2022 was supposed to be the year that movies came roaring back to life, and in some ways it almost was. On the business side of things, multiplexes were starved for content and arthouses suffered outside of New York and Los Angeles — where films like “Tár” and “The Banshees of Inisherin” exploded out of the gate, only to fade as they expanded across the country — while a late-career triumph from the most commercially successful filmmaker in American history offered a poignant reflection on the relationship between art and commerce as it underperformed at the box office.
And yet, “Top Gun: Maverick” proved that the masses could still be tempted by the promise of new (or refurbished) spectacle, while the astonishing success of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” confirmed that younger audiences are eager as ever to champion stuff that speaks their language.
But if it never quite felt as if the movies staged a comeback as satisfying and complete as, say, the one imagined for them in the final minutes of Jordan Peele’s “Nope,” that’s largely because they hadn’t really gone away in the first place. Indeed, many of the year’s best films conspired to affirm the enduring durability of what only the movies can offer.
“Jackass Forever” proved that what worked in 2002 still works in 2022, “RRR” had audiences roaring aloud as if they feared (or fantasized) that Ram Charan was going to burst out of the screen like the Lumière brothers’ mail train, “Triangle of Sadness” invited us to laugh at the rich together for the semi-affordable price of a movie ticket, and Netflix’s crowd-pleasing “Glass Onion” — in its brief theatrical run — ironically made the year’s best argument against an all-streaming future. Worth noting: Of the 25 films on our best-of list, 22 of them opened exclusively in theaters, while only Andrew Ahn’s “Fire Island” eschewed any sort of big screen release.
That phenomenon stretched far beyond the multiplexes, as “Saint Omer” affirmed the singular power of cinema’s gaze, “Resurrection” exhumed the ghost of mid-budget cable thrillers with a sick-fun twist, while documentaries like “Descendant” and “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” illustrated how the past is always present, even when powerful forces might wish that it would stay hidden. In that light, it seems fitting that our number one film of the year should be so unstuck in time, especially as it brims with the promise that cinema’s tomorrow is every bit as bright as its yesterday.
As voted on by the entire IndieWire staff (a process that explains the omission of polarizing standouts like “Elvis,” personal favorites like “Hit the Road” and “Armageddon Time,” and preach-to-the-choir masterpieces like “Crimes of the Future”), these are the 25 best movies of 2022.
Christian Blauvelt, Ryan Lattanzio, Jude Dry, Proma Khosla, and Robert Daniels also contributed to this list.
25. “Triangle of Sadness” (dir. Ruben Östlund)
Rich people on a cruise ship puke their guts out as a wild, drunken Marxist captain played by Woody Harrelson mocks them on a loudspeaker. This extended sequence in writer/director Ruben Östlund’s Palme d’Or-winning “Triangle of Sadness” is the kind of ballsy and twisted black comic set piece that splits the difference between Luis Buñuel and the Marx brothers — a slapstick takedown of the one percent that has fun watching them sink.
But Östlund’s outlandish romp is memorable for much more than that: It’s a wry satire of the fashion world, a playful riff on “Lord of the Flies,” a joyful ribbing of the hospitality industry, and a serious look at how societal imbalances can lead to cruelty, lies, and reckless power games. It’s about everything, basically: a broken world of hierarchies always on the verge of collapse. But it’s also great escapism, showing that laughter is the best medicine for staring down the hypocrisies of our times. —Eric Kohn
24. “Descendant” (dir. Margaret Brown)
How should we remember the dead? It’s an ever-present question for the many Black folks living in Africatown, Alabama, where the last slave ship made landfall, as remembering is what they do best. Their shared memory stretches back to at least 1860 — more than five decades after the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves was signed into law — when two rich white men from Mobile made a bet.
Despite the law, these men believed they could sail to Africa, capture the people they found there, and bring them back as slaves without being caught. They ultimately returned with 100 captives and sank the ship, named the Clotilda, in an effort to destroy any evidence of the grave crime they committed. But people are not so easy to erase.
An unblinking documentary investigation that combines local stories with “Erin Brockovich” flair, Margaret Brown’s imperative “Descendant” is compelled by Africatown’s collective determination to rectify that attempt at erasure. The filmmaker’s 2018 arrival in Africatown coincides with a first-of-its-kind, nationwide partnership to search the waters surrounding Mobile for the wreck of the Clotilda, but her focus extends far beyond the ship. The passionate descendants of those Africans still live in the area, and they’ve been itching not just to find the ship, but to seek justice for its final voyage. Is one possible without the other? Can history be reclaimed without a plank of soggy wood to pin it on? Brown’s lucid and piercing film watches along as the people of Africatown look to their ancestors for answers, their search itself emerging as a revolutionary act. —Robert Daniels
23. “Fire Island” (dir. Andrew Ahn)
A harmonious trio of talent — Joel Kim Booster, Bowen Yang, and Andrew Ahn — collided in a dazzling disco ball of glory to deliver one of the year’s most infectiously delightful films. An ensemble comedy brimming with sexy romance, lovable characters, and inside jokes that let you in, “Fire Island” is the kind of movie we feared couldn’t get made anymore. An avowed fan of “Clueless” and everything Jane Austen, screenwriter and star Booster transplants the societal intrigue of “Pride and Prejudice” onto the strict social hierarchy of New York’s revered gay beach destination. His witty adaptation finds the perfect modern equivalents, as Lizzie becomes an avowed bachelor who prizes casual sex over love, and Wickham a toxic revenge porn scammer.
The fiery ensemble keeps the comedy front and center, while “Spa Night” filmmaker Andrew Ahn smooths out the emotional beats with a painterly finesse. Well on its way to iconic status, he shot a brilliant sunset scene from a distance, showing the group of friends in shadowy silhouettes. Left to ring out against this pretty backdrop, their vivacious banter echoes into the waiting ocean, sending precious zingers to the birds and babes. —JD
22. “Beba” (dir. Rebeca Huntt)
Director Rebeca Huntt’s intimate essay film documents her complex relationship to Afro-Latina identity as she looks back on her immigrant parents’ journey in the midst of discovering her artistic identity. The daughter of a Dominican father and Venezuelan mother, Huntt confronts the dual nature of her journey towards some measure of assimilation.
Through voiceovers, interviews, and immersive collages, she crafts an immersive meditation on her time at Bard, her romantic challenges, and her struggles to reconcile her past and present with poetic clarity. Captured in grainy 16mm imagery, the movie is a subjective plunge into the challenges of facing many first-generation Americans in an increasingly fragmented landscape.
As Huntt’s relationship to her parents becomes strained, “Beba” is as much a critical look at the filmmaker’s own conflicts as it is about the social fabric that gives rise to them. In that respect, it’s a true movie of the moment. —EK
21. “Jackass Forever” (dir. Jeff Tremaine)
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. —David Ehrlich
20. “Return to Seoul” (dir. Davy Chou)
Few movies have ever been more perfectly in tune with their protagonists than Davy Chou’s jagged, restless, and rivetingly unpredictable “Return to Seoul,” a shark-like adoption drama that its 25-year-old heroine wears like an extra layer of skin or sharp cartilage. The film spans eight years over the course of two hours, but you can feel its bristly texture and self-possessed violence from the disorienting first scenes.
Played by plastic artist and first-time actress Park Ji-Min (who gives a towering performance worthy of the same attention that Cate Blanchett and Michelle Yeoh will receive for their work this fall), the French-raised Freddie arrives in Seoul without context, which leaves us the fool’s errand of trying to “solve” her identity over a few too many glasses of soju with her new friends.
Some clues are easier to decipher than others. While Freddie may have been born in the country — and carry what some of her drinking buddies agree is “a typical Korean face” from “ancient, ancestral” times — it’s clear that this is her first trip back since she was adopted as a child, and that she neither thinks of it as home nor speaks a word of the native tongue. Less obvious is the agenda behind Freddie’s sudden return. Her flagrant disregard for local customs suggests that she isn’t there to get in touch with her roots, and when someone suggests that she contact the local adoption agency, Freddie doesn’t just change the subject, she completely transforms the energy of the film itself.
Like Freddie, Chou’s drama is vulnerable and dauntless all at once. Lovable and hostile. Earnest and absurd. It’s the rare movie that can drop a long-take dance sequence into the middle of a pressing conversation without seeming the least bit mannered or aloof; the rare movie that only feels more honest as a result of its most flamboyant choices, and only makes its heroine more empathetic as a result of how she pushes other people away (“I could wipe you from my life with a snap of my fingers” Freddie snaps at a fawning boyfriend in a moment that made me sick with worry for her adoptive parents back in France). That “Return to Seoul” ends on a note as wracked and ambivalent as the ones that crescendo towards it might frustrate anyone still waiting for a cleaner sense of catharsis, but Chou’s plaintive coda feels like a resoundingly true finale to the story of a woman who’s driving forwards in reverse, and won’t know where she wants to go until she can see the full view of who she’s always been. —DE
19. “Resurrection” (dir. Andrew Semans)
Fiendishly splitting the difference between the kind of low-rent parental vigilante movies that will always live on basic cable, and the kind of high-brow polymorphic freakouts that all but died with Andrzej Żuławski, Andrew Semans’ aptly named “Resurrection” may never quite reach “Possession” levels of psychic collapse (what does?), but it sure gets a hell of a lot closer than the broad familiarity of its setup might lead you to expect.
Rebecca Hall, who can often be found starring in smartly fucked up Sundance films when she’s not at the fest for directing exquisite prestige fare, plays a type-A+ Albany biologist who rocks a ferocious power suit at work, dominates a married coworker on her own time, and runs home at an Olympic sprint so that she can supervise the teenage daughter she’s raised by herself.
The grip she maintains over her life is so tight that everything in it seems grasping for air, and when a man from her past (an ominously cast Tim Roth) shows up out of the blue with a wild claim that you really have to hear for yourself, we start to understand why our heroine has developed such a pathological need for control. From that broadly familiar setup, Semans unpacks the kind of guffaw-inducing, hand-over-your-mouth cinematic breakdown that epitomizes the guilty pleasures of a typical psychological thriller at the same time as it transcends them. His artful storytelling and fearless cast help leverage any number of schlocky tropes into an unforgettable, swing-for-the-fences examination of a trauma that can’t be rationalized away. —DE
18. “Corsage” (dir. Marie Kreutzer)
The royal period drama seems to hold endless fascination in Hollywood, so it was only a matter of time before someone turned the form completely on its head. Austrian filmmaker Marie Kreutzer and her dynamite star Vicky Krieps join forces for a resoundingly daring interpretation of the life of Austria’s fabled Empress Elisabeth, known to Austrians as Sisi and held up as a beacon of early feminism. Delectably upending preconceived notions at every turn, Kreutzer leans into the decaying beauty of Austro-Hungarian excess: Drafty castles with half-peeling paint jobs, restrictive undergarments that give the film its beguiling title, and elaborate and laborious hair regimens paint a naturalistic portrait of Sisi’s more than likely grim daily reality.
Known for flights of fancy and upending social mores of the time, Krieps’ Sisi flashes from rage to radiance, playing the petulant child and world-weary truthteller caught in the same gilded cage. Since her impressive international debut in “Phantom Thread,” Krieps has proven herself a formidable actor with excellent taste and a flair for risk-taking.
The clever bent of “Corsage,” a project she pitched to Kreutzer, is that it dusts off a glorified historical figure to unearth some kernel of truth that’s been glossed over in her myth-making. In that way, “Corsage” is a radical feminist film that frees Sisi from a glossy historical narrative that romanticizes monarchy above all else. In liberating the Empress from her pedestal, it lambastes our desire to place her there. —JD
17. “Funny Pages” (dir. Owen Kline)
The story of a 17-year-old wannabe underground cartoonist (Daniel Zolghadri) who aspires to be something like the next R. Crumb feels like it sprang from the grimy pages of an alternative comic itself. “Crumb” by way of “Clerks,” the twisty misadventure finds its anti-hero wasting his days at a local indie comic store and attempting to forge a relationship with dysfunctional color separator (Matthew Maher) who worked on classic comics many years ago.
The Safdie brothers and Ronald Bronstein serve as producers, and this gritty look at arrested development bears a close resemblance to Bronstein’s own underappreciated “Frownland.” Like that movie, Kline’s depiction of ennui is at once unnerving and poignant, right down to the jolt of a finale, which is simply too remarkable to spoil here except to say that Kline has delivered the ultimate rejoinder to the coming-of-age trope. Some people refuse to grow up at all costs, even if it destroys them in the process. That takeaway is delivered as dark punchline in this cynical masterpiece, the first of what hopes one will be many more from a new filmmaking talent. —EK
16. “Saint Omer” (dir. Alice Diop)
One of the most serious films of this or any year, “Saint Omer,” named after the northern French town where it’s largely set, creates a suffocating atmosphere to reflect the degree to which its central figures are trapped. Laurence (Guslagie Mulanga) is a Senegalese immigrant accused of murdering her 15-month-old daughter.
Covering her trial is Rama (Kayije Kagame), a novelist, who sits in the gallery each day for the grim proceedings as Laurence and others stand in the witness box to recount what led up to the death.
The women never exchange words, but first-time narrative feature director Diop creates a kind of dialogue in close-ups between them as Rama tries to process Laurence’s life and experiences. Rama clearly recognizes, and empathizes with, much of Laurence’s struggle as a Black woman in a (far from) post-colonial present day France, and understands the difficulty of, like Laurence, being in an interracial relationship. But she also finds Laurence’s murder of her child incomprehensible: just as two seemingly conflicting things can be true at the same time, so is it that you can understand someone and also be absolutely mystified by them.
Diop, who’s previously made documentaries before this, brings exacting rigor to austere long-takes of Laurence in the witness box recounting her story. Bresson’s “The Trial of Joan of Arc” will come to mind. But Laurence is no martyr, and Diop is not interested in snap judgments but the close observation of ambiguity. A formalist work that never shies away from messiness as humanity’s default state. —CB
15. “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” (dir. Rian Johnson)
Filmmaker Rian Johnson needn’t worry about a sophomore slump, because while “Glass Onion” holds some resemblance to his 2019 smash hit (stacked casts, lavish locations, Daniel Craig having the time of his goddamn life), this sequel is zippily and zanily its own thrill ride, and Johnson can’t churn these babies out fast enough. The second “Knives Out” whodunit delights in unspooling theories, the bread and butter of the genre, and then poking right through them to find something even more witty and amusing. Rest assured: Johnson isn’t reinventing the mystery movie with “Glass Onion,” but he is having a hell of a time lightly deconstructing it and reorienting it to suit his whipsmart script and central super detective. Perhaps the only murder mystery in which its main character will, upon solving the film’s central crime, proclaim it’s all “so dumb!” (and be both right and wrong in that declaration), and all the better for it.
Anyone who has seen not just “Knives Out” but any other whodunit mystery should be wary of accepting the easy clues and codes that appear in its first act, but Johnson is giddily laying out key information right for the start. One of the real tricks of the genre: making necessary exposition — who knows who and why and how and what it all means — feel plucky and fun and breezy, which Johnson does with aplomb. We know someone (maybe even multiple someones) will kick the bucket before the film ends, but Johnson makes us wait for all that for quite some time, stretching out the film’s first half with one sticky little mystery before slingshotting back and reassessing the whole kit and caboodle.
Along the way, everyone goes totally nuts, mostly the audience, who are so hungry for this sort of thing that they can’t help but stand up and cheer, and then play the entire thing over again on Netflix. —Kate Erbland
14. “EO” (dir. Jerzy Skolimowski)
For decades, “Au Hasard Balthazar” has been the preeminent movie about the perils of being a donkey. Along comes octogenarian Polish auteur Jerzy Skolimowski to prove that two can play this game. Without ripping off Robert Bresson’s 1966 classic, Skolimowski finds his own modern approach to chronicling his titular animal hero as he journeys through a human landscape generally disinterested in his well-being.
From his circus origins to various other forms of servitude and the occasional bursts of freedom, the innocent EO gazes on a world with a subtle gaze that grows more poignant and tragic as the story goes on. Paired with other recent cinematic contemplations of animal intelligence, “Cow” and “Gunda,” Skolimowski’s movie is the latest evidence that simply watching the world through another species’ eyes can be illuminating enough to change the way we see the world. But “EO” isn’t some kind of bland veganist plea; it’s a wondrous plunge into the nature of consciousness itself, and with its remarkable audiovisual design, shows how only the movies can take us there. —EK
13. “Benediction” (dir. Terence Davies)
From painting working-class portraits to sketching urbane artistic figures like Emily Dickinson, English filmmaker Terence Davies has long been public about his discomfort with being gay and his feelings of banality toward life in general. He’s not an especially hopeful storyteller, but his pessimism and insatiable hunger for redemption find their purest expression in “Benediction.”
This riotously funny and deeply despairing portrait of World War I-era English poet Siegfried Sassoon follows him from the fringes of the Bright Young Things, into middle age, and up until his death in 1967, Catholic and bereft. He outlived many of his peers but left a legacy in words and in lovers — including the poet Wilfred Owen, socialite flaneur Stephen Tennant, Welsh musician Ivor Novello, and actor Glen Byam Shaw.
Anchored by an elegant performance from Jack Lowden as Siegfried, it’s not a biopic so much as a melancholy what-might-have-been-but-never-will-be melodrama that freely plucks incidents from the poet’s life and plays around with them in time — and it’s filled with silver-tongued zingers and maxims that only Davies could devise.
The filmmaker’s protagonists are almost always stand-ins for himself, and he’s not the least bit shy about that. But that doesn’t mean he’s necessarily working out his issues. As Sassoon says in this gorgeous, ruminative emotional epic, “The moment passes, but the hole remains.” —RL
12. “All that Breathes” (dir. Shaunak Sen)
Often more than 10 times worse than in any other city on Earth, the air in Delhi is so toxic and inhospitable to life itself that birds regularly fall from the sky like feathered rain. If the city’s people are naturally confronted with the same crisis, they are even less equipped to live with it. Unlike the teeming wildlife above and around them, the human population is rendered helpless by its ability (or its need) to assign blame. As a disembodied voice puts it towards the end of Shaunak Sen’s “All That Breathes,” a vital and transfixing work of urban ecology about two Muslim brothers who share an uncommonly holistic perspective of the world around them: “You don’t care for things because they share the same country, religion, or politics. Life is kinship. We’re all a community of air.”
In Delhi, every part of that community — from the flies in the gutter puddles to the black kites that swim through the skies above without struggles — is choking to death as one.
Soft-spoken siblings Mohammad Saud and Nadeem Shehzad have been sensitive to the situation since they were boys whose mother raised them to see the dignity in all living things. Their mutual affection for the black kite — a bird as common to Delhi as the pigeon is to New York, and similarly appreciated by its citizens — eventually inspired them to abandon dreams of professional body-building in order to redirect their knowledge of muscles and tendons towards saving their favorite birds. Wildlife Rescue, the formal name for the ramshackle veterinary operation the brothers run out of their squalid half-basement in Wazirabad Village, has saved more than 20,000 black kites over the last 20 years.
“All That Breathes” is understandably besotted with these eccentric men who’ve devoted so much of their lives to the welfare of a creature that most of their neighbors would sooner ignore; even Saud and Shehzad are liable to think of the kites as a nuisance. And yet, every facet of Sen’s film reflects Saud and Shehzad’s belief that humans aren’t the most important members of their ecosystem, but rather the most isolated. “Violence is always an act of communication,” one of the brothers says, and “All That Breathes” is determined to illustrate how two peoples’ failure to listen to each other is no different than one species’ failure to acknowledge the rest of its environment — that each aspect of Delhi is sharing the same broken conversation, whether they recognize that or not. —DE
11. “RRR” (dir. S.S. Rajamouli)
India’s powerhouse film industry is now ubiquitous in the world of cinema, but nothing could have prepared anyone for the rousing success of S.S. Rajamouli’s “RRR” (Rise, Roar, Revolt). The Telugu-language epic follows in the footsteps of Rajamouli’s and Vijayendra Prasad’s collaboration on the “Baahubali” films, packed — truly all but overflowing — with spectacular, outlandish action sequences (in the best way), allusion to the Hindu texts, and hypnotic songs.
N.T. Rama Rao Jr. and Ram Charan play two men who become fierce friends (maybe more, depending how you interpret that one montage) while deeply embroiled in India’s simmering independence struggle in the 1920s. Unbeknownst to Bheem (N. T. Rama Rao Jr.), his new confidante is a double agent, dooming this relationship from the start.
In theory, so much of this film could be over-the-top and cheesy (and arguably is) — the terrible English accents, the visceral and graphic violence, the CGI animals, the dance battle to destroy imperialism — but it’s also encased from start to finish in unrelenting sincerity from the writer, director, and performers. “RRR”s greatest revolution is against the award-bait movie archetype both in India and abroad — a spark that could ignite a whole movement. —Proma Khosla
10. “After Yang” (dir. Kogonada)
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
9. “The Fabelmans” (dir. Steven Spielberg)
Has any divorce had a more profound impact on the American imagination than the one between Steven Spielberg’s parents? It was the breakup that launched a million blockbusters. That made daddy issues into a spectacle all their own. That led directly to “E.T.,” “Catch Me if You Can,” and the last scene of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” while also paving the way toward any number of iconic films about the meltdown of the nuclear family — which any multiplex would tell you was the middle class’ defining crisis of the 20th century.
And so it stands to reason that “The Fabelmans,” in which Spielberg finally addresses his parents’ divorce head-on through the eyes of his stand-in Sammy Fabelman, would feel like our story as much as it does his own. I’d say this playful yet nakedly personal coming-of-auteur epic was trying to split the difference between memoir and crowd-pleaser, but it seems even more determined to reconcile the two: What else would Steven Spielberg’s ultimate divorce movie be about if not the hope for some kind of reconciliation?
Eventually — after the Fabelmans have moved from New Jersey to Arizona, from Arizona to Northern California, and from happy-go-lucky Shabbat dinners to the classic American discord of forcing your mom to admit that she’s fallen in love with Seth Rogen — someone will turn to Sammy in a difficult moment and say: “Life is nothing like the movies, Fabelman.” By that point, however, we know that’s not entirely true. Not only because Spielberg spent the last 50 years making all sorts of extraordinary films that sting us with a profound sense of personal recognition, but also because “The Fabelmans” so delicately blurs the line between life and the movies that it becomes impossible to tell the difference between Spielberg’s memories and the film he’s finally made about them. That too is a kind of reconciliation, and one that not even Judd Hirsch’s Uncle Boris could imagine being torn apart. —DE
8. “Nope” (dir. Jordan Peele)
How do we live with some of the shit that we’ve been forced to watch on a daily basis? Why are we so eager to immortalize the worst images that our world is capable of producing, and what kind of awful power do we lend such tragedies by sanctifying them into spectacles that can play out over and over again?
While Jordan Peele has fast become one of the most relevant and profitable of modern American filmmakers, “Nope” is the first time that he’s been afforded a budget fit for a true blockbuster spectacle, and that’s exactly what he’s created with it. But if this smart, muscular, and massively entertaining flying saucer freak-out is such an old school delight that it starts with a shout-out to early cinema pioneer Eadweard Muybridge (before paying homage to more direct influences like “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”), it’s also a thoroughly modern popcorn movie for and about viewers who’ve been inundated with — and addicted to — 21st century visions of real-life terror.
The only sci-fi movie that might scare and delight Guy Debord and Ed Wood to the same degree, “Nope” offers a giddy throwback to the days of little green men and hubcap U.F.O.s that hopes to revitalize those classic tropes for audiences who’ve seen too much bloodshed on their own screens to believe in Hollywood’s “bad miracles.” It’s a tractor beam of a movie pointed at people who’ve watched 9/11 happen so many times on network TV that it’s lost any literal meaning; who’ve scrolled past body cam snuff films in between Dril tweets; who’ve become accustomed to rubbernecking at American life from inside the wreckage. —DE
7. “Top Gun: Maverick” (dir. Joseph Kosinski)
Hollywood may still be in trouble, the box office might still be a mess, and the definition of “blockbuster” in the year 2022 might still be very much in flux, but no one can deny the raw power of Joseph Kosinski’s bonafide mega smash hit, “Top Gun: Maverick.” No, really, no one, as the long- (long-, looooong-) gestating sequel to Tony Scott’s raucous 1986 extended music video about abs and Naval aviators managed to charm both critics and audiences alike. The third time this writer saw the film in theaters (yes, third, and with a re-release imminent, expect that number to go up), it was like being at a Broadway show on opening night, the entire crowd abuzz, atwitter, basically beaming, and that was while they were simply buying their popcorn and buckets of soda. Such glee is contagious, and by the time “Danger Zone” pumped through the massive IMAX speakers, it was clear that everyone was there for a damn good time.
Even more thrilling: Kosinski’s film delivers that good time, over and over and over again. How do you make a good sequel? It’s a question that has plagued Hollywood for decades – though perhaps no more keenly, no more perversely in 2022, when someone literally just green-lit an “Easy Rider” follow-up – and one that Kosinski’s film deftly answers. By making a good movie. There, formula complete.
While a previous affection for Scott’s movie certainly helps in enjoying “Maverick” – if nothing else, understanding the fraught and profound emotional bonds between Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, and Anthony Edwards’ characters and how they carry over to this new entry, is good – viewers could still walk in cold and appreciate the level of bombastic “wow, that’s a fucking movie!” on display in the feature. By now, Cruise’s obsession with cranking up the dial on each and every of his action outings is well-documented, and he’s joined on that quest by a wily group of flyboys (and girls!) as he returns to Top Gun to right some wrongs, kick some ass, and take some names. High-flying aerial stunts literally soar, emotion runs high, and Lady Gaga is there to sing along to all of it. Now this? This is a movie. This is a blockbuster. We’ve missed them. —KE
6. “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” (dir. Laura Poitras)
Laura Poitras is best-known for directing bracing profiles of Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, disruptive activists who challenged the systems around them. Swap the intelligence world for underground art and Nan Goldin fits right into that trend.
The acclaimed photographer and visual artist is the centerpiece of Poitras’ remarkable storytelling achievement, which simultaneously revisits Goldin’s career evolution and her more recent protests against the Sackler family and its Purdue Pharma, manufacturer of OxyContin. These efforts led to the creation of her nonprofit organization P.A.I.N., and several successful “die-ins” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, and other cultural institutions that had the Sackler family name on their walls. Most of them don’t anymore thanks to Goldin’s efforts.
The movie is a better superhero story than anything you’ll find in the MCU, as Goldin — herself a survivor of an OxyContin overdose — faces down a powerful horde of billionaires and doesn’t flinch. It’s a riveting testament to the power of creativity to change the world, and she isn’t done yet. —EK
Read IndieWire’s full review of “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed.”
5. “Decision to Leave” (dir. Park Chan-wook)
The most romantic movie of the year was… a police procedural? That’s just how it goes when “Oldboy” director Park Chan-wook — whose operatic revenge melodramas have given way to a series of ravishingly baroque Hitchcockian love stories about the various “perversities” that might bind two wayward souls together — decides to make a detective thriller.
Which isn’t to suggest that “Decision to Leave” is some kind of whodunnit. On the contrary, Park’s funny, playful, and increasingly poignant crime thriller is less interested in what Hae-joon (Park Hae-il) knows about his suspect than in how he feels about her. By the same token, widowed caretaker Seo-rae (played with deliciously uncertain purpose by Chinese “Lust, Caution” star Tang Wei) seems less troubled by the idea that Hae-joon might discover some damning evidence about her late husband’s death than she is by the fear that he might stop investigating her.
With the subtlety of a secretly requited crush, she dreads the day that Hae-joon will stop plying her with premium sushi boxes during their flirtatious interrogations, or staking out her Busan apartment on the nights when he should be at home in the hilly suburbs of Ipo, sleeping in bed with the pretty wife he’s bored of touching. Some of the people who live out there probably can’t stand the depressive sheet of gray clouds that stretches over the city every morning; others, perhaps, might only be at peace when their hearts are shrouded in mist.
And so the stage is set for Park to orchestrate a psychologically complex procedural about a proud detective brought to life by a crime he doesn’t want to solve, and a rootless murder suspect who’s mastered the art of leaving things behind. What starts as a rather open-and-shut case, however, soon evolves into something much richer, as Park leverages the killings (plural!) into a gripping investigation of a mystery that no police department could ever hope to solve: How does a romance survive between two people whose only hope for a future together depends upon them leaving the past unresolved? It’s a mystery that Park unpacks with uncharacteristic restraint, if only because its ultimate payoff — more of a sinking realization than the kind of sudden bombshell that often detonated at the end of his earlier films — requires these characters to remain firmly lodged in the real world, where their adult longings might face adult consequences.
On the other hand, “Decision to Leave” is only able to stir up such unexpectedly immense emotions during its final moments because of the complications that Park creates for his characters along the way, which sink into Hae-joon and Seo-rae with the same visible weight that a wave of ocean water saturates into the dry sand it finds onshore. If “Decision to Leave” initially seems to be investigating how their feelings for each other can survive despite being so unresolved, a different picture emerges at high tide — one that suggests there’s no other way for them to stay alive. Love can last a lifetime, but longing never dies. —DE
4. “The Banshees of Inisherin” (dir. Martin McDonagh)
The people who populate writer/director Martin McDonagh’s movies and plays tend to be gloomy, passive-aggressive people driven to violent extremes. “The Banshees of Inisherin” takes that template and transcends it. The story of drinking buddies Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson) on an invented Irish isle in the midst of Civil War takes a simple premise and imbues it multitudes.
Fiddle player Colm wakes up one day with the decision that Pádraic is a waste of time and abruptly ends their friendship. When Pádraic protests, Colm threatens to lop off one of his fingers each time Pádraic makes another attempt at engagement. From that ludicrous threat, McDonagh builds a strange and soulful two-hander about the boundaries of friendship and isolation at the end of the world (not to mention the innocent animals caught in the crossfire).
With two of the greatest Irish actors in its crosshairs, McDonagh merges a Malickian sense of wonder for the natural landscape with the chaos of human anxieties and existential malaise, tying it all together a string of fecking hilarious one-liners. Sad and sweet even as it devolves into bloody mayhem, “The Banshees of Inisherin” is just the latest proof that McDonagh’s unique tone makes him one of the best storytellers working today. —EK
Read IndieWire’s full review of “The Banshees of Inisherin.”
3. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (dirs. Daniels)
“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
Ready IndieWire’s full review of “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
2. “TÁR” (dir. Todd Field)
Lydia Tár may not be real (despite a worrying number of deeply unfunny essays that unfurled in the wake of the release of Todd Field’s masterpiece), but she will indeed endure. It’s nearly impossible to explain why “Tár” works so well — explaining the film’s plot involves lots of buzzwords that seem to, if not entirely miss the point, at least miss great chunks of it — but let’s try. First, there’s Cate Blanchett, who stars as the titular Lydia Tár, the world’s foremost classical composer-conductor (and she’s a woman!) on the cusp of yet another major professional milestone. Sound snoozy? Hardly. Blanchett’s kind of intensity, both warm and repellant, is on full display here; hell, it’s at its full glory.
Lydia (or “Linda” if you’re in the know) has ruthlessly shaped every aspect of her life and work. The composing and conducting? Just part of the overall performance of being Lydia Tár, and what an electric performance it is. But what happens when the cracks start to show? Field thrillingly opens the film during a long-form interview with Lydia that drills down into her many accomplishments and what’s next for her, and her face can’t help but betray every thought and feeling she’s got associated with them. And that’s all before she gets, in contemporary parlance, “canceled” for trading professional favors for sex.
At best, Lydia doesn’t have scruples; at worst, she’s an actual abuser, and how she — and we — attempt to navigate that line carries us through the rest of the film. Despite seemingly heavy subject matter, this is a film that flies right by, dark humor at every turn, immersive sensibilities plunging us into her world, and a sort of inevitability that lands Lydia at a hilarious and horrible crossroads.
Field and Blanchett often get surreal and even silly, but what’s more surreal and more silly than watching your life be destroyed — the life you built — because of who you are, the person who created it, the person who could end up absolutely nowhere else? That’s a question that will endure. —KE
1. “Aftersun” (dir. Charlotte Wells)
A stunning debut that develops with the gradual poignancy of a Polaroid, Charlotte Wells’ “Aftersun” isn’t just an honest movie about the way that we remember the people we’ve lost — fragmented, elusive, nowhere and everywhere all at once — it’s also a heart-stopping act of remembering unto itself. Here, in the span of an oblique but tender father-daughter story that feels small enough to fit on an instant photo (or squeeze into the LCD screen of an old camcorder), Wells creates a film that gradually echoes far beyond its frames. By the time it reaches fever pitch with the greatest Freddie Mercury needle drop this side of “Wayne’s World,” “Aftersun” has begun to shudder with the crushing weight of all that we can’t leave behind, and all that we may not have known to take with us in the first place.
When Sophie (remarkable newcomer Frankie Corio) thinks of her father, she thinks of the Turkish holiday they went on together in the late ’90s. That was the trip when she turned 11, and Calum — played by “Normal People” breakout Paul Mescal, who makes an indelible leap into dad roles with tremendous poise and a triggering sense of parental mystery — turned 32. We get the impression that she may never have seen him again. Now they would be about the same age, which might be why adult Sophie feels compelled to rewatch the MiniDV footage that she and her father recorded on that vacation, eagerly scanning the standard-definition video in search of the clues that a child might have missed at the time.
The eerily static home videos and the semi-imagined 35mm scenes that “Aftersun” wraps around them both suggest that Calum was struggling with a demon of one stripe or another, and that he was doing his best to hide that struggle from his daughter during their too-rare time together. Whatever the case, Wells denies us the details. Like Sophie, all we can do is sift for meaning amidst the rubble and hope to fill in the haunted spaces between the man she knew and the man she lost.
“Aftersun” is able to follow its characters through the strobe light of lost time because Mescal and Corio make it so tempting for us to complete their performances for them — to bridge the gaps of Sophie’s understanding with the same urgency that we might want to bridge our own. Few movies have ever ended with a more tempting invitation to do the impossible, but even fewer have found so much truth and tenderness in the futile act of trying. —DE
Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.