We’re getting to the end of the 2022 movie calendar, and it’s been a good one. From big theatrical events like Top Gun: Maverick to a shockingly good year in horror, it’s been a memorable year at the movies.
What makes a movie worth including as one of Polygon’s best? We like many different types of movies here, from genre fare to the kind of stuff that makes you think. If it made us laugh, made us cry, made us ponder, or made us squeal in excitement, it’s probably here.
So even though it’s there’s still some time left in the year, we’ve been keeping up this list of which 2022 releases have excited us most, from big action-adventures to small indie genre movies. All of these are worth a watch.
Below you’ll find entries are in reverse order of release. The most recent releases are first, so it’ll be easy to see the newest additions to this list. We’ll be updating it throughout 2022. We’ll also be doing the same for the best games, the best anime, the best books, and the best TV shows of 2022. Our latest update adds The Banshees of Inisherin and Decision to Leave.
The Banshees of Inisherin
Run time: 1h 49m
Director: Martin McDonagh
Cast: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Barry Keoghan
It’s probably important to interpret the latest movie from playwright Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) as a kind of fable, and to not get too bogged down in the unlikely realities — but with that in mind, the unpredictability of this strange, dark comedy is part of what makes it so appealing. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson reunite with McDonagh (who directed them in the 2008 assassins-in-purgatory movie In Bruges) to play two former friends on a remote Irish island in the 1920s. Fiddler and composer Colm Doherty (Gleeson) has abruptly decided they aren’t friends anymore, leaving Pádraic Súilleabháin (Farrell) baffled and unable to cope with the rejection or move on — especially since Colm won’t explain. The action escalates to gruesome heights that contrast in startling ways with the gorgeous island setting and the amiable behavior of most of the other locals, although it quickly emerges that many of them have their own dire secrets. It’s all absurdist and sometimes over-the-top, but in a calm and straight-faced sort of way, and it’s one of 2022’s most improbable and strange movies, as well as one of its most mesmerizing. —TR
The Banshees of Inisherin is currently in theaters.
Decision to Leave
Genre: Mystery romance
Run time: 2h 18m
Director: Park Chan-wook
Cast: Park Hae-il, Tang Wei
Park Chan-wook’s followup to The Handmaiden is a completely different kind of love story: a police procedural about a detective, Hae-jun (Park Hae-il) falling for an insightful, soft-spoken woman he’s investigating for murder. This slow-burn story crosses through so many genres that it may leave viewers a bit baffled about what they’re watching, until, with a series of almost audible clicks, each segment of the puzzle-piece narrative falls together, building to an unforgettable conclusion. It’s the kind of immaculately crafted experience that may leave people wanting to watch it again immediately, just to appreciate the eventual impact of all the tiny details that didn’t add up the first time around. But by the end, it comes into focus as a portrait of obsession, devotion, division, and some very clever scheming. —Tasha Robinson
Decision to Leave is currently in theaters.
Run time: 1h 39m
Director: Greg Mottola
Cast: Jon Hamm, Roy Wood Jr., Kyle MacLachlan
Buried by a bungled release this past September, the revival of author Gregory Mcdonald’s charming rabble rouser I. M. Fletcher stands out as one of the hidden gems of the year, a breezy mystery carried by actors at the top of their games. To fill the shoes of Chevy Chase, who played Fletch twice in the 1980s, writer-director Greg Motolla (Superbad, The Daytrippers) turned to Jon Hamm, who finds the rare role than support both his leading man swagger and weirdo comedic instincts.
Based on one of Mcdonald’s more revered stories in the character’s run, Confess, Fletch finds the investigate-reporter-turned-gun-for-hire tracking down a set of missing paintings that his Italian girlfriend Angela (Lorenza Izzo) needs to pay off the ransom for her kidnapped father. Not helping his situation: The day he arrives to Boston to track down the masterpieces, a woman is murdered in his rental home. Hamm matches the high-stakes caper like a dance, weaving in and out of police capture while setting up a series of rouses to solve the ticking-clock mystery. His low-key interrogations range from wild (Kyle MacLachlan’s as a germaphobe art dealer) to wilder (Barb & Star’s Annie Mumolo steals the show as a woman who may burn down her entire block making matzah ball soup), but Hamm and Motolla never let Confess, Fletch descend into sitcom territory. There’s a buttoned up, Negroni-sipping sense of cool from start to finish, even while provoking big laughs. The combination makes Confess, Fletch every bit as classic as Knives Out. —Matt Patches
Confess, Fletch is available to stream on Showtime Anytime and FuboTV, or for digital rental or purchase via Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, and Vudu.
The Woman King
Genre: Historical action drama
Run time: 2h 14m
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Cast: Viola Davis, Lashana Lynch, John Boyega
Gina Prince-Bythewood takes the next step onward from her pivot to superhero action, Netflix’s The Old Guard, and lays out a historical epic that’s rousing, thrilling, and fierce as hell. Viola Davis stars in The Woman King as General Nanisca, leader of the Agojie, an all-female band of elite warriors charged with protecting the West African kingdom of Dahomey in the 1820s, as a larger and more powerful neighboring tribe begins kidnapping Dahomey citizens to sell to European slave traders. The Agojie were real — they’re the inspiration for Black Panther’s Dora Milaje — and Prince-Bythewood drew heavily from their real-life art, music, fashion, weaponry, language, culture, and fighting styles to give the film texture, though in other ways it’s as fictionalized as Braveheart, Gandhi, or any other Hollywood historical epic. The result is a rich and thrilling underdog story with Prince-Bythewood’s usual attention to character-building, relationship-building, and steeping all the big plot beats in believable human emotion. It’s a familiar good-versus-evil story with familiar beats, but told in a way that’s rare for American screens, and with a level of detail, energy, and verve that keeps it engaging and personal through every epic battle. —Tasha Robinson
The Woman King is currently in theaters.
Run time: 1h 43m
Director: Zach Cregger
Cast: Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård, Justin Long
Perhaps the ultimate “don’t go into the basement” movie, Barbarian follows Tess, a young woman who has the unfortunate fate of getting double booked at an Airbnb with a strange man in a less-than-ideal part of town. And then things get way worse. And then things get way worse again.
Barbarian is the rare horror movie that manages to keep upping the ante with new and bigger surprises every few minutes, without ever feeling like it’s holding anything back. Just when you think the creepy guy Tess has to stay the night with is going to be trouble, the movie opens up a whole subterranean basement of horrible twists and shocking grossness.
Maybe the most surprising of these twists is how frequently the movie jumps between its gruesomely violent moments and funny jokes, without ever letting either feel out of place and making the whole movie a shockingly fun time. —Austen Goslin
Genre: Action horror
Run time: 1h 24m
Director: Jean Luc Herbulot
Cast: Yann Gael, Mentor Ba, Roger Sallah
I don’t want to say too much about Saloum, because part of the joy of the movie is the way that it dramatically unfurls in surprising directions. But I will say this: It’s a joyous genre mashup with gorgeous characterization, terrific lead actors, and a jaw-dropping third act. —Pete Volk
Orphan: First Kill
Run time: 1h 39m
Director: William Brent Bell
Cast: Isabelle Fuhrman, Julia Stiles
Returning to a franchise a decade later to do a prequel with the same lead actor shouldn’t just be a recipe for disaster; it should have been completely impossible. As it turns out, Orphan is a very special series and its lead character/monster, Esther, is a very special child*.
Orphan: First Kill follows a 9-year-old girl named Esther who breaks out of a hospital in Estonia, then scams her way into the good graces of a rich American family in hopes of making off in the night with whatever she can. This setup is nearly identical to the original movie, but the prequel manages to play with those expectations in some very clever ways.
The original Orphan (also great) hinged on a twist revealed late in the film, but the prequel gets the reveal out of the way early in favor of letting audiences feel like they’re in on the secret and the joke that Esther, a 9-year-old, is still played by Isabelle Fuhrman, who is now 25, which the movie uses all kinds of fun tricks to hide. Thankfully, First Kill is in on every single one of its own jokes and manages to perfectly balance its tone between silly and a gruesome, well-made slasher, along with being one of the best “rich people are weird” movies of the last few years. —AG
Genre: Action comedy
Run time: 1h 35m
Director: Yugo Sakamoto
Cast: Akari Takaishi, Saori Izawa
A rare action comedy that is equal parts funny and kick-ass, Baby Assassins is an eccentric slice-of-life story about two (extremely) teenage girls who happen to kill people for a living.
Chisato and Mahiro would like nothing more than to perform their killer duties and then just laze around their apartment all day. When they’re asked by their boss to get part-time jobs in an effort to better integrate into society, the two girls struggle to find an alternative means to conflict resolution… outside of murder.
More a fish-out-of-water comedy than pure action movie, the fight choreography in Baby Assassins is nonetheless great. It features exciting hand-to-hand combat and gunplay that works well with the comedy, with many physical punchlines. Gamers, take note: Action director Kensuke Sonomura is a celebrated video game fight choreographer who has done extensive work on the Devil May Cry and Resident Evil series, as well as Vanquish and Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. —PV
Genre: Sci-fi thriller
Run time: 1h 40m
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
Cast: Amber Midthunder, Dakota Beavers
A return to form for a consistently fun sci-fi franchise, Prey dropped on Hulu (for business reasons) and quickly became the platform’s biggest success ever. A nice respite from how other franchises have approached world-building and stakes-setting in recent years, Prey relies heavily on the star-making performances of Amber Midthunder and Dakota Beavers, who shine as Comanche siblings in the Northern Great Plains who are stalked by the Predator.
Midthunder is Naru, a young woman who wants to prove herself as a warrior, despite the mockery of many young men in her tribe. It’s the perfect conflict for the Predator to wade his way into, as a creature whose only concern is challenging himself against the mightiest foes he can find.
A tense, economical thriller from director Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane), Prey is light on dialogue and high on excitement. —PV
Prey is available to watch on Hulu.
Genre: “True story” thriller
Run time: 2h 30min
Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Colin Farrell, Viggo Mortensen, Joel Edgerton
Thirteen Lives, the adaptation of the true story of the 2018 Thai cave rescue, is a perfect match of director and material. Ron Howard is a deeply sentimental filmmaker who loves inspirational stories — Apollo 13, Cinderella Man, and his excellent sports drama Rush, for instance — and there are few more inspirational stories in recent memory than this one. It’s also one that’s quite impossible for him to overdramatize, because of how unbelievable the true story is.
An old-school tense, edge-of-your-seat thriller, Thirteen Lives avoids the pitfall of similar Hollywood adaptations by not locating the story as a journey of a singular group of outsider heroes (in this cave, the eccentric specialty cave divers portrayed by Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell). Instead, the movie effectively showcases how this was a group effort by volunteers from around the world. The heroics of the divers wouldn’t have been possible without the efforts of local villagers and other volunteers from around the world, and the movie does not forget it. The diving scenes are electric and incredibly tense, too — Howard and the crew built a gigantic set to replicate the caves, and Mortensen and Farrell shot their own diving sequences. —PV
Thirteen Lives is available to watch on Prime Video.
Genre: Sci-fi horror
Run time: 2h 15m
Director: Jordan Peele
Cast: Keke Palmer, Daniel Kaluuya, Steven Yeun
Jordan Peele’s alien-invasion movie has its flaws, particularly a leisurely pacing that doesn’t fully serve the film’s tension. But it also stands out as one of 2022’s most visually indelible and memorable films, packed with horrors that imprint directly on the psyche. It’s a callback to an era when movies were allowed to be more mysterious, and horror leaned more directly on the unknown and unknowable. At the same time, it’s an incisive character piece, easily read as an analysis of fame, of response to tragedy, and many other things. It’s a thoughtful, well-constructed puzzlebox of a film, worth considering and unpacking at length — but it’s also just plain scary, and horror fans could hardly ask for more than that. —TR
Genre: Sports dramedy
Run time: 1h 57m
Director: Jeremiah Zagar
Cast: Adam Sandler, Juancho Hernangomez, Queen Latifah
A love letter to the sport of basketball and one of the better sports movies released in years, Hustle is a terrific display for Adam Sandler’s talents and his love for the sport.
Sandler is Stanley Sugerman, a former college star who is now a veteran NBA scout for the Philadelphia 76ers. He has a close relationship with the team’s owner (Robert Duvall), a father-like figure to Sugerman who sees Stanley’s value as a basketball mind. The owner promotes Sugerman to assistant coach, a position where he can spend more time around his wife (Queen Latifah) and their young daughter. But when tragedy gets in the way of Stanley’s new job, he has to prove himself yet again and find a winning prospect for the team.
That prospect is Bo Cruz (played by real-life NBA player Juancho Hernangómez), who Sugerman spots dominating a local pickup game in Spain. The movie shines as it showcases Sugerman and Cruz’s developing relationship — the two rely on each other, and Hustle delivers a must-have for most sports movies with a terrific training montage sequence, featuring Sugerman repeatedly chasing Cruz up a hill with a car.
Hustle’s performances truly shine. Sandler’s centered, grounded portrayal of a man who loves what he does but would rather have the job he was promised is another terrific, layered role for one of our great modern actors. The cast is also filled with NBA players who deliver memorable performances, led by Hernangómez as the temperamental and talented Cruz and Minnesota Timberwolves superstar Anthony Edwards as his trash-talking rival Kermit Wilts, a terrific addition to a long line of sports movie heels.
Bringing in real basketball players for leading and smaller roles lends authenticity to the whole thing, but especially in the scenes where the players actually play basketball. The camera is free to roam as athletes do what they do best, with thrilling basketball sequences that far outdo most sports movies that try to re-create the kineticism of live sports with non-athlete actors. —PV
Hustle is available to watch on Netflix.
Genre: Romantic comedy
Run time: 1h 45m
Director: Andrew Ahn
Cast: Joel Kim Booster, Conrad Ricamora, Bowen Yang
This delightful adaptation of Pride and Prejudice brings Jane Austen’s classic story to the gay vacation destination Fire Island. Comedian Joel Kim Booster wrote the movie and stars as Noah, the Elizabeth Bennet of this story. Noah and his friends travel to Fire Island every year to vacation for a week, but this year appears to be the last. Noah’s best friend, Howie (Bowen Yang, playing the Jane Bennet role here), has never been in a relationship, and Noah makes it his mission to get Howie laid this week. When the pair meet a group of rich guys also on vacation, tensions flare as some hit it off and some don’t.
Fire Island is the rare straight-to-streaming movie that doesn’t look like a cheap TV show, and director Andrew Ahn relishes the beauty present in both the people and the scenery. Every member of the cast is hilarious, with Booster and Yang earning the recognition they’ve already received for their particular takes on these long-explored roles. But for me, Conrad Ricamora as the Mr. Darcy of this world steals the show. While the other characters get lines filled with jokes and gags, Ricamora has to bring out the humor and charm in his character from moments of self-seriousness. It’s an impressive feat, and one that easily could have gotten lost under some of the energetic performances he’s acting across. Instead, it’s a star-making role in a lovely 105 minutes. —PV
Fire Island is available to watch on Hulu.
Top Gun: Maverick
Run time: 2h 11m
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Cast: Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Glen Powell
“The sequel was so much better than the original” isn’t something movie fans say or hear often, but it’s true in the case of Top Gun: Maverick, a 36-years-later check-in on the high-flying 1986 action movie that gave Tom Cruise the need for speed. Cruise is back as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, the Navy test pilot who continually lives up to his name by breaking rules, flouting superiors, and charting his own course.
But Top Gun: Maverick walks far enough away from Top Gun’s testosterone-scented smugness to consider the cost of the Maverick life: namely, reaching a point where a fed-up military is ready to put Mav out to pasture, and he has to settle for teaching a class of up-and-coming fliers, some of whom as are as cocky and off-putting as he used to be. Maverick is an intense action movie where the actors really are flying planes and filming themselves in the cockpits, and even though the ending is a foregone conclusion, director Joe Kosinski pulls off plenty of breathless “Is this where they all die?” action. But the film is more interesting and more satisfying for its emotional elements, which include a tearjerking salute to (and premature goodbye to) visibly ailing Top Gun star Val Kilmer, and Maverick making it clear that he still keenly feels the loss of his wingman Goose more than 30 years later. —TR
Genre: Historical epic
Run time: 2h 17m
Director: Robert Eggers
Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicole Kidman
Few things go better together than Vikings and revenge, and The Northman is the perfect proof. Drawing inspiration from the same Norse myth that inspired Shakespeare’s Hamlet, director Robert Eggers (The VVitch, The Lighthouse) has created a historical epic of the sort we rarely get to see anymore. The story follows Amleth (Alexander Skarsgaard) as he seeks revenge against his Uncle, who murdered his father and usurped his throne.
The Northman is a brutal movie, but among Amleth’s epic battles and lava-soaked duals, there’s a surprising heart and humanity, giving the character more compelling motivation than most revenge movies manage. Eggers brings this balance to every aspect of the movie, whether it’s the beauty and harshness of the Icelandic landscape, or combining incredibly detailed realism with the more operatic side of Norse cosmology. With this careful symmetry of real and surreal, The Northman is about as close as any movie has come to bringing the fantasy of myths to a live-action film. —AG
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair
Run time: 1h 26m
Director: Jane Schoenbrun
Cast: Anna Cobb
Writer-director Jane Schoenbrun has created something truly special: a coming-of-age horror film for the generation that grew up too online. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair communicates the excitement and fear that accompany creating a new self on the internet, as well as the excitement and fear of encountering others online who think they know you.
Casey, an internet-obsessed lonely teenager (Anna Cobb, in an unforgettable feature film debut), stumbles across The World’s Fair Challenge, a horror-themed online challenge that promises physical changes to those who take part. Casey begins to create videos of her participation in the challenge, opening the door to new experiences (and spectators) in her physical and virtual lives.
With effective use of creepypasta aesthetics (including striking collaborations with real YouTube creators), We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is an unsettling, immersive internet horror experience that is at once new and familiar to those who have visited these remote corners of the internet. Schoenbrun’s feature debut is one to remember, and they’re a filmmaker to keep an eye on as new projects emerge. —PV
Genre: Action thriller
Run time: 2h 16m
Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eiza González
Ambulance follows two brothers who steal an ambulance after a botched bank heist and lead the Los Angeles Police Department on a chase across the city, all with a couple of accidental hostages in the back. The robbers are played by Yahya Abdhul Matteen II, who brings a sympathetic presence to the high-stakes chase, and Jake Gyllenhaal at his unhinged best. But it’s action director extraordinaire Michael Bay who is the real star of the show.
After ten years in the dark dungeons of Transformers sequels, Ambulance is the best version of Michael Bay. The movie has all the hallmarks of Bay’s best work, like The Rock and Bad Boys, mixed with the mastery of new technologies that he’s shown in more recent works like 13 Hours. Drone cameras soar through car chases, hand-held shots give us an up-close view of panicked amateur-surgery, and every explosion looks incredible. Does every ounce of the story make perfect sense and conform to the laws of reality? No, it absolutely does not. But it is a tremendously fun 2-hour long car chase, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. It feels good to have Bay back at the top of his game. —AG
Everything Everywhere All At Once
Genre: Sci-fi action
Run time: 2h 19m
Directors: Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Jamie Lee Curtis
People who only know filmmakers Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert from their tongue-in-cheek 2016 indie-movie parody Swiss Army Man — yes, that’s the one where Daniel Radcliffe spends the whole movie as a vomiting, farting corpse — may be surprised at the sheer scope, scale, and ambition of the writer-directors’ new movie Everything Everywhere All At Once, which absolutely lives up to its name. It’s a wild, winning multiverse comedy slash kung-fu epic about a depressed laundromat owner (Michelle Yeoh) who’s called on to save billions of alternate universes from evil, but that only scratches the surface of what the Daniels are out to achieve.
Part metaphorical attempt to reckon with the chaos of the internet age, part life-affirming argument against despair, and part reckless absurdist action movie, it’s simultaneously hilarious and touching, an impressive special-effects experiment and a tremendous mental reboot on the order of The Matrix. This is the only movie you’ll see this year (or probably ever) where one man gets beaten to death with oversized floppy dildos, while another changes the world with the Kurt Vonnegut-derived message “Be kinder to each other.” —TR
You Won’t Be Alone
Run time: 1h 49m
Director: Goran Stolevski
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Alice Englert, Arta Dobroshi
A story about a young witch that uses her power to shapeshift to live among humans in a small village, You Won’t Be Alone is a folkloric tone poem that uses horror as a form of yearning. As villagers disappear and the film’s protagonist replaces them, You Won’t Be Alone drifts into a dreamy, Terrance Malick-esque rumination on gender, community, and memory. Grotesque and lovely, You Won’t Be Alone lingers in the mind, wistful and aching, longing to wear your skin. —Joshua Rivera
Genre: Historical action epic
Run time: 3h 7m
Director: S.S. Rajamouli
Cast: N.T. Rama Rao Jr., Ram Charan
RRR is the biggest, loudest, and most bombastic movie that’s likely to come out in theaters this year. The movie’s historical fantasy follows two Indian men on opposite sides of the country’s British occupation in the 1950s — or so they think. Both acting on parallel secret missions, the two men end up bonding over their bravery and strength and forming a friendship great enough to free the entire country.
RRR features fantastic dance sequences, and tremendous fights and stunts including more than a few battles against various creatures of the Indian jungles. But it’s also an incredibly earnest movie without a drop of cynicism in sight. In other words, it’s a welcome antidote for most American blockbusters. —AG
The Long Walk
Run time: 1h 56m
Director: Mattie Do
Cast: Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy, Vilouna Phetmany
Laos’ first and only female film director, Mattie Do, makes ghost stories: movies where characters interact with the dead and learn from them, but pay a price for that knowledge. Some of the themes of her debut feature Chanthaly (which she’s posted on YouTube) and her followup, Dearest Sister (streaming on Shudder) get fuller, richer development in The Long Walk, a genre mashup that’s part time-travel story and part serial-killer story, but still keenly involved with the spirits of the dead, and how they both express their desires and enable the desires of living people.
A Lao hermit living in a tech-oriented future periodically travels 50 years into the past and intervenes in events in his own traumatic childhood, with the help of the ghost of a woman who died in the nearby forest when he was a kid. These are bold, striking elements that don’t entirely seem to fit together, but The Long Walk is exquisitely constructed in a way that reveals its puzzlebox methods slowly, building toward an emotional end that ties all its genres, timelines, and threads together in a startling, impressive way. —TR
Jujutsu Kaisen 0
Genre: Dark fantasy anime
Run time: 1h 45m
Director: Sunghoo Park
Cast: Chinatsu Akasaki, Aya Endô, Yûichi Nakamura
MAPPA’s adaptation of Jujutsu Kaisen, Gege Akutami’s supernatural dark fantasy action manga, quickly earned its place alongside the best anime series to air in 2020 and 2021. It comes as no surprise, then, that Jujutsu Kaisen 0 — the feature-length prologue to the series helmed by returning director Sunghoo Park — would carry on that momentum even further. Set one year before the events of the anime, Jujutsu Kaisen 0 follows the story of Yuta Okkotsu; an unlucky soul who, much like series protagonist Yuji Itadori, finds himself the unwilling host of the immensely destructive cursed spirit in the form of his deceased childhood friend Rika. Following a grisly massacre, Yuta is taken under the wing of Jujutsu sorcerer (and noted anime heathrob) Satoru Gojo, who teaches him how to hone his supernatural powers in humanity’s ongoing fight against cursed spirits. As to be expected, the action is electrifying; with swift punches, bright flashing power moves, and grotesque hulking enemies.
Yuta’s personal journey parallels well with that of Yuji, making for a relatable protagonist who’s easy to cheer on and root for. Though the movie as whole is the kind of “prequel” that benefits from prior knowledge of the series it precludes, Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is nevertheless an exciting watch that more than merits inclusion among the best animated movies to come out of 2022. —Toussaint Egan
Jujutsu Kaisen Zero is available to stream on Crunchyroll.
Genre: Family fantasy comedy
Run time: 1h 40m
Director: Domee Shi
Cast: Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh
It’s hard to look back fondly at the painfully awkward middle-school years, but Pixar’s Turning Red considers the tumultuous ups and downs of early adolescence without flinching, and with an astonishing amount of love. Domee Shi, who directed 2018’s Pixar short Bao, makes her theatrical debut with this one-of-a-kind movie that envelopes quirky magic, cultural specificity, and most of all, an absolute love for young girlhood in all its messy glory.
Thirteen-year-old Mei discovers that she turns into a gigantic red panda when she’s overwhelmed by strong emotion — a quirk all the women of her family have been burdened with since ancient times. Mei struggles to control the panda just as other family members have, but she also starts to discover her own identity outside of her family, and to embrace that side of herself. The giant-red-panda-sized emotions she feels at the cusp of adulthood translate into giant emotions for the audience, who can look back on that pivotal time of their lives where everything felt like so much all at once. Turning Red balances those deep emotions with some charming humor and genuine sweetness, and it’s one of the best and most unique films in Pixar’s canon. —Petrana Radulovic
Run time: 2h 56m
Director: Matt Reeves
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano
Matt Reeves’ reboot of the Dark Knight isn’t as bold as it might be, but it sure is stylish. A long, slow-burning mystery in the vein of David Fincher’s Seven, The Batman infuses a familiar story with darkly beautiful imagery and magnetic performances from stars Robert Pattinson and Zoë Kravitz. When it isn’t too enamored with ideas already explored in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, The Batman lays exciting groundwork for a richer, stranger sort of Batman movie, which will hopefully materialize as a sequel reuniting everyone who made this one such a pleasure to watch. —JR
Run time: 1h 36m
Cast: Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Justin H. Min
The latest from Columbus director Kogonada, After Yang is a melancholy science fiction movie that balances the question of how we should think about artificial life with the more intriguing question about how it should think about us. Colin Farrell and Jodie Turner-Smith star as adoptive parents raising a young Chinese girl, with the help of a “technosapien” — an android programmed as her language tutor, cultural advisor, and big brother. When his systems fail, the family goes through exactly what they’d experience at the death of any family member, with the added question of what his death tells them about their lives and relationships. It’s a small, quiet, meditative film, but it’s visually rich and packed with ideas about prejudice and assumptions, cultural assimilation, and the way everyone is navigating an inner life that would astonish everyone around them. —TR
I Was a Simple Man
Run time: 1h 40m
Director: Christopher Makoto Yogi
Cast: Steve Iwamoto, Constance Wu
August at Akiko’s Christopher Makoto Yogi turns this ghost story into a slow-burn meditation on death, memory, and what lives on after we depart. As the elderly patriarch of a fragmented family (Steve Iwamoto, excellent in his first lead feature role) nears the end of his life, he’s visited by family in the present and ghosts from the past, including his long-deceased wife (Constance Wu). Intergenerational tensions arise as the ghosts of past conflicts return, too — squabbles and fights between family members long estranged, and historical conflicts around Hawaii’s path to statehood.
I Was A Simple Man takes us on this journey across different time periods and with evocative use of surrealism and dream aesthetics. A beautiful movie filled with stunning images of Hawaii’s gorgeous landscapes and rich textures, it won the Made in Hawaii Award for Best Feature at the 2021 Hawaii International Film Festival. I Was A Simple Man is an unforgettable experience that ventures to capture the final days of one life on Earth. —PV
Run time: 2h 3m
Director: Joe Wright
Cast: Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, Kelvin Harrison Jr.
Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac has been adapted for film many times in many ways, including as the modern-day Steve Martin/Daryl Hannah rom-com Roxanne in 1987, and the Toshirô Mifune action-drama Samurai Saga in 1959. As with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, its story about unrequited love (and arguably, complete romantic cowardice) resonates in any age, and crosses cultures easily. But there’s never been a production quite like this lavish movie adaptation of Erica Schmidt’s musical version of the play. Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage stars as Cyrano, a French soldier and poet in love with his childhood friend Roxanne (Swallow star Haley Bennett), but afraid to tell her because he’s certain she’ll reject him. When she falls for Christian (Luce’s Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a handsome newcomer in Cyrano’s regiment, Cyrano agrees to ghost-write Christian’s love letters to her, mostly so he can finally, fully express himself, even if she doesn’t know it’s him.
Joe Wright’s production is lush and glowing, with a soft visual warmth courtesy of his longtime collaborator Seamus McGarvey, cinematographer on his Atonement and Anna Karenina, among other titles. Dinklage’s singing isn’t very strong, but he still feels like he was born to play this pained, passionate swashbuckler, and the central trio all deliver fantastic performances that make this an authentic tearjerker. It’s a big-hearted project, full of outsized emotions that hit home powerfully. Don’t watch this right after a breakup, or after someone you’ve secretly longed for marries someone else. —TR
Run time: 1h 29m
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Zoë Kravitz, Byron Bowers, Rita Wilson
The protagonist of Steven Soderbergh’s tech-crime thriller Kimi moves through the world like she’s tapped directly into a power line, and is desperate to burn off all the excess energy. The movie operates at that same level of speed and ferocity. Essentially an internet-age take on Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window by way of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation and Brian De Palma’s Blow Out (among many other cinematic touchstones), Kimi follows a Seattle tech worker who stumbles across evidence of a crime, and draws some dangerous attention when she tries to report it. Soderbergh and Panic Room screenwriter David Koepp strip that story down to its basics, jumping in and out of the action in a shockingly tight and stylish 89 minutes. The plot is simple and the ethos is go-go-go, which makes the film’s verve contagious and the action breathless. It isn’t deep, but it sure is fun. —TR
Run time: 2h 7m
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Cast: Amir Jadidi, Sahar Goldust, Mohsen Tanabandeh
(Update, 4/14: Farhadi has been accused of plagiarizing the idea of A Hero by a former student.)
Oscar-winning Iranian director Asghar Farhadi returns with another stunner, painting a beautiful, nuanced picture of a man in crisis. Amir Jadidi is phenomenal as Rahim, a charming man who simply can not get his life together, no matter how much his friends and family love him. When his girlfriend finds an abandoned handbag with gold coins inside, Rahim considers using the money to pay off his debt while out on a brief furlough from debtor’s prison. But after a series of events leads him to return the bag and money to a woman who says she’s the original owner, he becomes the subject of a local media frenzy for his charitable act.
A moving, challenging story about the difficulties of trying to do the right thing in an unjust world, A Hero is also a study of how difficult it is to pin down clear motives or objective truth, especially when facing a story filtered through layers of personal and organizational agendas. Even the truth about your own actions and motivations can be difficult to sort through. And if you do actually find it, is it actually for navigating the world? A Hero is a stirring, unforgettable work that should not be missed. —PV
A Hero is available to watch on Prime Video.
Genre: Anime drama
Run time: 1h 29m
Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Cast: Kaho Nakamura, Ryô Narita, Shôta Sometani
Just when you might think Disney’s permanently locked up the coveted title of “Best Animated Musical Rendition of the Beauty and the Beast Story,” along comes Mamoru Hosada’s Belle, which gives the “tale as old as time” a thrilling futurist spin. This anime feature from the director of Summer Wars, Wolf Children, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and Mirai re-imagines the classic fable as a conflict in a virtual-reality wonderland, where everyone’s digital avatars reflect their innermost selves. When withdrawn, mourning high-schooler Suzu enters the VR world, she becomes a beloved pop star, center of an energetic fandom — and equally energetic dismissal and criticism. Then she becomes obsessed with a mystery user whose avatar is a powerful, monstrous beast, and she starts trying to uncover his secrets.
This is a dizzying story that sometimes overreaches — Hosada is trying to take in everything from the addictive but destructive nature of online life to the importance of individual human connection, and there are so many threads (and romances, and secrets) that they aren’t all fully fleshed out. But it’s a heartfelt film full of big emotional beats and stunning animated sequences, and even if it doesn’t answer all the questions it raises, it at least seems determined to bring a familiar story to a bolder, brighter, more ambitious stage. —TR