The Very Best of Sundance 2022: Dakota Johnson, Cosby Comeuppance, Volcano Love, and More

·7 min read
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Sundance, Showtime
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Sundance, Showtime

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This week:

The Very Best of Sundance 2022 (aka Movies to Get Excited For)

The hottest, sexiest, most star-studded venue in Hollywood these last two weeks was, as it should always be, my couch.

Well, it was a multi-venue affair. My colleagues Marlow Stern and Laura Bradley’s sofas were pretty bumping, too.

The three of us stalwartly covered the 2022 virtual Sundance Film Festival, which, for the second year in a row, traded the thrill and exhilaration of sampling what may be the next year’s most exciting films while gallivanting around Park City, Utah, for the challenge of trying to gauge what might get people talking while… not being around other people who are talking.

But that won’t stop us from sharing our personal favorites.

I swooned hard for Emma Thompson’s sensational performance in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, one of the frankest films about sexual shame and regret—and then one of the most refreshing and cathartic about what happens when you free it—that I’ve seen. The arguable Queen of Sundance was Dakota Johnson, who triumphed over a bizarre story that’s gone viral about her allegedly once locking customers in a coffee shop (???) with two standout performances in Am I OK? and Cha Cha Real Smooth. Both also happen to be maybe the most crowd-pleasing entries at the fest, with the latter scoring the biggest sale (so far) of $15 million to Apple.

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And while they’ve already played at other festivals, the features After Yang and The Worst Person in the World, which both pulse with tender, complicated emotion and some sensational abs, are absolute standouts.

While it tends to seem like decades pass between when you read critics like us talking about these movies at festivals and when you can actually see them, the horrifying, transfixing, and absolutely must-watch docuseries We Need to Talk About Cosby premieres Sunday night on Showtime. I promise you, as difficult as the subject matter is, it’s far more fascinating and enlightening than you may expect.

Marlow was also big on the documentary slate this year, starting with Sara Dosa’s Fire of Love, which sold for a seven-figure deal to NatGeo. “It’s a fascinating excavation of the love, lives, and passions of Katia and Maurice Krafft, two of the world’s leading volcanologists (and a couple) who died during a volcanic eruption,” he says. “The stunning archival footage, coupled with Dosa’s soft narration, provides a borderline hypnotic experience.”

‘Fire of Love’: The Sundance Doc About the Couple That Fell in Love—and Died—on Volcanoes

He also singled out Paula Eiselt and Tonya Lewis Lee’s Aftershock, “a vital exploration of America’s maternal health care crisis—and more specifically, how Black women are being failed by a system that discriminates against them at nearly every turn.”

Both Marlow and Laura fawned over Sirens, which profiles the first (and only) all-female thrash metal in Lebanon, Slaves to Siren. It “will make you fall head over shit-kickin’ boots for these righteous rebels pushing back against the rigid status quo,” Marlow says, while Laura echoes, “I’m allergic to the word ‘badass’ in the year of our lord 2022, but if anyone’s earned the label it’s these rebellious young women.”

Laura also recommends Phoenix Rising, in which Evan Rachel Wood details her harrowing allegations of abuse against Marilyn Manson, and Framing Agnes, about a push for a more complicated kind of trans representation.

Sundance Doc ‘Sirens’ Will Make You Fall in Love With Lebanon’s Only Female Thrash Metal Band

It was an “embarrassment of riches for horror fans,” she says, singling out Goran Stolevski’s You Won’t Be Alone and Hanna Bergholm’s Hatching. “And if you’re looking for a good laugh with some seriously tragicomic undertones? Look no further than Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. Sterling K. Brown and Regina Hall playing a megachurch super-couple on the brink of collapse? Hallelujah!”

As someone who also was a fan of the film, and will ride-or-die for any strong Regina Hall showcase, I echo that with a hearty, “Amen.”

Crying to This Is Us: It’s Been a While!

It’s been a season or two since I religiously watched This Is Us each week. (The current world makes it so I can rely on one or two good weekly sobs without watching it, so, like most people with most long-running shows, I kind of fell off.)

But I noticed after the most recent outing of NBC’s tear porn that there was more press and buzz than usual about something devastating that happened and I thought, “I kind of want to see it and cry.” Sometimes (everyday) you need a good, guttural, heaving weep, and the old reliables—YouTube clips of Katherine Heigl in Denny’s bed on Grey’s Anatomy, the Julia Roberts/Susan Sarandon “you have their future” scene in Stepmom—aren’t going to cut it.

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I guess these are light spoilers, so look away if shielding yourself from what happens on This Is Us is the angry hill you’re going to die on (though death is very on-theme for this show!).

The short version is that Jack’s (Milo Ventimiglia) mother, back in the timeline when that character is still alive, dies. Apparently, it was just as they were starting to be back in touch. When he goes back for the funeral, he is startled to discover how much more connected he was to her than he thought, and how much of his new life’s fulfillment he owes to her influence.

There’s a eulogy, which scores 10/10 technical points on the Make Kevin Cry judging scale. But then came the scores for artistic merits: in a beautiful scene, Jack recreates a favorite childhood memory with his mother for his kids, and then breaks down sobbing. Gold medal on the spot. I’m still crying. Will never stop crying. This show can still get it. (My pandered-to and emotionally-manipulated tears.)

This Is What They Mean By ‘Must-See TV’

It has come to my attention this week that Paula Abdul co-executive produces a Judge Judy-style courtroom series called Caught in Providence that airs in syndication. (Hat tip to Ryan Bloomquist on Twitter for flagging this/changing my life.)

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It is exactly what it sounds like—a hyper-local, low-budget reality show about petty Rhode Island legal matters adjudicated by a wisecracking judge. I do not know why Paula Abdul is involved in this, nor do I care to know. The mystery is the pleasure.

A clip circulated this week of Abdul stopping by the court and, essentially, playing guest judge during a case in which someone ran a red light. “I’m in a good mood today,” she teases the defendant, saying that he should just get a warning. The judge agrees… as long as he can name two Paula Abdul songs.

I will not rest until all of America is watching and talking about this show.

Euphoria’s Utter Rudeness

Against my better judgment, I took a harrowing trip to Euphoria High this week to mingle with its terrifying youths and, as a person whose proudest high school achievement was starring in his senior-year production of Oklahoma!, I have never felt so bullied and personally attacked.

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What to watch this week:

Janet: This is a two-part documentary about Janet Jackson, of course I demand that all of you watch. (Fri. on Lifetime)

The Afterparty: A ton of famous funny people are in this murder-comedy (Tiffany Haddish, Sam Richardson, Ilana Glazer), and that’s reason enough to watch. (Fri. on Apple TV+)

We Need to Talk About Cosby: This isn’t “fun,” per se. But it’s so well-done and necessary. (Sun. on Showtime)

Pam and Tommy: A series about the Pam Anderson and Tommy Lee sextape! Cast credits include “Jason Mantzoukas as the voice of Tommy Lee’s penis!” (Wed. on Hulu)

What to skip this week:

The Woman in the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window: The name, sadly, is the funniest part of this satire. (Fri. on Netflix)

Celebrity Big Brother: After outrageous rumors about participants (Erika Jayne! Tiffany “New York” Pollard! Hope Hicks!), the actual cast is an absolute flop. (Wed. on CBS)

Finally, Something Good: ‘Abbott Elementary’s’ Unexpected, Delightful Rise

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