Even in a normal Sundance year, as Hollywood wraps up and heads to the mountains, it’s difficult to predict what will and won’t hit. What might look promising on paper too often tanks on screen while, time and time again, the smaller, less obvious titles resonate instead.
What was set to be a hybrid physical-digital edition (after last year’s digital only fest) has now become online only, an inevitable downgrade after the rise of Omicron. It’s another low-key line-up surrounded by question marks, but here are the films to look out for:
Ever since the end of her landmark HBO show Girls, there has been a slight awkwardness to Lena Dunham’s creative output – from the ill-advised remake of Camping (Jennifer Garner is no Vicki Pepperdine) to her involvement with the one season, one star nightmare of Generation. But there’s every reason to be excited about Sharp Stick, her first film as director in over a decade. Despite a patchy final season, Girls remains something of a masterwork and her new film – about an affair between a babysitter and her employer – promises something interestingly knotty and exploratory. Dunham was inspired by female-led 70s dramas such as An Unmarried Woman and A Woman Under the Influence and stars in the film herself, alongside Jon Bernthal, Zola breakout Taylour Paige and Kristine Froseth.
This year’s festival has a number of genre titles that deal with racial dynamics (Nikyatu Jusu’s Nanny posits a Senegalese woman in a tense, potentially supernatural scenario with her white employers while Tarantino mentee Krystin Ver Linden’s Alice shifts from slavery drama to blaxploitation thriller) but none sound quite as tantalizing as Mariama Diallo’s debut thriller, Master. More specific plot details are being kept understandably under wraps but we know that it follows three women at an elite university, built on the site of Salem-era gallows, battling discrimination as well as something even more horrifying. Regina Hall, an actor finally and deservedly getting her due, stars.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande
While the film surrounding her didn’t quite live up to her performance, Emma Thompson’s Sundance crowd-pleaser Late Night was at least a welcome reminder of the actor’s substantial comic prowess. She returns this year with Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, starring as a retired teacher who feels like her sex life has never been quite as exciting as it should have been. To fix this, she hires a sex worker. Director Sophie Hyde was last at the festival with her wonderful, criminally underseen gem Animals, and will undoubtedly be a similarly sure hand here, working with a script from comedian Katy Brand.
We Need to Talk About Cosby
The crushing weight of what “America’s dad” Bill Cosby has been accused of by multiple women is the focus of W Kamau Bell’s damning four-part documentary, We Need to Talk About Cosby. In the series, Bell talks to survivors but also speaks to others who comment on not only the cultural impact of having to redefine someone from hero to villain but also the system that allowed for such abuse to go unnoticed for so long. “I never thought I’d ever wrestle with who we all thought Cosby was and who we now understand him to be,” Bell said of the project. “I’m not sure he would want me to do this work, but Cliff Huxtable definitely would.”
While the Star Wars franchise undoubtedly squandered John Boyega by the end, the British actor’s movie star charisma was one of the trilogy’s most exciting reveals. After an award-winning turn in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe, he’s aiming for more trophies with fact-based drama 892. Based on a 2018 article, the contained drama will see Boyega star as a haunted veteran struggling to deal with normal life who decides to rob a bank. The script is from award-winning playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah while Boyega’s supporting cast features Nicole Beharie, the under-utilized star of Miss Juneteenth, Connie Britton and Michael K Williams in his final screen role.
After the success of Get Out, a buzzy Sundance premiere back in 2017, the term “social thriller” has surged in popularity among industry types, linked to everything from Tyrel to Us to Luce to Promising Young Woman, used to describe genre films that speak to deeper issues and the specific time of creation. In Mimi Cave’s directorial debut Fresh, it has been used to describe the story of a woman, played by Normal People’s Daisy Edgar-Jones, whose boredom of dating apps leads her to take a chance on a stranger, played by Sebastian Stan, who hides a dark secret. The film boasts Adam McKay, fresh off Netflix hit Don’t Look Up, as producer and has already been bought pre-fest by Searchlight.
While it’s sadly never not a topical time for a film about the restrictive nature of abortion access in the US, 2022 makes for a particularly troubling period and so this year, two particular films will carry an added prescience. Both look at The Jane Collective, an underground service in Chicago that pre-Roe vs Wade, helped women secure safe abortions. Documentary The Janes takes a broader look while Call Jane focuses on a housewife, played by Elizabeth Banks, who joins the group after her pregnancy leads to a condition that the medical system isn’t willing or able to help with. Carol screenwriter Phillis Nagy directs while Sigourney Weaver and Kate Mara co-star.
jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy
One of the most anticipated documentaries of the festival zeroes in on one of the most difficult subjects imaginable: Kanye West aka Ye. The immensely talented yet forever troubled musician isn’t directly involved with the project but he’s given it his blessing – a sprawling three-film look at an unusual life, two decades in the making. Directors Coodie & Chike started recording West back in the late 90s and have kept their footage private ever since, but now, they’re hoping to show us another side of an artist we think we already know.