The votes are in! After nine days of screenings (all online for the second year in a row)—including 84 feature films and 59 short films—the 2022 Sundance Film Festival announced the recipients of this years’ festival awards.
With a total of 26 jury-awarded and six audience-awarded prizes, Grand Jury Prizes were awarded to Nanny (U.S. Dramatic), The Exiles (U.S. Documentary), Utama (World Cinema Dramatic), and All That Breathes (World Cinema Documentary). Audience Awards were presented to Navalny (U.S. Documentary), Cha Cha Real Smooth (U.S. Dramatic), Girl Picture (World Cinema Dramatic), The Territory (World Cinema Documentary), Framing Agnes (NEXT), with Navalny winning the Festival Favorite Award.
Acquired Films To Watch For
One of this year’s big award winners was snatched up in a $15 million distribution deal. Cha Cha Real Smooth is a feature film by writer-director (and actor) Cooper Raiff (Shithouse). It’s the story of a New Jersey party starter, Andrew (Raiff), working the bar mitzvah circuit as he’s trying to figure out his life after college. On the party circuit, he meets young mother Domino (Dakota Johnson), and the two grow close—and things get complicated—after he begins sitting for her autistic daughter (Vanessa Burghardt).
On paper, the story of Cha Cha Real Smooth seems real thin, but there’s just enough plot to carry all of the heart and charm delivered by the dialogue and the cast’s performances. The supporting cast is stacked with the likes of Leslie Mann and Brad Garrett, who play Andrew’s mother and stepfather and bring humor and humanity to the roles.
While the characters are delightfully messy in their stumbling earnestness to succeed at a lot of firsts (first kiss, first real job, first committed relationships), the film is anything but messy. The emotion is tender and full, but there’s no wallowing in the melodrama here. Every emotional beat is keen and sharply delivered, like a quick knife into the heart, not a hammer bludgeoned over the head. Even the characters we’re “not supposed” to like—Garrett as stepdad and Raúl Castillo as Domino’s fiancé—are treated with compassion, their full humanity made visible in just the right moments as our understanding grows with the main character’s. Seeing how Andrew’s relationships with everyone around him, not just Domino, develop is the soul of this film. His moments with his little brother and Domino’s daughter are particularly memorable, and any time Mann is on screen is an absolute treat.
As much as Cha Cha Real Smooth is about relationships and love, it doesn’t oversimplify naturally complicated situations like single motherhood and dating to get a happy ending. Cha Cha Real Smooth recognizes that there is more to relationships than loving someone and loving someone doesn’t mean losing yourself.
Apple TV acquired the 2022 Sundance Film Festival U.S. Dramatic Competition Audience Award winner Cha Cha Real Smooth for $15 million.
Dakota Johnson plays the lead role in another film that landed a big distribution deal. Am I OK? Is closer to a mainstream “dramedy”—with some indie flavor— than some of the other films picked up from this year’s fest, and it seems like a good fit for HBO Max and Warner Bros., which acquired it. It’s partly a story about best friends growing up and growing apart and partly a story about coming out in your 30s. The two plotlines diverge as the film goes on, rather than coming together, leaving both resolutions to fall a little flat at the end.
Am I OK? is directed by the formidable comedic powerhouse Tig Notaro, along with her wife Stephanie Allynne. The standup comedian is known for her ability to have you in stitches in one second then in tears the next as she frankly divulges the details of her life, including her cancer diagnosis. As such, I kept waiting for the film to either press the humor and deliver more jokes or press the emotion and deliver more depth of feeling. Either way, it felt like it needed more of it.
Everyone in this film is extremely charming, however, and the chemistry between the two leads is genuinely enjoyable to watch. In a Sundance Q&A, Dakota Johnson quipped that she prepared for the role of Lucy—a thirty-something delving into her sexual identity for the first time—by making out with a lot of girls. Sonoya Mizuno stands out as life-long best friend Jane, a part she related to, saying, “I connected to being a woman in my 30s and not feeling like I have everything figured out. Trying to juggle a career, relationships and wanting to have a family and sexuality. All of the things women have to contend with.”
In the end, Am I OK? is a fun feature about female friendship that would be a worthwhile addition to your streaming queue once it arrives on HBO Max.
Some of the other acquired 2022 Sundance films to add to your streaming queues and watchlists include:
- The stalker-driven horror movie Watcher, acquired by IFC Midnight and Shudder. Read Salt Lake magazine’s review of Watcher.
- Resurrection, another film in a similar vein also acquired by IFC Midnight and Shudder. Read Salt Lake magazine’s review of Resurrection.
- Speak No Evil, also bought-up by Shudder, a horror film about the dangers of being too polite. Read Salt Lake magazine’s review of Speak No Evil.
- You Won’t Be Alone, a foreign period folk horror piece bought by Focus Features. Read Salt Lake magazine’s review of You Won’t Be Alone.
- Master, rounding out the horror acquisitions with a narrative driven by the terrors of systemic and institutional racism, bought by Amazon Studios. Read Salt Lake magazine’s review of Master.
- Fire Of Love, the archival footage documentary about the love between two scientists and for volcanoes, acquired by National Geographic. Read Salt Lake magazine’s review of Fire Of Love.
- The Janes, a documentary about an underground network of women providing abortions in the 60s, acquired by HBO Documentary Films. Read Salt Lake magazine’s review of The Janes.
- The Princess, also acquired by HBO, the latest offering in documentary retellings of Princess Diana’s life. Read Salt Lake magazine’s review of The Princess.
Award Winners Waiting On Acquisition
A U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award: Uncompromising Artistic Vision was presented to Bradley Rust Gray for blood.
After the death of her husband, a young woman travels to Japan where she finds solace in an old friend. But when comforting turns to affection, she realizes she must give herself permission before she can fall in love again. Juror Payman Maadi said, “Rust gently walks us through an authentic journey of grief that invites us to observe intimate moments of human connection. It is sometimes the small changes that leave a lasting effect on your life. Sometimes to ease your pain and find yourself, you have to leave your comfortable surroundings to find a world that will help you know yourself better.”
A World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award: Acting was presented to Teresa Sánchez for Dos Estaciones.
In the bucolic hills of Mexico’s Jalisco highlands, iron-willed businesswoman Maria Garcia fights the impending collapse of her tequila factory. Juror La Frances Hui said, “This performance is a total standout. This actress delivers the complexity of a factory owner bearing the weight of a family business under threat. Her nuanced performance embodies toughness, loneliness, a yearning for love, and an ignitable rage that brings the character fully alive and infinitely fascinating to follow.”