Firstly, it seems like something of a miracle that any film will be premiering at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Like, in-person, in theaters, in Park City. After launching an ambitious — and quite popular — hybrid festival for its 2021 edition, the annual event is preparing for a slightly more traditional event in 2022. As announced earlier this year, online screenings will still take place in 2022, but Park City is readying to mount a larger in-person event as well.
And while we can’t wait for that, there’s a whole pack of other eager would-be Sundance attendees feeling a very different kind of anticipation these days: the filmmakers. While the end of November spells the start of holiday time for most, it also comes with a particular anxiety for those who have submitted their film to the fest. As we approach the inevitable lineup announcements, we’ve done our usual scouting around to see what might make its way to the mountains of Utah this year.
There’s no shortage of possibilities, including a wide variety of films shot under various COVID protocols, plus some potential holdovers from the before times. In the process of researching our annual Sundance wish list, IndieWire had no trouble finding nearly 40 movies that we hope make the cut in this year’s lineup. There are returning favorites here, and fresh new talents. A number of films have kept their details very much under wraps, while others have long been rumored. Truly, something for everyone, and plenty to celebrate.
Filmmakers are starting to hear back from the festival and the full selection is expected to go public next month, but in the meantime, here’s a look at several strong contenders for a most unusual edition of America’s most prominent festival.
The 2022 edition of the Sundance Film Festival runs January 20 through 30, both in-person and virtually.
David Ehrlich, Chris O’Falt, Zack Sharf, Ryan Lattanzio, Chris Lindahl, and Ben Travers contributed to this article.
Director: Ramin Bahrani
Ramin Bahrani took a bit of a hit when his HBO movie “Fahrenheit 451” proved to be a critical misfire, but he returned earlier this year on a high note with his acclaimed Netflix offering “The White Tiger,” which earned him BAFTA and Academy Award nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay. Now Bahrani moves into the documentary space with “2nd Chance.” The film is an exploration of the rise and fall of Richard Davis, the charming and brash inventor of the modern-day bullet-proof vest who shot himself 192 times to prove his product worked. The non-fiction feature counts “The Act of Killing” and “The Look of Silence” documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer as one of its executive producers. —ZS
“Am I OK?”
Directors: Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Sonoya Mizuno, Jermaine Fowler, Molly Gordon, June Diane Raphael, Sean Hayes
Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne’s “Am I OK?” is one of the first finished movies from TeaTime Pictures, the production company Dakota Johnson founded two years ago with with former Netflix executive Ro Donnelly (other producers on the project include PICTURESTART, Gloria Sanchez Productions, and Something Fierce). Johnson’s recent cover story in The Hollywood Reporter confirmed the team submitted “Am I OK?” to Sundance, where Johnson has popped up in the past in films such as “The Nowhere Inn” and “Wounds.” The film marks the feature directorial debut of Notaro and Allynne, who have been married since 2015 and have collaborated on acclaimed comedies such as “One Mississippi.” Johnson and “Devs” actress Sonoya Mizuno star as two lifelong best friends whose relationship gets put to the test when one takes a journey of personal discovery. —ZS
“An Act of Worship”
Director: Nausheen Dadabhoy
The week after President Trump was inaugurated and the Muslim Travel ban become an Executive Order, director/cinematographer Nausheen Dadabhoy started documenting the protests breaking out at airports around the country. After making the nonfiction short “An Act of Worship,” filming continued as Dadabhoy and producer Sofian Khan Sprang expanded on their story of a new generation of female Muslim-American activists who emerged as Trump stoked the flames of Islamophobia. —CO
Director: Jon Sesrie Goff
“I love and hate South Carolina,” reads Jon Sesrie Goff’s director’s statement of his new documentary, which has garnered a ton of institutional support — everyone from IDA to Sundance to Field of Vision and Firelight — since filming began in 2014. Goff’s exploration of coastal South Carolina through Gullah cultural retention and land preservation was always personal: his family stills owns a plot of land that was purchased by his ancestors after they were emancipated in the 1860s from a nearby plantation.
The direction of the film was apparently impacted by 2015 shooting at Mother Emanuel Church, where Goff’s father would be appointed interim pastor after the nine parishioners, including Reverend Pinckney, were murdered. Described as both a history lesson and a visual survey, it is “a reclamation of space and the acknowledgment of a spatial tension that defines our collective history as Americans.” —CO
Directors: Riley Keough, Gina Gammell
Actress Riley Keough and her producing partner Gina Gammell move into the directing space for this film that shot on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Little is known about the project beyond a casting announcement that it is the “interlocking stories of three Lakota men” living on the reservation. Each of the three stories “explore the concept of belonging: a child belonging to a family, a man belonging to ‘America,’ and an elder belonging to his Tribe.” Each of tales is based on real events, and presumedly involves first time performers from the region. —CO
“Bodies Bodies Bodies”
Directors: Halina Reijn
Cast: Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakalova, Pete Davidson, Lee Pace, Rachel Sennott, Conner O’Malley
After directing her first feature straight into Oscar territory (the prickly “Instinct” was the 2019 Dutch International Film submission), multi-hyphenate Halina Reijn handily established herself as a filmmaker on the rise. Her first English-language effort has been kept very under wraps, but its cast listing alone is intriguing, including the always-wonderful Amanda Stenberg and Lee Pace alongside breakouts like Maria Bakalova and the “Shiva Baby” herself Rachel Sennott, and what’s this? Rumors of both Pete Davidson and Conner O’Malley, ensuring the film will have some sort of comedic bent.
With a script from rising star Kristen Roupenian, who just scripted the film adaptation of the viral short story “Cat Person,” everything about “Bodies Bodies Bodies” has us excited. Show us the bodies! —KE
“Bones and All”
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Cast: Taylor Russell, Timothée Chalamet, Jessica Harper, Chloë Sevigny, Francesca Scorsese, Mark Rylance, André Holland, David Gordon Green
Luca Guadagnino and Timothée Chalamet were the darlings of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival thanks “Call Me by Your Name,” and now they’ve reunited for the director’s first movie shot in the United States. The project stars “Waves” breakout Taylor Russell as young woman learning how to survive on the margins of society. She meets Chalamet’s character, an intense and disenfranchised drifter, and they fall in love while traversing the back roads, hidden passages, and trap doors of Ronald Reagan’s America. Guadagnino has gone on record calling Chalamet’s role in the film “endearing and heartbreaking,” and any Guadagnino-Chalamet reunion would become one of the buzziest parts of any film festival.
The only question is whether or not the two artists are simply too big for Sundance. Might “Bones and All” head to Berlin or wait for Cannes instead? If it nabs a Sundance berth, expect it to be one of the buzziest titles. —ZS
Director: Phyllis Nagy
Cast: Elizabeth Banks, Sigourney Weaver, Kate Mara, Chris Messina
“Carol” screenwriter Phyllis Nagy has been attached to a number of different projects since 2015, all of which have been very exciting on account of the fact that Phyllis Nagy — as you might recall from earlier in this sentence — wrote the screenplay for “Carol.” “Call Jane” was the first of those potential follow-ups to actually roll cameras, and while some might be deflated to learn that Nagy didn’t write the film herself (the script is credited to Hayley Schore and Roshan Sethi), her presence behind the camera is more than enough to position this women’s right saga as a major Sundance heavyweight.
Set during the summer of 1968, Nagy’s first directorial effort since 2005’s “Mrs. Harris” stars Elizabeth Banks as a housewife who finds herself facing a life-threatening pregnancy in the time just before Roe v. Wade. After someone mercifully connects her with the Jane Collective (aka the Abortion Counseling Service of Women’s Liberation), Banks’ character finds new purpose in life, and joins the movement’s effort to provide safe access to abortions nationwide. It sure would be swell to live in a world where movies about reproductive rights didn’t continue to seem even more urgent with every passing year, but Nagy — along with an all-star cast teeming with Park City mainstays vets like Sigourney Weaver, Kate Mara, and Chris Messina — is poised to deliver a must-see drama about the hard labor required to get there. —DE
“Cha Cha Real Smooth”
Director: Cooper Raiff
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Leslie Mann, Brad Garrett, Raúl Castillo
It makes perfect sense that “Shithouse” writer-director-star Cooper Raiff hasn’t wasted any time capitalizing on the success of his wonderful indie debut — winning SXSW at the tender age of 22 doesn’t exactly suggest a “sit back and wait” attitude — but it’s still exciting that his second film came into focus so fast, and all the more so because it was made with the help of some major Hollywood talent.
Named after a dance jam by one-hit wonder by Mr. C the Slide Man (and/or the Barney meme it inspired), “Cha Cha Real Smooth” stars Raiff as a wayward college grad who lands a job as a bir mitzvah party starter, which somehow leads him to spark a friendship with a young mother (Dakota Johnson) and her autistic daughter. The film co-stars Leslie Mann, Brad Garrett, and Raúl Castillo, among the other big names who were drawn to the project, which is reason enough to believe that Raiff’s newest script is every bit as raw and hilarious as his last one. Post-production began at the end of the summer after a Pittsburgh shoot, and “Cha Cha Real Smooth” is poised to be a potential Sundance breakout if Raiff is able to finish it in time for the fest. —DE
“Dealing with Dad”
Director: Tom Huang
Cast: Peggy Lu, Ali Maki, Karan Soni, Hayden Szeto, Peter S. Kim, Dana Lee
Since his low-budget 1999 debut “Freshmen,” filmmaker Tom Huang has periodically popped up with insightful, personal, and often very funny character studies. His latest, which wrapped earlier this year, seems poised to continue that trend on a slightly larger scale. Rising star Ally Maki stars as Margaret Chang, who “reluctantly” returns to her hometown when her father (Dana Lee) is suddenly struck by depression.
No, no, it’s not that kind of film. Margaret is also tasked with a pair of hapless brothers, said depressed father used to be a giant jerk, and the realization that sad dad might be the better option will loom over the entire outing. It’s billed as a “comedic drama,” and it sounds like just the right mix of deep emotion and biting humor that Sundance loves to showcase. Huang is due for a hit, and Sundance could provide him that chance. —KE
“Don’t Make Me Go”
Director: Hannah Marks
Cast: John Cho, Kaya Scodelario, Stefania LaVie Owen
Actress and filmmaker Hannah Marks has quietly become a major force on both sides of the camera over the last few years, starring in well-received indies like Kris Rey’s “I Used to Go Here” and Adam Egypt Mortimer’s “Daniel Isn’t Real” while also writing and directing a couple of impressive charmers along the way (“After Everything,” “Mark, Mary & Some Other People”). Now only 28 years old and already with her third feature in the can, Marks is poised to make a splash at Sundance with the Amazon-backed “Don’t Make Me Go,” a road trip dramedy starring John Cho as a dying single dad who decides to drive his teenager daughter across the country in search of the mom who abandoned her (Kaya Scodelario factors into the cast somehow, but it’s currently unclear who she plays).
That the movie is scripted by “This Is Us” vet Vera Herbert might suggest a tear-jerker in the making, but the fierce comic wit on display in Marks’ previous work should be enough to keep this story from stalling out. —DE
Director: Riley Stearns
Cast: Karen Gillan, Aaron Paul, Beulah Koale
Few filmmakers working today are as skilled at delivering fully believable, wholly flawed characters and then absolutely tearing them to shreds quite like “Faults” and “The Art of Self-Defense” director and writer Riley Stearns. Chipping away at what makes his layered creations feel human — and thus finding something even more human underneath — is kind of Stearns’ thing, and he appears to be taking that obsession to wild new ends in his latest, “Dual.”
Set in a future where human cloning isn’t just possible, but something even everyday people can utilize, the film follows Sarah (Karen Gillan), a terminally ill woman who decides to clone herself to essentially take over her life. But when the real Sarah makes a sudden recovery, she must face with her own clone in a duel (get it?) to the death. The film was shot entirely in Tampere, Finland in the autumn of 2020, after Stearns and co. couldn’t locate a COVID-safe locale in the United States or Canada. —KE
“Emily the Criminal”
Director: John Patton Ford
Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Theo Rossi
First-time feature filmmaker John Patton Ford seems to have a knack for casting already. You say “Emily the Criminal” and “she’s played by Aubrey Plaza,” and you’ve already got a tone, a worldview, even (as the kids say) a vibe in mind. The crime dramedy follows the eponymous Emily “who gets involved in a credit card scam after being saddled with debt, what pulls her into the criminal and deadly underworld of Los Angeles.”
Plaza is a Sundance regular, and each subsequent showing at the festival — from “Life After Beth” to “Ingrid Goes West” and “Black Bear” — have seemed perfect fits for the event, even as they dramatically expand her range. A thrilling lead role like this fits into all that very nicely. —KE
“Everything Everywhere All at Once”
Director: Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, James Hong, Jamie Lee Curtis
Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, known collectively as Daniels, dominated buzz at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival with their feature directorial debut “Swiss Army Man.” The film, starring Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano, won the filmmaking duo the festival’s Directing Award and led many in the industry to wonder how the hell they would follow-up their bold and unconventional debut. That wait has lasted over five years now.
The duo went their separate ways in the years that followed, with Scheinert making Sundance comedy “The Death of Dick Long” and helming an episode of Showtime’s “On Becoming a God in Central Florida” and Kwan directing an episode of “Legion.” The only shared credit the two have since “Swiss Army Man” is an episode of Awkwafina’s comedy series “Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens.” All of this brings us to “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” Daniels’ highly-anticipated (and fittingly mysterious) second feature film that is in post-production and should be ready for Sundance 2022. —ZS
Directors: Violet Columbus and Ben Klein
Directed by Ben Klein and Violet Columbus (daughter of executive producer Christopher Columbus), “The Exiles” follows “Who Killed Vincent Chin?” filmmaker Christine Choy as the acclaimed documentarian and NYU professor tracks down three exiled dissidents from the Tiananmen Square massacre in the hopes of achieving closure on a project she began shooting in 1989.
Little else is currently known about “The Exiles,” but Columbus and Klein’s Sundance-tipped debut already evokes non-fiction projects as varied as “Shirkers” and “Waltz with Bashir,” and seems primed to reflect on the lingering aftermath from Tiananmen Square, as well as the various ways its memory continues to resonate at home and throughout the Chinese diaspora. At the very least, the film is sure to call greater attention to “Vincent Chin” and the rest of Choy’s vital body of work at a time when COVID-era violence against the Asian-American community remains a crisis unto itself. —DE
Director: Andrew Ahn
Cast: Joel Kim Booster, Bowen Yang, Matt Rogers, James Scully
Jane Austen goes to the Fire Island Pines? The gays aren’t going to survive this “Pride and Prejudice”-inspired twist on a weeklong vacation set in the gay mecca outside New York City, from “Spa Night” director Andrew Ahn, written by and starring beloved Insta comedian and thot Joel Kim Booster, and co-starring “Las Culturistas” podcast co-hosts Bowen Yang and Matt Rogers, plus “You” heartthrob James Scully, best known as Forty Quinn (RIP) on the soapy Netflix smash.
Real-life besties Yang and Kim Booster also play BFFs in this romantic comedy awash in cheap rosé and the various dramas of a clique of gay friends. Searchlight Pictures and Hulu team to release the film, which shot this past summer on location after originating as a Quibi (RIP) series, now refashioned into a feature. CalArts grad Ahn already proved his mettle back in Sundance 2016 with the moving, Koreatown-set coming-out drama “Spa Night,” so it’s likely we’ll see the filmmaker again at Park City. And with Searchlight and Hulu at the helm, “Fire Island” stands to be a breakout hit — not to mention a much-needed dose of sassy, smart gay representation on screens — a la “Palm Springs.” —RL
“Fire of Love”
Director: Sara Dosa
Featured as part of the Hot Docs forum promoting upcoming documentary projects, “Fire of Love” sounds like the kind of warm, accessible portrait that could break out of Sundance’s documentary section. The film is part volcanology documentary and part love story in centering on Katia and Maurice Krafft, a married pair of Alsatian French volcano scientists who died during an eruption on Japan’s Mount Unzen in 1991. The couple were featured in Werner Herzog’s own exploration of active volcanoes, 2016’s “Into the Inferno.” The Kraffts were known as pioneers in their field, filming and recording volcanoes, and often in dangerously close proximity to their lava flows.
Directed by Peabody-winner Sara Dosa (a producer on “Audrie & Daisy” and director of the mycology doc “The Last Season”), “Fire of Love” uses archival footage, epistolary writings, and illustrations to chart the pair’s emotional and groundbreaking bond. The creative team on the film worked from more than 200 hours of footage the Kraffts shot over the course of two decades. Per the filmmakers, “Fire of Love” will be told in the style of the French New Wave, which Dosa said “formed the cultural landscape as Katia and Maurice came of age” and “seemed [like a] period-specific, poetic and playful way through which to explore this story of the Earth.” —RL
Director: Eva Longoria
Cast: Jesse Garcia, Tony Shalhoub, Dennis Haysbert, Emilio Rivera, Matt Walsh, Annie Gonzalez, Lora Martinez-Cunningham
“Flamin’ Hot,” inspired by the title’s namesake junk-food favorite, certainly turned more than few heads (and possibly cheese curds) when the movie was announced back in 2019 as the feature debut of Eva Longoria. A feature film using a beloved Frito-Lay, crunchy corn puff as its founding IP? Anything’s possible.
But no, this isn’t a film about anthropomorphized garbage food or powdery orange dust wreaking havoc on grubby hands. Instead, the film centers on Richard Montañez, the Mexican American who turned the iconic snack into a global pop-culture phenomenon that disrupted the food industry. The cast features Jesse Garcia as the famed inventor, plus Tony Shalhoub, Dennis Haysbert, Emilio Rivera, Matt Walsh, Annie Gonzalez, and Lora Martinez-Cunningham.
“It’s rags to riches, it’s American dream 101, it’s about perseverance, it’s about the underdog. But at the end of the day, it’s also about one person’s perspective and struggle within themselves. So it’s a beautiful, beautiful biopic,” Longoria recently said. Sundance is always eager to boost the profiles of actresses turned feature filmmakers (see last year’s “Passing” from Rebecca Hall), and with production wrapped back in August, this seems a possible entry for an out-of-competition premiere. —RL
“Frybread Face and Me”
Director: Billy Luther
Cast: Keir Tallman, Charley Hogan, Sarah H. Natani, Martin Sensmeier, Kahara Hodges, MorningStar Angeline
Since his 2007 debut “Miss Navajo,” Billy Luther has offered compelling nonfiction depictions of Native American lives across the U.S. that have been featured on PBS, MTV, and earned him an International Documentary Association nomination. With the backing of executive producer Taika Waititi — whose track record of spotting hot projects from indigenous creators includes 2021 TIFF standout “Night Raiders” — Luther will keep his focus on Native culture for his narrative debut, a project he worked on as part of last year’s Sundance Institute Directors and Screenwriters Labs. It tells the story of 12-year-old city kid Benny, whose eyes are opened to his own family and history after he’s sent to live on his grandmother’s ranch on the Navajo reservation. —CL
“God Is a Bullet”
Director: Nick Cassavetes
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Maika Monroe, January Jones, Andrew Dice Clay
Nick Cassavetes, son of John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands, has had an eclectic directing career with films such as thriller “John Q,” romance “The Notebook,” dramas “My Sister’s Keeper” and “Alpha Dog,” and comedy “The Other Woman.” So what’s next? An adaptation of Boston Teran’s novel “God Is a Bullet,” which was officially announced in March with a starry cast that includes Jamie Foxx, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and Sundance favorite Maika Monroe.
The story concerns a detective whose ex-wife is murdered and daughter kidnapped by a satanic cult. When the formal investigation leads nowhere, the detective quits and decides to infiltrate the cult himself to find answers. Cassavetes said of the film in a statement, “It’s a magnificent, ultra-dark work that is somehow both intensely frightening and literate, inspired by true events, with the most amazing cast of actors.” —ZS
Director: Daniel Antebi
Cast: Christiane Seidel, Jared Abrhamson, Ben Groh, Dion Costelloe, Liz Caribel Sierra
Fresh off the wide acclaim of their 2019 Cannes pick “The Climb,” Michael Angelo Covino and Kyle Marvin signed their first-look deal with Topic Studios with a mission to elevate fresh talent. One of the first fruits of that pact is “God’s Time,” the debut feature from writer-director Daniel Antebi. The pandemic-set comedy stars Ben Groh as Dev and Dion Costelloe as Luca, who race through New York to stop Regina (Liz Caribel Sierra), who is on a mission to murder he ex-boyfriend. Antebi, an 2019 Sundance Ignite and 2020 Sundance Screenwriters Intensive alum, developed the story with Groh and Costelloe. —CL
“Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul”
Director: Adamma Ebo
Cast: Regina Hall, Sterling K. Brown
Shot in faux-documentary style and tracing the outrageous story of a Southern Baptist megachurch’s pastor and first lady in their attempts to resurrect their parish following a scandal, Adamma Ebo’s short “Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul” caught the attention of Issa Rae, who featured it on her #ShortFilmSundays platform in 2019.
Even more stars have signed on to Ebo’s feature adaptation of the short, which was selected for the 2019 Sundance Screenwriting Intensive: Daniel Kaluuya is among the producers, while Sterling K. Brown and Regina Hall play the pastor and his wife. The addition of such seasoned talent to Ebo’s filmmaking arsenal could elevate her already hilarious and well-crafted story and introduce her sharp voice to a broader audience. —CL
“The House Band”
Director: Laura Brownson
After nearly 15 years of experience in narrative features and TV, Laura Brownson’s work over the last decade has seen her turn to nonfiction, with a taste for capturing controversial and important topics like in the DOC NYC prize-winner “Lemon” and the Rachel Dolezal portrait “The Rachel Divide,” which premiered on Netflix in 2018.
Up next is “The House Band,” which examines the increasing economic divide through the lens of Jacob and his four homeless bandmates, who have become the de-facto house band for a hip eatery on the Venice Beach Boardwalk. The boardwalk, a famed tourist attraction, became a flashpoint during the pandemic as its homeless population increased, creating tension with nearby wealthy homeowners and prompting the controversial sheriff to intervene. Brownson’s approach suggests she could bring much-needed intimacy and humanity to the fraught discourse around one of society’s most pressing problems. —CL
Director: Brandon Cronenberg
Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Cleopatra Coleman, Mia Goth
Filmmaker Brandon Cronenberg has surpassed the label of simply being the progeny of a certain other director known for eviscerating body horror and indicting depictions of technology. His last film, the skull-melting body-snatching sci-fi thriller “Possessor,” wowed Sundance nearly a decade after Cronenberg’s first film, the 2012 Cannes Un Certain regard premiere “Antiviral,” heralded his promise.
Now, Neon and Topic Studios (the joint forces behind this year’s awards darling “Spencer”) have shepherded his latest film, “Infinity Pool.” It’s another sci-fi thriller, this time about a vacation gone wrong, and starring Alexander Skarsgård, Cleopatra Coleman, and Mia Goth. The official logline reads: “James and Em are young, rich, in love, and on vacation. Their all-inclusive resort boasts island tours and gleaming beaches. But outside of the hotel gates waits something much more dangerous and seductive, beyond the edge of paradise.” With filming wrapped earlier this fall, “Infinity Pool” could easily wind up in Sundance’s NEXT Section, although Brandon Cronenberg is certainly ready for an even more high-profile slot. —RL
Director: Steve Buscemi
Cast: Tessa Thompson
The pandemic may not dampen Sundance 2022 as much as it did Sundance 2021, but its effect on the films that play the fest will likely be even more pronounced. Virtually (and perhaps literally) every movie that premieres in Park City next January will have been shot during COVID, which means that we could be in for a litany of single-location stories in the vein of Antoine Fuqua’s recent Netflix remake of “The Guilty.”
The Jake Gyllenhaal thriller certainly seems like the clearest precursor to “The Listener,” which stars Tessa Thompson as a suicide helpline volunteer who struggles to cope with the uptick in calls and the growing threat of losing someone on the other end of the phone. A Sundance shoo-in even if it weren’t also Steve Buscemi’s first movie as a director since 2007’s similarly dialogue-driven “Interview,” “The Listener” will likely be a bit less high-strung than “The Guilty” — one imagines that Alessandro Camon’s script will cleave closer to drama than thriller — but it sounds all the more compelling for that, and should provide Thompson with yet another showcase role. —DE
“Mack & Rita”
Director: Katie Aselton
Cast: Elizabeth Lailas, Diane Keaton, Taylour Paige, Simon Rex
A body-swap comedy starring Elizabeth Lail as a California thirty-something who loves her grandma-inspired lifestyle (dinner at 4PM, chunky sweaters year-round, etc.) until the sound bath regression pod at her best friend’s bachelorette party transforms her into a 70-year-old woman played by Diane Keaton, Katie Aselton’s “Mack & Rita” might sound a little broad for a Sundance premiere on paper. But Aselton’s indie cred — along with a cast that includes “Zola” star Taylour Paige and man of the hour Simon Rex — should help to ensure that her first feature as writer-director since the 2012 thriller “Black Rock” skews a lot fresher than the likes of “Book Club” (no disrespect to that airplane movie masterpiece).
Keaton hasn’t strayed too far from her very comfortable comfort zone in any of her recent film work, but her performance as the hot pope’s confidante in HBO’s “The Young Pope” suggests a renewed willingness to defy expectations and get a little messy. If “Mack & Rita” allows Keaton to enjoy the best of both worlds, it could be a bonafide festival hit. —DE
“Mass Effect: The Story of YouTube”
Director: Alex Winter
Best known for playing one of the titular roles in the “Bill & Ted” franchise opposite Keanu Reeves, much of Alex Winter’s recent work had been behind the camera, directing documentaries on Napster, the Silk Road, and blockchain tech. His latest dive into internet culture is focused on the double-edged sword of YouTube: As much as the platform’s rise since its 2005 launch has revolutionized content creation and distribution, it also has aided the dissemination of misinformation.
With the backing of “WeWork: Or The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn” studio Olive Hill Media and TIME Studios and a zeitgeisty topic, the ahead-of-the-curve Winter’s latest arrives at an opportune moment where nonfiction-hungry audiences are eager for insight into how technology is contributing to societal turmoil. —CL
Courtesy of Hulu
“One More Time”
Director: Alan D. Boyd
If the smash — and now surely Oscar-bound — success of Questlove’s “Summer of Soul” is any testament, music documentaries have the power to launch out of the Sundance Film Festival. With “One More Time,” composer Alan D. Boyd turns his eye on the London session musicians of the 1950s through ‘80s, the forces behind some of the most iconic songs out of the UK’s golden age of record music. The feature-length documentary reunites the musicians for new studio sessions out of London, transporting us back to a bygone era. From James Bond to the Beatles, Ziggy to Zeppelin, the film promises to peek behind the music of the 20th century’s greatest songs. —RL
“Pretty Red Dress”
Director: Dionne Edwards
Cast: Eliot Sumner, Nicholas Bishop, Edwin de la Renta, Natey Jones, Alexandra Burke, Temilola Olatunbosun
Starring an eye-popping array of fresh talents, including Eliot Sumner — offspring of Sting and Trudie Styler, and already a multi-hyphenate performer best known for their musical chops — Dionne Edwards’ first feature film packs an intriguing premise: it “follows a South London family and how one red dress is the center of their lives.” Not much else is known about the film, though Edward did tell Screen that the titular dress “sparks a deeply personal journey for each of the characters.” Filming took place in London over 8 weeks this past spring, wrapping production in June. —KE
Director: Lena Dunham
Cast: Taylour Paige, Lena Dunham, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Scott Speedman, Jon Bernthal, Kristine Froseth, Tommy Dorfman
Lena Dunham is bouncing back into the film space in a big way. First up, “Sharp Stick,” her first feature film in more than a decade. The “Tiny Furniture” auteur both wrote and directed the predictably super-secret indie, which was made using strict COVID protocols in early 2021. Whatever the film may hold, Dunham has an enviable cast to bolster it, including Taylour Paige, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Jon Bernthal.
The only thing we think of when we hear “sharp stick” is the old idiom “better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick,” which opens all sorts compelling possibilities for Dunham’s latest. —KE
Director: Florian Zeller
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern, Vanessa Kirby, Zen McGrath, Anthony Hopkins
The last time playwright Florian Zeller adapted one of his works for the screen, it was his feature directorial debut “The Father,” which dazzled Sundance 2020 on its way to six Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture) and wins for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor for Anthony Hopkins. Zeller’s next movie, “The Son,” has similar DNA, as it’s another adaptation of one of the director’s stage works.
This time it’s Zeller’s 2018 play of the same name, which centers on a husband whose life is thrown into disarray when his ex-wife shows up with their troubled and angry teenage son. Zeller has assembled a heavyweight cast of dramatic actors, from Hugh Jackman to Laura Dern and Vanessa Kirby, and has recruited his Oscar-winning Hopkins to appear in a supporting role. The film shot from August to October, so it’s not out of the question for Zeller to make a tight turnaround and blow the roof off of Park City once again. —ZS
Sony Pictures Classics
Director: Kyra Sedgwick
Cast: Kyle Allen, Alexandra Shipp, Kevin Bacon, Simon Helberg, Carrie Preston
Emmy winner Kyra Sedgwick has directed television films in the past, but she’s tacking on her biggest directorial effort to date with Black List script “Space Oddity.” The film stars rising actor Kyle Allen as a young man who signs up for a one-way mission to Mars only to then start an unexpected romance with a newcomer to his small town. The relationship forces Allen’s character to choose between a journey to the stars or a life more earthbound.
Sundance loves a good breakout, and Allen could be just the actor. Sedgwick said of the film in a statement, “One of the things we want to do with this movie is generate hope. There is so much information out in the world today, and it’s easy for things to seem bleak, but we need to stay optimistic so we can keep fighting because our planet is worth fighting for.” —ZS
“Spin Me Round”
Director: Jeff Baena
Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie, Alessandro Nivola, Debby Ryan, Tim Heidecker, Lil Rel Howrey, Molly Shannon
It may not be a Sundance without a new Aubrey Plaza joint, but it’s definitely not a Sundance without a new Jeff Baena and Aubrey Plaza joint. The long-time partners (both personally and professionally) have already brought four films to the festival, so their latest is perhaps the most obvious lock to appear on this list. Like 2020’s “Horse Girl,” the film was directed by Baena but written in tandem with his other frequent star, Alison Brie.
The comedy follows a woman who “wins an all-expenses trip to a company’s gorgeous ‘institute’ outside of Florence, and also the chance to meet the restaurant chain’s wealthy and charismatic owner. She finds a different adventure than the one she imagined.” Big “White Lotus” vibes? —KE
Untitled David Bowie Documentary
Director: Brett Morgen
Announced just days before the publication of this list (though apparently many years in the making), a new top-secret David Bowie project seems poised to hit the festival circuit, and soon. From Brett Morgen, the director behind “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck,” “Jane,” and “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” the hybrid film “is based on thousands of hours of rarely seen concert and performance footage of Ziggy, who died from liver cancer in January 2016.”
Sources told the publication that Morgen has been working on the Bowie film — which has yet to announce a title — for the past four years. A source also said the film is “neither documentary nor biography, but an immersive cinematic experience built, in part, upon thousands of hours of never before seen material.” Morgen is a Sundance regular, and this is just the sort of project that could delight Sundance audiences, who often go wild for inventive music docs. —KE
Untitled Justin Benson/Aaron Moorhead Film (AKA “Something in the Dirt”)
Director: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
Prolific indie whiz kids Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have been steadily putting out compelling sci-fi-inflected features over the last decade, including “Spring” and “The Endless,” and anyone paying attention to the rhythms of their work has likely noticed something obvious: we’re due for a new one. While the pair’s latest (until they take on a little series called “Moon Knight”) isn’t exactly secret, IMDb has a title and everything, but sources told us not to take that at face value, everything about it is a mystery. Even the cast!
The filmmaking duo get more ambitious with each subsequent film, which means that no matter what they find (in the dirt?), genre fans will eat this one up. We’re making space for it on our Midnight schedule right now. —KE
Untitled Magic Johnson Docuseries
Director: Rick Famuyiwa
Chronicling the on- and off-court life of Los Angeles Lakers Hall of Famer Earvin “Magic” Johnson, this untitled four-part documentary series was announced by Apple TV+ in early November. The notably secretive company has yet to confirm any of the participating interview subjects (aside from Johnson himself, who referred to the project as “my upcoming docuseries” when tweeting the news), but promises to highlight his many accomplishments, as described by “heavyweights in business and politics” (per Apple).
Produced by New Slate Ventures and XTR Production, the project does sport an elite team behind-the-camera: “Dope” and “The Chi” director Rick Famuyiwa is helming all four episodes, which will be DP’d by “Mudbound” Oscar nominee Rachel Morrison. —BT
Untitled Martha Stewart Documentary
Director: R.J. Cutler
At the age of 80 and after four decades in the public eye, Martha Stewart has never been more fascinating. Most recently, much of the attention has been around her friendship and partnership with Snoop Dogg, and her ethereal social media dispatches that chronicle the always-composed Stewart’s exquisite taste and wry sense of humor (“Tonight: Wine, gin, wine, gin, gin, gin, gin, gin — Ryan Reynolds’ gin. Blake Lively’s husband Ryan Reyonld’s gin.”) But it’s how Stewart got here that will likely make up the bulk of R.J. Cutler’s documentary about the domestic icon.
Of course, there’s the insider trading conviction that sent her to prison in 2004 and her Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia empire. But then there’s her youth spent babysitting the children of Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra, her modeling days, her second career on Wall Street, and finally the cookbook that would lay her path to stardom. Cutler, who earned a Oscar nomination for “The War Room” and directed “Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry,” had his pick of distributors for the project, which was ultimately sold to Netflix, a vote of confidence in the promise of Cutler’s storytelling and his fabulous subject. —CL
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink, Hong Chau, Samantha Morton, Ty Simpkins
Darren Aronofsky got his start at the Sundance Film Festival when his feature debut “Pi” world premiered in Park City in 1998 and won him the festival’s Directing Award. The director then leveled up to Cannes (“Requiem for a Dream”) and most notably Venice (“The Wrestler,” “Black Swan,” “mother!”), where he won the Golden Lion with “The Wrestler.” Could a return trip to Sundance be in the cards for Aronofsky?
The director is back in fine form with “The Whale,” the story of a reclusive English teacher suffering from severe obesity who attempts to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter for one last chance at redemption. The movie is based on Samuel D. Hunter’s critically acclaimed 2012 play of the same name. Best of all, Brendan Fraser is starring in the lead role in what many fans are hoping is a dramatic comeback for the actor. —ZS
Director: Billy Porter
Cast: Eva Reign, Abubakr Ali
The category is… queer coming-of-age high-school dramedy from “Pose” icon and LGBTQ trailblazer Billy Porter, making his feature directorial debut as the start of what already looks to be a busy filmmaking career. “What If?” makes a big for a new kind of teen comedy, here with a queer twist in following two high-school kids — one a bashful teen boy and the other a trans girl — as they navigate a senior-year relationship.
The film stars discoveries Eva Reign and Abubakr Ali as Kelsa and Kahl who, after posting about his crush online, gets the support of the student body to go for it. “What If?” is backed by queer cinema pioneer Christine Vachon (of Killer Films) as producer, which positions the film already as appointment LGBTQ viewing. —RL
“When You Finish Saving the World”
Director: Jesse Eisenberg
Cast: Finn Wolfhard, Julianne Moore
Jesse Eisenberg has been busy since earning a Best Actor nomination for his turn as Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network” in 2010. In addition to acting in a parade of indies and studio movies, his short stories and other writings have been published dozens of times in The New Yorker and McSweeney’s, he’s written plays that were performed on Broadway and the West End, and last year wrote the audio drama “When You Finish Saving the World.”
Eisenberg, however, has never directed a film until now: He adapted and is directing a film version of his audio play, enlisting Finn Wolfhard (“Stranger Things”) to reprise his role and tapping Julianne Moore to play Wolfhard’s mother. The comedy-drama from A24 tells the story of three different family members at different stages of their lives, with Emma Stone, Dave McCary, and Moore as producers. —CL