screen since the critically acclaimed masterpiece Carol, but this time, she is in the director’s chair. The film is one of the two films about the “Janes” in this year’s festival lineup (the other being a documentary). The combination of the film’s subject matter, Nagy’s involvement in the film and the extensive acting ensemble is enough to grasp our interest.

9. Alice

Who: A star-studded cast, including Keke Palmer, Common and Jonny Lee Miller, among others.

What: “Alice spends her days enslaved on a rural Georgia plantation restlessly yearning for freedom. After a violent clash with plantation owner Paul, Alice flees through the neighboring woods and stumbles onto the unfamiliar sight of a highway, soon discovering that the year is actually 1973. Rescued on the roadside by a disillusioned Black activist named Frank, Alice uncovers the lies that have kept her enslaved and the promise of Black liberation.”

Why: Sundance is a festival known for giving independent films with unique storytelling approaches a mainstream platform, and nowhere is that more evident than in Alice. The sub-genre of high-concept thrillers is one that has been particularly sparse lately, so a film like this one, with an extraordinarily heavy subject matter and a unique plot, is definitely promising. Plus, with this particular trio in the film’s principal roles, we are sure to see some unforgettable performances along the way.

10. Meet Me In The Bathroom

Who: Directing duo Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace, who previously helmed documentaries exploring the bands LCD Soundsystem and Blur.

What: “Welcome to pre-9/11 New York City, when the world was unaware of the profound political and cultural shifts about to occur, and an entire generation was thirsty for more than the post–alternative pop rock plaguing MTV. In the cafés, clubs, and bars of the Lower East Side there convened a group of outsiders and misfits full of ambition and rock star dreams. When The Strokes secured a residency at the Mercury Lounge in 2000, the scene that had previously been ignored by record labels and music magazines took off.”

Why: Given the success and acclaim for their other documentaries, it’s very exciting to see this music-centered documentarian power duo return for another outing. What’s even more appealing about Meet Me In The Bathroom, though, is that this time, the directors are focusing on an entire era of music rather than just following a single band. If the two can successfully handle this expansive scope, then this will definitely be a documentary worth seeking out.


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