Just one year ago, the century-long tradition of watching new films in theaters appeared to be in seriously dangerous trouble. Half-measure attempts to reopen theaters amidst the ongoing surges in COVID-19 cases kept a lot of people at home during this time, while many others had become more than happy to simply wait for movies to hit streaming.
We’re still reeling from the effects of these shifts in viewer behavior, particularly when it comes to Disney movies. Recent animated films like Encanto and Lightyear have massively underperformed, signaling a possible expectation audiences now have when it comes to family movie night. This in spite of other films like Sing 2 and Minions: The Rise of Gru apparently overcoming this barrier with better-than-anticipated ticket sales. Why? Well, it’s likely due to the reality that most people who love these types of movies already have Disney+, not Peacock or whatever else. They’ve gotten used to just riding out the shortened exclusivity window, unless they’re not sure the movie will show up on their tablet or smart TV anytime soon.
And that’s not even getting into Marvel, which…let’s save that for its own essay.
Despite all this unpredictability, the box office has certainly seen a true comeback for plenty of adult-centered films long thought past their expiration date, at least when it comes massive opening weekends and staying power. In 2022, we’re now seeing legacy sequels like Paramount’s Top Gun: Maverick (which narrowly missed our list below) become actual event films on a level similar to blockbusters right before the pandemic. At this point, Maverick has already outgrossed every summer movie from 2019 (domestically), save for Avengers: Endgame, which to be fair is the second highest-grossing movie of all time (worldwide).
Would Top Gun: Maverick have made this much money if released in 2020, as planned? Honestly…probably not.
It’s clear that audiences are hungry to come back to theaters. But they’re not dumb. They know that they can expect a higher standard when it comes to shelling out for the big screen. Doesn’t have to mean the movie itself is all that amazing (see again: Minions), but that the experience has to be worthy (see again: Minions, but with suits for some Tik-Tok-related reason).
That might partly explain why an arthouse film like Everything Everywhere All at Once has broken through the pop culture noise in such a massive way, playing in theaters for months instead of just a few weeks in select markets. Like Parasite, it’s an unconventional film that has struck a chord with the broad moviegoing public, despite being wholly original and coming from the guys who made that farting corpse movie that quietly rules. Will people really go to the theater to see something they’ve never heard of, just because it’s that good? Well…yeah! Sometimes.
You’d think after two years of theaters being on the bubble, this would be Netflix’s time to shine. The monumental streaming service became ubiquitous throughout the pandemic, serving up massive hits in the way of original, must-watch features and documentaries releasing at a steady clip. Yet almost zero Netflix movies made any of the lists submitted by our writers — though to be fair, most of us hadn’t seen Sea Beast before making this list, and Apollo 10 1/2 (seen above) did get some notable mention.
Still, after a 2021 where The Mitchells vs. the Machines and other films like it drove the conversation on the best cinema has to offer, 2022 has seen a bit of a slump for the OG streamer.
Perhaps it was inevitable, but the year certainly isn’t over yet.
The following is a truly wonderful collection of films from across the genre spectrum. Many of them are quite high up on my own list, in fact, and I would love to rewatch any of these features (there’s only one I haven’t seen or plan to see anytime soon, but I’m sure it’s good fun). And despite being past the halfway point of 2022, I can already see at least two of these films topping not just this year’s crop, but last year’s, too.
Blockbuster films have certainly suffered amidst COVID complications and studio limitations of late (see again: Marvel), but this has been a brilliant time for indies and crossovers. Films that come from a genuine place and are spectacular in their focus, rather than big and flashy for the sake of it. If this is the prevailing trend of 2022, I certainly can’t wait to see what the rest of the year has in store.—Jon Negroni
Of all of David Cronenberg’s projects, it might be considered a bit blasphemous to call Crimes of the Future his best one. But that’s exactly why it has a good case. In a world inhabited by The Fly fans and Shivers apologists alike, Cronenberg’s creations have been the subject of controversy and debate since the director first popped onto the scene many years ago. His bleak outlook on the future of mankind, in relation to its reliance on technology and other vices, is as heavily debated as the impact of his grotesque body horror on sci-fi cinema.
Crimes of the Future is the director’s (slightly narcissistic) celebration of the nature of his own filmography, as well as a reflective gaze at those who view it — i.e. us, the impressionable viewer who at the end of any Cronenberg construction has to ask themselves, “Is a 6’4′ bug-man really a good metaphor for the human condition?” In that case, the majority answer is yes, but for Crimes of the Future, it’s ranking in Cronenberg’s library is even more ripe for healthy debate. A fact the film intentionally feeds on in pure meta fashion.—Adonis Gonzalez
14. Jackass Forever
When Johnny Knoxville was busting balls — both metaphorically and, of course, quite literally — with his fun-loving, rough-neck buddies however many years ago, I doubt that the thought crossed his (possibly concussed) mind that he would one day become the ringman for one of the most outrageous, lasting, and influential tropes of the 21st century. Sure enough, Jackass remains not merely one of the most deliriously hilarious comedy fixtures of the modern era, but unexpectedly one of its more tender and moving.
Their brotherly love and kinship are sweet in their own uniquely noxious way, and with Jackass Forever, Knoxville, director Jeff Tremaine, and their roundabout team of long-standing mainstays, including Steve-O, “Danger” Ehren McGhehey, Chris Pontius, Dave England, Preston Lacy, and Jason “Wee-Man” Acuna, along with newcomers Eric Manaka, Zach Holmes, Sean “Poopies” McInerney, and Rachel Wolfson, continue to infuse this unlikely film franchise with one of its most endearing, gratifying, and, of course, delightfully wince-inducing entrees. It’s not often that a sequel with so many nut shots can effectively tug at your heartstrings. —Will Ashton
If you were bummed out that the rumors of a secret David Lynch film set to be released around the Cannes Film Festival this year turned out to be mere gossip, Dual can fill the Lynch-shaped hole in your dark heart. The latest feature from writer/director Riley Stearns (The Art of Self-Defense) sees Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy) facing a terminal disease and deciding to keep her loved ones from mourning by ordering a clone and preparing her to take over her life.
The kicker is that our hero makes a miraculous recovery, but her clone doesn’t want to leave her life, so the two must fight to the death and see who truly earns the right to live. Stearns’s usual brand of dry comedic misery is on full display again, this time with a spookier atmosphere and an even grimier appreciation of being human. Lynch would be very impressed with Stearns’s literal take on duality, anchored by Gillan’s revelatory performances as the stern protagonist and her calculating double.—Jon Winkler
12. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
Nicolas Cage has run the gamut in terms of career-spanning notoriety. From hot-shot, new-kid-on-the-block industry pariah to the indie darling he is now, Cage has, for better and worse, fully embraced each and every role that’s come his way. In large part, that’s what makes The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent so enormously appealing, as it peels back layers of the Nic Cage persona and, rather than simply making fun of his schtick (though it certainly pokes fun, albeit good-naturedly), the film both honors the actor’s expansive filmography while also giving its leading star ample moments to display what made him so revered in the first place through a loose and wickedly funny performance.
Pedro Pascal in a supporting role is equally as charismatic, and the two make for an unlikely odd couple. Directed by Tom Gormican, it’s not that the film only works because of its subject and star, but that it’s further elevated by it, already working off a clever and inventive script.—Ally Johnson
Throughout the course of his acclaimed career, writer/director Terence Davies has blurred the lines between historical account, artistic interpretation, and even autobiographical authenticity to create a series of sympathetic, remorseful works on the very nature of physical and/or emotional isolation and self-projection. The results, from The House of Mirth to A Quiet Passion, have typically found kinship or cathartic reflection with personalities who reserve as much as they often give. And with his latest film, Benediction, Davies provides one of his most hauntingly lyrical works, reflecting on the life of WWI veteran and acclaimed poet Siegfried Sasson, a tortured, embittered soul who moved the masses with his vivid and elegant depictions of the true depravities of war, but ultimately needed to keep his homosexuality hidden from the public’s uncaring scorn.
Focusing more intently on Sasson’s unsettled personal life, as opposed to the war poet’s professional achievements, Davies crafts an achingly poetic, melancholic tale of struggle and stagnation, centered around a man forever trapped in tragedy and terror, unable to find recluse in a society that won’t accept him for who he truly is. Despite his ability to gorgeously profess the troubles of a militarized nation, he is caught at war with a world that can’t understand him and embattled by inner demons that won’t let him love or be loved. Further bolstered by extraordinary performances from Jack Lowden and Peter Capaldi as our tormented subject, Benediction often finds the sympathetic grace that eludes our war-torn main character, leading to one of Davies’ more refined and acutely poignant works.—Will Ashton
10. The Batman
Batman origin stories are a dime a dozen, so much so that we see a new portrayal of him every couple of years. But I’m not here to complain. From Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher to Christopher Nolan then Zack Snyder, Batman is consistently given a captivating, fresh take. In The Batman, director Matt Reeves truly set the bar high for whoever decides to take the mantle next. Bruce Wayne is actually explored as a tormented figure, here, sincerely seeking vengeance before the Batman character conceptualizes the need for justice in Gotham City. Robert Pattinson is perfect as the brooding, mysterious caped crusader. Zoe Kravitz, Paul Dano, and especially Jeffrey Wright do not disappoint. The story, cinematography, and action altogether have me thrilled for what will hopefully become the next great Batman series—Alyshia Kelly
After the success of his debut coming-of-age film, S#!%house, Cooper Raiff brings another story of a young person trying to find their place in Cha Cha Real Smooth. Once again, he writes, directs, and stars in it. If any other director were doing something similar, it might seem boring. But Raiff’s vision makes Cha Cha Real Smooth a lovely and memorable viewing experience. The story of Andrew as he tries to navigate the early years of adulthood is reminiscent of other witty indie films, but the uniqueness of his relationship with Domino (excellently portrayed by Dakota Johnson) and her daughter Lola (Vanessa Burghardt) and the way the film subverts the single-parent romance trope makes Raiff’s sophomore film stand out from others in the genre. It’s impressive to see the young filmmaker making such great movies at just 25 years old, as if we’re witnessing the first steps of one of the next truly great storytellers.—Pedro Graterol
8. Fire Island
Over the last few years director Andrew Ahn has made a name for himself on the independent scene, from his breakthrough Spa Night and then the tear inducing Driveways. In Fire Island, written by Joel Kim Booster, he finds further light and charm in a story inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. Based on a group of friends who are spending a week away at the titular Fire Island, the film devolves into starry eyed romance mixed with hard truths in a way that never feels convoluted and/or derivative of the source material. Booster makes for an alluring and charismatic star while Bowen Yang delivers a genuinely moving and still hilarious performance. He and Booster share a believable camaraderie as close friends who have seen it all together. Add to that a fantastic karaoke scene and Britney Spears’s “Sometimes” covered by LGBTQ+ icons Muna, and you’ve got yourself a modern Queer love story for the ages.—Ally Johnson
7. Turning Red
Growing up is difficult, especially when you’re stuck between expectations from loved ones about the kind of person you should be, and the kind of person you’re realizing you are. It may be a familiar sentiment to express, but also a tricky one to make an honest-felt film about, while still remaining fun and amusing as well. Director Domee Shi manages this feat with Turning Red, her debut feature for Pixar and one of their most personal-feeling films ever, a story that feels truly made with creativity and love.
Bright colors, breakneck pacing, and the amusing doodles splashing across the screen signal this as a film with an authentically preteen perspective, detailing the highs and lows of puberty to a degree that we rarely see, and with a mature perspective to truly lend understanding to how the adults respond as well. There are no superficial villains here, and there’s also a refreshing resistance toward dodging realistic subjects or leaning on hollow resolutions. This is a film about the true experience of growing and changing, and the empowerment that can come with embracing the messiest parts of ourselves despite pressure to excise them instead. For a family film from a huge studio, Turning Red feels impressively real.—Leonora Waite
Christopher Abbott is no stranger to “best of the year lists,” so On the Count of Three probably serves best as an urgent showcase and proving ground for comedian Jerrod Carmichael, who stars in his own directorial debut. Carmichael has something uncomfortable to say about the hopelessness of masculinity, specifically when it comes to past traumas and how the system just does not work for anybody trapped inside it, especially BIPOC. So of course he had to make this film about a suicide pact a comedy. How else get the medicine down?
On the Count of Three premiered at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, and it was excruciating to wait for its delayed release in theaters this past spring. But yes, the wait was worth it, as On the Count of Three is a tonally brilliant black comedy that makes slice-of-life look bleakly fleeting. Carmichael and Abbot are effortless friends in this, mostly because they’re drawn to accurately get on each other’s nerves more than they get along. It’s a dual performance with too many layers to appreciate on first watch, so it’s a shame too many won’t ever get the chance to get in the car for a single “joy” ride.—Jon Negroni
5. After Yang
It feels rare to witness a futuristic sci-fi that foregrounds character development and relationships while featuring a sense of time and place that leaves the audience with intriguing questions and the sense of entering a world fully formed, one that could plausibly spring from the one we know. Almost a decade ago, Spike Jonze’s Her accomplished this feat, and now Kogonada’s After Yang joins it as an equally profound meditation on sentience, adoption, culture, memory, and the family unit.
Kogonada’s expert direction melds curated environments with the yearnings of melancholic characters, resulting in one of the most deeply-textured films of recent years. Colin Farrell anchors the film with a soulful performance, as his journey to repair his defunct android son Yang (Justin H. Min) alters his view of the world. Starting out with a slightly disquieting mood as the futuristic concepts are casually introduced, the film builds to a stealthily affecting symphony of revelations and reminiscences that qualify After Yang as one of the most emotionally well-rounded sci-fi films in years.—Leonora Waite
4. The Northman
It’s a damn shame that Robert Eggers tried his hardest to adapt his grim, creepy atmosphere to a modern film audience’s expectations of a viking epic and was left demoralized by the box office numbers. Then again, anyone who’s seen The VVitch or The Lighthouse should know that Eggers doesn’t make crowd-pleasing pictures. With The Northman, he delivered a dirty revenge fantasy with sprinklings of mysticism and beauty that’s occasionally hard to watch and yet impossible to look away from.
Eggers makes you feel the intensity behind Alexander Skarsgård’s performance every time he’s on screen, whether he’s hobbling through the Icelandic countryside or charging through enemies with nothing but bear fur and sweat. The director still loves to test an audience’s taste (he now has two movies that feature Willem Dafoe farting), but he shows a talent for constructing impressive action scenes and capturing imagery that’s gorgeous as well as grotesque. Between last year’s The Green Knight from David Lowery and this year’s The Northman, the merger of arthouse craftsmanship and fantasy grandiosity is becoming a fascinating combo.—Jon Winkler
After three short films and a storybook, Jenny Slate reprises her voice role as the anthropomorphic, single-eyed seashell, Marcel, in the mockumentary style feature-length film Marcel the Shell With Shoes On. It’s always interesting to see the YouTube-video-to-cinema pipeline actually play out, and oftentimes, such stories can be pretty questionable. But with this movie, director Dean Fleischer-Camp successfully makes the transition.
I would have never expected to be entertained by a talking seashell and his grandma who have all these survival tactics due to being without the rest of their family and community for too long, but by the end, I wished I could see even more. Marcel is charming, adorable, and hilarious. The story is heartwarming, unique, and sure to conjure up several emotions. I’m excited to see what Fleischer-Camp has in store for us next.—Alyshia Kelly
Extravagant action pieces where protagonists fight against — and sometimes with — an entire zoo’s worth of wild animals? Check. Musical numbers that you will be humming for months after seeing the movie? Check. An epic bromance between two Indian historical figures? Check.
S.S. Rajamouli’s RRR is one of the best films of the year so far because it’s unafraid to be itself. The adventures of Alluri Sitarama Raju and Komaram Bheem have no intention of being realistic (in fact, those figures didn’t even meet in real life). But the film’s bold and maximalist style of cartoonish action and musical aplomb make this wild ride of a film an enjoyable experience for everyone, including those unfamiliar with Indian cinema, making all 182 minutes of the runtime worth every second.—Pedro Graterol
Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s Everything Everywhere All at Once teaches us that love isn’t about grand gestures; it’s the little moments in life that matter the most, whether that’s a simple gaze at someone you love or just doing laundry and taxes together. However, Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) is tired of laundry and the same repetitive routine, longing for a more exciting life — and a more exciting husband (Ke Huy Kuan). But no matter how many dimensions she visits or how many chapsticks she eats, she finds the same things: a husband who fights for her and a daughter (Stephanie Hsu) crying out for help.
Kwan and Scheinert masterfully balance absurdism and drama to create a concoction that makes both happy and sad tears flow (sometimes simultaneously). Despite releasing in March, it continues to dominate and will undoubtedly have a hefty awards campaign later this year. As long as Yeoh, Kuan, and Hsu are included in those conversations, then bring it on.—Yasmin Kleinbart