Omicron’s keeping Hollywood from jetting out to snowy Park City, Utah, for a second year in a row but the Sundance Film Festival soldiers on again virtually, with plenty of great cinema viewable from our couch.
Like last year’s online fest, there’s major acting talent – from Julianne Moore starring in Jesse Eisenberg’s directorial debut “When You Finish Saving the World” to a double dose of Dakota Johnson in “Am I OK?” and “Cha Cha Real Smooth.” Regina Hall also headlines a couple of projects – “Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul” with Sterling K. Brown as well as “Master” – and Lena Dunham returns to the director’s chair for “Sharp Stick.” Plus the documentary slate is particularly high profile this year, with movies focused on Princess Diana, Bill Cosby, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, and Ye.
Here are the best films we’ve seen so far at Sundance, ranked:
Director Mimi Cave takes on modern dating in this horror movie with shades of “American Psycho” and “Hannibal.” Noa (“Normal People” star Daisy Edgar-Jones) has had it with meeting people on apps when she has a grocery-store meet-cute with handsome vegetarian doctor Steve (Sebastian Stan). They hit off and start dating, but their relationship takes a gruesome turn when a romantic getaway turns into a fight for survival and the reveal of Steve’s creepy business for a rich clientele with distinct tastes. Though “Fresh” doesn’t do enough with its darkly comic sense of humor and shies away from gore (though is still plenty disturbing), you’ll never look at a Hello Fresh box the same way again.
4. ‘When You Finish Saving the World’
Jesse Eisenberg’s feature directorial debut is a dysfunctional family dramedy with standouts Julianne Moore and Finn Wolfhard as a mother and teen son who are both insufferable narcissists unable to get out of their own way. Ziggy (Wolfhard) livestreams shallow folk songs to his online following, his mom Evelyn (Moore) runs a women’s shelter but neither are very good at wielding their potentially powerful platforms. Each tries to find outside connections – Evelyn with supporting a teen (Billy Bryk) at the shelter, Ziggy with a politically active crush (Alisha Boe) – which leads to new understanding on all sides.
In the hostage drama based on a real-life story, John Boyega turns in a powerful portrayal – and more than ever reminds of a young Denzel Washington – as Brian Easley, an Iraq war veteran separated from his ex-wife and daughter. He walks into an Atlanta bank, takes hostages (Nicole Beharie and Selenis Leyva) and threatens to blow up the place if he doesn’t get his disability check from the VA. But the money isn’t as important to him as telling his story, and in his final role, Michael K. Williams is a moving presence as a police negotiator connecting with Brian on a soldier-to-soldier level in director’s Abi Damaris Corbin’s reminder of the importance to take care of those who serve.
Read more about ‘892’:Michael K. Williams imbued ‘tender spirit’ on the set of last movie
2. ‘The Princess’
Royal fans and those who dove into the many Diana projects of the past year, from critically acclaimed “Spencer” to much-derided “Diana: The Musical,” won’t learn anything earth-shatteringly new about her tragic story. However, the documentary acts as an essential companion to all that. Using only archival media coverage and interviews rather than talking heads, the film lays bare the media and public’s disconcerting obsession with the popular princess and the effect of constant paparazzi on Diana’s marriage to Prince Charles, their implosion and her 1997 death.
Like “Booksmart,” director Carey Williams’ excellently crafted college comedy takes the familiar “one crazy night” model for a spin while adding deeply affecting social commentary in regards to racism and prejudice. Black best friends Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins) and Sean (RJ Cyler) are college seniors preparing for a historic night of partying on campus when they find a young white girl unconscious in their house. Because of the optics, the pair and their Latino roommate Carlos (Sebastian Chacon) take matters into their own hands getting her help, leading to a series of misadventures and a gripping climax.