Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos Courtesy of Studios
Finally, it’s spring. The sun is out. And it’s never too early to look back and count our blessings at the movies. The range of cinematic journeys we’ve experienced so far in 2022 so far are dizzying, from poignant hormonal awakenings (Turning Red) to an epic battle across multiple universes in (Everything Everywhere All at Once) to a 50-year-old madman’s doomed flight from a jumbo-sized cannon (Jackass Forever). And that’s just the start. Here are the best movies Vulture has seen and (for the most part) reviewed this year, according to our critics Alison Willmore, Bilge Ebiri, and Angelica Jade Bastién, arranged in unranked and chronological order.
A metaverse fairy tale and a wistful story of self-affirmation, the latest film from Mamoru Hosoda keeps one foot in a digital world that serves as an escape for billions of people around the world. One of them is Belle’s heroine, an unremarkable teenager from a fading rural community who, in her anonymous online life, has become a famous pop star. While Hosoda’s film uses Beauty and the Beast as its main inspiration, what makes it so compelling are the ways in which it plays the real and virtual off one other, diverging from the familiar contours of the classic story to show how even when we remake the world as a teeming new space where everything is possible, we bring all our pain and baggage with us. — Alison Willmore
There’s something startlingly intimate about Compartment No. 6. It lies not so much in the subject matter or the stylistic approach or even the themes of the movie. Rather, it’s in everything in between — in the way it captures a mood, an inexpressible sense of lostness and wandering that sets the viewer’s mind ablaze. Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen finds a way to make an old tale feel new, following two mismatched souls forced together during a long train ride from Moscow to Murmansk. Despite a disastrous first impression, the wiry and restive Ljoha (Yuriy Borisov) turns out to be surprisingly loyal and generous, and the understandably standoffish Laura (Seidi Haarla) starts to warm to him. Together, perhaps just for a brief moment, they find purpose and grace at the far edge of the world. — Bilge Ebiri
Jackass Forever is a kinder, gentler Jackass, but thankfully, it’s not a more mature one. If anything, Johnny Knoxville and his merry band of gluttons for punishment have regressed, in the best way possible, utilizing the full array of modern filmmaking to portray some of the most sophomoric stuff ever put onscreen. Even so, what makes a Jackass stunt a Jackass stunt isn’t really the difficulty or the cleverness or the grossness of the activity, but the interactions among the perpetrators, victims, and spectators. First comes the stunt, then comes the agony and, finally, the camaraderie. There is a lot of hugging in Jackass Forever, believe it or not, and most of it feels sincere. While enormously fun, this is a more emotional movie than previous entries. You sense that among the people onscreen, and you might also sense it in the audience. Watching these middle-aged masochists keep hurting themselves for our pleasure reminds us of the passage of time. — B.E.
The coming-of-age genre is usually saved for teenagers and people in their very early 20s, despite the fact that the nature of being human is to be in a constant state of flux. It’s why I find coming-of-age films focused on the turbulent decades of true adulthood so ripe — when the buildup of breakups, breakthroughs, accomplishments, and beliefs is starting to loom large. The Worst Person in the World, Joachim Trier’s final film in his loosely constituted Oslo Trilogy, sidesteps the arch emotional beats that define stories of very young people in love. It charts the growth of Julie (Renate Reinsve) from her 20s into her 30s and the relationships she has with two primary men in her orbit — first, Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), an older artist, and second, Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), a barista who catches her eye at a party she crashes. These characters aren’t neatly good people with perfect politics who say what they mean and mean what they say. They fuck up, in sometimes glorious ways, and are accountable for those fuckups. Trier’s approach to their stories is piercingly aware of the bruises we accumulate trying to become something more than our present selves. The story quietly washes over you until you realize you’re drowning in waves of acute emotions. — Angelica Jade Bastién
It’s no wonder, given the forever-uncertain state of access to the procedure in the U.S. and around the world, that the abortion thriller has blossomed into its own potent subgenre. Its latest entry come from Chadian filmmaker Mahamat-Saleh Haroun and is centered on Amina (Achouackh Abakar Souleymane), a single mother who discovers her 15-year-old daughter, Maria (Rihane Khalil Alio), is pregnant. But for a movie hinging on whether or not a character will be able to illegally end her unwanted pregnancy, Lingui, the Sacred Bonds becomes almost ebullient as the determined Amina, in trying to help her child, starts to shed the shame and the allegiances that have weighed her down for so long. Haroun’s film portrays the patriarchal structures that entrap women but also shows the ways in which those women are able to work around them together. — A.W.
Left without a U.S. distributor for years, this melancholy 2009 Hirokazu Kore-eda film is the myth of Galatea by way of a sex shop, with a sublime Bae Doona playing an inflatable doll who comes to life when her owner is away and eventually drifts into a part-time job and a relationship with a co-worker. Like the alien in Under the Skin, the protagonist of Air Doll is an otherworldly outsider who first observes humanity and then makes an ill-fated attempt to become part of it, getting exposed to humanity’s capacity for cruelty in the process. — A.W.
Steven Soderbergh’s latest is a fleet-footed, gorgeously made suspense movie about an agoraphobic tech contractor who hears what she believes to be a rape when analyzing audio from an Alexa competitor. As the isolated Angela Childs, Zoë Kravitz is both prickly and vulnerable, upset that she’s not able to push past her own trauma and just return to normal alongside the rest of the world — until she believes she has no choice but to force herself outside and into a conspiracy that’s both horrifying and tawdry. — A.W.
Playground begins and ends with an embrace, but between those two instances of tenderness lies a nerve-shredding, incredibly well-acted 72-minute drama set in the guilelessly cruel world of young children. There have been lots of movies about bullying, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one like Laura Wandel’s, which is shot, cut, and performed with an immediacy that puts us inside the queasy, terrified mind of a 7-year-old girl. The film’s child’s-eye perspective is so relentless we almost never see a parent or teacher’s face unless they’re leaning down or sitting at our protagonist’s level — a striking visual correlative to the general helplessness of the adults around these kids. Playground is a tough watch, but it’s also an essential one. — B.E.
Cyrano is, technically speaking, Joe Wright’s first musical film, but you could say he’s been making musicals his entire career. As it begins, you sense a director fully in his element, able to weave in and out of bursts of song and snatches of dancerly movement without ever fully disappearing into the realm of the unreal. Starring Peter Dinklage and adapted from Edmond Rostand’s classic 1897 play, Cyrano de Bergerac (with a central conceit from Erica Schmidt’s 2018 stage musical), the movie sings even when nobody’s singing: Characters speak as if guided by internal meters, and they move with brisk, purposeful precision. When they do burst into song and dance, it feels organic and natural, like everything’s just tipped one slight degree into the fantastical. Cyrano is a delicate dream of a movie, the kind of film that feels like you might have merely imagined it — light on the surface but long on subconscious impact. — B.E.
Any true fan of disaster flicks would do well to check out this Norwegian release, which is being billed as a sequel of sorts to modern-day classics The Wave (2015) and The Quake (2018) from the same country. It does share a director with the latter — John Andreas Andersen — but it’s a far more sober and intimate film than either of its predecessors, relying more on tension than spectacular, over-the-top devastation. This time, a Norwegian offshore-drilling company is sent into a tailspin when it discovers that a horrific accident on one of their rigs might actually be the start of a once-in-a-millennium seismic event that will cause a massive oil leak. Their solution: to light the North Sea on fire in order to burn up all the oil before it can spread out and destroy the European coastline for generations. Unfortunately, one of our heroes is trapped on one of the rigs in the middle of this flaming cataclysm. The results are intensely dramatic — more survival flick than disaster porn. — B.E.
A beguiling mix of science fiction, ghost story, and spiritual meditation, Mattie Do’s third feature is set in a rural Laotian village to which the future has brought a scattering of technological advances but few solutions for the economic stagnation driving new generations to the city for work. Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy is the unnamed protagonist, a man who’s always been able to see the dead but who only learns as an old man that the ghost who’s been his companion since he was young has the ability to take him back in time. The Long Walk is about someone trying to fix the past, with all kinds of unforeseen consequences. But it’s also a moody portrait of someone so sure he knows how to help those in need that he can’t actually see the monstrosity of his actions. — A.W.
Kogodana’s latest is an exquisitely melancholy movie about the life and death of a robot, but it’s also about finding significance in the moments and textures of a mundane existence. Jake (Colin Farrell) and Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) purchased Yang (Justin H. Min) to help their adopted daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) connect to her Chinese heritage, but never fully appreciated the place he occupied in their family until he stops working. In trying to get the secondhand companion android repaired, Jake discovers Yang had a whole inner life and history that leads him to reconnect with his own existence. After Yang’s meditative power owes so much to vividness of the near-future the film conjures up, a sun-dappled world that still feels tender from offscreen schisms distant enough to be memories but near enough to still be felt. — A.W.
You might have thought Batman couldn’t get any darker, but you’d be wrong: Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight sewed a telephone into a guy’s abdomen in 2008 so that Paul Dano’s Riddler could then feed another guy’s abdomen to a cage full of rats in 2022. This is a Batman movie reimagined as a grisly serial-killer film, only this time it’s not just the serial killer who looms in the shadows, watching his prey and waiting to pounce; the hero does, too. The typical superhero movie’s subtext about the subtle similarities between the good guy and the bad guy here becomes overt text, as director Matt Reeves shoots Batman’s pursuit of his targets with the same psychotic, heavy-breathing, point-of-view aesthetic with which he shoots the Riddler’s. Now, we have to try and figure out how the hero differs from the villain — and so too does Batman. That’s part of the film’s charm: watching a familiar, oft-filmed superhero try and discover just what it is that constitutes heroism — a question that finds its answer during a moving climax that has almost nothing to do with tracking down bad guys or pummeling people. As a result, The Batman’s darkness never feels fashionable, or opportunistic, or cheap. Reeves loves these dead-end apocalyptic environments and delights in tales that toy with the moral calculus of typical hero narratives. He has given us a Batman that he himself can believe in, not to mention a Batman that feels right for our times. — B.E.
Sebastian Meise’s searing prison drama follows the life of Hans Hoffmann (Franz Rogowski, in a haunting performance), a gay man and prison camp survivor for whom Germany’s liberation after WWII didn’t seem to make all that much of a difference. The postwar German government still kept laws criminalizing homosexuality on the books, thus resulting in him being sent straight back to prison. By juggling time periods and keeping the action largely confined to life behind bars, Meise has crafted an unusually (and beautifully) suffocating film. As we shuffle through scenes from Hans’s incarceration in the 1940s, the 1950s, and the 1960s, we feel like we’re very much stuck there with him. But the film is not without humanism: Much of it charts the growing friendship between Hans and Viktor (Georg Friedrich), an addict whose initial disgust at his fellow inmate eventually transforms into solidarity, respect, and a kind of love. — B.E.
Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad’s extremely gripping drama begins with a matter-of-fact depiction of a conspiracy so strange and shocking it takes a second to regain your bearings after witnessing it. Reem (Maisa Abd Elhadi), a female customer in a hair salon run by Huda (Manal Awad), is casually drugged, stripped naked, and photographed in a compromising position. Then, Huda uses the pictures to force Reem into spying for the Israeli secret service, part of an ongoing operation that has pulled many terrified women into its web. Huda’s blackmail scheme works for one simple reason: These women live in a world where just the hint of adultery — even if unproven, or for that matter disproven — is a life-shattering one. The ensuing film intercuts between two narrative strands: Huda, caught by the Palestinian resistance, is interrogated in a dark basement, while Reem desperately searches for a way to clear her name. Abu-Assad has made his share of films about the cruel absurdity of life under Israeli occupation, but here he lets all sides have it. These women are oppressed by everybody. Even though the story unfolds in linear time, as we watch these two female protagonists’ journeys, we begin to realize Reem is going through a version of what Huda herself did once upon a time. The intimate, slow-burning frustration of these two women’s predicaments builds and builds until we ourselves start to feel like we’re stuck in a dark prison of the soul. — B.E.
As exuberant and unapologetically weird as its 13-year-old heroine, Domee Shi’s Pixar feature debut effortlessly combines generational trauma and adolescent hormonal awakenings, ancestral inheritances and boy band fandom, and all in a pastel-hued Toronto that, for once, gets to play itself. What makes Turning Red so joyous and also heartrending is the way it takes Chinese immigrant archetypes — the tiger mom, the good daughter — and explores the individuals behind them, finding a lonely woman repeating her own mother’s mistakes despite herself, and a young woman so determined to please the parent she adores that she’s ready to start punishing herself for not being perfect. Also, the panda is adorable, and the big panda showdown is a splendid mix of the absurd and the emotional. — A.W.
Israeli director Nadav Lapid’s latest abrasive moral drama follows a hotshot, award-winning director, Y (Avshalom Pollak), as he flies to the remote, dusty Arava Valley to screen one of his films to a small-town audience. He is met by Yahalom (Nur Fibak), a young, cheerful bureaucrat who works at the Ministry of Culture and asks him to sign a form declaring the subject of the film he’s screening. The document is a mere formality, but it sets Y — who is clearly a surrogate for Lapid himself — off. Not just because of the moral dilemma he faces in signing it, but also because of the paradox he senses in Yahalom, a smart, kind young woman who understands the inherent corruption behind this type of low-key censorship but nevertheless performs her job with pleasant professionalism. Interesting setup, but what makes Ahed’s Knee so powerful is the way the movie detonates before our eyes. The rage and doubt gnawing away at Y’s conscience spill over into an extended flashback, numerous dance sequences, and, ultimately, a blistering monologue – a trancelike, spittle-flecked, apocalyptic screed that practically takes the movie hostage. But Lapid reserves perhaps the greatest condemnation for himself, for Y is also revealed to be a manipulative, duplicitous, even hypocritical mess. And so the film asks: At what point does constant aggrievement become its own toxic form of aggression? At what point does rage become cruelty? And at what point does merely going about one’s business perpetuate great evil? Humanity has never had easy answers to such questions, and neither does this movie. — B.E.
Sex and violence are two of the movies’ most reliable spectacles, and Ti West’s latest — his first in six years — offers up plenty of both by sending an amateur film crew out to a rural Texas farm to shoot a porn film, without telling the enigmatic elderly couple they’re renting from what their plans are. But X has more on its mind than just basking in the tropes of the classic slasher. It also interrogates the conservatism at the genre’s core by having its carnage be fueled by envy rather than by a sense of moral punishment, with Mia Goth doing double duty as aspiring sex symbol Maxine and as the despondent older woman Pearl. — A.W.
The most riveting film you’ll ever see about three Romanian social workers stuck in the mud. In Radu Muntean’s absorbing and bizarre drama, a mission to deliver food supplies to a remote region of Transylvania is derailed when the aid workers decide to pick up an elderly villager, who promptly sends them down the wrong path, resulting in their SUV being bogged down along the way. Assorted attempts to get the car out of the mud simply make matters worse, and the situation escalates both emotionally and physically. It all feels like a metaphor for something — institutional failure, perhaps, or the cocoon of bourgeois privilege, or the futility of temporary gestures. But that doesn’t really do justice to the film’s psychological acuity, to its lived-in sense of drama and its sharply-drawn characters. Muntean is a master of putting ordinary people in circumstances that gradually force them to reveal who they are, without it ever feeling forced, heavy-handed, or opportunistic. — B.E.
Shave ten to 15 percent off of Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s second film and you’d have a stone cold masterpiece. As is, Everything Everywhere All At Once is still pretty damn wonderful, an epic battle across multiple universes as well as a startlingly sad portrait of an immigrant family on the verge of collapse. Michelle Yeoh is splendid as Evelyn Wang, a beleaguered laundromat owner whose marriage is failing, whose daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) is drifting away, and who is in the midst of getting audited by a joyless administrative ghoul played by Jamie Lee Curtis. But the real standout is former child actor Ke Huy Quan, of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies. As Evelyn’s whimsical husband Waymond, he’s the heart of the film, and he’s the star of a fanny pack martial arts battle that’s guaranteed to be one of the year’s best action setpieces. — A.W.
The American blockbuster may be stuck in a moribund state, beholden to IP and boring, samey visuals, but this Telugu epic is proof that in other parts of the world, glorious excess is still possible. S. S. Rajamouli’s historical drama creates a fictional backstory for real revolutionaries Alluri Sitarama Raju (Ram Charan) and Komaram Bheem (N. T. Rama Rao Jr.) by having their paths cross in 1920s Delhi, where they become fast friends, not knowing they’re on different sides of the colonial divide. Or are they? RRR is three hours of pure, uncut entertainment, with plot songs, outrageous action setpieces, awkward courtships, gleeful violence, tearful betrayals, and a musical number dance-off in front of an audience of snobby Brits. If you don’t tear up with joy at the spectacle of one of the heroes crashing a truck through the gates of the governor’s compound to release a barrage of CGI wild animals into a party, then check your pulse — you may be dead. — A.W.
In between Shakespeare and video game adaptations, Justin Kurzel has been a reliable chronicler of Australia’s history of violence, beginning with Snowtown in 2011 and continuing with True History of the Kelly Gang in 2019. But Nitram, a portrait of the perpetrator of the 1996 Port Arthur shooting, feels like the culmination of Kurzel’s interests in the mundanity of evil. A mesmerizing Caleb Landry Jones plays the title character, a lonely, disturbed man with a penchant for perverse acts of provocation. Nitram immerses the viewer in his experiences, which veer between the pathetic and the repellent, a tightrope walk of empathy without sympathy. — A.W.