From great blockbusters to a mockumentary about a talking inch-high shell.
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The year is half over, believe it or not. But while studios often hold their most prestigious releases for the second half of the year, 2022 has already served up a feast of cinema worth seeing — if you know where to look. From blockbusters to microbudget indies, documentaries about political issues to a mockumentary about a tiny talking shell, here are the 21 best movies of 2022 … so far.
Rory Kennedy’s enraging documentary traces the events that led to two crashes of the Boeing 737 Max planes and the deaths of hundreds of people. Boeing’s slide from a well-respected company built on trust and attention to detail to one that hid the truth to satisfy the demands of profit is familiar, but terrifying nonetheless. And Downfall: The Case Against Boeing is an exceptionally strong exposé, one with a clear thesis, a powerful, direct argument to make, and implications that extend far beyond just Boeing.
How to watch it: Downfall: The Case Against Boeing is streaming on Netflix.
Horror master David Cronenberg’s latest, Crimes of the Future, is certainly one of the weirdest (and maybe queasiest) movies of the year so far. Starring Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux, Kristen Stewart, and Scott Speedman, it’s a tale set in a dystopian future, when pervasive microplastics and a world that leans on synthetic materials have prompted new directions in human evolution. With bodies evolving as-yet-unseen organs, surgery becomes a public performance art. Societal factions form around different ideas about where humanity should go. Somehow it’s all wrapped up in an oddly sweet package, with human connection at its heart.
How to watch it: Crimes of the Future is playing in theaters.
In a film set 35 years after Top Gun, Tom Cruise returns as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, no longer a bright young whippersnapper but still the best flyboy around. He’s called back to the elite Top Gun program to train a group of fresh-faced pilots for a daring mission, but while there he has to confront both his past with old flame Penny (Jennifer Connelly) and his own mortality. Top Gun: Maverick is almost unprecedented in its class, a nostalgia sequel that doesn’t feel like a cheap IP cash grab. Instead, it brings Maverick’s story full circle in a satisfying manner that adds depth and dimension to its predecessor, but still tells a story that’s all its own.
How to watch it: Top Gun: Maverick is playing in theaters.
Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack star in this two-hander, a heartfelt comedy about a 60-something widow who hires a sex worker to — well, she’s not really sure what, but she knows she can’t go on the way she’s living. They meet in a hotel and slowly reveal themselves to one another, developing a friendship that has implications for them both. Directed by Sophie Hyde and written by Katy Brand, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is a sexually frank and good-natured movie about trying to come to terms with yourself, your history, and your body, and Thompson and McCormack give subtle, generous performances.
How to watch it: Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is streaming on Hulu.
The Batman might be the moodiest and broodiest of the tales of the caped crusader — no small feat when you’re competing with the Dark Knight series — but it’s also one of the most innovative. This time, Batman returns to his roots as a detective, and director Matt Reeves places him in the middle of an old-fashioned noir, with the rain and shady lighting and twisty mystery that requires. The Batman is also a story about the morality and futility of revenge, and about a character who lives in a state of constant struggle between the two. The Batman is a slow burn, but its climax is a banger.
How to watch it: The Batman is streaming on HBO Max and available to rent or purchase on digital platforms.
Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, survived an assassination attempt in August 2020. (Putin is so threatened by Navalny that he refuses to speak his name in public.) Daniel Roher’s Navalny follows the opposition leader through the events following that poisoning, and in particular the investigation that Navalny and his team at the Anti-Corruption Foundation launched into the attempt on his life. Much of the documentary is dedicated to observing and exploring that investigation, with Navalny speaking straight to the camera in interviews about his beliefs and work (including his controversial willingness to align with some far-right groups in opposing Putin’s regime). And there’s a scene involving a phone call that is worth the price of admission, making this thriller a must-see in our political moment.
How to watch it: Navalny is streaming on HBO Max.
Of the crop of more recent films about school shootings, Megan Park’s film The Fallout, which is as much a teen drama as a movie “about” a shooting, may be the best. Soon after the film starts, shots ring out; of course, the teens know exactly what’s happening. They have been participating in active shooter drills since grade school. They know about the Parkland kids, about what happened at Sandy Hook. They are getting shoved into a narrative they know all too well. Vada (Jenna Ortega) is in the bathroom when it happens, and she takes refuge with Mia (Maddie Ziegler) and Quinton (Niles Fitch). The violence occurs off-screen, while the trio huddles in a stall, trying to turn invisible as the unthinkable happens outside. But, they survive. The film’s focus isn’t on why it happened. Instead, the teens spend the movie asking why they survived, and how they can live in their altered reality.
How to watch it: The Fallout is streaming on HBO Max.
Andrew (Cooper Raiff, who also wrote and directed the film) is a recent Tulane graduate who has moved back home to New Jersey while figuring out his next step. He meets Domino (Dakota Johnson), a single mother more than 10 years his senior who’s raising a teenager on the autism spectrum named Lola (Vanessa Burghardt). Andrew and Domino start to form a friendship that will teach them both something about themselves. And if that sounds like standard twee fare, rest assured — Raiff and Johnson’s performances turn it into something irresistible and lovely.
How to watch it: Cha Cha Real Smooth is playing in theaters and streaming on Apple TV+.
Onscreen text at the beginning of The Pink Cloud tells us the film was written in 2017 and shot in 2019, which feels like an odd announcement to make to your audience. The reasons become almost immediately clear. In the story, a rosy pink cloud suddenly rolls across Earth, and if you breathe it in, you die. So everyone is instantly quarantined with whomever they happened to be with at the moment the cloud arrived. That means Giovana (Renata de Lélis) and Yago (Eduardo Mendonça), who met only the day before and spent the night together, are now stuck together indefinitely. The pink cloud hovers over the world for years, and Giovana and Yago slowly experience the stages we’re familiar with now: certainty that it will be over soon, rage, exhaustion, fear, weariness. The Pink Cloud is haunting and riveting in the best way, acutely diagnosing a mental state that will feel startlingly familiar. And in a strange way, it’s a little encouraging. We’ve been isolated, but we’re not alone.
How to watch it: The Pink Cloud is available to rent or purchase on digital platforms.
The Northman is a bone-crunching Viking epic from detail-obsessed director Robert Eggers, based on the legend of Amleth, from which Shakespeare adapted Hamlet’s story. It stars an extremely ripped Alexander Skarsgård as Amleth alongside Ethan Hawke, Nicole Kidman, Anya Taylor-Joy, Claes Bang, Willem Dafoe, and Björk. Eggers, who co-wrote the film with the Icelandic poet Sjón, had historians of Icelandic and Viking history on speed-dial throughout production, and the result is an extraordinarily detailed reproduction not just of the Vikings’ world, but also their way of thinking. If you can extract a modern message from The Northman — that “toxic masculinity” has been destroying men for literal eons, that women have been granted limited agency to push back — it’s really not the point of this retelling of a much-retold tale. Eggers recreated, with obsessive accuracy, the world of the medievals in order to lower us into a myth that feels primordial and strange, as if it’s tapping into something in the back of our minds that we’ve always known but half forgotten.
How to watch it: The Northman is streaming on Peacock and available to purchase on digital platforms.
The genre-defying, subtly unnerving We’re All Going to the World’s Fair captures the experience of the internet through the eyes of a lonely, isolated teenager. Casey (Anna Cobb) becomes immersed in an online horror challenge, one in which players complete a series of tasks (chants, rituals, and so on) and then experience some kind of transformation. She makes an unusual online connection that could be benign or could be menacing — how can Casey really tell? Director Jane Schoenbrun keeps us on our toes, too, and in so doing questions how we exist online, and why.
How to watch it: We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is available to rent or purchase on digital platforms.
Everything Everywhere All At Once functions as a pretty good summary of the film, which is a big-hearted, hilarious, boldly sentimental tale of a mother and a daughter just trying to love one another. Also, it’s about the multiverse. Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) is stuck in her life, running a laundromat with a hapless husband (Ke Huy Quan) and trying to reach out to her acerbic daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu). Plus, they’re being audited by the IRS. But when she stumbles into a mind-boggling discovery — that she must save all the universes from imminent destruction — things get weird. It’s absurd and wild and wonderful, and will probably make you cry.
How to watch it: Everything Everywhere All At Once is playing in theaters and available to purchase on digital platforms.
Terence Davies’s last film, A Quiet Passion, centered on the poet Emily Dickinson; in Benediction, Davies turns to a different poet, Siegfried Sassoon (a terrific Jack Lowden). Benediction — which means “blessing” — spends most of its time on Sassoon’s passionate but thwarted relationships with several different men, after which he eventually married a woman. The whole story is framed by Sassoon’s late-in-life conversion to Catholicism, amid his soured marriage and his son’s derision. There is no happy-go-lucky ending here, only the sense that an ineffable longing we have, to know and be known, is so precious and rare that most of us never find its fulfillment here on Earth. But the film’s title lays bare its aims: to offer words of blessing over a man who never quite found the love he craved and, yet, kept looking.
How to watch it: Benediction is playing in theaters.
You want me to explain the inclusion of Jackass Forever on this list? Well, have you seen it? I have, and discovered it was as cathartic, unhinged, and weirdly good-hearted as any of its predecessors. Yes, it’s a movie about (mostly) dudes doing really stupid things together, and that’s what makes it great. Jackass Forever is the first of the films to add a new cast, because Johnny Knoxville and his long-suffering pals are hovering around 50 these days. They’re a lot more brittle than they were in the 1990s. And the new members are delighted to be in the movie we used to watch! Who can blame them? They have taken on a high, low calling: to be the fools who prostrate themselves across a pile of mousetraps or take an enormous belly flop for the camera, for us.
How to watch it: Jackass Forever is streaming on Paramount+ and available to rent or buy on digital platforms.
Set in France in the 1960s, Happening is the story of Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei) and the abortion she can’t legally attain. Anne is a talented student from a middle-class family who hopes her literature studies will be the key to a long and satisfying career. But when she discovers she’s pregnant, she is left without guidance and, seemingly, in a world full of potential minefields. Happening’s narrative power comes from how it evokes the profound loneliness that Anne feels, unable to speak to her friends, family, or doctors about what to do next. It’s brutal in spots, but especially vital to watch right now.
How to watch it: Happening is available to rent or purchase on digital platforms.
Friends and Strangers feels a little bit like a throwback to the indie mumblecore movement of the aughts, but with a distinctive and slightly absurdist Australian twist. Alice (Emma Diaz) finds herself on a perhaps ill-advised camping trip with Ray (Fergus Wilson), with whom she doesn’t really have any chemistry. Soon, out of nowhere, we’re following Ray through some misadventures of his own. Set in and around Sydney, but spotlighting the ways human relationships languidly unfold on the terrain, it’s a little bit about the inherent silliness of what we call “civilization,” and also about how often we live our lives in a state of perpetual missed connections.
How to watch it: Friends and Strangers is streaming on Mubi.
The summer’s funniest movie might be Marcel the Shell With Shoes On, based on short films that Jenny Slate (who voices Marcel) and Dean Fleischer-Camp (who directs the film) made for YouTube over a decade ago. Slate and Fleischer-Camp were married in 2012; they’ve since split up, and in a somewhat remarkable fashion, explored that experience obliquely in this feature. The protagonist, Marcel, is a 1-inch-high shell (with sneakers) who lives in an Airbnb rented by a newly single filmmaker named Dean, who decides to make a documentary about his tiny new pal. It’s hilarious and extremely sweet, and also somehow skirts the edge of over-sentimentality with aplomb — a feel-good movie that’s not like anything you’ve seen before.
How to watch it: Marcel the Shell With Shoes On is playing in theaters.
One of 2021’s breakout festival favorites was The Worst Person in the World, about four years in the life of 20-something Julie (Renate Reinsve), which was finally released in the US early this year. Like many young people, Julie realizes in university that she doesn’t want to be a neuroscientist; she wants to be an artist. So she blows up her life and starts over, winding up in a relationship with Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie). That’s just the beginning. The Worst Person in the World tells Julie’s story in 12 chapters with a prologue and an epilogue — she is the main character in her own story, one that she’s writing as she’s living it. It’s a film about navigating life as a millennial, trying to figure out what love is like, what work is for, and whether you’re following your heart or whether you’re just, well, the worst person in the world.
How to watch it: The Worst Person in the World is available to stream on Hulu and to rent or purchase on digital platforms.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire director Céline Sciamma returns with a much smaller-scale but no less affecting film. Young Nelly (Joséphine Sanz), whose beloved grandmother has just passed away, is helping her parents (Nina Meurisse and Stéphane Varupenne) clean out the now-empty home where her mother grew up. Nelly is close to both of her parents, but is especially concerned about her mother. She longs to have one more day to spend with her grandmother. One day, in the woods, she meets a girl named Marion (Gabrielle Sanz), and the two forge a friendship that might be the fulfillment of her fears and wishes. Petite Maman is a pithy, gemlike film, clocking in at only 72 minutes and as pristine and poignant a reflection on the bonds that tie us to one another across time and generations as one can imagine.
How to watch it: Petite Maman is playing in theaters and available to rent or purchase on digital platforms.
Donbass was selected by Ukraine as its entry for the 2019 Oscars, but the Academy didn’t nominate it. Then it seemed to disappear, at least in the US. But in 2022, with the name “Donbass” (sometimes rendered “Donbas”) — the region in eastern Ukraine that has been the seat of pro-Putin, pro-Russian unrest since 2014 — newly recognizable to American audiences, it finally made it to the US. Set in the mid-2010s, Donbass is a festival of absurdism in 13 vignettes of a region gone haywire, falling apart in the mess of conflict and deceit that has sprung up in the fighting between pro-Russian separatists, backed by Putin’s government, and Ukrainian government forces. In the way that The Wire unpacked something vital about the layered mess of American cities, Donbass digs with the grimmest of grins into a conflict that has been going on for a long time. The question isn’t what the fix is; it’s whether we’ll ever stop thinking it’s an easy one.
How to watch it: Donbass is available to rent or purchase on digital platforms.
In the near future, you can purchase a “techno sapien” — a humanoid robot — as a companion. Jake (Colin Farrell, who is terrific) and Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) bought a refurbished model named Yang to befriend their daughter, Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja), in part to help her learn about her country of origin, China. But now Yang is malfunctioning, and Jake is desperate to figure out how to bring him back. Directed by Kogonada (Columbus), After Yang moves slowly and quietly and then comes in like a tidal wave, exploring grief and love and memory with aching poignance.
How to watch it: After Yang is streaming on Showtime and available to rent or purchase on digital platforms.
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