The 25 Best Movies of 2022 So Far – Paste – Paste Magazine

Despite 2022 decidedly not being ready for Morbin’ Time, audiences seem to be ready to return to theaters. After a few years of skittishness from studios (and a streaming gamble that saw HBO Max go from confusing gimmick to must-subscribe service), the blockbusters are back in full force. Some of them—held back just for this moment—are actually good. But what’s even more exciting is the renewed thirst among moviegoers for exciting and original indie fare; everyone on every Facebook timeline shared their one-sentence review of Everything Everywhere All at Once all at once. Alongside that unexpected smash, 2022 has seen a few other surprising mainstream heavy-hitters accompany new entries from beloved artists like David Cronenberg and Hong Sang-soo. Our favorites count these and movies from soon-to-be household names, dealing with subjects like the porn industry and creepypastas in far-flung locales like Iran, Chad, Tasmania and the halls of Downton Abbey.
As we collect our list of the best movies of the year (so far, anyways), we’ve also done our best to provide links to sites and services where you can watch our recommendations while some are still playing in theaters across the country.
Still, we left off a few films we think are worth tracking down whenever they’re available—films such as A Love Song, Marte Um, Girl Picture, Gentle and pretty much everything at this year’s True/False. These are deservedly getting a lot of attention, but either don’t yet have 2022 release date in the U.S. or are coming out later in the year. For those, you’ll have to stick around and find out how things shake out at the end of 2022. As for the movies that’ve already come out this year, well, don’t let anyone tell you that they aren’t making great new films, because this list was hard to cut down to just 25.
Here are the 25 best movies of 2022 so far:
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Release Date: January 7, 2022
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Stars: Amir Jadidi, Mohsen Tanabandeh, Alireza Jahandideh, Sahar Goldoost, Fereshteh Sadr Orafaie, Sarina Farhadi
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 127 minutes


Watch on Amazon Prime
What’s the price for having a conscience? Iranian master Asghar Farhadi’s A Hero spirals out a good deed to all its messy conclusions, providing fertile ground for the filmmaker’s command of aesthetic realism and closeknit interpersonal dynamics. Rahim (Amir Jadidi), a jailed debtor, returns a bag filled with money that he found on leave. The consequences from that act, pushed and prodded and wheedled by Farhadi’s script—which adds a deft understanding of social media to a sharply constructed web of relationships and reputations—are an endurance test for the tear ducts. Doomed nobility is the biggest ask for Jadidi, but his big toothy smile and world-beaten posture allow him to find the perfect amounts of charm (whether genuine or off-putting) or pathos (which we know he’d hate) in Rahim. Sahar Goldoost, Maryam Shahdaei and Alireza Jahandideh make the film a truly potent ensemble drama, while Farhadi’s daughter, Sarina Farhadi, has a memorable return to the screen a decade since her last role, in Farhadi’s A Separation.—Jacob Oller

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Release Date: March 4, 2022
Director: Kogonada
Stars: Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Justin H. Minh, Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja, Haley Lu Richardson, Sarita Choudhury
Rating: PG
Runtime: 96 minutes


Watch on Showtime
In After Yang, the sophomore narrative feature from video essayist-turned-filmmaker Kogonada, the near-future boasts a familiarity that is both comforting and disquieting. The idea that humanity continues to thrive despite the threat of imminent cataclysmic disaster certainly provides solace, but this seemingly idealistic alternative turns out to have its own distinct failings. In this timeline, childcare is virtually handed off to a class of “techno-sapien” laborers, purchased as programmable live-in nannies for children. Though it might meander at times, After Yang—based on Alexander Weinstein’s short story “Saying Goodbye to Yang”—is always emotionally intelligent and artfully prescient, showcasing Kogonada’s penchant for sparse storytelling even if the narrative throughlines don’t always feel as rewarding as the film’s aesthetic splendors. We’re introduced to one such future family in perhaps the most entertaining way possible. The film’s title card appears during a virtual dance competition, featuring families from around the world competing via synchronized choreography. Jake (Colin Farrell) and his wife Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) wear matching unitards with their daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) and her android brother Yang (Justin H. Minh), the family of four performing with nimble accuracy and an appropriate hint of playfulness. As such, it’s surprising when they’re eliminated for being out of sync—until they realize that Yang is robotically repeating the same dance move on a loop. Clearly having suffered a major malfunction, Jake resolves to find a way to fix Yang. Krya, however, sees this as an opportunity to let go of their robot nanny and finally step up for Mika as proper caretakers. Yet Mika can’t help but genuinely mourn the absence of her older brother, unable to understand how someone so integral to her life could simply cease to function merely as the result of planned obsolescence and “certified refurbished” scams. Jake and Mika effectively team up to search for a way to save Yang—the pursuit of which teaches Jake about Yang’s hidden interiority, and Mika about the precious (if fleeting) gift of love and connection. After Yang manages to weave together tender truths concerning grief and the delicateness of human connection while also making astute, sober insights on the future of corporeal autonomy and consumer-based surveillance systems. Sharply stylistic and acted with a whole lot of heart, After Yang may not surpass the solemn beauty of Columbus, but this cerebral sci-fi departure for Kogonada definitely delivers.—Natalia Keogan

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Release Date: January 14, 2022
Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Stars: Kaho Nakamura, Takeru Satoh, Ryô Narita, Lilas Ikuta, Shôta Sometani, Tina Tamashiro
Rating: PG
Runtime: 121 minutes


Available to rent
Belle explodes onto the screen with a bombastic concert in a virtual world. Known simply as U, it’s the ultimate virtual community where users can become entirely different from their dull real-life counterparts. Among them is one singer that has captured the love and adoration of billions. As the starlet Belle begins belting out her opening number, center stage on the back of a giant whale, it’s easy to be swept into this vibrant world. Thankfully, Belle has enough substance to back up this spectacle. The crux of writer/director Mamoru Hosoda’s latest film is a reimagined Beauty and the Beast mixed with teenage adversity in a digital wonderland. It’s a potpourri of hormones, misunderstandings and animation styles that recall his 2009 breakthrough Summer Wars. Belle even relies on the family dynamics seen in some of his later movies—like the lone outcast Ren in 2015’s The Boy and the Beast or the wolf siblings in 2012’s Wolf Children. Hosoda’s children have always had to endure great tragedies. It’s within this combination of family struggles and virtual reality that Belle finds its groove. Suzu (Kaho Nakamura) is a 17-year-old high school student who lives in the countryside with her father (Koji Yakusho). Although a few years have passed since the death of her mother, Suzu is still traumatized. She’s shut out the world around her, her despair sapping her of her joy and love of singing. Her relationship with her father is nonexistent, and she’s a certifiable pariah at school. Suzu takes the plunge and joins the world of U. This new world—free of the pressures of reality—allows Suzu to pursue singing once again. That’s until trouble arises in the form of a violent avatar known as “The Dragon.” Belle’s most spellbinding sequences come from inside the virtual world of U. Colorful 3D figures float through a kaleidoscope of colors and towering structures. The biggest setpieces in the movie take place here: An epic concert for billions of eager spectators, a battle through a castle—these are only a few of the memorable sights and sounds of U. To get an idea of what it sounds like, Nakamura’s contributions are like a mixture of rap and pop that becomes an instant earworm like on the opening title, “U.” The song brings in a wild rhythm while Nakamura races to keep up with the beat. It’s the perfect introduction to this futuristic virtual world. Other songs, like the ballad “Lend Me Your Voice” and the soaring anthem “A Million Miles Away,” are more traditional pieces that build up to crescendos that will have your hairs standing on end. Not only is it an intriguing retelling of Beauty and the Beast, it’s also a moving story about overcoming grief and seeking help when everything seems lost. Though it tackles a little too much, Belle is a triumph.—Max Covill

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Release Date: May 27, 2022
Director: Loren Bouchard, Bernard Derriman
Stars: H. Jon Benjamin, Dan Mintz, Eugene Mirman, Larry Murphy, John Roberts, Kristen Schaal, Zach Galifianakis, Kevin Kline
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 102 minutes


In theaters
The Bob’s Burgers Movie is a family recipe that warms the heart, griddle and soul. Loren Bouchard and Bernard Derriman translate the Belchers’ blue-collar experiences from a television snack to a feature-length meal without losing an ounce of the show’s secret sauce. It’s delectably reminiscent of The Simpsons Movie, both successfully stretching what could be a compact 30-minutes into a grander, more spectacular version with theatrical blockbuster freedoms. Bob and company cook a meaty treat for fans that hospitably welcomes newcomers not yet keen on the Belcher’s charms. The film treatment follows a week in the lives of grillmaster Bob Belcher (H. Jon Benjamin), his always exuberant wife Linda (John Roberts) and their three children: Louise (Kristen Schaal), Tina (Dan Mintz) and Gene (Eugene Mirman). Panic strikes when Bob’s denied an extension on their loan payment—monthly debts must be cleared in seven days or they lose the restaurant. Wonder Wharf’s upcoming festival should attract plenty of foot traffic for possible sales, but that point becomes moot when a pipe bursts and creates a hazardous hole that blocks access to their storefront. Also, there’s a dead body. Has Linda’s optimistic “Big Mom Energy” finally met its match? Visually, The Bob’s Burgers Movie sees an animation upgrade as flatter landscape drawings embrace a three-dimensional, pop-off-the-screen style. Vibrancy saturates colors, and outlines are cleaner due to the benefits of a theatrical movie budget. That’s not to say the signature “crudeness” of the circular cartoon characters is lost—Bouchard’s artists just ensure that there’s a difference between the weekly small-screen releases and the grandeur of in-theater projections. It’s a proper counter against the curiosity of how Bob’s Burgers would differentiate itself between in-home streams and ticket prices. The definition is crisper, Bob’s foodie creations a bit tastier and environmental details a little more luscious—appropriately dressed for the occasion, if you will. There’s nothing sacrificed as we bite into a multilayered experience that comes loaded with all the fixings—it’s sweet, salty, comforting and rich with imaginative absurdity. Bouchard creates the animated carny musical that smells like the crusted beef of his dreams, which only encourages the Belchers’ legacy as American middle-class darlings who inspire hope through fart humor, menu wordplay and funny voices. As an already adoring fan? I’m left delighted and plenty stuffed—one happy customer.—Matt Donato

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Release Date: June 3, 2022
Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux, Kristen Stewart, Don McKellar, Scott Speedman
Rating: R
Runtime: 107 minutes


In theaters
Sharing a title with Cronenberg’s second film, the latest from the body horror auteur is a return to (de)form after two decades of more dialed-back drama. Digging into the art world’s juicy guts and suturing it up as a compelling, ambitious sci-fi noir, Crimes of the Future thrills, even if it leaves a few stray narrative implements sewn into its scarred cavities. The dreamy and experimental Crimes of the Future (1970) sees creative cancers develop in a womanless world ravaged by viruses. New organs are created (and sometimes worshiped) in a broken society now run by fetishists and hurtling towards a dire, damnable biological response. While Cronenberg’s 2022 do-over on the subject of organic novelty in a collapsing society isn’t a remake by any stretch of the new flesh, it addresses the same pet interests that’ve filled his films since the beginning. Thankfully, it does so with new subtextual success and a far more straightforward and accessible text (despite the full-frontal nudity and graphic autopsies). Unlike Cronenberg’s early work, this movie has color, diegetic sound and movie stars. It embraces traditional dramatic pacing and supplements its perversion with cutting-edge effects. And at least now the characters speak to each other—in that detached, psychology-textbook-meets-FM-2030-essay style—while the camera dives deep into the guts that fascinate us. Specifically, the guts of Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen). He and Caprice (Lea Seydoux) are performance artists whose medium is the generation and removal of neo-organs. Saul builds them up, Caprice slices them out. Our destruction of the world, filling its oceans with plastic and its air with pollution, allowed this to happen. Humanity is now literally numb. People slice each other with knives at clubs, or in the street. Recreational surgery is commonplace. Many can only feel real pain while asleep. This unconscious suffering is just one of many sharpened sides of Crimes’ metaphor. Art is evolving to meet this nerve-deadened world on its terms. Humans are too, literally. That’s why Saul’s able to squeeze out nasty new lumps of viscera and why National Organ Registry investigators Wippet (Don McKellar) and Timlin (Kristen Stewart), as well as radical transhumanist Lang (Scott Speedman), find him fascinating. The trio help narratively blend the dystopian bureaucracy and thriving, subversive multimedia generated by Cronenberg’s nihilistic predictions. When we eventually ruin things, there will just as surely be new cogs in old machines as there will be new rebels in old resistances. Erudite and exploitative, gory yet gentle, Crimes of the Future shows the new kids on the chopping block that an old master can still dissect with the best. But Crimes of the Future’s more meaningful impact is in its representation of a trailblazer finally seeing the horizon. Cronenberg’s view of the future understands that the true death of an artist and the death of society at large result from the same tragic failure to evolve—even if that innovation is simply renovation.—Jacob Oller

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Release Date: May 20, 2022
Director: Simon Curtis
Stars: Hugh Bonneville, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, Raquel Cassidy, Brendan Coyle, Michelle Dockery, Kevin Doyle, Joanne Froggatt, Michael Fox, Harry Hadden-Paton, Robert James-Collier, Allen Leech, Phyllis Logan, Elizabeth McGovern, Sophie McShera, Tuppence Middleton, Lesley Nicol, Douglas Reith, Maggie Smith, Imelda Staunton, Penelope Wilton, Hugh Dancy, Laura Haddock, Nathalie Baye, Dominic West, Jonathan Zaccaï
Rating: PG
Runtime: 125 minutes


In theaters
Will you enjoy a A New Era even if you’ve never seen a single second of Downton Abbey? As the Crawleys themselves might say, “I’d rather think so.” But this is a movie for the fans—almost a gift, really. The last two-plus years have been a lot for everyone, and to escape to late 1920s England and France in all its splendor is a delight. All the things we adore about Downton are still there. The lackadaisical pacing that invites viewers in. The Dowager Countess’ delightful barbs. The Upstairs Downstairs shenanigans. Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Edith’s (Laura Carmichael) rat-a-tat sibling rivalry. (When Edith remarks that going back to work will give her an opportunity to use her brain again, Mary replies, “Let’s hope it’s still there.”) The Crawleys and their staff still make up a well-coiffed, well-dressed and well-executed soap opera. What a treat to get to hang out with them for another two hours. The music and sweeping aerial photography immediately transport you to a different era. But A New Era is smart enough to not unravel well-loved plot points. No romances are undone. Characters aren’t broken up just so the movie would have something to do. Unlike other sequels and movies based on TV series (looking right at you Sex and the City), the true gift is that these characters remain true to the characters we know and love. With the remaining few lingering romances wrapped up and a plot twist I won’t reveal, there’s a sense of closure and finality as A New Era ends. But clearly series creator Julian Fellowes has proven he has more Downton stories to tell. I have to say I would be happy to continue watching for years to come.—Amy Amatangelo

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Release Date: April 15, 2022
Director: Riley Stearns
Stars: Karen Gillan, Aaron Paul, Beulah Koale
Rating: R
Runtime: 94 minutes


Watch on AMC+
In Dual, everyone talks like they’re a robot. Perhaps that’s because they want to better integrate new Replacements, clones made of terminally ill or otherwise on-their-way-out people, into the world. Maybe it’s because the delivery is supposed to be as dry, strange and winning as the low-key sci-fi itself. Regardless, this idiosyncratic acting choice by writer/director Riley Stearns is just one of many over the course of his third and (so far) best movie. The world of Dual is near-future, or present-adjacent but in another dimension. Its video chat is Zoom-like, but texting has more of a coding aesthetic. Its minivans still run on gas, but you can make a clone out of spit in an hour. Its people still love violent reality TV, but its shows sometimes involve government-mandated fights to the death between people who discover they’re no longer dying and their Replacements. It’s the latter situation in which Sarah (Karen Gillan) finds herself. After puking up blood, creating a clone to take over her life and receiving improbable good news from a scene-stealingly funny doctor, Sarah finds that she has a year to prepare for the fight of (and for) her life. Stearns shoots the film in grim, hands-off observations sapped of color and intimacy, but with amusing angles or choices (like a long take watching characters do slo-mo play-acting) that add visual energy to the bleakness. As we see this unfurl, we root for Sarah’s success not because we want her to get her old, sad life back, but because the training process has opened her up to life beyond those walls. It can be read as a redemptive allegory representing a life-shaking break-up or other crisis, but Stearns’ deadpan script and wry situations rarely give you enough distance to consider Dual beyond the hilarious text in front of you. Gillan goes beyond a cutesy Black Mirror performance to find tragedy, obscene humor and warmth even in her relatively stoic roles, but the shining star of the show is Aaron Paul, who gets the biggest laugh lines as her intense combat instructor. Somewhere between a living instruction manual and the “Self-Defense Against Fresh Fruit” Monty Python sketch, Paul’s character is a riot as he attempts to familiarize Sarah with weapons and desensitize her to violence. His performance is just as committed as his serious scene partner’s, but when the two are in the groove together, Dual transcends to such big-hearted, surreal silliness that I had a hard time calming my laughter down as the film reminded me that death was on the line. Stearns’ work has always been a bit of a specific flavor, a little like that of Yorgos Lanthimos where if you’re not in on the dark joke you can feel ostracized from the universe of the movie, and Dual is both his most successful and most eccentric yet. But if you’re blessed with matching taste, where you’ll put up with a bunch of over-literal, stiff-backed oddballs dealing with a clone crisis, you’ll find a rewarding and gut-busting film that’s lingering ideas are nearly as strong as its humorous, thoughtful construction.—Jacob Oller

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Release Date: March 25, 2022
Director: Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Stars: Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, James Hong, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jenny Slate, Harry Shum Jr.
Rating: R
Runtime: 146 minutes


Available to rent
Everything Everywhere All At Once follows Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), a jaded, middle-aged laundromat owner who may or may not be involved in some minor tax fraud. Her tedious, repetitive life is thrown into total pandemonium, however, when her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan)—or at least a version of him—alerts her to the existence of the multiverse on the elevator ride to an IRS meeting. He then explains that a powerful villain named Jobu Tupaki is in the process of constructing a universe-destroying force that only Evelyn has the ability to stop. And so Evelyn reluctantly plunges headfirst into the multiverse. The facts: There are an infinite number of universes that exist simultaneously, containing just about anything you could possibly imagine. The rules: To acquire different skills, you must picture a universe in which you inhabit that skill, whether it be inhumanly strong pinky fingers or a mastery of knife-fighting. (If you can think it up, it exists.) What follows, then, are roughly 140 frenetic minutes filled to the brim with dense, complex science, colorful setpieces and scenes that feel like they’ve been pulled straight out of dreams far too abstract to describe. As you can probably gather, Everything is not dissimilar to its title—and a lot to wrap your head around. If all this sounds intimidating (which, let’s be honest, how could it not?), rest assured that Everything is grounded by an effortlessly simple emotional throughline. Indeed, the film contains as much emotional maturity as it does cool concepts and ostentatious images (yes, including a giant butt plug and raccoon chef). At its core, it is a story about love and family, carried by the dazzling Yeoh in a subtle and unsentimental performance. Where Everything’s emotional throughline is Evelyn’s relationship with her family, its visual thread manifests as a series of hypnotic, vertiginous action sequences, choreographed like a ballet by Andy and Brian Le. As a bonus, these sequences recall Yeoh’s iconic role in Ang Lee’s wuxia film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The directors do not shy away from the use of dizzying flashing lights, or rapidly shifting light sources that disorient the viewer. They also aren’t afraid to implement over-the-top images, like a person’s head exploding into confetti or a butt-naked man flying in slow-motion toward the camera. At the same time, movement between ‘verses feels seamless through Paul Rogers’ meticulous editing, as does the effortless fashion in which different aspect ratios melt into one another. If Everything Everywhere All at Once can be boiled down to one, simple question, it would be reflexive of its own title: Can you really have everything everywhere all at once? Whatever the characters’ answers end up being (I’ll let you discover that on your own), I am certain that the Daniels would say yes, of course you can.—Aurora Amidon

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Release Date: May 6, 2022
Director: Audrey Diwan
Stars: Anamaria Vartolomei, Kacey Mottet Klein, Sandrine Bonnaire, Luàna Bajrami, Pio Marmaï, Anna Mouglalis
Rating: R
Runtime: 100 minutes


In theaters
For many, the leaked U.S. Supreme Court opinion that foretells the end of Roe v. Wade is a life-shattering revelation. However, for those living in states where abortion access has been gradually limited, this proposed rescinding of the 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision has seemed all but inevitable. Heartbeat bills, enforced parental consent, insurance restrictions and mandatory waiting periods have already been enforced in most “red” states. If Roe is indeed overturned, nearly 20 of these same states would almost certainly (and immediately) ban abortion outright. Though several American films have already chronicled the difficulty and stigma that surrounds legal abortion access—including Palindromes, Obvious Child, If These Walls Could Talk, Citizen Ruth, The Abortion Diaries, Never Rarely Sometimes Always—Audrey Diwan’s ‘60s-set French abortion drama Happening feels terribly, eerily prescient on the heels of this tragic setback. Racked with emotional tension and visceral turmoil, it paints a painful portrait of how women have suffered—and will, sadly, continue to suffer—for the ability to make their own precious choices. Based on the 2000 novel/memoir hybrid of the same name by Annie Ernaux, Happening is a claustrophobic recount of one woman’s dogged quest for an illegal abortion in order to pursue her academic studies. Taking place in 1963’s post-war France, the practice was heavily criminalized—meaning that Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei) risks up to 20 years in prison if she’s caught by authorities. As such, she’s discrete yet determined in her search for a provider. Vartolomei’s performance is rousing, managing to evoke the gnawing sensation of prolonged anxiety through a permanent pursed lip and furrowed brow. Happening portrays a bleak future through the scars of one woman’s past. Futile needle pricks, scratched uterine linings, scissor-severed flesh—these wounds remain fresh and bloody, ready to impart themselves on a new generation born of the same desperation. While Diwan may not have intended for her film to possess such a weighted relevance—after all, it’s set in a comparatively “dark age” for French feminism—American viewers will sweat and suffer through this unfortunate, unintentionally forward-looking tableau.—Natalia Keogan

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Release Date: February 24, 2022
Director: John Adams, Zelda Adams, Toby Poser
Stars: John Adams, Zelda Adams, Toby Poser, Lulu Adams
Rating: NR
Runtime: 82 minutes


Watch on Shudder
Over the course of their eight-year collective filmmaking practice, the Adams family have continuously honed their aesthetic and narrative interests as artists. With Hellbender, the sixth feature from the nuclear family of filmmakers, confidence and creativity converge to produce something that feels like an alchemic breakthrough. Particularly following their 2020 supernatural thriller The Deeper You Dig, it appears the Adams have acquired a penchant for horror—a perfect complement to their signature low-budget, home-grown style. Though Hellbender utilizes many recurring motifs present in the Adams family’s work—such as dysfunctional family dynamics and nods to John Adams’ former career as a punk musician—it is certainly the most (literally) fleshed-out project the family has undertaken to date. 16-year-old Izzy (Zelda Adams, the youngest daughter and fellow co-director of John Adams and Toby Poser) has been warned from a young age by her mother (Poser) that the outside world will cause her nothing but harm due to her rare autoimmune disease. As such, Izzy spends her days frustrated and friendless, with only the vast landscape surrounding her mother’s reclusive mountain home providing her with any semblance of personal enrichment. Despite being forbidden to leave the property, Zelda’s relationship with her mother is far from acrimonious—they are playfully affectionate with one another, cradling each other’s faces in their hands and venturing into the verdant forest for rainy day hikes. They even perform in a drum and bass punk rock band, appropriately named Hellbender, donning audacious face make-up and practicing tight, catchy songs for the sole benefit of themselves. Every facet of Hellbender has the intrinsically magical quality of being hand-helmed by a small faction of creatives that execute every stage necessary for the film’s production. The cinematography by Zelda and John is just as impressive as the laid-back yet quirky costume design by Poser. The end result is completely stunning in its scope, tandemly laser-focused on two individuals and their insular livelihood while exploring the vast terror of supernatural possession. By the time the film come to a gory, gloomy conclusion, the viewer walks away feeling thoroughly put through the wringer—inherited traumas, overbearing impositions and brooding bloodlust are never presented in a completely straightforward fashion, providing ample twists to accompany any revelation the film wishes to divulge. Tethered closely to the emotions and artistic sensibilities of the tight-knit family that created it, Hellbender is a can’t-miss foray into folk horror. Unabashedly creepy yet perplexingly comforting, it will inevitably remind audiences of the most eccentric aspects of our upbringings. At the same time, it will evoke deeply-concealed memories of the anguish of undergoing growing pains—a veritable hell on Earth if there ever was one.—Natalia Keogan

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Release Date: March 22, 2022
Director: Panah Panahi
Stars: Pantea Panahiha, Hasan Majuni, Rayan Sarlak, Amin Simiar
Rating: NR
Runtime: 93 minutes


Available to rent
The debut of writer/director Panah Panahi (yes, son of famed Iranian New Waver Jafar Panahi), Hit the Road is a sharp and endearing portrait of a family painted through a series of road trip conversations—often veiled, openly lying, or disguised by ballbusting humor. His ensemble includes a car karaoke queen mother (Pantea Panahiha), broken-legged father (Hasan Majuni), quiet driver son (Amin Simiar) and his scene-stealing fireball of a little brother (Rayan Sarlak). And a cute puppy, which means constant pee breaks. Together, they traverse the dry and rural roads fulfilling checkpoints for a mysterious quest that becomes clearer and clearer as they go. Panahi dwells on lived-in conversational rhythms as much as landscapes, both beautiful and affecting in their own ways. Sarlak’s manic little squirt often pays his respects to the picturesque horizon, but every long and loving sparring match between family members contains just as much reverence. It’s this adoration for closeness—and the confidence and trust in your cast to simply sit and shoot them rambling affectionate obscenities for long, long takes—that makes the film’s bittersweetness work so well. When Sarlak’s hilarious antics (he needs to get his contraband cell phone back because of all the people who constantly want to chat with him) and his parents’ deadpanned one-liners give way to fears about loss and separation, familiar modes of connective chatter become coping mechanisms and then reverse course, sometimes in seconds. Panahiha is particularly potent at this, letting it all play on her face—while singing her heart out, no less. For his part, the incredible Sarlak gets a musical moment as show-stopping as Mads Mikkelsen’s Another Round finale last year. It’s a movie where anyone can be a punchline, but nobody’s ever the butt of the joke. There’s too much love at hand, and even a child’s goofy babblings about the Batmobile can be transcendent moments of beauty. The road trip always has to have an end, but the excellent Hit the Road promises that the journey is as good as the people crammed in alongside you.—Jacob Oller

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Release Date: May 6, 2022
Director: Hong Sang-soo
Stars: Lee Hye-young, Cho Yunhee, Kwon Hae-hyo, Shin Seok-ho
Rating: NR
Runtime: 85 minutes


In theaters
In Front of Your Face, the latest film from master South Korean director Hong Sang-soo, finds Sangok (Lee Hye-young) returning to Korea after a prolonged absence. Temporarily sleeping on her sister Jeongok’s (Cho Yunhee) couch, the siblings seem content and comfortable in their reunion. Immediately upon waking up, the sisters decide to make the most of their morning—after all, they only have so much time together before Sangok’s “late lunch” meeting with a filmmaker to discuss her potential return to the screen. Once a somewhat successful actress in Korea, Songok ditched the profession in favor of moving to the U.S. with some guy she “barely knew” to open a liquor store. The duo sip coffee, smoke cigarettes by a babbling brook and visit Jeongok’s son’s rice cake shop. They spend their morning savoring each other’s company, even if some past conflicts can’t help but crop up. Largely taking place over the course of a single day, In Front of Your Face lingers on life’s little details. A bee pollinating a flower, a marvelous cup of coffee and the momentary salve of a cigarette add as much to the story as the film’s more intense emotional revelations. It’s true that the sisters don’t necessarily possess the fullest pictures of each other—but Jeongok’s perception, even for an out-of-touch sibling who hasn’t responded to her sister’s recent letters, is often scarily spot-on. The beauty of the sparse film is that Hong manages to preserve the daily inconsequence of these one-off remarks and interactions, though they hold so much significance. The significance of time—namely remaining tethered to the tangible moment at hand—is exemplified in one specific scene: A nearly 12-minute, uninterrupted take captures a drunken conversation between Sangok and director Jaewon (Kwon Hae-hyo), undoubtedly the film’s most emotional exchange. They discuss their respective careers, views on mortality, and even take a break to play some guitar. At once sloppy, endearing and just a tad too intimate to handle, the scene is a hyper-realistic feat from Lee and Kwon. To convey that sentimental range during an extended take is always impressive to watch, and the actors certainly benefit from Hong’s careful guidance. In Front of Your Face beautifully maximizes the minute details of daily life—a short-lived reunion between aunt and nephew, a spicy (and messy) bowl of tteokbokki, a sister deep in early morning slumber. In most other filmmaker’s hands, these seemingly inconsequential observations wouldn’t seamlessly create a tender and alluring narrative. Yet Hong Sang-soo seems to have it all down to a science.—Natalia Keogan

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Release Date: February 18, 2022
Director: Graham Mason
Stars: Ikechukwu Ufomadu, Matt Barats, Ana Fabrega, John Early, Aparna Nancherla, Grace Rex
Rating: NR
Runtime: 82 minutes


Available on Blu-ray
In what seems like a lost TV movie from the 1970s, the understudy of an avant-garde theater group murders its star actor in cold blood so that he can finally have the spotlight for himself. He thinks he’s gotten away with it until Inspector Ike, New York City’s greatest police detective who, according to legend, can “solve crimes without any clues or evidence,” comes knocking at the door asking questions and poking holes in the understudy’s story. Since the exact details of the crime are revealed in the first act, Inspector Ike’s charm doesn’t come from trying to figure out whodunit, but from watching Inspector Ike unfold the case before him with signature deadpan—all while the killer’s inner psyche unravels as he tries to outrun his guilt. Where most detective parodies might take their leads for a bumbling fool, Inspector Ike himself is skillfully played straight-faced by Ikechukwu Ufomadu in a refreshing spin on an old comedy trope. Ike’s confidence in himself and in his work projects the presence of a trustworthy, comforting guiding hand in the absurd world that director Graham Mason has carefully crafted. Simultaneously deadpan and warmly funny, Inspector Ike borrows ingredients from multiple genres to create something weird and totally new in a way that honors the feelings of its characters, yet never takes itself too seriously. For example, the narrative flow of the film is interrupted so that Inspector Ike can relay a chili recipe to us. We’re encouraged to write it all down on a recipe card. With a pinch of satirical, self-deprecating humor here and a dash of giallo-esque deep red flashbacks there—all structured as a Columbo-style detective serial—you get a dish so hearty that you’ll find yourself clamoring for another bowl. In fact, after the credits rolled, I wished I lived in a time and place where I could tune into Inspector Ike’s adventures every week.—Katarina Docalovich

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Release Date: February 4, 2022
Director: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
Stars: Achouackh Abakar Souleymane, Rihane Khalil Alio, Youssouf Djaoro, Briya Gomdigue, Hadjé Fatimé Ngoua
Rating: NR
Runtime: 87 minutes


Watch on Mubi
The Chadian word “lingui” denotes the invisible social ties that sustain communities of people, especially if they’re connected by a common unifying trait. In Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s film Lingui, the Sacred Bonds, this alliance is forged through the strife and solidarity intrinsic to womanhood. Though much of the Chadian-born, France-residing director’s work has focused on the lives of outsiders and underdogs, Lingui is his most feminine-forward film to date—perhaps save for his acclaimed 1994 breakthrough short film Maral Tanié, which chronicles a teenage girl forced by her family to marry a man in his 50s, a union which she refuses to consummate. Similarly in Lingui, a teenage girl named Maria (Rihane Khalil Alio) finds herself maligned by patriarchal society when she discovers she’s pregnant with a child she has no intention of raising. Fortunately, her single mother Amina (Achouackh Abakar Souleymane) understands what it feels like to be shunned for carrying a child out of wedlock, and begins a quest with Maria to secure an abortion—despite the legal and societal ramifications that threaten them if their plot is exposed. The visual splendor of the film is what anchors it in a realm of optimistic rebellion as opposed to depressing observation. Cinematographer Mathieu Giombini (Haroun’s frequent collaborator and allegedly the only white European on the shoot) captures the exquisite beauty of the characters’ every mundane action and intentional idling—whether depicting the strenuous process of Amina fashioning kanoun stoves out of rubber tires to sell in town or the pensive stillness of Maria looking out over the confluence of the Chari and Logone rivers. The effervescent glow of sunlight imbues each shot with a sense of buoyancy that feels apt for conveying the warmth with which these women embrace one another, a constant beacon of hope for sisters in need. Gorgeously realized and bolstered by amazing performances by Souleymane and Alio, Lingui, the Sacred Bonds is a prescient portrait of what tribulations afflict—or await—women who are barred from receiving comprehensive reproductive care. Clearly, the tandem legislative and societal injustices imposed by restricting this access are incredibly heinous. However, no matter what regulations are enacted against a woman’s right to choose, there will surely be an enduring, sacred bond that continues to foster solidarity and sisterhood in the name of preserving the ability to shape the circumstances of our own futures. The merits of mutual aid are inherent to the notion of lingui, after all.—Natalia Keogan

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Release Date: February 11, 2022
Director: Kat Coiro
Stars: Jennifer Lopez, Owen Wilson, Maluma, John Bradley, Chloe Coleman, Sarah Silverman
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 112 minutes


Watch on Peacock
Marry Me, director Kat Coiro’s rom-com, asks what the marriage of convenience trope might look like in an era shaped by #sponcon and Kardashian-esque media spin—that is, our own. And while the film, based on Bobby Crosby’s graphic novel of the same name, sounds kind of ridiculous on paper (not that it’s necessarily circumspect on screen), it’s one of the most solid romantic comedy offerings in years—not just reminiscent of rom-coms of yore but actually in conversation with certain gems of the genre. Kat Valdez (Jennifer Lopez) and Bastian (Maluma) are two of the biggest pop stars in the world. They’re also madly in love, or at least it looks that way from their Instagram feeds. In a stunt to rival one of Kris Jenner’s, the two are set to exchange vows in front of a combined 20 million viewers during one of Kat’s concerts in New York City. (“The end of a tour and the beginning of a lifetime,” reads the press one-liner.) Across town, math teacher Charlie (Owen Wilson) is worried that his 12-year-old daughter Lou (Chloe Coleman) thinks he’s boring—especially compared to his ex-wife’s new husband. So when his friend and colleague Parker (Sarah Silverman) ends up with two spare tickets to Kat and Bastian’s mega-wedding, it’s a chance for him to play cool dad. The night proceeds as advertised until Page Six releases footage of Bastian and Kat’s assistant in flagrante delicto seconds before the opening notes of “Marry Me.” Her emotions getting the better of her, Kat picks the forlorn-looking Charlie out of the crowd to marry instead. As with the best of the rom-com genre, the film is committed enough to its own shtick that any on-paper silliness doesn’t end up mattering that much. Marry Me shapes up as a two-hour ode to rom-coms themselves, which have famously suffered a bit of a downturn in recent years. Seemingly aware of this fact, it reimagines several beloved tropes and staples of the genre: The film is itself a supercharged take on Notting Hill, and there’s at least one blink-and-you-miss-it nod to fake relationship classic Pretty Woman. (That Coiro’s film is led by two actors who played different but prominent roles in the genre’s heyday isn’t a coincidence.) It also harkens back to the time when studios put real budgets behind the romantic comedy, as celebrity cameos abound and most of the film is soundtracked by original music from Valdez/Lopez and Bastian/Maluma.—Sydney Urbanek

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Release Date: April 1, 2022
Director: Justin Kurzel
Stars: Caleb Landry Jones, Judy Davis, Anthony LaPaglia, Essie Davis
Rating: NR
Runtime: 112 minutes


Watch on AMC+
The controversy around even the idea of Nitram was swift, loud and completely understandable. A movie depicting the events leading up to the 1996 mass shooting at Port Arthur, Tasmania—where 35 people were murdered and 23 others wounded—would inherently be profiting from the atrocity. It would humanize a man who committed inhuman acts. It would dredge up the unimaginable pain of the Tasmanian community for the sake of offering “a cautionary tale about gun control,” as if there weren’t enough of those already. Though the raft of objections caused trouble with funding and filming locations, director Justin Kurzel—who lives in Tasmania—persisted. Now there’s a film to judge on its own merits. In that film, the character is called Nitram (the first name of the actual perpetrator spelled backwards), and is played by Caleb Landry Jones. Nitram lives with his parents (Judy Davis and Anthony LaPaglia), both fatigued from the effort of keeping a vigilant eye on their dangerously erratic grown son. Unable to maintain a conventional job, Nitram meets Helen (Essie Davis) when he’s prowling the neighborhood, offering to mow lawns in exchange for money. Unlike most of the people he encounters, Helen—an oddball herself, albeit a less threatening one—invites him in, and the two embark on an unusual romance. For a while, the two misfits achieve a fragile equilibrium. Then tragedy strikes, and strikes again. Kurzel’s Nitram does a lot of things very well—foremost amongst them, retaining a commendable level of neutrality. Concerns that the movie would pity the killer, that he’d become a misunderstood hero who wouldn’t have chosen to take such a terrible path if he hadn’t been bullied at school or was loved more by his parents, quickly prove unfounded. Nitram doesn’t go too far in the other direction either, not treating its disturbed protagonist as cartoonishly evil. You never get the sense that Kurzel is trying to tell us how to feel about Nitram. We’re asked to observe, not to judge. In a film centered on such a traumatic event, the maintaining of a perspective not overshadowed by intensity of emotion is a notable achievement. Beyond its deeply unnerving character study, Nitram is a stark warning. Some of the objections to Kurzel’s movie could never be satisfied; for many, its mere existence is offensive. However, Nitram does exist, and it’s difficult to imagine how it could possibly have handled its harrowing subject matter with any more sensitivity or respect.—Chloe Walker

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Release Date: April 22, 2022
Director: Robert Eggers
Stars: Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Björk
Rating: R
Runtime: 140 minutes


Watch on Peacock
Forged in flame and fury, Robert Eggers’ The Northman is an exquisite tale of violent vengeance that takes no prisoners. Co-written by Eggers and Icelandic poet Sjón (who also recently co-wrote A24’s Icelandic creature feature Lamb), the film is ever-arresting and steeped in the director’s long-standing penchant for period accuracy. Visually stunning and painstakingly choreographed, The Northman perfectly measures up to its epic expectations. The legend chronicled in The Northman feels totally fresh, and at the same time quite familiar. King Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke) is slain by his brother Fjölnir (Claes Bang), who in turn takes the deceased ruler’s throne and Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman) for his own. Before succumbing to fratricide, Aurvandill names his young son Amleth (Oscar Novak) as his successor, making him an immediate next target for his uncle’s blade. Narrowly evading capture, Amleth rows a wooden boat over the choppy waters of coastal Ireland, tearfully chanting his new life’s mission: “I will avenge you, father. I will save you, mother. I will kill you, Fjölnir.” Years later, Amleth (played by a muscular yet uniquely unassuming Alexander Skarsgård) has distinguished himself as a ruthless warrior among a clan of Viking berserkers, donning bear pelts and pillaging a series of villages in a furious stupor. The Northman is an accessible, captivating Viking epic teeming with the discordant, tandem force of human brutality and fated connection. Nevertheless, it’s worth mentioning that the film feels noticeably less Eggers-like in execution compared to his preceding works. It boasts a much bigger ensemble, seemingly at the expense of fewer unbroken takes and less atmospheric dread. In the same vein, it eschews the filmmaker’s interest in New England folktales, though The Northman does incorporate Eggers’ fascination with forestry and ocean tides. However, The Northman melds the best of Eggers’ established style—impressive performances, precise historical touchstones, hypnotizing folklore—with the newfound promise of rousing, extended action sequences. The result is consistently entertaining, often shocking and imbued with a scholarly focus. It would be totally unsurprising if this were deemed by audiences as Eggers’ definitive opus. For those already enamored with the director’s previous efforts, The Northman might not feel as revelatory as The Witch or as dynamic at The Lighthouse. What the film lacks in Eggers’ filmic ideals, though, it more than makes up for in its untouchable status as a fast-paced yet fastidious Viking revenge tale. The Northman is totally unrivaled by existing epics—and perhaps even by those that are undoubtedly still to come, likely inspired by the scrupulous vision of a filmmaker in his prime.—Natalia Keogan

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Release Date: February 11, 2022
Director: Laura Wandel
Stars: Maya Vanderbeque, Günter Duret, Karim Leklou, Laura Verlinden
Rating: NR
Runtime: 72 minutes


Available to rent
There’s a moment when you go from just watching a movie to becoming fully ensnared by it. Sometimes that moment never comes, and you spend the whole runtime at a slight but significant remove. Sometimes it arrives partway through, with the onset of an unexpected revelation, or the introduction of a new character. And sometimes—rarely—it occurs within seconds. The film has barely started, and you’re immediately in its grasp. That’s what happens in Playground, the intense debut feature from Belgian writer/director Laura Wandel. We open straight on a close-up of the weeping face of a young girl, who’s clinging on to her older brother for dear life. She is Nora (Maya Vanderbeque), and it’s her first day of school; Abel (Günter Duret) is a few years ahead. She’s eventually prised off of him, and continues her terrified trip towards those imposing doors while clutching tight onto the hand of her dad (Karim Leklou), until an offscreen voice tells them that parents can’t enter the school with their children. So Nora’s dad crouches down, gives her a hug—he looks just a little less distraught than she does—and sends her off. After one last run back to him for a final embrace, she’s as ready as she’s ever going to be. Wandel makes a host of great decisions throughout the course of Playground, but by far the most effective is to shoot the whole film from Nora’s height. We are placed at her side in a visceral, destabilizing way; although many of the people who watch this movie won’t be able to remember their very first day at school, Wandel plunges us into the utter terror of being ripped from the comfort of home and thrust into a huge building full of strangers who are all taller than us—and a lot louder too. Wandel heightens the discomfort further by shooting in shallow focus, making the other kids into intimidatingly fast and noisy blurs. And for the entire duration, we never venture further from the building than the school gates. Playground’s original French title was Un Monde—literally “A World”—and it does often seem like Nora and Abel’s school is a universe unto itself. Many years removed from the manifold horrors, it’s easy to minimize or resort to cliché when we talk about school days. Memories dull with time, and so does pain, but Playground brings it all flying back into sharp, sharp focus. Wandel’s movie is immersive and bruising, full of empathy for its young characters, and unrelenting in its depiction of the challenges they face. And it makes you wonder, with utmost sincerity—how did any of us ever reach adulthood in one piece?—Chloe Walker

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Release Date: May 13, 2022
Director: Ninja Thyberg
Stars: Sofia Kappel, Revike Reustle, Chris Cock, Evelyn Claire, Dana DeArmond, Kendra Spade, Mark Spiegler, John Strong, Lance Har, Aiden Starr, Aaron Thompson
Rating: NR
Runtime: 108 minutes


In theaters
Swedish director Ninja Thyberg’s Pleasure isn’t afraid to delve into the behind-the-scenes reality of creating mass-marketed porn—all without pivoting into a long-winded metaphor or cautionary screed. As such, the writer/director’s observations are unvarnished and exact, detailing the nuances of one of America’s greatest cultural tenets while adhering to an admittedly familiar cinematic premise of a rising star in a tumultuous career. What’s so original about the film, though, is its assertion that performing on a porn set isn’t an idealized fantasy or a one-way ticket to self-abasement—it’s simply work. And like all workplaces under capitalism, these workers are under-paid, under-valued and under-protected. Pleasure follows Bella Cherry (an astounding breakout performance from Sofia Kappel), a 19-year-old Swede who arrives in L.A. with the sole intention of becoming a porn star. But first, she has to gradually wade into the murky waters of the industry she’s entering as a total outsider. It’s vital to note the tremendous research and personal immersion that Thyberg undertook, making Pleasure a warts-and-all depiction of porn that still retains the humanity of all the players involved. While Kappel delivers an incredible debut performance, her co-stars are all actual porn performers, agents and industry workers. Much of their inclusion in the film is predicated on the real-life rapport forged with Thyberg during her foray into the adult film world. The filmmaker resided in a “model house,” became a regular fixture on porn sets and developed genuine friendships with several actors as a result. While comparisons to Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls, Janicza Bravo’s Zola, and even Tsai Ming-liang’s The Wayward Cloud all hold water (particularly in regards to Verhoeven’s cult classic NC-17 satire), it’s safe to say that Pleasure has considerably more in common with Lizzie Borden’s Working Girls. Both films radically demystify separate sects of the sex industry, focusing on the everyday existence of the average worker as opposed to relishing in sensationalism. Of course, if Pleasure preaches anything, it’s that our preconceived notions of the industry aren’t as black and white as we might like to believe.—Natalia Keogan

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Release Date: March 24, 2022
Director: S. S. Rajamouli
Stars: N. T. Rama Rao Jr., Ram Charan, Ajay Devgn, Alia Bhatt, Shriya Saran, Samuthirakani, Ray Stevenson, Alison Doody, Olivia Morris
Rating: NR
Runtime: 187 minutes


Watch on Netflix
A Telugu epic rivalling even the over-the-top antics of writer/director S. S. Rajamouli’s previous massive blockbusters (the two Baahubali films), RRR’s endearingly repetitive and simple title reflects a three-hour romp through Indian colonial history filled with the primal pleasures of brotherhood and balls. Almost cartoonishly political, its story of star-crossed besties Alluri Sitarama Raju (Ram Charan) and Komaram Bheem (N. T. Rama Rao Jr.) is one focused on shallow contrasts masking bone-deep similarities. Based on two superheroicized revolutionaries—ones that never, but should have, saved a child by simultaneously bungeeing a tethered motorcycle and horse over opposite sides of a bridge—the at-odds heroes represent the rural and urban poles opposing the British colonizers. Caricatures of the urbane heartthrob and the noble backwoods beast, the two embodiments of cultural pride battle CG beasts, ridiculous Brits and each other—though you can’t help but hope they end up holding each other tight. (They do squats while riding each other piggyback. C’mon.) Their back-and-forth, glisteningly homoerotic friendship walks a taut narrative tightrope, but with the movie’s maximalist filmmaking as its balancing rod. A phenomenally thrumming and amusingly worded soundtrack accompanies some of the year’s most bombastic action sequences and charming dance scenes without mussing a single mustache hair. The two beefy and hyper-masculine leads span silent comedy, musical song-and-dance prowess and elegant fight choreography as the kind of do-it-all stars we just don’t get in the U.S. anymore. As their morally turbulent path rages against the pure evil of the cruel white oppressors, any doubt that RRR is a modern myth fades deep into the shadows of the jungle. Overflowing with symbols, political shorthand and stereotypes of all kinds, RRR rises, roars and revolts with raw cinematic power—and enough fascinating density to warrant watching and discussing over and over again.—Jacob Oller

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Release Date: February 18, 2022
Director: Kentucker Audley, Albert Birney
Stars: Kentucker Audley, Reed Birney, Penny Fuller, Grace Glowicki, Linas Phillips
Rating: NR
Runtime: 90 minutes


Available to rent
The intangible logic of our subconscious minds is what fuels Strawberry Mansion, a dazed and dreamy jaunt through nostalgic reverie and existential anxieties. Co-directed by Albert Bimey and Kentucker Audley (who also stars), the film is an exercise in creating a dreamscape by way of capturing texture—a venture that renders enthralling, gorgeous and unsettling images as a result. Not only is Strawberry Mansion a genuine feast for the eyes, but its plot is far more cohesive and calculated than most dream-like narratives care to strive for. This ensures that none of the audience falls into their own movie-induced slumber while also serving as a boon to the project’s ethos—one that desperately urges us to pay close attention to the details and potential meanings of our dreams, as they might just be the very key to our survival. Set in the not-so-distant future, Strawberry Mansion follows James Preble (Audley), an auditor who works for a governmental agency that regulates “dream taxes,” a result of ads being projected into our most intimate mental moments. When he arrives at a sprawling Victorian abode with a magenta exterior, he believes he’s simply making a routine house call to address unpaid back taxes. An eccentric older woman named Bella (Penny Fuller) answers the door, and says she’ll only allow the tax man inside if he complies with her code: “To enter, you must lick the ice cream cone.” A bite-sized scoop of strawberry ice cream sits atop a small sugar cone—and though he’s reluctant at first, James eventually relents and licks the ice cream cone, a decision which effectively begins his odyssey of wading through thousands of VHS tapes containing Bella’s dreams. While he’s officially meant to be viewing these in order to collect data, he begins to fall in love with the younger version of Bella (Grace Glowicki) that serves as her constant avatar in dreamland. In fact, the auditor is so smitten that he hardly realizes the conspiracy he’s unwittingly landed himself within, spending all day in a clunky headset instead of piecing together the significance of how advertising and unpaid taxes converge. Always engrossing yet never laboriously abstract, Strawberry Mansion creates a delectable realm of reverie that’s easy to get lost in—though it can also feel tensely labyrinthine at times. Musing on the human capacity for love, greed and tenacity, it’s likely to make one misty-eyed during certain (sparse) moments of tranquility and personal peace, reflecting the beauty in realizing our own aspirations and impulses instead of blindly accepting what we’re told to be and do. The life that best suits us might be far-flung from the life we’re currently living, and sometimes it takes a ridiculous situation to unmoor us from the constraints of routine and ritual. Just remember: When in doubt, always be sure to lick the strawberry ice cream cone.—Natalia Keogan

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Release Date: May 27, 2022
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Stars: Tom Cruise, Jenifer Connelly, Miles Teller, Jon Hamm, Monica Barbaro, Ed Harris, Val Kilmer, Jay Ellis, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Danny Ramirez, Greg “Tarzan” Davis
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 137 minutes


In theaters
Not quite four years since Mission: Impossible—Fallout and much of Tom Cruise’s purpose remains the same—if it hasn’t exactly grown in religious fervor. In Top Gun: Maverick, the sequel to Tony Scott’s 1986 original, Cruise is Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a man trapped in the past, refusing to advance his career as resolutely as he refuses to do much of anything besides continue to prove he’s the greatest pilot in the world—a title the film never forgets to remind the audience that Maverick earned long ago—and mourn his best friend, Goose (Anthony Edwards), who died 35 years ago in an accident for which Maverick still feels responsible. Tom Cruise is also, simply, “Tom Cruise,” the only notable show business scion left to throw his body into mind-numbing danger to prove that it can be done, to show a younger generation that this is what movies can be, what superstars can do. Must do. The more modern action films teem with synthetic bodies bursting apart at the synthetic seams, the more Tom Cruise builds his films as alters upon which to splay his beautiful sacrificed flesh. To that end, Joseph Kosinski is the precisely correct director to steer Cruise’s legacy sequel. As was the case with Kosinski’s Tron: Legacy, Maverick seems to exist to justify its existence, to update an IP that seems to only work in the past. For Top Gun this means translating Scott’s vision of sweat-drenched beach volleyball and unmitigated military spectacle into a soberer IMAX adventure, moving from the halcyon days of Reagan’s America to a world with no more need of a man like Maverick. “The future’s coming, and you’re not in it,” he’s told; every one of his superior officers appears to have no patience for him left. One can’t help but imagine that every new Tom Cruise vehicle is a way for him to reckon with that. Kosinski’s dogfights are pristine, incredible feats of filmmaking, economical and orbiting around recognizable space, but given to occasional, inexplicable shocks of pure chaos. Then quickly cohering again. If Scott’s action was a melange of motion never meant to fully cohere, keeping the American dream just that, then Kosinski is dedicated to allowing the audience a way into the experience. With his regular cinematographer Claudio Miranda, he revels in symmetry to keep the audience tethered. A wide glimpse of a dogfight in total, resembling a beach scene earlier, so suddenly appeared silently in the vast theater and unlike anything I’d ever really seen before, I gasped.—Dom Sinacola

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Release Date: March 11, 2022
Director: Domee Shi
Stars: Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Hyein Park, Orion Lee, Wai Ching Ho, James Hong
Rating: PG
Runtime: 100 minutes


Watch on Disney+
Filmmaker Domee Shi (who delivered the best short Pixar’s ever made in Bao) becomes the first woman to direct a Pixar movie alone, and her floofy red panda’s coming-of-age story stretches the strengths of the company’s legacy. Turning Red is a hyper-cute whirlwind of figurative layers and literal loveliness, dense with meaning and meaningful even to the most dense among us. An exceptional puberty comedy by way of Sanrio-branded Kafka, Turning Red’s truthful transformations are strikingly charming, surprisingly complex and satisfyingly heartfelt. And yes, so cute you might scream until you’re red in the face. Hyperactive 13-year-old overachiever Meilin Lee (Rosalie Chiang) likes to think she runs Toronto with her weirdo friends, partitioning her life into boy-band obsession, extracurricular exceptionalism and deference to intense mom Ming (Sandra Oh) and soft-spoken dad Jin (Orion Lee). She’s got it all balanced, embodying the multiple identities we develop as we become our own people with the overwhelming energy of someone discovering this exciting new freedom for the first time. Chiang’s crackling vocal performance and a blistering visual pace right out the gate make it clear that Mei’s a ridiculous little goober who knows exactly who she is. That is, until she’s “visited by the red panda.” What initially seems like a fairly straightforward allegory for the bodily betrayal and raging emotions of puberty starts scooping up more and more relatable elements into its impressive, finely detailed bear hug. Shi and co-writer Julia Cho weave an ambitious amount of themes into a narrative that’s main plot engine is boy-band concert lust. Its love-hate bout with puberty is obvious, but self-actualization, filial piety and intergenerational trauma keep its romping red wonder from feeling one-note or derivative of underwhelming transformation tales. Turning Red’s oddball characters and well-rooted fantasy inject personality into the common plot device. Not only one of Pixar’s best efforts from the last half-decade, Turning Red is one that overcomes some of the animation giant’s weaknesses. It’s original and human-centric; it’s not particularly beholden to messages more weepy for adults than enjoyable for children. It’s funny without being overly witty and smart without being overly heady. Shi displays a fantastic ability for integrating the specific and personal into the broad beats of a magical cartoon, all done sweetly and endearingly enough to become an instant favorite among modern kids and those who’ll recognize their past selves. —Jacob Oller

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Release Date: April 15, 2022
Director: Jane Schoenbrun
Stars: Anna Cobb, Michael J. Rogers
Rating: NR
Runtime: 86 minutes


Available to rent
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair isn’t straightforwardly a “horror” movie—even if the title reads like an invocation chanted by hypnotized cultists doomed to whatever fate awaits them at the fairgrounds. That, of course, is more or less exactly what it is, as evinced in the opening sequence, where young Casey (Anna Cobb) recites the phrase three times while staring wide-eyed at her computer monitor. Innocent enough, if firmly eerie. Then she pricks her finger with a button’s pin about two dozen times in rapid succession and streaks her blood on the screen (though just out of the audience’s line of sight) to conclude the ritual. All that’s left is to wait and see how joining in this online “game” changes her, as if undergoing a Cronenbergian rite of passage. What writer/director Jane Schoenbrun wants viewers to wonder is whether those changes are in earnest, and whether changes documented by other participants in the “World’s Fair challenge” are legit or staged. They’re unreliable narrators. To an extent, so is Casey—insomuch as teens stepping into the world solo for the first time can be relied on for anything resembling objectivity. There’s also the question of exactly where Casey draws the line between truth and macabre make-believe, and of course whether that belief is made up. Maybe there really is a ghost in the machine. Or maybe a life predominantly lived in a virtual space—because physical space is dominated by isolation and bad paternal relationships—naturally inclines people toward delusion at worst and an unerring sensation of disembodiment at best. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair concludes with ambiguity and atmospheric loss, as if we’re meant to consider leaving childhood behind as a form of tragedy. Spoken in Schoenbrun’s language, that process is painful, transformative and—first and foremost—an internal experience regardless of the movie’s stripped-down visual pleasures. Outside forces influence Casey, but Casey ultimately controls the direction those forces take her. In a way, that’s empowering. But Schoenbrun belies the collective dynamic implied in We’re All Going to the World’s Fair’s title with Casey’s lonesome reality.—Andy Crump

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Release Date: March 18, 2022
Director: Ti West
Stars: Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Martin Henderson, Brittany Snow, Owen Campbell, Stephen Ure, Scott Mescudi
Rating: R
Runtime: 106 minutes


Available to rent
X is a remarkable and unexpected return to form for director Ti West, a decade removed from an earlier life as an “up and coming,” would-be horror auteur who has primarily worked as a mercenary TV director for the last 10 years. To return in such a splashy, way, via an A24 reenvisioning of the classic slasher film, intended as the first film of a new trilogy or even more, is about the most impressive resurrection we’ve seen in the horror genre in recent memory. X is a scintillating combination of the comfortably familiar and the grossly exotic, instantly recognizable in structure but deeper in theme, richness and satisfaction than almost all of its peers. How many attempts at throwback slasher stylings have we seen in the last five years? The answer would be “countless,” but few scratch the surface of the tension, suspense or even pathos that X crams into any one of a dozen or more scenes. It’s a film that unexpectedly makes us yearn alongside its characters, exposes us (graphically) to their vulnerabilities, and even establishes deeply sympathetic “villains,” for reasons that steadily become clear as we realize this is just the first chapter of a broader story of horror films offering a wry commentary on how society is shaped by cinema. Featuring engrossing cinematography, excellent sound design and characters deeper than the broad archetypes they initially register as to an inured horror audience, X offers a modern meditation on the bloody savagery of Mario Bava or Lucio Fulci, making old hits feel fresh, timely and gross once again. In 2022, this film is quite a gift to the concept of slasher cinema. —Jim Vorel
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