Top 10 movies of Sundance 2022

The Sundance Film Festival went virtual for the second straight year in 2022.

The Sundance Film Festival went virtual for the second straight year in 2022, which means COVID-19 and its variants forced movie lovers to stay home instead of jetting off to the mountains of Park City, Utah, where Robert Redford dreamed up the event 40 years ago.

It was there, trudging through the snow and communing on lines, in theaters and on shuttle buses with film junkies from around the globe, that you could discover goodies such as "Sex, Lies and Videotape," "Reservoir Dogs," "The Usual Suspects," "Precious," "The Blair Witch Project," "Clerks," "Little Miss Sunshine," "Whiplash," "Get Out" and last year's "CODA," "Passing," "Judas and the Black Messiah" and "Summer of Soul."

Sure I miss the in-person thrill of cheering new filmmakers as they introduce their work to the world. The good news is that the Sundance movies on virtual view this year until Jan. 30 are better than ever. And women directors and persons of color make up more than half of the participants. Lip service to diversity? Not on your life. The young talent here proves that independent cinema is alive and even thriving as it speaks urgently to the turbulent world in which we live. Take that, COVID!

Here are the 10 best movies (plus one) I saw at Sundance 2022:

"Am I OK?"

Personal stories are a staple of Sundance at its intimate and indelible best. And this tale of LA spa receptionist Lucy (Dakota Johnson) coming of age way out of her adolescence (she's 32) manages to work its charmingly stealth way into your heart. It starts when Lucy finally confesses to her best friend Jane (Sonoya Mizuno) that she likes girls. Based on a funny, touching and vital script by Lauren Pomerantz, this late-bloomer comedy never slips into sitcom. Thank Johnson's pitch-perfect performance and debuting direction from stand-up legend Tig Notaro and her partner Stephanie Allynne that nails every awkward bump on the road to self discovery.

"Call Jane" and "The Janes"

The past comments with potent relevance on the present in two fact-based Sundance films about the reproductive rights of women, as the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade comes under threat. "The Janes," a stirring documentary from directors Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes, details the formation of The Janes, a female-staffed Chicago collective that provided over 11,000 illegal abortions to needy women between 1968 and the passing of Roe. "Call Jane," directed by "Carol" screenwriter Phyllis Nagy, uses a fictional character -- a stellar Elizabeth Banks -- to bring an intense personal focus to the tale of a housewife and mother who might die without an abortion and the help of The Janes, led by a fierce and committed Sigourney Weaver. Talk about timely.

"Cha Cha Real Smooth"

Writer-director-actor Cooper Raiff knows how to make a movie look simple when it's not. As Andrew, a college grad working nowhere jobs like party starter (cha cha everybody!), he seems up for a romance with older woman Domino (Dakota Johnson, all kinds of tender, tough and terrific). Think you can see where this is going? You can't, not really. Domino is the mother of an autistic daughter (wonderful newcomer Vanessa Burghardt, also on the spectrum). And Andrew is the son of a bipolar mother (Leslie Mann). And Raiff can't hide his feelings for people with disabilities and the emotional bruises that come to the parents and surrogates who love them. And I can't hide my feelings for "Cha Cha," which is the most hilarious and heartfelt movie I saw at Sundance 2022.


This feature that filmmaker Carey Williams expanded from a short he debuted at Sundance in 2018 tackles race in America in the form of a socially conscious college comedy about two Black seniors and their Latino bestie who find a drunk white girl passed out on their dorm floor. Do they call the cops like they would if they lived in an alternate America or do they run like hell before they find themselves on the wrong side of a police bullet? This sorrowfully dark comedy takes a piece out of you.

"Emily the Criminal"

Things look bleak for Aubrey Plaza in John Patton Ford's stinging debut feature. Plaza is a live wire as Emily, who owes big time on a $70,000 college loan, and a felony assault conviction puts a crimp in her job prospects. No wonder an ad for a gig that pays $200 an hour grabs her attention. She's shocked, at first, that her job involves credit card fraud. Take the stolen identities provided by Yusef (Theo Rossi), buy something big with it -- a widescreen TV, a car -- and flip it before the cops show up. Before long, Emily is hooked on the danger and the slide into crime that happens too often when the American dream turns into a nightmare.

"Fire of Love"

Prepare to be wowed by this dazzling documentary from the great Sara Dosa about a French couple, Katia and Maurice Krafft, who died in 1991 in a volcanic explosion. Don't cry for this mesmerizing pair of playful eccentrics. They were doing the thing they loved, studying the science of volcanology and capturing on film (seen here for the first time in searingly gorgeous footage) the fire inside themselves and the object of their passion. Pardon the cliché, but you've never seen anything like it in your life.

"Lucy and Desi"

While Aaron Sorkin made a sharp media satire out of the successful partnership and failed marriage of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in "Being the Ricardos," director Amy Poehler artfully uses the documentary form to create an emotional roadmap into the highs and lows of the late couple. Using home movies, interviews with the couple's family and friends and the voices of Ball and Arnaz themselves, Poehler builds a deeply moving love story between two show biz icons who only came close to true happiness when they were faking it in the form of a lasting TV sitcom. Between laughs you'll be blinking back tears.


The racism endemic to a centuries-old, white-dominated New England university comes crashing into the present in this potent and provocative feature debut for writer-director Mariama Diallo. Regina Hall excels as a Black professor who relishes her rise in the ranks until a tenure-seeking fellow professor (Amber Gray) and a Black freshman notice something sinister simmering underneath a sea of condescending white faces. This socially aware horror film, in the style of Jordan Peele's "Get Out," means to shake you and does.


The hot-button topic of immigration provides a tough core to this haunting tale of assimilation from debuting director and screenwriter Nikyatu Jusu. The quietly devastating Anna Diop stars as Aisha, in from Senegal to work as a nanny for a wealthy white Manhattan couple, Amy (Michelle Monaghan) and her photojournalist husband Adam (Morgan Spector). They hardly have the time to care for their young daughter Rose (Rose Decker), despite the rigid guidelines they lay down for Aisha, whose own son back home must be cared for by others. Jusu builds riveting tension as Aisha introduces West African culture and myths into Rose's upbringing. Even as the line between reality and illusion blurs, the film holds us tight in its grip.

"Sharp Stick"

From the searching mind and bruised heart of "Girls" provocateur Lena Dunham comes the most divisive film at Sundance 2022. But isn't that what film festivals are for -- to let a witty, wildly anarchic talent like writer-director Dunham let it rip, in this case into the mysteries of the female psyche? Kristine Froseth finds innocence and empathy in Sarah Jo, 26, an LA throwback who rebels against the sexualized, digitalized world until an affair with a married man (Jon Berenthal) sends her spinning. Love it or hate it, "Sharp Stick" snaps with the rule-breaking experimentation that put Sundance on the map in the first place. Dive in.