Thanks to this nefarious variant of Omicron, the Sundance Film Festival has gone entirely virtual again this year, and your humble Nashville Scene critic was parked on the sofa to check.
This year’s Sundance lineup might not have been as prolific as 2021’s explosive line-up, in which films like On the count of three, Run away, CODA, soul summer, Judas and the Black Messiah, Mass, Passage, together together, We’re all going to the world’s fair and more brought down the virtual house. The tricky nature of a film festival is always the cast, so you may not have been aware of it – and you certainly haven’t seen On the count of threewhich will not be released until this year on an unspecified date, or We’re all going to the world’s fair, which will be on HBO Max in the spring. Both are essential.
There were, however, some great films worthy of your attention. They range from uplifting and messy coming-of-age tales (a Sundance staple) to gripping documentaries about how past and present blend together in surprising and unsettling ways (again, sort of a Sundance). Let’s take a look at some of the best films from this year’s tour.
The best film of this year’s harvest was undoubtedly Cooper Raiff’s sensational Cha Cha real smooth, which absolutely takes its title from a lyric of that noxious DJ Casper college party anthem of the early Aught’s. Raiff emerges as Gen Z Richard Linklater – the filmmaker who inspired his low-key home movies and whose bar he is already starting to break.
Cha Cha real smooth is a special work on the difficulty of finding one’s place after graduation. Raiff is like the Duplass brothers in that he also stars in his productions, and his performances as a soft-hearted goober are very impressive considering his green side behind the camera. Here, he plays an aimless college graduate who begins to fall for an engaged mother and befriends her autistic daughter, while moonlighting as a party starter at local bar mitzvahs. If that sounds like a bizarre premise, Raiff walks away with a sense of world-weariness, but also a striking optimism to understand how confusing growing up is and how sloppy the human experience is always as it goes. let it unfold. Dakota Johnson Delivers Career-Best Performance as Mom Raiff’s Character grows near; she’s a disarming sage in the face of Raiff’s greedy naivety. The two are fantastic together. It’s one of the best movies to come for quite some time and will be released by Apple later this year. Raiff is a career we should all be deeply invested in.
Although this was the best of the show, there were plenty of other impressive titles. Kogonada, former Nashvillian and Belcourt supporter, is back with his second film After Yangwhich is scheduled to open at the Belcourt on March 4. It is a wonderful complement to Kogonada’s Columbus, offering a new perspective not only on AI, but also on dealing with grief and the delicate moments that make life worth living in general. It has an outstanding performance of The Umbrella Academyis Justin H. Min as the titular cyborg who will let you do the talking. Speaking of robots, Britain’s delicious export Brian and Charles was the sweetest movie of that year by a country mile. It’s like an Edgar Wright/Mighty Boosh project thrown in a cotton candy machine, but also one of the most surprising movies about being a parent, even when your son is a 7-foot-tall robot. who loves cabbage.
If you are looking for A24 vibes, Criminal Emily will do more than provide. it’s sweeter Uncut Gems mixed with dark commentary about student debt, and Aubrey Plaza is fantastic as an upstart con man who has to fight his way through petty crime in order to help pay off his debts. It’s a gripping little thriller, and Plaza shows she’s more than comedic talent. COSTSreleased via Hulu in March, discusses the horrors of online dating and features the most shocking turn of an Avenger (Sebastian Stan) since Chris Evans donned a woolen sweater in Knives out. It’s best not to know too much about the history of this one, but it’s the kind of wild ride you’d desperately want to do with a midnight audience in Belcourt. Gather some friends, go out in the cold, and buckle up.
Andrew Seman’s Brilliance Resurrection would be my second favorite if I counted, a paranoid thriller about how a woman’s past comes back to haunt her in bizarre ways. It’s another film best kept cold, but it features Rebecca Hall’s career best work and a monologue that may well become 2022’s best action moment once all is said and done. Hall is so good in this movie. Speaking of great performances, 892 has a gripping spin from John Boyega, a veteran who owns a bank in Atlanta in order to make a statement about the clerical horrors facing veterans.
Riley Stearns is deliberately funny Double has shades of Yorgos Lanthimos with a unique American twist. The film features two Karen Gillans, with the original Gillan being tasked with killing her clone after that clone takes over her life. It’s the most upbeat film about pessimism you’ve ever seen and features Aaron Paul as a survivalist. It’s not always easy to get started, but it will make you appreciate life, even when life may suck.
The Grand Jury winner of the festival in the drama category is Nikyatu Jusu’s Nanny, and it’s going to be a topic of conversation whenever it’s released. Both an ominous study in classicism and a sobering reminder of the weight of the immigrant experience, Jusu’s pseudo-horror film is anchored by a grounded performance by Anna Diop (Atlantics). Jusu is already developing a new project with Universal and Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw, and she’s going to be a major talent. This is just the exciting start.
Emergency, soon to be released by Amazon, won this year’s best screenplay award, and it’s easy to see why. The film takes on a nightmarish premise – three people of color discover a white girl passed out in their house unexpectedly and must figure out what to do about it. Director Carey Williams and writer KD Dávila try to find humor in such a bizarre event, as the three well-meaning college kids go through the worst thing that could have happened to them. One of the film’s protagonists, RJ Cyler, is always a joke and is brilliant here, and relative newcomers Donald Elise Watkins and Sebastian Chacon are the film’s beating hearts. Expect both to break out after this.
Documentarily, be sure to pay attention to the best two I’ve seen: The exileda moving work about filmmaker Christine Choy as she attempts to complete her own film about the Tiananmen Square protests and the student movement, and Navalnya shocking account of the poisoning of Russian reformist leader and opponent of Vladimir Putin, Alexei Navalny.
Also on the front of the doc: Riotville, United States is like the Apollo 11 of the militarization of the police and a moving look at how the past repeats itself. The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales will make you want to write an angry letter to Disney when you see how one of Uncle Walt’s great-nieces discovers the shady practices in how the company treats its employees. Descending is an urgent and powerful look at the black citizens of Africatown in Mobile, Alabama, and how they fight to reclaim the narrative of their generational suffering after the last slave ship is discovered in their backyard.