More than halfway through 2022, the year's cinematic highlights have included ... talking shells and people with hot dog fingers? Here are the best films of the year so far:
15. Kimi (HBO Max)
Steven Soderbergh directs Zoë Kravitz in Kimi, which more than gets the job done if you're in the mood for a brisk, efficient little Hitchcockian thriller. Kravitz stars as Angela, a tech worker tasked with monitoring data collected from Alexa-style devices and who — in the vein of Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation — believes she's overheard evidence of a murder.
It's "one of the meatiest roles of Kravitz's career to date," said Jason Bailey at The Playlist, "and she does right by it." On top of exploring the scarily ubiquitous role of technology in our lives, Kimi also happens to be set during the COVID-19 pandemic, tapping into themes that will resonate hard with viewers after the past few years — Kravitz's character, who works from home, suffers from agoraphobia and must acclimate herself to going outside — but in a way that isn't too on-the-nose.
The result is an "inventive blend of throwback suspense storytelling and current concerns," The Atlantic's David Sims wrote, and Vanity Fair's Cassie Da Costa said the film offers a "searing yet slyly humorous portrayal of the modern technological landscape." And at less than 90 minutes, how could you go wrong?
14. Crimes of the Future (Video on demand)
Master of body horror David Cronenberg (The Fly, Crash) returns after an eight year hiatus with Crimes of the Future, the kind of film that wears the fact that audience members walked out in disgust during its Cannes Film Festival premiere like a badge of honor.
Set in a future where most of humanity no longer feels pain and the body has evolved in bizarre ways, it centers around a man, Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen), who finds himself continuously growing new organs (and, more often than not, speaking like he's always on the verge of vomiting). So Saul and his partner, Caprice (Léa Seydoux), work as performance artists, removing Saul's organs live in front of a crowd.
As that description makes clear, Crimes of the Future is unlike anything you'll watch in 2022, and "the ideas that Cronenberg puts forth are powerful and poignant," wrote The New Yorker's Richard Brody, while The Reveal's Scott Tobias praised Cronenberg for delivering "one strange or gross or beautiful image after another" — including, at one point, a dancing man covered in ears all over his body. Come for the imaginative, disgusting, and oddly compelling sci-fi ideas, stay for Kristen Stewart giving one of the weirdest performances of her career as she's tasked with explaining why "surgery is the new sex." Never change, Cronenberg.
13. Scream (Paramount+)
The meta horror franchise returns with Scream, which, despite what its title suggests, is a sequel and not a remake. Like the four previous installments, it combines a slasher flick with a satirical examination of film tropes. This time, the subject is "requels" — movies that are partially sequels and partially reboots, combining an old and new cast, like Star Wars: The Force Awakens — and toxic fandom surrounding divisive movies like Star Wars: The Last Jedi. This fifth outing also leans into the whodunnit aspect of Scream more than ever, building up the mystery of who's behind the Ghostface mask this time.
The result, Meagan Navarro wrote at Bloody Disgusting, is a "breathless, razor-sharp slasher worthy of the legacy," which Walter Chaw argued at Film Freak Central is actually "on par with the original" Wes Craven classic. Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega lead the new cast, but longtime stars Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and David Arquette also return. Critics pointed to Arquette, who gets a grizzled-hero-called-back-into-action arc similar to Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi, as the standout, with Deadline's Pete Hammond praising his "pitch-perfect" performance. As the movie's film geek character explains, it always goes back to the original.
A sequel with the surviving characters — and hopefully a less confusing title — is in the works for a March 2023 release.
12. Cha Cha Real Smooth (Apple TV+)
At just 25 years old, Cooper Raiff writes, directs, and stars in this dramedy that was a major crowd-pleaser at the Sundance Film Festival and sold to Apple for $15 million — and it's not even his first film.
Raiff plays recent college graduate Andrew, and the movie explores that nebulous period in your early 20s of stumbling around trying to figure out what comes next. For Andrew, that involves inadvertently falling into a gig as a "party starter" at bar mitzvahs, and he soon develops feelings for an engaged woman named Domino (Dakota Johnson) and bonds with her autistic daughter.
Whether viewers find Cha Cha Real Smooth delightful or slightly grating will hinge on their feelings toward Raiff's almost aggressively amicable lead character. But those won over by his charms found Cha Cha Real Smooth to be "sweet" and "sincere," a "lovely film about lovely people being unfailingly lovely to one another," as The Los Angeles Times' Jessica Kiang wrote.
After Apple pushed a film festival crowd-pleaser to multiple Oscar wins last year, can they do it again in 2023?
11. The Batman (HBO Max)
After a string of critically reviled appearances, the Dark Knight returns to getting strong reviews with Matt Reeves' reboot The Batman. Robert Pattinson takes over the title role from Ben Affleck, and Reeves' take on the material is to hone in on the idea of Batman as the "world's greatest detective," approaching the movie like a classic film noir complete with voiceover narration and an absurd amount of rain. Unlike previous interpretations of Batman, this one also almost completely ditches the playboy Bruce Wayne persona, as he's depicted as being so unhealthily obsessed with crime-fighting as to have little semblance of a life.
The result of these choices is that despite being the third Batman relaunch since 2005, Reeves' version feels "breathtakingly alive and new," wrote RogerEbert.com's Christy Lemire, and ThePlaylist's Robert Daniels applauded The Batman for veering "far away from the current homogenous superhero landscape." Indeed, there are no connections to other DC movies, and if Joker was a riff on Taxi Driver, think of this as a riff on David Fincher's Seven. Pattinson's performance is "riveting," said The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney, and Zoë Kravitz and Paul Dano also won praise for their takes on Catwoman and the Riddler, respectively.
A sequel is already in the works with both Reeves and Pattinson returning.
10. The Fallout (HBO Max)
Jenna Ortega stars as a young girl who survives a school shooting in The Fallout, Megan Park's intimate drama that's only gained unfortunate new relevance since its release on HBO Max in January.
The shooting sequence itself — which tastefully keeps the violence off-screen but may still be too intense for some viewers — occurs in the first 10 minutes, allowing Park to use the rest of the runtime to explore the different ways its survivors grapple with the aftermath. For Ortega's character, Vada, that involves growing closer with a dancer from her school, played by Dance Moms' Maddie Ziegler, whom she becomes bonded with after they're forced to hide together in a bathroom stall during the attack.
Critics were particularly impressed with Ortega's performance in The Fallout, with The New York Times' Claire Shaffer deeming it a "star-making turn" for the 19-year-old actress. The movie as a whole is an "empathetic and often heartbreaking" directorial debut by Park, said IndieWire's Kate Erbland, while Mashable's Kristy Puchko praised it as a "superb tearjerker."
9. After Yang (Showtime)
From Columbus director Kogonada comes his follow-up, After Yang, a sci-fi drama about a family who develops a strong bond with a robot named Yang. But when Yang stops working, the father, played by Colin Farrell, sets out to fix him, an effort complicated by the fact that Yang wasn't purchased new, and the journey leads to some surprising revelations about his past.
That premise might sound sort of like a Black Mirror episode, but Kogonada is less interested in delving into the ins and outs of this sci-fi world than he is writing moving conversations about the nature of life, death, and memory. Indeed, most of the film is just a series of these discussions, at one point including some surprisingly poignant musings about tea, all set to one of the most beautifully haunting scores of the year.
While low-key, it's a "gorgeous and wistful" movie, wrote TIME's Stephanie Zacharek, which The Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern said "reveals its beauty slowly, almost meditatively, and ever so tenderly."
8. X (Video on demand)
Ti West examines the slasher movie trope that having sex leads to death in X, in which a film crew travels to a farm in Texas to shoot an adult movie, where things ... do not go well. Heavily inspired by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, it's a crowd-pleasing genre throwback that provides lots of blood and guts but with plenty on its mind, including our fear of growing old and obsession with youth.
But one of West's key decisions that helps set the film apart is that he creates a "far more empathetic and complicated picture of" the villains then you'd expect, Nerdist's Rosie Knight observed — and one sequence involving the song "Landslide" is actually "oddly moving," Rolling Stone's David Fear noted. Yes, it's a slasher flick that might actually make you cry, and all in all, X is "one of the most fully realized pieces of horror cinema in recent memory," Collider's Chase Hutchinson raved.
The cast includes Mia Goth, Brittany Snow, and Jenna Ortega (who's having quite a year, making her third appearance on this list), though Goth is the stand-out, seeing as she's tasked with playing two different characters. A prequel called Pearl is on the way — and was already shot in secret before the first movie even came out. Strap in for the X Cinematic Universe!
7. Happening (Video on demand)
Along with The Fallout, Happening is another 2022 film that won praise when it debuted but has become significantly more relevant in the time since — in this case, due to the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade. The French drama follows a young woman, Anne, who unexpectedly becomes pregnant in 1960s France, where abortion is illegal.
Director Audrey Diwan makes a point of barely having the word "abortion" said out loud throughout the film, and whenever Anne so much as hints at the notion of terminating her pregnancy, a nervous pall falls over the scene, with even her own friends refusing to get involved and help her out. Diwan is unsparing in depicting not only the practical horrors that Anne goes through in her effort to obtain an illegal abortion, but the isolation she endures along the way, making for a brutal viewing experience.
But despite being set in the 1960s, most of the film feels "deliberately contemporary," The A.V. Club's Martin Tsai pointed out, "implying that it could easily take place today," and Empire's Ella Kemp says that a film that "could have felt like a sad yet distant period-piece has an urgency and immediacy."
6. Top Gun: Maverick (Theaters)
Who could have predicted the biggest movie phenomenon of the year would be a Top Gun legacyquel?
Decades after the original, Tom Cruise returns as Maverick, who hasn't advanced much due to his insubordination and is on the verge of being kicked out of the Navy when, thanks to some help from his old buddy Iceman (Val Kilmer), he's called back to Top Gun and tasked with training a team of young pilots to fly a dangerous mission. Making matters more complicated: One of those pilots is Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw (Miles Teller), son of Goose, Maverick's late friend whose death in the original film still haunts him.
Top Gun: Maverick has become a rare sequel that critics almost universally agree is superior to the original, and it won particular praise for its practical flight sequences, with RogerEbert.com's Tomris Laffly noting the "authentic work that went into every frame generously shows." Critics were also surprised at how moved they were by the film, and all in all, The Associated Press' Mark Kennedy said Maverick is a "textbook example of how to make a sequel." Believe it or not, a Best Picture Oscar nomination seems increasingly possible.
5. The Northman (Peacock)
Director Robert Eggers follows up The Witch and The Lighthouse with probably his most accessible film to date, The Northman, a viking revenge epic based on the legend that inspired Hamlet. Alexander Skarsgård plays Amleth, who sets out to avenge his father, played by Ethan Hawke, after he's murdered by his bastard brother.
Eggers had a reported budget north of $70 million, and it's certainly all on the screen, making for one of the year's most visually stunning movies — featuring a jaw-dropping fight sequence that takes place on an active volcano. The film is "so grab-you-by-the-throat intense because it renders a Viking prince's quest for vengeance as though fate were a force as real as the weather," Indiewire's David Ehrlich wrote, while Observer's Emily Zemler called it a "guttural, ferocious viewing experience."
Though it might be a bit more mainstream than Eggers' past films, he still infuses it with some delightfully strange choices that should satisfy longtime fans of the auteur director, particularly when it comes to Nicole Kidman's role. She doesn't get a lot of screen time, but she sure makes a big, bizarre impact. It's her best performance since those AMC ads!
4. Nope (Theaters)
Jordan Peele is officially three-for-three. The director's third feature film after Get Out and Us is his most ambitious yet, a summer blockbuster spectacle that retains all the tension, comedy, and thoughtfulness of his previous films. Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer star as OJ and Emerald Haywood, who make a living training horses for use in Hollywood movies but are struggling to make ends meet after their father's mysterious death. But when a UFO begins visiting their ranch, they believe they've found a way to make a name for themselves: capturing proof of alien life on film.
What follows serves as a metaphor for the filmmaking process and an examination of the idea of spectacle, questioning our thirst for it and poking fun at the characters' desire to create it at all costs, even at great risk. Peele offers a unique twist on the alien invasion genre, filling the movie with terrifying original ideas, including a few sequences making nightmare-inducing use of sound design.
Some critics felt Peele may have been a too ambitious with his ideas, not all of which necessarily come together. But all in all, IGN's Siddhant Adlakha dubbed Nope "one of the most effective and purely entertaining summer blockbusters in years," while the Chicago Sun-Times' Richard Roeper praised it as a "masterfully audacious, wickedly funny and utterly outlandish sci-fi horror fable."
3. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (Theaters)
Wait, is a film adaptation of a series of internet shorts about a talking shell one of the most poignant movies of 2022? Believe it.
Jenny Slate voiced Marcel, an adorable talking shell, in the original web videos more than a decade ago, and the character has now made the jump to feature film — from indie darling studio A24. The shorts were mostly just childlike "interviews" with Marcel in real-world locations using stop motion animation, and the film continues that, retaining the character's heartbreakingly precious spirit but with an expanded plot: Marcel has been separated from his family and hopes to find them with the help of a documentary filmmaker, who has turned him into a viral sensation.
With this meta plot that incorporates audiences' real-life love for Marcel, the film tells a surprisingly resonant story about the power of community, and Slate, with her remarkable comedic timing, delivers some of the sneakily funniest one-liners of the year. It boasts a near-perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes, with Vulture's Bilge Ebiri writing that it's "gentle and sweet without ever being twee or precious" and io9's Germain Lussier raving it's "hilarious, poignant, surprising, and life-affirming." Nominate Marcel for Best Actor, cowards!
2. Turning Red (Disney+)
Pixar's Lightyear might have been a bit of a misfire this summer, but critics found the studio's other 2022 release to be far more charming (and more deserving of a theatrical release): Turning Red. The first Pixar movie solely credited to a female director, it follows a young Canadian girl, Mei, who finds that whenever she becomes overcome with emotion, she turns into a giant red panda.
That fantastical set-up serves as a metaphor for the anxieties of puberty, and critics were impressed to see an animated film from Disney so willing to openly discuss periods and female sexuality. "It treats periods and female puberty as something to be embraced, rather than be embarrassed about," CNN's Harmeet Kaur noted.
On top of breaking some new ground for animation, it's also just a consistently funny and creative adventure from Pixar, critics said, with ScreenCrush's Matt Singer giving the "original, heartfelt, beautiful" movie a perfect 10 out of 10 score. "As mature and smart as Turning Red is," Singer wrote, "it's also a really entertaining story, with an ending that is full of laughs as big as Mei's panda."
1. Everything Everywhere All at Once (Video on demand)
If 2022 has a single must-watch movie, it may be Everything Everywhere All at Once, the absurdist, imaginative sci-fi epic from directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. Michelle Yeoh stars as a laundromat owner, Evelyn, who must save the multiverse from a familiar foe by tapping into skills that alternate versions of herself from other universes have attained.
The film jumps back and forth between a central universe and wild alternate ones showing paths Evelyn's life could have taken — including a world where everyone has hot dogs for fingers. What keeps Everything Everywhere from going off the rails, though, is that its primary focus is telling an affecting mother-daughter story. And while it might at first seem like some of the alternate universe cut-aways are thrown in for the sake of one-off gags, the Daniels' greatest magic trick is giving each of them genuine emotional payoffs.
Critics were quick to draw comparisons to The Matrix, and Vanity Fair's Maureen Ryan wrote that the movie is "satisfyingly bonkers" but with an "emotional undertow that proves irresistible," while Empire's Ben Travis said it's a "cacophony of creativity that dazzles, delights, and defies explanation with every passing second." The film has a real shot at a Best Picture nod in 2023, and a Best Actress push for Yeoh also seems very possible. No offense to Doctor Strange, but if there's one movie about a multiverse of madness you see in 2022, make it this one.