Culture / Entertainment

Award Worthy Movies to Stream Before Oscar Season — These Sundance Picks Still Stand Up

Hulu, Amazon Prime and Peacock Picks

BY // 12.25.22

The week between Christmas and New Year’s promises to be one of the highest grossing weeks of the year for movie theaters. With many off work and out of school, and any COVID restrictions a thing of the distant past in the United States, it is a holiday ritual that will be embraced.

I have my own holiday ritual, which includes movies but not at theaters. After covering the Sundance Film Festival for more than a decade, I spend the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve at home preparing for the next Sundance, which takes each January in Park City, Utah and catching up on some of the films that I missed at the previous year’s festival.

Last January’s Sundance was unusual. Festival organizers originally planned for a hybrid virtual and in-person event but were forced to cancel the in-person part of the program on short notice due to the rise in COVID cases which took much of the joy out of the festival.

A major part of the fun of Sundance is when an audience discovers films that are destined to be a hit and participates in the traditional post-film Q&A of the filmmakers. Watching films from your computer or TV at home is undoubtably more convenient. But it’s not nearly as exciting, with the live audience buzz factor missing.

Sundance 2022 was a relatively quiet festival. I can’t claim to have discovered the Oscar winner for best picture and best documentary as I did in 2021, when I excitedly (and accurately) touted Summer of Soul and CODA , which went on to win Oscars for best documentary and best picture respectively.

Still, there are Sundance movies and actors that have been nominated for Golden Globes or are likely to receive Oscar nominations worth catching up on. These are the 2022 Sundance Movies You Shouldn’t Miss:

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Watcher

Watcher follows Julia, an actress (played by Maika Monroe) who moves to Romania with her husband and notices a mysterious stranger watching her from an adjacent building as a serial killer roams the city. Neither her husband nor her building management gives her concerns any countenance.

The movie is structured in the old familiar Alfred Hitchcock style, with suspense and a growing unease building slowly and without violence. It is easy to identify with Julia as she struggles with not speaking the language, isolation and increasing paranoia.

Maika Monroe appears in <i>Watcher</i> directed by Chloe Okuno.
Maika Monroe appears in Watcher directed by Chloe Okuno.

What is real and what is not? The city of Budapest is very much a character in the film with its looming shadows, rain-soaked empty streets and men shrouded in overcoats. To say more will spoil Watcher, but its clever, heart pounding ending contains enough twist to make you to check your windows and doors.

It’s a gem of a movie from first time filmmaker Chloe Okuno.

Watcher is streaming on AMC+ and available to rent on Amazon Prime.

Nanny

Nanny is a psychological thriller that borders on a slow moving horror film. It follows Aisha, a Senegalese undocumented immigrant, employed as a nanny for a well to do but dysfunctional family in New York City. While working to earn enough money to bring her son to the United States, Aisha starts having terrifying visions that make her wary of her employers.

Sundance film Nanny
Nanny, a thriller, won the grand jury award at the Sundance Film Festival

Nanny is a difficult movie to pigeonhole and very much a quirky Sundance film. It is part story of an immigrant reaching for the American dream, but with dollops of supernatural, mystical and folklore. It is beautifully filmed with excellent acting by Anna Diop as the nanny. Expertly crafted by first time director Nikyatu Jusu, Nanny received positive reviews from both Sundance audiences and critics and nabbed the coveted grand jury award for best United States drama.

The movie has been on Amazon Prime for little more than a week with movie watchers either loving it or expecting more of a horror film. Or a more satisfying ending. Now, you can debate the ending yourself.

Nanny is streaming on Amazon Prime.

Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul

In Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul, Lee-Curtis Childs, a pastor and his wife Trinitie are the leaders of Wander to Greater Paths Baptist Church. They have a passion for Prada, warehouse size closets and golden thrones from which they minister to their flock. The couple have fallen from grace and have lost all but five of their once 25,000-member congregation to a new church dubbed Heaven’s House. They invite a film crew to document their post-scandal comeback which will occur on — when else? — Easter Sunday.

 Sterling K. Brown plays the disgraced leader, the stereotypical showman pastor, who preaches against homosexuality yet settles lawsuits brought by young boys. Regina Hall is masterful as the faithful, tough as nails wife. There are plenty of laughs early on as the movie lays out Pastor Childs’ mercenary and sexual proclivities and First Lady Trinitie’s stand-by-your man perseverance. The second half of the movie becomes more serious as the pastor’s wife must balance faith and her own beliefs against the hypocrisy that organized religion can bring.

Sundance Honk for Jesus
Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown appear in “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” (Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute)

Honk for Jesus was one of my Sundance favorites. Having grown up in the deep South with an abundance of mega churches all around, I definitely appreciated the satire. It was wonderful to see Sterling Brown after his stint as the serious Randal Pearson from the Emmy winning series This is Us transition to a buffoon-like character with outstanding comedic chops.

Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul is streaming on Peacock and is available to rent on Amazon Prime and Apple TV.

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande

Part of my process in choosing from the 120 movies featured at Sundance is the film’s title. Yep, for sure it is shallow but some titles draw you in and some don’t. With that weighty qualification, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande just didn’t appeal to me. I only streamed it when I started hearing Oscar buzz about Emma Thompson who plays Nancy Stokes, a middle aged, somewhat matronly widow who hires a young sex worker named Leo Grande to meet her in an anonymous hotel room in hopes of awakening sexual desire which had been absent in her marriage.

Leo Grande is set like a play with four separate meetings between Thompson and Daryl McCormack (who plays the smooth and charismatic Leo) with each meeting having its own vibe as these two strangers get to know each other in an intimate yet ultimately business relationship.

Sundance Good Luck to you Leo Grande
Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormick star in the Sundance pleaser “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande.”

I expected this comedy/drama to be hokey, cliche driven and repetitive. After all, coming of age sexual awakening films are a dime a dozen. I was wrong. This Sundance movie is an unexpected delight and shows what can be achieved with a strong script and actors that simply blow you away with their tenderness, vulnerability and chemistry.

Leo is captivating — compassionate, funny and tender. Nancy is neurotic — ashamed of her body, brittle and repressed.

This film is a groundbreaking movie. It addresses the needs of middle aged women and shame about sex with humor, tenderness and good taste. Emma Thompson, who never disappoints, makes everything look effortless. Up and coming Irish actor McCormack holds his own with Thompson. Expect to see a lot of Thompson in the awards season.

Note: this is an R rated film (with a beautifully shot full nude scene with Thompson) so it may not the best choice to watch with your kids or parents.

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is streaming on Hulu.

Jane Howze is the managing director of The Alexander Group, a national executive search firm. She has reported on the Sundance Film Festival for 14 years and counting now.

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