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The best movies of 2022 so far, and where you can watch them

High-flying blockbusters, Indian fantasy epics and the return of a horror master are among the highlights of the year in cinema through its first half.
Credit: Paramount/A24/Shudder

TEXAS, USA — The death of the big-screen experience has been greatly exaggerated, a truth 2022 has thus far proven with the movies that never landed in cinemas across the country as much as via the movies that have. 

This critic was unable to see half of the below films in the comfortable confines of a a darkened theater, yet the common denominator uniting all of them – the dystopian horrors and the animated adventures and the scifi meditations – is a desperation to have seen each or them on a screen several times bigger than my living room TV once the credits were rolling. 

It’s partly personal scheduling – what to do with all this opportunity at the latter stages of a pandemic? – and partly that ever-evolving relationship between the streaming wave and the theatrical powers that be. 

Many headlines have been written about how the coronavirus has hastened the natural selection of our movie-watching habits, making it easier for audiences to prioritize accessibility at home over the boutique experience of world-class sound and the thrill of the crowd. Yet I could make a long list of sequences that reminded me about the grandeur that's to be afforded when that big-screen canvas is utilized in the right way, even among efforts whose parts amount to more than their sum: A fiery nighttime chase in Matt Reeves' "The Batman," the boundary-breaking 900 landed by a 31-year-old Tony Hawk in the documentary about his life, daydreams of 1960s suburban Texas in Richard Linklater's "Apollo 10 1/2," a scrotum turned into a lumbering kaiju in "Jackass Forever."

At the very least, the best movies of the year thus far showcased a vigorous cinematic artistry unwilling to shrink their ambitions to the screens millions are more likely to experience it on. You’ll find 10 of those films below, in alphabetical order, along with where you can watch them today.


“After Yang” (dir. Kogonada)

Kogonada’s revered and reverential debut, “Columbus,” embodied a cinema of mood. His triumphant follow-up, “After Yang” – about a family of the not-too-distant future and their malfunctioning robot companion – sees the video essayist-turned-filmmaker making the leap into a cinema of ideas without betraying the graceful filmmaking that made “Columbus” so unique. 

At its melodically crafted core, “After Yang” tackles familiar genre questions – what makes us human? What confirms our agency? What legitimizes our desires? – with spectacular spiritual poise. Kogonada confronts the enormity of these questions not just with low-key confidence, but with the savvy to weave cultural considerations, an unusually textured vision of futuristic domesticity and a quiet sense of the divine into his script-flipping drama. It’s a viscerally empathetic film, and one that features the most thought-provoking and philosophical conversation about the qualities of tea I can ever remember a movie brewing up. 

Available to rent on digital platforms, and streaming on Showtime. 

Crimes of the Future” (dir. David Cronenberg)

The world has changed plenty in the eight years since genre maestro David Cronenberg’s last film, but he hasn’t lost his touch for diagnosing the anxieties simmering underneath our disfigured exteriors. In the literally painless world of “Crimes of the Future” – anchored by the immaculate leading trio of Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux and Kristen Stewart – bodies are both temples and autopsy tables, and genuine passion appears to be in quickly dwindling supply. 

Some may take the dry humor and slightly unfocused conspiracy festering on the narrative’s edge as a sign that Cronenberg’s own skillset has blunted. On the contrary, it takes a filmmaking hand as versatile as his to make a strange fable featuring beds fashioned as open wombs, self-mutilation as showmanship and a National Organ Registry echo enduring mysteries about who we are and who we might be becoming. Very rarely are Cronenberg’s films uninteresting, but it’s been a long time since he’s ventured this deeply into the nether region between the carnal and the carnivorous. 

Screening in theaters, and available to rent on digital platforms. 

RELATED: ‘Crimes of the Future’ Review: Old-school Cronenberg’s return is gloriously off-kilter and sneakily profound

Everything Everywhere All at Once” (dir. Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan)

You’ve got to hand it to the pair of Daniels behind A24’s biggest movie ever: They delivered on the superlativity of its title, and accomplished it while giving two beloved actors the roles of their lives. 

Committed performances from Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan – one of them a mainstay in cinema over the last two decades, one of them capitalizing on a long-awaited return – are just two reasons to give in to the universe-hopping frenzy that is “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Among the others: Ride-or-die gags, fight scenes featuring fanny packs, a story riffing on everything from “The Matrix” to “In the Mood For Love,” and the derring-do to turn its kaleidoscopic conceit into a genuinely thoughtful story about possibility, worth and redemption. 

Not all of its most existential questions hit home – largely because the movie insists on hitting them home three or four too many times – but that’s not to take away from the borderline Herculean effort by a mind-bogglingly small VFX team to make every sequence in the film (which technically takes place nearly entirely in an office space, mind you) into a confetti bomb of wit and creativity that should put big-studio projects with five times its budget to shame. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” makes cinematic indulgence feel artistic again. 

Available to rent on digital platforms. 

RELATED: SXSW Review: Multiversal madness reaches boundless new highs in Michelle Yeoh-led ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” (dir. Sophie Hyde)

Flipping a naked bird to Hollywood presumptions about plots centering around the desires of older women, “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” was one of the highlights of Sundance a few months back. And while the festival’s virtual confines may have slightly betrayed the single-setting staginess of the production, it didn’t blunt the wordplay between Daryl McCormick’s disarmingly sweet sex worker and the never-been-truly-pleasured widow played by a magnificent Emma Thompson. 

Those leading performances propel the movie through whatever skepticism we occasionally have that Katy Brand’s script was engineered in a lab to respond to the movies’ gradual castration over the last two decades. It’s nice that “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande" is a feature-length argument for more sex appeal in American movies across actors of all generations. But it’s one of the year’s best for how it weaves that meta commentary into the budding relationship between two people reckoning with the identities they casually slip into and out off. 

Streaming on Hulu.

RELATED: ‘Good Luck to You, Leo Grande’ Review: Sex-positive comedy defies convention, and has plenty of heart too

“Mad God” (dir. Phil Tippett)

There are movies whose narratives keep you guessing, and there are movies whose moods you sink into. “Mad God” belongs to a third tier, one populated by movies whose baked-in dread only sinks in further the harder you try to forget about it. 

Conjured up piece by piece, nightmarish frame by nightmarish frame over a period of 30 years by visual effects titan Phil Tippett – known for his work on “Jurassic Park,” “RoboCop,” “Starship Troopers” and a few other movies you might have heard of – “Mad God” is the kind of project that could only have been undertaken by, well, a mad god. Offering little in the way of a story and even less of any semblance of catharsis, “Mad God” channels an ethos of pessimistic, dastardly, apocalyptic madness into a cinematic Sistine Chapel of stop-motion technique, detailed puppetry and splattercore nastiness. 

Ask not why you consider watching Tippett’s film after reading the above paragraphs; ask instead what the above paragraphs are visualizing in your head, then consider that they likely don’t touch the outer limits of “Mad God’s” hellish world. 

Streaming on Shudder. 

“Navalny” (dir. Daniel Roher) 

This documentary’s relevance has only grown in recent days, following reports that the imprisoned Russian opposition leader and staunch Putin critic Alexei Navalny – the subject of Daniel Roher’s at-times unbelievable documentary – was suddenly nowhere to be found by his team. He was arrested upon returning to his home country in early 2021, charged with contempt of court. 

Though you might need not watch “Navalny” to understand why the imprisonment of one of Putin’s most outspoken opponents amounts to bogus, Roher’s documentary infuriates nonetheless. It also enthralls, educates and inspires—in its fly-on-the-wall recounting of the stunning months leading up to Navalny’s 2021 arrest, including the assassination attempt on his life and the DIY investigation to find his would-be killers, “Navalny” efficiently crafts what could be called the legend of a modern folk hero, without making the mistake of suggesting legends are all the world needs to topple authoritarians. In its most intimate scenes, Roher emphasizes how Navalny’s mission would be nothing without the people he’s got behind him. 

Streaming on HBO Max.

“RRR” (dir. S.S. Rajamouli)

Don’t run, don’t walk to the action-fantasy Cirque du Soleil that is “RRR”; leap to it. An Indian movie about fictional heroes and piggyback-riding friends battling British oppression in the 1920s, “RRR” – aka, “Rise. Roar. Revolt” – is a kaleidoscope of genre, packing elements of Western, buddy comedy, musical, thriller, mystery and revisionist history into 180 glorious minutes. 

To say “RRR” is lively undersells it. The movie – whose first half features a palace ambush by ferocious jungle animals, a stupendously choreographed battle between one man and a thousand others, and the most giddily satisfying musical number since Anthony Ramos dreamed about winning a $96,000 lottery – exists to electrify, and does it enough to jolt us out of the middling MCU-era standards we’ve passively accepted when it comes to our superheroic epics. It’s a 10-course meal of a movie, one that never forsakes its character work amid the spectacle. Get it on your Netflix queues ASAP. 

Streaming on Netflix. 

Top Gun: Maverick” (dir. Joseph Kosinski)

If “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is a signal flare for cinematic invention, Joseph Kosinski’s stupendously satisfying “Top Gun” sequel is a testament to the enduring power of moviestardom—not just in the way of going to the theater to see a particular actor, but of going to the theater to experience what an actor has come to represent. 

Like Tom Cruise, Maverick is restless, unpredictable and always tipping into the next gear. That “Maverick” itself is carefully constructed, clean-cut and rather formulaic goes to show how fun American blockbusters can occasionally still be when they make the compromise to thrill their audiences in the moment rather than tugging them along for the future. Will there be a “Top Gun 3”? It may be on studio heads’ minds, but it’s the furthest thing from ours upon leaving the theater; "Maverick" is a display of dudes-rock cinema finding the fountain of youth, complete with intergenerational reckonings between fathers and sons, training montages set to “The Who,” and a reminder that there will always be a will and a way when it comes to Tom Cruise. This is a years-gone-by follow-up done right not by making excuses for how much time has passed before a sequel, but by embracing it.  

Screening in theaters.

RELATED: ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Review: Tom Cruise (who else?) makes movies' old-school pleasures thrilling again

Turning Red” (dir. Domee Shi)

Pixar’s best movie since pre-pandemic times is a necessary harbinger of where the iconic animation studio might go from here. Namely, towards franker stories that may have been beyond its imagination in 1995, bolstered by a collision of animation styles and a frenzied energy that feels like director Domee Shi suggesting that the best way to grow up is to loosen up. It’s likely that no Pixar adventure has ever moved this fast before, which bodes well for a brand that apparently doesn’t intend on slowing down anytime soon. 

Streaming on Disney+.

RELATED: ‘Turning Red’ Review: Pixar’s newest is a refreshingly frank take on teenage anxiety

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” (dir. Jane Schoenbrun)

At the heart of writer-director Jane Schoenbrun’s fantastic feature debut is a radical empathy for a generation that has grown up through pixelated screens and the blinking dots of online chatrooms. “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” using the language of the internet – low-def graininess as first-draft candour, dreamlike ASMR as comforting dialect, the repeated use of a never-been-more-ominous buffering icon as ellipsis – to blur the line between author and participant to the point that a protagonist who was first our proxy becomes a new source of ambiguous fascination, and of horror. 

Anna Cobb is fearless in her movie debut; hers is a psychologically nimble performance pulsing with the recognition that taking up residence in the nocturnal online means setting the infrastructure of identity aflame. “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” provides a glimpse at the medium’s future by looking so closely at the sociological now. 

Available to rent on digital platforms.

RELATED: ‘We’re All Going to the World’s Fair’ director on creating a new cinematic language

RELATED: ‘We’re All Going to the World’s Fair’ Review: The next era of internet-age movies is here


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