The film critic’s year-end list of favorites has always struck me as a provisional undertaking at best, a problematic but vital effort to bring some meaningful framing to a year’s worth of cinematic plenty. Any honest list, nevertheless thorough its sweep or authoritative its posture, is made in the full awareness of prospective lapses, blind spots and, yes, in-the-moment mistakes of judgment.
The 2022 halftime report that follows must for that reason be reckoned much more hasty, undependable and early. Provided the glut of movies that will be unveiled over the next 6 months– many of them timed to drop throughout that competitive yearly scourge we call awards season– I have no idea the number of these excellent 12 will land amongst my leading favorites come December. Even still, despite how cinematically backloaded each year invariably is, I’m pleased by how many excellent and even great films I have actually seen launched in the very first half of 2022 alone.
I’m likewise dispirited, if barely surprised, by how quickly many of them evaporated from theaters, assuming they played in theaters in the first place. The speed at which independent movies now pass through screening locations, en route to their ideally long VOD rack lives, is absolutely nothing new. What’s particularly worrying now is how many art-house theaters, hit hard by the pandemic shutdowns of the past two years, are themselves leaving the fray.
The irreversible closure of Arclight Cinemas/Pacific Theatres last year continues to sting, even if some of their areas have reopened thanks to major chains like AMC Theatres and Regal Cinemas. In May, the Landmark Theatres chain closed its 12-screen Westside Structure place, a major loss for L.A. moviegoers. One little however genuine source of relief: understanding that my own neighborhood art home, Pasadena’s Laemmle Playhouse 7, will survive and reopen later on this year under Landmark ownership.
However no movie lover– and no fan of theatrical moviegoing– can afford to take this cherished activity or their favorite venues for approved. I’m as heartened as anyone by the record-setting box office for “Top Gun: Radical,” but movies without smash hit budgets, franchise hooks and/or Tom Cruise face as uphill a battle as they ever did.
Here are just a few of the recent best, listed in (roughly) alphabetical order:
Top: Jeremy Irvine, left, and Jack Lowden in “Praise.” Bottom: Franz Rogowski, left, as Hans and Thomas Prenn, left, as Oskar in “Great Freedom.”
(Top: Laurence Cendrowicz/ Roadside Attractions; Bottom: MUBI)
‘Praise’ and ‘Great Flexibility’
2 wrenching dramas about what it suggested to lust, love and make it through as a gay man in earlier, more oppressive periods of European history. “Benediction,” a portrait of the English poet Siegfried Sassoon and his struggles through love and war, is one of Terence Davies’ most piercingly personal works, developed around a career-peak efficiency by Jack Lowden. In Sebastian Meise’s tender and painful “Great Flexibility,” Franz Rogowski is equally galvanizing as a German male for whom prison offers the unforeseen conveniences of love, sex, neighborhood and haven. (“Praise” will be available for streaming July 26. “Great Flexibility” is offered to stream on Mubi or to lease or purchase on numerous platforms.)
Top: Léa Seydoux, from left, Viggo Mortensen and Kristen Stewart in “Criminal Offenses of the Future.” Bottom: Gwendoline Christie, left, and Asa Butterfield in “Flux Premium.”
(Top: Nikos Nikolopoulos/ Serendipity Point Films 2021; Bottom: IFC Midnight)
‘Crimes of the Future’ and ‘Flux Premium’
The funniest, freakiest comedies of the year up until now both think of hard-to-stomach types of efficiency art: wild gastronomical soundscapes in Peter Strickland’s “Flux Premium” and anesthesia-free abdominal surgery in David Cronenberg’s “Crimes of the Future.” However for all their over-the-top, satirical touches, both motion pictures are likewise essentially serious-minded endeavors, and they treat their artist protagonists with the sort of inflammation that points to the existence of real artists behind the electronic camera. (“Crimes of the Future” and “Flux Gourmet” are offered to rent or purchase on multiple platforms, but both are also still playing in theaters– see them as quickly as you can.)
Anamaria Vartolomei in the movie “Happening.”
Like a few of the greatest abortion-themed dramas to emerge from this young century (“4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” “Never Ever Hardly Ever Sometimes Constantly”), Audrey Diwan’s searing adjustment of Annie Ernaux’s narrative made for urgent watching even prior to the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Roe vs. Wade. Through the unflinching power of Diwan’s filmmaking and the watchful strength of Anamaria Vartolomei’s efficiency as a 1960s French college student seeking to end a pregnancy, the motion picture conjures a vision of a remote past that has actually become, in this country and beyond, a harrowing look of the present and future. (Available to lease or buy on several platforms.)
Lee Hye-young and Cho Yunhee in the film “In Front of Your Face.”
(Movie Theater Guild)
‘In Front of Your Face’
The excellent, vigorous South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo has made in some methods his easiest, most direct and mentally resonant movie in years, in addition to his most visually striking. Shot in warm, lively colors, it follows a once-famous actor (an amazing Lee Hye-young) returning house to see her sibling, review her old stomping grounds and examine an uncommon opportunity. With hurting delicacy and deftly concealed surprises, Hong strikes familiar chords of rueful melancholy however likewise discovers a wellspring of life-affirming appeal best summed up by the film’s title. (Available for streaming this fall.)
Ilona Brezoianu, left, and Alex Bogdan in the motion picture “Întregalde.”
The knot in your stomach tightens and tightens as you see this unbelievably suspenseful and engrossing story about 3 volunteer employees who venture into a woodsy, muddy stretch of countryside to use relief to the bad– and find firsthand what it means to be in dire need of assistance. The result is the Romanian director Radu Muntean’s greatest film given that his extraordinary “Tuesday, After Christmas” (2010 ); ethical drama doesn’t get far more unsparing in its clearness or empathy. (Readily available to stream on Mubi.)
Zoë Kravitz stars in New Line Cinema and HBO Max’s “Kimi.”
It went straight to HBO Max, but Steven Soderbergh’s very active paranoid thriller is the very best film I’ve seen emerge from an American studio so far this year. Brimming with shoutouts to “Rear Window,” “The Parallax View,” “The Discussion” and, yes, “Home Alone,” it’s also an acutely empathetic, even enthusiastic portrait of one female (an excellent Zoë Kravitz) and the world around her emerging from mid-pandemic limbo. The ripsnorting ending is one for the ages. (Readily available to stream on HBO Max or to lease or buy on numerous platforms.)
Alexander Skarsgård and Anya Taylor-Joy in the motion picture “The Northman.”
(Aidan Monaghan/ Focus Features)
With its growing volcanoes and rampaging warriors, its incantatory monologues and muddy, bloody torsos, Robert Eggers’ mad and stunning groan of a Viking impressive demanded to be seen and heard on the most significant screen possible. But that’s no factor not to fire it up in the house, where you can thrill to the wholly committed efficiencies of Alexander Skarsgård, Anya Taylor-Joy, Claes Bang, Nicole Kidman and a seashell-bedecked Björk. (Offered to stream on Peacock or to rent or purchase on several platforms.)
Maya Vanderbeque and Günter Duret in the movie “Play area.”
The shortest feature on my list runs a completely ripped 72 minutes and never ever leaves the premises of a public grade school, but within those constraints, the debuting Belgian writer-director Laura Wandel develops a fully realized world. As a 7-year-old woman who endures and bears witness to vicious and totally commonplace bullying, Maya Vanderbeque is merely amazing. (Readily available to rent or acquire on several platforms.)
N.T. Rama Rao Jr. in the motion picture “RRR.”
The longest function on my list runs more than three hours and makes every supercharged minute. Currently the second-highest-grossing Indian film of perpetuity in America (it’s earned more than $140 million worldwide), S.S. Rajamouli’s Telugu-language feeling is a hellaciously amusing mash-up of history and legend, politics and love, hyperviolent action and song-and-dance musical, poisonous snakes and throat-mauling tigers. As the two mighty warriors whose tender bromance becomes a really infernal affair, N.T. Rama Rao Jr. and Ram Charan are forces of nature. (Offered to stream on Netflix.)
Carloto Cotta, Crista Alfaiate and João Nunes Monteiro in the film “The Tsugua Diaries.”
‘The Tsugua Diaries’
As a backwards-unspooling movie about moviemaking, this sly, summery pleasure from the Lisbon-based filmmakers Maureen Fazendeiro and Miguel Gomes might seem like François Truffaut’s “Day for Night” crossed with Christopher Nolan’s “Memento.” But while it’s a model of narrative development– and one of the loveliest surprises to emerge from COVID-era shooting constraints– it has an envigorating, wistfully enchanting vibe all its own. (Offered for streaming Aug. 10.)