Sundance 2022: Alex's 10 Favorite Films - The Best of the 2022 Festival
by Alex Billington
February 3, 2022
The 2022 Sundance Film Festival wrapped up last week after a series of virtual premieres. Now it's time to present our annual Best of the Fest list. I was able to catch a total of 60 films this year (my full list on Letterboxd), watching online from home (to stay safe and save some money). This is my 16th year in a row covering Sundance, and this fest still has a special place in my heart. I am always excited about the films and filmmakers they bring. I am presenting one big list of my 10 favorite films - a mix of docs and features. All of these below are worth watching, and I highly recommend seeking them out whenever they show up at your local cinema. I am glad Sundance has continued to do their best with a film festival even in this crazy times during an ongoing pandemic, because we all need good cinema like this. Below are my favorites, the films that connected with me and have remained on my mind all the way through the 10 days of the festival.
This is the second year that Sundance has been held entirely online, and only the second time in the last 16 years that I haven't been at the festival in Park City, Utah. I miss it. I really, really miss being up there. It's a part of my life now, having spent a delightful 14 years making the trek up into the mountains every January, trudging around snowy Park City from screening to screening. Even though I don't like all the venues (some of the seating sucks - like at the Library Theater) I still love being there, I still love the vibe this festival has. And there's something that you can't replicate online with regards to meeting up with friends, chatting with cinephiles & film geeks, arguing on buses about what's good & bad, making new friends, conversing while waiting in queues, etc. All of this is a part of Sundance experience, and I hope one day we'll be back to that. But for now, these 10 days were spent glued to my couch at home, watching everything on my TV non-stop.
As for the virtual experience, the Sundance Film Festival has one of the best online screening systems of any festival. They built an entire website (and an app to use on my Apple TV) for the festival films and it works perfectly. While dealing with set schedules across time zones is frustrating, coordinating virtual premieres so that everyone is watching them at the same time is an important part of the fest experience. It connects back to those unforgettable moments during the fest in years past, where everyone is gathered in one of the venues for the anticipated world premiere of a film no one has seen yet. Those are nights unlike any other. And I'm glad that Sundance has opened up the virtual experience so that everyone can participate in this. At the end of the day, as long as we still get to watch great films and revel in the splendor of cinema, then I'm happy. Because above all, I want to celebrate the films and the filmmakers that made them. So let's dive in…
While I saw many films that I enjoyed (my full list of 60 here), there were a few more I missed even though I heard good things about them. But these are my favorite films from this year's fest from those that I did see.
Alex's Top 10 Favorite ~Sundance 2022~ Films:
Directed by Mimi Cave
This is the #1 film of Sundance 2022 and one of the biggest breakout hits. At least I am assuming it will be a huge hit - it damn well deserves to be a smash hit. Fresh is 2022's Get Out - a twisted, holy sh*t WTF thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Directed by Mimi Cave, from a screenplay by Lauryn Kahn, this is one of the films everyone MUST SEE from Sundance this year. The dialogue totally slays. So many unforgettable quotes - mostly because they're ridiculous but they work so well in this script. It's so smart, so stylish, so freaky. This is a film where the story being told IS brilliant AND the style is exceptional, too. So many cool shots that go along with the twisted story. Not only is the film totally unique and crazy and cool anyway, but the filmmaking is also so impressive and ambitious and memorable. These are the moments I live for in our industry. And I'm glad Sundance gave us a film like Fresh to feast on this year. Just please try and watch this film before you read anything else about the plot. Go in fresh! It will make all the difference.
Fire of Love
Directed by Sara Dosa
Watch out for molten flying rocks! This documentary about the two volcanologist lovers is extraordinary. As poetic as it is spectacular, an iconic story of love – love between these two, Katia & Maurice Krafft, but also a love for this planet, for Mother Nature – it can be so powerful & beautiful all at once. Filmmaker Sara Dosa follows in the footsteps of Herzog's Grizzly Man exploring the same themes and questions regarding people who become obsessed with nature - even if it kills them, that's the life they choose to live and they'd have it no other way. I love how tenderly she addresses this issue, and how the film allows them to express their love even if it comes with great risk. I'm always very deeply moved by these stories. You have to go out and LIVE a life of your own, take risks and be bold and stay honest. Stop caring what anyone else thinks just explore the world in your own way. Live your life for YOU, always do what you want. I find this so inspiring.
Directed by Oliver Hermanus
The rare remake that is as good as the original film, and that's an especially daunting task when the original film is an Akira Kurosawa classic. Living is the remake of Kurosawa's Ikiru made by the acclaimed South African filmmaker Oliver Hermanus (of the excellent film Moffie most recently). Most other critics have been raving about this one as well, and I was lucky to catch at that the end of the fest as it wasn't even on my radar at all at the beginning. Hermanus' filmmaking style lends itself perfectly to this story. His update on Ikiru is utterly gorgeous and emotionally gratifying, even if it is mostly a shot-for-shot remake. I think all of his music choices and the sweeping score give it the emotional depth it seriously needs to properly tell this story with a modern edge. The elegant 50s style matches the story and only enhances the experience. And yeah this is one of Bill Nighy's finest performances of his career. Even if you're already familiar with Ikiru, there's more to learn from this London retelling of the story. Let it remind you what it means to really live.
Directed by Sierra Pettengill
Another eye-opening, intellectually gratifyting documentary experiences. It's one of the best made-entirely-from-archival-footage doc films about racism and America since I Am Not Your Negro. Riotsville, USA is built around an exceptionally strong narrative about how America turned against its own citizens in the 60s out of fear of progress. It's hard to deny that America has been violent towards its people mainly because of fear and white guilt that has never been properly addressed and reconciled. And even though this is clear in the 60s as pointed out by this film, not much has changed in ~50 years. It's such a convincing documentary, everything said in voiceover and text throughout makes so much sense. Crafting a narrative out of footage that has no narrative is not an easy task but the result with this film is something profound. It's the kind of film that schools should study, expanding on the discussions in here. I really loved this doc, so glad to see it during this fest. Another important this-should-be-shown-everywhere film telling the truth about America.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande
Directed by Sophie Hyde
The best sex movie of the festival! I LOVE this film! It's so audacious and honest and liberating, an intimate drama that might just change your life if you let it. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is a set-in-one-location film that takes place entirely in a hotel room. The entire film is about the very intimate conversations and interactions between a middle aged woman, played by Emma Thompson, and an exceptionally attractive sex worker named Leo Grande, played by Daryl McCormack. Thompson meets him at this hotel because she's ready for some good sex and needs some help with how to make that happen. After spending her life with only one man, her husband with whom she never really enjoyed the sex, he has passed away and now she's free to explore her desires. This film is a knock out. Not only is it astonishingly sex positive, pro sex worker, anti body shaming excellence, their conversations are endlessly captivating and may inspire viewers to explore more than what they know, too. Go in with an open mind and you'll never forget this experience.
Emily the Criminal
Directed by John Patton Ford
Aubrey! Plaza! She kicks so much ass in this film. Written and directed by up-and-coming filmmaker John Patton Ford, making his very first feature, this riveting crime thriller takes place on the streets of Los Angeles. Aubrey Plaza stars (and she also produced the film!) as the titular Emily, a woman who decides to get into the world of credit card scams to make fast cash. Part of what makes this film work so well is the context - she's struggling with student debt, she's trying to get jobs but they won't hire her, or they offer her an unpaid internship. There's intriguing commentary here on how petty crime ends up being more lucrative than legitimate jobs. But the filmmaking is also top notch - it'a a slick, highly focused thriller with nods to films like Uncut Gems and 21. It's also a fast-paced film at only 93 minutes; without wasted time or drawn out scenes, this one packs a punch and leaves you thinking about more than how awesome Aubrey Plaza is.
Brian and Charles
Directed by Jim Archer
A wonderful discovery. Everyone needs to meet Charles!! Adapted from a short film of the same name, this kooky sci-fi indie comedy is one of the gems of this year's fest. It definitely has a Taika Waititi or Napoleon Dynamite vibe, but with its own sensibilities that give it a different edge. And that means this fits right in at Sundance as one of the festival's latest off-beat, amusing one-of-a-kind comedy offerings. The performance by the robot Charles is incredible, I was in awe by his ability to emote even though he is just a big pile of junk. Clearly he's more than just junk! Some of the film borrows from Her as well, but I was so charmed by the whole thing at the end. I'm still thinking about this one even after watching so many other films. I also recorded a podcast review of the film with my friend Mark on his show No Spoiler Reviews here (ep #57).
Directed by Alex Pritz
This. Is. Awesome. What a film! A must see! I really loved discovering this doc, an extraordinary film in so many ways. Another late-in-the-festival highlight that I have been raving about ever since watching it. The Territory is about the Indigenous Uru-eu-wau-wau people who live in the middle of the Amazon in Brazil, close to Bolivia. The government has encouraged people to take rainforest land as their own, slashing and burning their way through it to establish cattle farms. Everything about this is wrong and backwards. But the Uru-eu-wau-wau are ready to fight back, and this film captures that critical moment for this tribe. And it's exhilarating to watch. From an up-and-coming filmmaker named Alex Pritz, directing his first feature, the film is also produced by none other than fellow filmmaker Darren Aronofsky at his company Protozoa Pictures. It features some of my favorite scenes in any documentary at the festival, following these people around their territory as they defend their land from non-Native invaders. It's an inspiring film but also an empowering film, watching these people fight back is encouraging and offers a boost of hope for humanity.
All That Breathes
Directed by Shaunak Sen
Ohhhh my goodness this doc really is something special. All the hype is warranted. All That Breathes is a beautiful documentary about bird rescuers in New Delhi trying to help mend all the local kites (similar to hawks). The score is quite moving with spectacular cinematography of the birds and the city. It's excellent. This is a festival gem that's up there with other doc film favorites - comparable to The Truffle Hunters and Honeyland from recent Sundances. There's a poetic quality to it that makes it so enthralling. I would watch it again, it's almost an experience to get lost in, to be swept away by these birds and their interactions with them. There's a funny moment early on where on of the birds swoops in and steals the glasses right off the face of one man. It's a clear sign that they are the rulers of this city, but they also need human's help to stay alive as pollution is taking over. I can't recommend this doc enough - cinematic storytelling at its very best.
Directed by Andrew Semans
Oh hell yes, this is such a wicked and twisted and freaky film!! Instant favorite. Resurrection stars Rebecca Hall as a strong, independent woman who is shaken by the return of a mysterious man she hasn't seen for over 20 years. Who is he? What did he do? Why does he upset her so much? The film sort of answers these questions, but there's much more going on under the surface, and the story is arrestingly ambiguous and meticulous in its mysteriousness. I've been debating and discussing what's really going on in this with many of my friends, and everyone has a different theory. What I wrote in my initial review is one of those theories, but the more I talk about it with others, the more I wonder if I'm totally off? Or maybe there is something supernatural in this film? Maybe there isn't…? Whatever is really going on, there's nothing like a great film that keeps you thinking about it for weeks and months after. It's a chilling film with impressive filmmaking throughout, and another exceptional performance from Rebecca Hall that will leave you shocked by the end.
Other favorites from this year: Ed Perkins' captivating doc The Princess, Kathryn Ferguson's invigorating doc Nothing Compares, James Ponsoldt's charming Summering, Ramin Bahrani's incredible doc 2nd Chance, Julie Ha & Eugene Yi's doc Free Chol Soo Lee, Julian Higgins' impressive God's Country, Stephanie Allynne & Tig Notaro's buddy comedy Am I OK?, Carey Williams' fantastic Emergency, Hanna Bergholm's chilling Finnish horror Hatching, Max Walker-Silverman's sublime meditation on love and loneliness A Love Song, the mesmerizing sci-fi of Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead's Something in the Dirt, Mariama Diallo's excellent new horror Master, and Kogonada's luminous sci-fi drama After Yang.
To find all of Alex's Sundance 2022 reviews and updates: Follow @firstshowing
I also recorded a podcast chat about Sundance films with Aaron Neuwirth on his Out Now Podcast - listen to that episode here. And check out my other favorite films list on my Letterboxd page. Thanks for following.
For other Sundance 2022 best of the fest lists mentioning more films we didn't see or didn't include here, check out: The Film Stage's The Best Films of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, Metacritic's Best of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival Mashable's 11 films you need to know about, Thrillist's Best Sundance Movies of 2022, Film School Reject's Best Movies We Saw at Sundance 2022, Rolling Stone's The 10 Best Movies at Sundance 2022, The Verge's 7 great movies from the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, Vox's 18 indie movies everyone will be talking about this year at Sundance + Indiewire's annual Critics Survey of the Best Movies. Our list isn't the only list of favorites from Sundance! There are many other great films from this year that deserve your time & attention whenever they show up in your neighborhood. Keep an eye out for all of these.
You can find all our Sundance 2022 coverage and reviews in this category. This wraps up our coverage of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, my 16th year in a row attending it. We'll be back again next year. You can also find more thoughts on most films posted on my Letterboxd. Another satisfying year of new discoveries.