One year after a column in the Paper of Record announced that “we aren’t going back to the movies”… it kind of feels like we are. Yes, the film and exhibition industries remain incredibly volatile and difficult to predict, yet it’s undeniable that in the summer of 2022, audiences began returning to cinemas in droves. And not just to superhero movies. The success of crowdpleasers like Top Gun: Maverick and Elvis acts like a balm for movie lovers, and the sleeper success of truly innovative indies like Everything Everywhere All at Once should leave you downright giddy.
Cinephiles really do have a lot to savor as we enter the dog days of summer and the moviegoing season winds down. It is also in this exact moment, where we inhabit the deep breath between Hollywood spectacle’s biggest months and the beginning of awards season in September, that we find it best to take stock of the year that’s so far been. Thus below is a collection of movies that we feel offered the most in 2022 up to this point. And since this is only a midyear check-in, they will not be ranked. Rather this is a celebration of some of the year’s best pictures presented in alphabetical order. Enjoy!
Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood
While currently caught between his decades-spanning cinematic labors, Richard Linklater still finds time to be one of the most idiosyncratic and playful filmmakers working today. Take his latest (and frankly underrated) experiment for example, Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood. In the margins, this marks the latest auteur of a certain age returning to his youth with a wistful nostalgia—think Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma or Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast. However, Linklater is still the guy who made A Scanner Darkly (2006) and Waking Life (2001).
Apollo 10 1/2 is filmed in much the same way via the surreal use of rotoscope animation being placed atop actual live-action performances. It’s a long-awaited return to an art form Linklater helped popularize, and a suitably canny way of alluding to the slipperiness of memories and halcyon days. In this same way, Linklater fuses his childhood flights of fancy (like being on a secret covert NASA mission to the moon before Apollo 11 ever left the atmosphere) with the more realistic mundanity (and joy) of daily life in a Texan suburb during the summer of 1969.
The result is a warm, charming, but ultimately elusive reverie. It also features gregarious voiceover narration by Jack Black, which is always a plus. – David Crow
For many months in the lead up to The Batman’s release, it was an open question among the press, the industry, and even fans as to whether we needed another Dark Knight film. Hadn’t Christopher Nolan made a pretty definitive cinematic account of this character? He did. So the fact Matt Reeves’ The Batman stands so tall beside those films (and perhaps towers over one or two of them) is a true testament to how much Reeves and his collaborators have made this world their own. Chief among those creative partners is Robert Pattinson who creates the first big screen Batman who feels truly scary… and perhaps a little unwell.
By crafting the most damaged Bruce Wayne we’ve seen to date, Reeves and Pattinson lean into the requisite darkness associated with this persona, sure. But they also create a surprisingly delicate character study that feels comfortably apiece with Pattinson’s other recent collection of oddballs in A24 films. But here he’s at the center of a grand, circuitous epic that assuredly channels the despair of 1970s neo noir and successfully builds a labyrinthine Gotham City populated by shady players like Penguin (Colin Farrell, allegedly), Carmine Falcone (an underplayed John Turturro), and Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz).
Pattinson and Kravitz’s chemistry is electric, and The Batman provides the best onscreen depiction of this oil and water romance to date, all while contextualizing it in a hypnotic hellscape where Paul Dano’s Riddler plays closer to the Zodiac Killer of the ‘60s than it does Frank Gorshin. Shining through the operatic bombast, however, remains a wounded and tender soul. And that fragility surviving in the modern factory franchise landscape really is a heroic feat. – DC
Bodies Bodies Bodies
Still in extremely limited release, Halina Reijn’s Bodies Bodies Bodies is a poison-spiked toast to Generation Z that is just waiting to be discovered by a larger audience. Ostensibly an A24 horror movie, this pitch black satire plays closer to Agatha Christie in practice—if Christie’s characters were all 31 flavors of narcissism and entitlement wrapped up in social media pretensions.
Set on a dark and stormy night, a group of recent college graduates gather for an evening of alcohol, drugs, and “Bodies Bodies Bodies.” The last bit is a fictional variation on games like “Werewolf” or “Mafia” where someone pretends to be a killer. But when one of the group actually ends up dead due to a mysterious act of violence, all the tech savvy privilege and buzz words in the world cannot prevent this friend group from descending into a Lord of the Flies scenario. Everyone is a suspect, and no one can be mistaken for a hero. It’s viciously mean-spirited and brutally funny, all while boasting a superb ensemble of rising talent—including Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakalova, and Rachel Sennott—who are ready to move in for the kill. – DC
Everything Everywhere All at Once
The indie Cinderella story of the year, Everything Everywhere All at Once is that audacious magic trick we see at the movies only once in a blue moon. During a moment where pop culture is oversaturated with multiverse stories, wunderkind writers-directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (aka “the Daniels”) make easily the best one. And this is in large part due to them not using the concept of string theory as an excuse for nostalgia or intellectual property exploitation. Rather they turn it into a chance to do the hard thing and make something startlingly, joyously new.
It’s also an overdue breath of fresh air to see an American movie starring Michelle Yeoh, one of Hong Kong cinema’s gifts to the world. In Everything, she provides a tour de force performance as literally hundreds of variations on the same woman. Although the version of Evelyn Wong we spend the most time with is the saddest: unhappy in her marriage and life with husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), browbeaten by the IRS woman from hell (Jamie Lee Curtis), and increasingly estranged with her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu).
The genius of Everything Everywhere is that it doesn’t fix Evelyn’s existential funk. In fact, the picture heightens it with a happily nihilist vision of the universe where, demonstrably, nothing seems to really matter. Yet both the movie and character find satisfaction, and even fulfillment, with that truth while providing a kaleidoscopic fantasia for all of the actors to explore every shade and nuance of their characters, whether that means in one world where they’re international celebrities or in another where they have hot dogs for hands. It’s a triumph realized by the filmmakers, the actors, and a seemingly hyper-caffeinated editor in Paul Rogers, among others. This list is not doing rankings, but if we were, here’s your number one. – DC
Mr. Malcolm’s List
The popularity of Bridgerton undoubtedly influenced this color-conscious adaptation of Suzanne Allain’s novel starring Zawe Ashton, Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù, and Freida Pinto. In the film, Ashton plays Julia, who as a spurned suitor of the eligible Mr. Malcolm concocts a prolonged revenge plan with the help of her less fortunate childhood friend Selina (Pinto). What she doesn’t plan on is Selina and Malcolm falling in love.
Bog standard plotting is elevated by the all round excellent performances, particularly from Ashton. The rather straight laced romance between the slightly dull Malcolm and Selina takes second place to Julia’s scheming along with her own voyage of self-discovery. Okay, it’s not as fizzy or funny as Bridgerton but it’s a great bet for those waiting for a new season in the Ton. – Rosie Fletcher
One of the best of the year so far, Nitram is also one of the most uncomfortable films of 2022. Directed by Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel, Nitram charts the bizarre and brutal build up to Australia’s worst single gunman massacre which occurred in Port Arthur in 1996. The movie’s title is the killer’s first name backward—the film makes a point of never using his real name.
Like Kurzel’s first feature, The Snowtown Murders, Nitram is a deeply uncomfortable watch boasted by extraordinary performances from Caleb Landry Jones, Judy Davis, and Essie Davis. Indeed, Jones took the award for Best Actor at Cannes due to his work here. Tense, stressful, and making a very pointed comment on gun law, it’s not a fun watch but it is an essential one. – RF
Jordan Peele’s third feature is a mysterious, sci-fi horror that is best watched cold. Peele favorite Daniel Kaluuya stars as the stoic horse trainer who inherits his father’s ranch after the latter is killed by a random object falling from the sky. Unlucky detritus dropped by a small plane, or so they think. But what if it’s not?
Kaluuya is joined by the effervescent Keke Palmer as his estranged sister, and the two characters struggle to make ends meet by attempting to capture footage of… something. Something out there and above the farm. The fact that the siblings are struggling, below-the-line animal wranglers in show business, and that they’re now trying to survive by getting the “impossible shot,” is more than just a slight nod toward the industry Peele has spent his life in.
Funny, weird, scary, and featuring moments of horror that are completely indelible, it’s another triumph for one of the most interesting emerging filmmakers around. – RF
Director and co-writer Robert Eggers has been pretty candid about how difficult it was finding a cut of The Northman that he and studio Focus Features could agree on. Yet for whatever battles went on behind the scenes, the final destination was big screen Valhalla for audiences of a certain disposition. Brutal, relentless, and as wide-eyed fanatical as an Icelandic saga of yore, The Northman is another full and sweaty immersion into the past from the writer-director of The Witch. It’s also a lot of fun if you meet it on its wavelength.
Derived from the ancient medieval story that inspired Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and which is itself speculated to be based on an even older, lost Icelandic song, The Northman is drenched in a medieval mindset when it introduces us to Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård), a Viking prince who lost his kingdom when his uncle (Claes Bang) murdered his father and took Amleth’s mother (Nicole Kidman) as his own wife. There is a simplicity to the movie which strips a classic cycle in Western literature down to its primitive, basest bones. But there’s also beauty here, largely stemming from the typical mania demonstrated by Eggers and his repeat collaborators as they pursue their historical obsessions. The movie embraces the savagery of this alien, pagan world, but it also astutely critiques it through the withering gazes of characters like a witch named Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Kidman’s maternal character who gets the best monologue so far this year in a scene worthy of the Bard… or Freud. – DC
As the movie that feels like it got the whole globe to sit up and take notice of Tollywood (Indian films made in the Telugu language), S.S. Rajamouli’s RRR is a phenomenon in world cinema. It’s also easily the most punch-drunk and eager-to-please spectacle released in recent memory. At a time when most Hollywood action movies rely on brand names and easter eggs, here is an old-fashioned barnburner by way of Delhi.
As a Sequoia-sized example of maximalist filmmaking at its finest, RRR is a three-hour action epic, a breathless high-energy musical, and a flight of historical fantasy. Impressively, it excels in all of these arenas thanks to muscular filmmaking by Rajamouli, and two lead performances by N.T. Rama Rao Jr. and Ram Charan that are so blindingly charismatic it might be advisable to watch while wearing sunglasses. They play Komaram Bheem and Alluri Sitarama Raju, two historic martyrs and anti-colonial freedom fighters from Indian history. The real-life men never met, but in RRR they become best friends so devoted to one another that when they dance together, the earth quakes beneath their feet.
The movie enjoys an inherent playfulness with its self-aware mythmaking. Yet there’s also such earnest conviction to this onscreen bromance, and all the ensuing melodrama it causes, that the movie stands apart from its many, many lesser American contemporaries. Really, can there there be a bigger fist-pumping moment in a movie this year than the scene where Bheem unleashes a veritable menagerie onto an unsuspecting tea party? – DC
Top Gun: Maverick
On the surface, Tom Cruise’s long delayed Top Gun: Maverick is a legacy sequel; the latest product in a long line of recent Hollywood add-ons that bring back a classic character/performance in order to pass the torch (and extend the brand). In the details though, Maverick is passion project and metaphor—a parable about what it’s like to have spent 30 years at the top of the mountain as a movie star, and how exhausting it is to refuse passing that torch… or letting the light go out.
Hardly the stuff of humility, there is nonetheless a deliberate grace to Top Gun: Maverick, as well as a lot of rollicking entertainment. In order to one-up what was a visually dazzling movie in 1986, director Joseph Kosinski and Cruise take actual IMAX cameras inside the cockpits this time while forcing all the actors to do all their close-ups while pushing upwards of 6 G’s (which is more gravity than what Neil Armstrong faced on the Apollo 11 mission). It’s a visceral, jaw-dropping splendor never seen before on the big screen.
Just as impressive is that the Maverick team also surpass the original movie’s admittedly paper thin script to make a tight, sentimental, yet never saccharine, narrative that is equal parts WW2 melodrama about Men and Women on a Mission, and a rage against the dying of the light. When the movie inevitably reaches its old school Hollywood ending, it more than feels good; it feels right. – DC