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The 20 Best Films of 2022, So Far

With the year (somehow) half over, 2022 has already played home to a wide variety of incredible cinematic offerings. Here are 20 you can see right now.

The Best Films of 2022, So Far

Googly eyes. High-flying fighter jets. Lovable robots and wild red pandas. Meat (both human and otherwise, and so very much of it). Romance (forbidden, unexpected, edifying, and nurturing). Dancing. Farts. Freedom (and, of course, restriction, and so very much of it). The first six months of 2022 have already gifted film fans with a wide array of incredible cinematic offerings, and there’s still a half a year to go.

Some of our favorite filmmakers have returned to the screen with fresh visions, including everyone from Kogonada to Andrea Arnold, David Cronenberg to Daniels, Terence Davies to Peter Strickland. And there have been plenty of new names to admire, too, including Audrey Diwan, Panah Panahi, Mimi Cave, and Jerrod Carmichael, all of whom have bowed debuts that make us feel hopeful for the future of film.

A handful of the films that have already earned a mark of IndieWire distinction premiered on the festival circuit, some went straight to streaming platforms, and there’s even the odd blockbuster or two (good action movies, what a concept!) rounding out the lot. Best of all: each of these films is available to see right now.

Our list of the best movies of the year so far follows the same basic rules as it has in years past: In order to qualify, a film must have been released in North American theaters for at least a week or on a VOD platform or streaming service in the same territory. That means we’ve got the usual festival leftovers from last year that finally made their way to audiences, new titles from earlier festivals that have already been released, all alongside a handful of films that materialized in recent months. It also means that we can’t include movies we’ve already seen and adored that have yet to be released, even if they’re right around the corner, including a number of our favorites from Cannes, Telluride, Venice, TIFF, and NYFF.

For now, there’s plenty of good stuff to catch up on. Get watching!

Eric Kohn, Jude Dry, Natalia Winkelman, and Siddhant Adlakha contributed to this list.

After Yang, Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith

“After Yang”

A24/Showtime

“After Yang” (A24)

At some unknown point in the near future, an android named Yang (Justin H. Min) stops working. Jake (Colin Farrell), the tea seller who bought the refurbished “technosapien” as a big sibling and cultural anchor for the young daughter he and his wife adopted from China, drags the uncannily lifelike machine down to the local tech center in much the same way someone might take a cracked iPhone to the Genius Bar, because that’s what you do when a piece of technology dies.

But replacing Yang’s role in Jake’s house won’t be as simple as buying a newer model. And when it seems clear that Yang may never come back online, Jake unexpectedly begins to mourn the robot’s loss in a very different way than one might grieve a broken toaster or a bricked laptop. There’s a little more to it than that, as filmmaker Kogonada digs some lovely rabbit holes of his own design and tunnels into soft pockets of memory only hinted at (if that) by the source material, yet this is still very much sci-fi at its coziest.

Perhaps there will come a day when Kogonada is compelled to scale up his delicate brand of cinema without breaking it — to replace pillow shots with cranes — but the wistful beauty of “After Yang” is as rooted in its domesticity as the tree that grows in the center of Jake’s house is rooted to the soil below. —DE

Read IndieWire’s full review of “After Yang.”

Benediction

“Benediction”

Roadside Attractions

“Benediction” (Roadside Attractions)

With “Benediction” — another spectacular and terribly sad biopic about a poet cursed with the ability to express a private agony they could never escape — Terence Davies has once again made a film that feels like the work of someone flaying their soul onscreen. Last time it was Emily Dickinson who provided the prism through which Davies could refract his own wants and wounds, and here it’s the English poet Siegfried Sassoon, an openly but resentfully gay man desperate for a peace of mind he only knew how to look for in other people. This is a film that trembles with a need for redemption that never comes, and the urgency of that search is palpable enough that you can feel it first-hand, even if “Benediction” is never particularly clear about the nature of the redemption it’s hoping to find.

We first meet Siegfried (played by Jack Lowden as a young man, and briefly by Peter Capaldi as an older one) as a bright-faced chap in London circa 1914, days before he’s sent to fight in the Great War that he will survive but never escape. The film is hardly a few minutes old before Siegfried has lost a brother, saved a number of men on the field of battle, and thrown the Military Cross he’s been awarded for his bravery into the River Mersey.

That bit of history turned out to be apocryphal, but hard proof exists of Sassoon’s blistering letter against the “political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed,” a seismic anti-war screed published by the press and read aloud in the House of Commons. It was the start of his career as a writer, and an act of gallantry that shadowed the rest of a life spent in retreat. —DE

Read IndieWire’s full review of “Benediction.”

Dakota Johnson appears in CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH by Cooper Raiff, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

“Cha Cha Real Smooth”

Apple

“Cha Cha Real Smooth” (Apple)

I suppose there are some people who might have an allergic reaction to the comfortably uncool movies of Cooper Raiff — some people who might stiffen up whenever his low-key indie charmers offer a supportive hug and remind you that we’re all just doing our best — but every life-sized beat of the 24-year-old’s first two features has struck me as wry and true in a way that makes the stories around them feel all the more honest for their empathy. If that would be a promising start under any circumstances, it’s an especially nifty magic trick at a time when the world is fucked to a degree that anything nice seems like it must be lying to you somehow.

Drawing from Richard Linklater and mentored by Jay Duplass, Raiff’s SXSW-winning “Shithouse” is the softest rom-com you’ll ever see about a homesick college freshman who can’t understand how the rest of his classmates are having such a good time, and yet it so warmly radiates the same vulnerability that was required to make it that even its broadest moments feel as raw as memories.

With his winsome sophomore effort “Cha Cha Real Smooth” — another effortlessly funny and endlessly forgiving mash note to anyone who’s struggled to reconcile the life they got with the one they imagined for themselves — Raiff scales up the disarming earnestness of his debut without losing any of its DIY intimacy. —DE

Read IndieWire’s full review of “Cha Cha Real Smooth.”

"Cow"

“Cow”

IFC Films

“Cow” (IFC Films)

“Cow” opens with the closeup of a gooey calf yanked from the vaginal canal, and follows her all the way through her rough, solitary existence. The small miracle of director Andrea Arnold’s experiential documentary is that it enacts its simple premise in straightforward terms, but assembles them into a profound big picture.

Her subject, a dairy cow named Luma, grows up under the tutelage of farmers who seem, for all intents and purposes, looking out for her best interests. However, with Arnold centralizing her subject’s gaze, even their kindly background roles come into question. As Luma endures the monotony of her routine, “Cow” grows into a stirring, often sad contemplation of a life reduced to resources.

There’s a certain obvious performative quality to the gimmick of the movie, but that same ingredient makes it possible to settle into Arnold’s concept all the way through. It’s impossible to fully conceive of the world through the eyes of one animal, but “Cow” gets much closer than any anthropomorphized Disney character ever could, with the kind of sound and image deep dive that the term “pure cinema” was invented to describe. —EK

Read IndieWire’s full review of “Cow.”

"Crimes of the Future"

“Crimes of the Future”

“Crimes of the Future” (Neon)

Whether you have the stomach to survive “Crimes of the Future” would seem to be a more complicated matter. At a time when holy shit, you have to see this insanity has become the fastest shortcut for arthouse fare to get around the always-suffocating layers of superhero movie hype, it was inevitable that David Cronenberg’s first movie since “Maps to the Stars” would be positioned as some kind of sick endurance test that found him revisiting the familiar preoccupations of body horror classics like “Dead Ringers” and “The Fly” so that he could combine all of their gnarliest moments into a career-spanning orgy of squelching latex. The tone of the press coverage leading up to the film’s Cannes premiere was basically “any upstart auteur can fuck a car, but only OG daddy Cronenberg can make love to it.” The director himself even suggested that people would start walking out within the first five minutes.

What Cronenberg neglected to specify is that those imagined audience members — as implausible as the crowds who supposedly fled in panic when the Lumière brothers aimed a train at them — would be stampeding up the aisles in response to tragedy, and not gore.

Don’t get me wrong, “Crimes of the Future” is Cronenberg to the core, complete with its fair share of authorial flourishes (the moaning organic bed that its characters sleep in is a five-alarm nightmare unto itself) and slogans (“surgery is the new sex”). At the same time, however, this hazy and weirdly hopeful meditation on the macro-relationship between organic life and synthetic matter ties into his more wholly satisfying gross-out classics because of how it pushes beyond them. —DE

Read IndieWire’s full review of “Crimes of the Future.”

Everything Everywhere All At Once

“Everything Everywhere All at Once”

Allyson Riggs, Courtesy of A24

“Everything Everywhere All at Once” (A24)

“Everything Everywhere All at Once” is as overstuffed as its title implies, even more juvenile than its pedigree suggests, and so creatively unbound from the minute it starts that it makes Daniels’ previous efforts seem like they were made with Bressonian restraint by comparison (for context, their last feature was a sweet fable starring Harry Potter as an explosively farting corpse).

It’s a movie that I saw twice just to make sure I hadn’t completely hallucinated it the first time around, and one that I will soon be seeing a third time for the same reason. I don’t ever expect to understand how it was (or got) made, but I already know that it works. And I know that it works because my impulse to pick on its imperfections and wonder how it might’ve been different eventually forfeits to the utter miracle of its existence.

It’s a movie… about a flustered Chinese-American woman trying to finish her taxes. Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) is being audited — first by the IRS, and then by the other great evils of our multiverse. She and her stubbornly guileless husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan, a sublime revelation in one of his first major roles since the days of Short Round) immigrated to California in pursuit of happiness after Evelyn’s overbearing father, Gong Gong (James Hong, 93 years old and yet still in his prime) forbid the marriage, but their dreams of a brighter future were soon quashed by the realities of running a small business and raising a child of their own. —DE

Read IndieWire’s full review of “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”

Bowen Yang, Tomas Matos, Matt Rogers, Torian Miller, Joel Kim Booster and Margaret Cho in the film FIRE ISLAND. Photo by Jeong Park. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

“Fire Island”

Hulu

“Fire Island” (Hulu)

Though Jane Austen only wrote one of them, there are actually a few truths universally acknowledged: That a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife, and girls just wanna have fun. To the elite group of authors of pithy maxims, Jane Austen and Cyndi Lauper, we may add a third ingenious scribe: Joel Kim Booster.

The stand-up comedian makes a splashy debut as both a formidable literary force and an appealing leading man in “Fire Island,” his first feature film as screenwriter, and hopefully the first of many. Though the vision was all Booster’s, the love that went into “Fire Island” emanates from every player.

A true ensemble piece, the movie is filled with the joy and camaraderie of that cheesiest of queer epithets — chosen family. But under the Day-Glo sheen of the carless beach town filled with glistening shirtless queers, it all feels genuinely dreamy. (Or maybe it’s the Ketamine.) Directed by Andrew Ahn (“Spa Night,” “Driveways”) and starring “Saturday Night Live” darling Bowen Yang opposite Booster, “Fire Island” marries the promise of the queer comedy boom with the artistic arrival of Asian American cinema. Gorgeously intersectional, subtly political, and a damn good time — it’s a guaranteed instant classic. —JD

Read IndieWire’s full review of “Fire Island.”

Flux Gourmet

“Flux Gourmet”

YouTube/screenshot

“Flux Gourmet” (IFC Films)

A student of vintage Euro-horror whose dreamy tales of killer dresses and kinky lepidopterists are sometimes filed away as the stuff of simple giallo fetishism (even by his fans), British filmmaker Peter Strickland may not be shy about his influences, but the echoes that reverberate throughout his work only tend to clarify the mesmeric power of his own voice. No matter how indebted to Dario Argento or Jess Franco his movies might be — no matter how removed from time these fables always are — the likes of “Berberian Sound Studio” and “In Fabric” are embossed with such palpable sensuality that they soon come to feel as singularly now and present as the touch of a velvet glove on your skin.

Sense is substance in Strickland’s films (we’re talking about a guy whose movies are so pungent that “The Duke of Burgundy” even includes a “perfumes by” credit in its opening sequence), and it was only a matter of time before he made one that you could practically taste.

A sweetly flatulent satire about the irritable relationship between art and decorum, “Flux Gourmet” flings us into another of the weirdo pocket worlds in which all of Strickland’s films take place. This one draws from ’70s fashion and ’80s haircuts to create a Lanthimos-like parallel universe where music is made with food (and food sometimes made from music), and kids dream about joining culinary collectives instead of becoming pop stars. —DE

Read IndieWire’s full review of “Flux Gourmet.”

fresh movie still

“Fresh”

Searchlight Pictures

“Fresh” (Hulu)

About thirty minutes into “Fresh,” a deliciously jangly horror movie, the opening credits roll. Up until then, the movie unfolds like an edgy romantic comedy. In the opening scene, Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones, with a bite) shows up for an app date, which turns out to be a dud: A vain cheapskate who’s brusque with the waiter, the guy tells Noa between bites of their meal that her sweater looks shlumpy and a dress would suit her better. Reading the disagreeable signs, Noa bids him a polite goodbye, but not before Mr. Conceited Civility, upon rejection, can shout, “Good luck finding a guy, you stuck-up bitch.”

This sort of bait-and-switch becomes a key ingredient in “Fresh,” Mimi Cave’s classy and clever feature directorial debut. Written by Lauryn Kahn, the movie is framed as a parable of the anxieties of modern dating, of how truly impossible it can feel for (straight) women to catch a break. It’s a familiar setup, and one that’s vulnerable to the traps of heavy-handedness and cliche. But unlike recent predecessors — “Promising Young Woman” and the short story “Cat Person” come to mind — “Fresh” doesn’t wholly aspire to be a feminist arrow to the heart of today’s heterosexual dating scene. More so, it uses its central idea as fodder for stylish black comedy. Where “Promising Young Women” tended to feel labored and clumsy, “Fresh” is sleek and nimble, a worthy new entry into the feminist revenge thriller genre. —NW

Read IndieWire’s full review of “Fresh.”

Great Freedom

“Great Freedom”

Mubi

“Great Freedom” (MUBI)

The last of the Nazi concentration camps were liberated in 1945, but not all of their survivors were freed. For many gay men born during the Weimar Republic — who had been disqualified from Hitler’s master race no matter their religion — the end of the Holocaust marked the beginning of another, longer sentence, as both sides of post-war Germany continued to enforce the criminalization of homosexuality under Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code (with West Germany adopting the Nazis’ aggressive revisions to the 1871 law).

Already hollowed and dehumanized by their suffering in the Shoah, these men were shuttled directly from Auschwitz or Dachau to prisons in Munich or Berlin without so much as a sniff of the new world order. As the rest of the planet spun forward into the second half of the 20st century, they remained shackled to a statute that belonged to the 19th.

That atemporality is at the heart of Sebastian Meise’s “Great Freedom,” a tough but powerfully tender prison epic that adopts a Tralfamadorian approach to its portrait of a repeat “offender” — a man who’s only free to express his natural love and desire while locked up in the same purgatory that was built to deny them both. The film thaws across three separate decades of a single life, melting through time like the errant memories that visit Hans Hoffmann (“Transit” star Franz Rogowski) in the darkness of the cell where he’s often sent for solitary confinement. —DE

Read IndieWire’s full review of “Great Freedom.”

“Happening”

Venice

“Happening” (IFC Films)

At many points in “Happening,” a weighty, naturalistic drama, Annie (Anamaria Vartolomei) opens her eyes wide. Her pupils shrink into tiny pinpoints. If she were a Marvel character, these would be the moments she transforms into her heroic alter-ego. But for Annie, a French literature student in 1963, power comes not from superhuman brawn but strength of will: She’s several weeks into an unwanted pregnancy, and though abortions are illegal — punishable with prison time — she’s determined to find a way to terminate it.

Not even a decade ago, a film this clear-eyed about abortion might have seemed groundbreaking, and in certain circles, controversial. But “Happening” arrives after “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” “Unpregnant,” “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (the magnificent Luàna Bajrami, who plays Sophie in that film, also appears in “Happening”), and even the first season of “Yellowjackets.” At this point, the jarring discomfort of watching young women punch their stomachs, bleed out on mattresses, or sterilize long, sharp utensils to insert into themselves has been somewhat blunted by its familiarity. Distress lingers, but we’ve been numbed to the shock. —NW

Read IndieWire’s full review of “Happening.”

Hit the Road

“Hit the Road”

Kino Lorber

“Hit the Road” (Kino Lorber)

A family road trip movie in which we never quite know where the film is heading (and are often lied to about why), “Hit the Road” may be set amid the winding desert highways and gorgeous emerald valleys of northwestern Iran, but Panah Panahi’s miraculous debut is fueled by the growing suspicion that its characters have taken a major detour away from our mortal coil at some point along the way. “Where are we?” the gray-haired mom (Pantea Panahiha) asks into the camera upon waking up from a restless catnap inside the SUV in which so much of this film takes place. “We’re dead,” squeaks the youngest of her two sons (Rayan Sarlak) from the back seat, the six-year-old boy already exuding some of the most anarchic movie kid energy this side of “The Tin Drum.”

They aren’t dead — at least not literally, even if the adorable stray dog who’s come along for the ride seems to be on its last legs — but the further Panahi’s foursome drives away from the lives they’ve left behind in Tehran, the more it begins to seem as if they’ve left behind life itself. A purgatorial fog rolls in as they climb towards the Turkish border, and with it comes a series of semi-competent guides (one amusingly trying to steer a motorbike from behind a sheepskin balaclava) who show up to give the family vague directions as if they were clueless interns for the ferryman on the river Styx. A cosmic pall starts to shadow every scene, the characters growing further and further away from us with every long shot until they’re (literally) sucked into the shimmering abyss of outer space. —DE

Read IndieWire’s full review of “Hit the Road.”

“Jackass Forever”

Paramount Pictures

“Jackass Forever” (Paramount Pictures)

The joyous fourth movie in a death-defying franchise that continues to find the sweet spot between “Magic Mike XXL” and “Salò, the 120 Days of Sodom,” Jeff Tremaine’s “Jackass Forever” opens with a sequence that accurately sets the tone for the motion picture magic to come. As with all of the sketches that compose this plotless clip reel of brilliant American idiocy, you know that something foul and/or unfathomably painful is about to go down in the cheesy “Godzilla” parody that kicks things off — longtime “Jackass” fans might even be able to guess what it will be — but it still hits with a childlike wave of wonder and revulsion when you see it unfold. It’s no wonder that the film’s biggest laugh comes when someone reacts to a wildly elaborate prank by shouting, in all sincerity, “I knew that was gonna happen!”

In this case, the gag is that the kaiju terrorizing downtown New York is actually Chris Pontius’ flaccid penis (painted green and puppeteered on strings with on-screen help from “Being John Malkovich” director Spike Jonze), and the monster’s legs are played by his wrinkled balls, which groan in response to the miniature rockets fired at them by ringleader Johnny Knoxville and other members of the cast. This will not be the strangest torture inflicted upon Pontius’ junk during the film — a film in which it’s actually Steve-O who suffers the worst of the genital hijinx, thanks to a stunt that I memorialized in my notes as “Candyman’s dick” — but it anticipates a work of art in which nostalgia and shock go as well together as old friends and pig ejaculate. Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it. —DE

Read IndieWire’s full review of “Jackass Forever.”

“Lingui, The Sacred Bonds”

“Lingui, The Sacred Bonds” (MUBI)

Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s slender yet riveting “Lingui, the Sacred Bonds” is a story about a woman trying to secure an abortion for her 15-year-old daughter in a country where terminating a pregnancy violates both national and religious laws, but — as its title suggests in two different languages — this soft hammer of a social drama is less concerned with the cruelties of Chad’s politics than it is with how people help each other to endure them together.

“Lingui” is a Chadian term that represents a tradition of altruism; a collective resilience in the face of catastrophic ordeals. When a group of young men wordlessly pull the teenage Maria (Rihane Khalil-Alio) out from a riverbed after she tries to drown herself, that is lingui. When Maria’s mother Amina (Achouackh Abakar Soulymane) agrees to aid her estranged sister at a moment of irrevocable crisis, that is lingui. When Maria’s school, afraid of how gossip might reflect on them, expels the girl the minute they learn of her delicate condition… that is why lingui is so necessary. —DE

Read IndieWire’s full review of “Lingui, The Sacred Bonds.”

Marcel the Shell With Shoes On

“Marcel the Shell with Shoes On”

A24

“Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” (A24)

According to general wisdom, it takes 20 beings to form a real community. When Dean Fleischer Camp’s charming “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” feature-length film opens, the anthropomorphic seashell (voiced by Jenny Slate) has long been without such a population, instead whiling his days away alongside his sassy grandmother and a rotating cast of mostly disinterested AirBNB guests. Like the trio of early short films Camp and Slate crafted around the stop-motion shell in the early aughts (plus a pair of best-selling storybooks), “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” adopts a breezy mockumentary style to tell the tale of the world’s most charming shell.

This time, however, the duo (plus newbie partner Nick Paley, who wrote it alongside Camp and Slate) dig deeper into Marcel’s seemingly everyday life to unearth the usual tender feelings (he’s a tween shell! with shoes! he’s adorable!), plus a slew of insights that speak to far deeper emotions and ideas. In a time beset with films consumed by questions of connection, community, and change, “Marcel the Shell” seamlessly marries big ideas with charm and humor (and inventive stop-motion work to boot). In short, it’s the cutest film about familial grief you’ll see all year, perhaps ever. —KE

Read IndieWire’s full review of “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On.”

"The Northman"

“The Northman”

Aidan Monaghan / Focus Features

“The Northman” (Focus Features)

All you really need to know about “The Northman” — a $90 million Viking revenge saga directed by Robert Eggers — is that every single minute of it feels like a $90 million Viking revenge saga directed by Robert Eggers. Both parts of that equation are worth celebrating outside of and in addition to the movie’s other merits.

Even if “The Northman” had been a dreadful bore — and not a primal, sinewy, gnarly-as-fuck 10th century action epic that starts with a hallucinogenic Viking bar mitzvah, features Björk’s first narrative film performance since “Dancer in the Dark,” and ends with two mostly naked men fighting to the death atop an erupting volcano — the simple fact that financiers had the chutzpah to bankroll such a big swing in the face of our blockbuster-or-bust theatrical climate would have felt like a (pyrrhic) victory against the forces of corporate homogenization, no matter who was behind the camera.

That “The Northman” was entrusted to a fetishistically uncompromising young auteur whose previous movie was a single-location sea shanty best-remembered for mermaid vaginas and Willem Dafoe asking, “Why’d you spill your beans!?” makes it even riskier to slot into multiplexes between “Sonic 2” and “MCU 28.” That the finished product viscerally feels like the work of the same artist — despite well-documented attempts to water it down — makes it something of a miracle. —DE

Read IndieWire’s full review of “The Northman.”

On the Count of Three

“On the Count of Three”

YouTube/screenshot

“On the Count of Three” (United Artists)

Jerrod Carmichael’s “On the Count of Three” isn’t super heavy on the kind of koan-like quips that have always lent his confrontational standup comedy its velvet punch, but this one — delivered in the opening minutes of his suicide-dark but violently sweet directorial debut — resonates loud enough to echo throughout the rest of the film: “When you’re a kid they tell you the worst thing in life is to be a quitter. Why? Quitting’s amazing. It just means you get to stop doing something you hate.”

Lifelong best friends Val (Carmichael) and Kevin (Christopher Abbott) are both ready to give up. The first time we see them they’re standing in the parking lot outside an upstate New York strip club at 10:30 a.m. with handguns pointed at each other’s heads as part of a double-suicide pact. Nobody’s laughing, but you can already feel the love between them; something about the look in their eyes reads more like “sisters who are pregnant at the same time” than it does “strangers who are about to shoot each other in the face.” —DE

Read IndieWire’s full review of “On the Count of Three.”

"RRR"

“RRR”

DVV Entertainment

“RRR” (DVV Entertainment)

S.S. Rajamouli’s “RRR” is a dazzling work of historical fiction — emphasis on the “fiction” — that makes the moving image feel intimate and enormous all at once. A pulsating period action drama, it outshines even the director’s record-smashing “Baahubali” movies (viewers familiar with them probably won’t know what to expect here) thanks to its mix of naked sincerity, unapologetic machismo, and balls-to-the-wall action craftsmanship. Plenty of recent releases have been hailed as “the return of cinema” post-pandemic, but “RRR” stands apart as an unabashed return to everything that makes the cinematic experience great, all at once.

To talk about the film in any meaningful sense — especially for unfamiliar viewers — first requires setting the stage. Its title is a backronym that stands for “Rise, Roar, Revolt” in English (and similar phrases in various other Indian languages), a fitting label for its early 20th century story about a pair of Indian anti-colonial revolutionaries. However, “RRR” started out as the film’s working title. It stood for director Rajamouli, and the film’s two renowned Tollywood stars, Ram Charan and N.T. Rama Rao Jr. (or N.T.R. Jr.), whose first on-screen collaboration is a good enough reason for many people to buy tickets. The title stuck. The high-caliber names involved are the main attraction, something that becomes all too clear when each actor first appears, and adoring fans turn darkened multiplex screens into lively spaces of celebration, whose walls echo with hoots, hollers and wolf whistles.

The film is worth this reaction, too. —SA

Read IndieWire’s full review of “RRR.”

“Top Gun: Maverick”

Paramount Pictures

“Top Gun: Maverick” (Paramount Pictures)

It’s become an increasingly self-evident truth that Tom Cruise is the last Hollywood movie star of his kind — short as ever but still larger-than-life in an age where most famous actors are only as big as their action figures — and the new “Top Gun” isn’t exactly subtle about the self-commentary it offers on that situation. From new recruits to grizzled vets, every character in this film regards Maverick as both a relic and a god (sometimes in the same breath). Even the guy’s on-again off-again love interest, a thinly written bar owner who Jennifer Connelly wills into a flesh-and-blood woman, thinks of him as an old flame whose light has never gone out.

Watching Cruise pilot a fighter jet 200 feet above the floor of Death Valley, corkscrew another one through Washington’s Cascade Mountains, and give one of the most vulnerable performances of his career while sustaining so many G-forces that you can practically see him going Clear in real-time, you realize — more lucidly than ever before — that this wild-eyed lunatic makes movies like his life depends on it. Because it does, and not for the first time.

But if “Maverick” can’t quite match “Mission: Impossible — Fallout” for sheer kineticism and well-orchestrated awe, this long-delayed sequel does more to clarify what that means than anything Cruise has ever made. And the reason for that is simple: Tom Cruise is Maverick, and Maverick is Tom Cruise. —DE

Read IndieWire’s full review of “Top Gun: Maverick.”

Turning Red

“Turning Red”

PIXAR

“Turning Red” (Disney)

Thirteen-year-old Mei Lee has big problems long before she unexpectedly turns into a giant, walking, talking red panda. She wants to hang out with her friends, drool over their favorite boy band (4*Town, though there are, inexplicably, five members), have some laughs, just be a kid. But at home, she has to be someone else, buttoned up and proper, a perfect student and a doting daughter, not just some screeching teen (and what were teens best made for, other than screeching?). Being a teenager is tough enough, weird beyond measure, confusing as anything, and then…giant, walking, talking red panda. What’s a girl (panda) to do?

Pixar has never shied away from the tough stuff — there are entire generations of kids who have being guided through the cold terror of nothing less than death, world-wide destruction, and even the afterlife through the animation giant’s charming productions — but Domee Shi’s instant classic “Turning Red” marks the first time Pixar has gone all-in on perhaps the scariest, funniest, weirdest thing of all: puberty. —KE

Read IndieWire’s full review of “Turning Red.”

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