With the year (somehow) half over, 2022 has already played home to a wide variety of incredible cinematic offerings. Here are 20 you can see right now.
Googly eyes. High-flying fighter jets. Lovable robots and wild red pandas. Meat (both human and otherwise, and so very much of it). Romance (forbidden, unexpected, edifying, and nurturing). Dancing. Farts. Freedom (and, of course, restriction, and so very much of it). The first six months of 2022 have already gifted film fans with a wide array of incredible cinematic offerings, and there’s still a half a year to go.
Some of our favorite filmmakers have returned to the screen with fresh visions, including everyone from Kogonada to Andrea Arnold, David Cronenberg to Daniels, Terence Davies to Peter Strickland. And there have been plenty of new names to admire, too, including Audrey Diwan, Panah Panahi, Mimi Cave, and Jerrod Carmichael, all of whom have bowed debuts that make us feel hopeful for the future of film.
A handful of the films that have already earned a mark of IndieWire distinction premiered on the festival circuit, some went straight to streaming platforms, and there’s even the odd blockbuster or two (good action movies, what a concept!) rounding out the lot. Best of all: each of these films is available to see right now.
Our list of the best movies of the year so far follows the same basic rules as it has in years past: In order to qualify, a film must have been released in North American theaters for at least a week or on a VOD platform or streaming service in the same territory. That means we’ve got the usual festival leftovers from last year that finally made their way to audiences, new titles from earlier festivals that have already been released, all alongside a handful of films that materialized in recent months. It also means that we can’t include movies we’ve already seen and adored that have yet to be released, even if they’re right around the corner, including a number of our favorites from Cannes, Telluride, Venice, TIFF, and NYFF.
For now, there’s plenty of good stuff to catch up on. Get watching!
Eric Kohn, Ryan Lattanzio, Jude Dry, Natalia Winkelman, Susannah Gruder, and Siddhant Adlakha contributed to this list.
The statistics speak for themselves: According to the CDC, Black and Native women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women in this country. “Aftershock” is the result of tragedy, and the collaborative efforts of families who have endured the outcomes of systemic racial discrimination in reproductive health. The documentary from directors Paula Eiselt and Tonya Lewis Lee simultaneously gives a wide-angle and close-up look at the dangers of giving birth while Black, from the ways women’s healthcare has been taken out of their hands over time, to how this trend has impacted individual families who undergo the devastating experience of losing their respective partner, child, or mother in the blink of an eye, all due to preventable complications and medical neglect.
Despite its heartbreaking subject matter, what emerges is not only a portrait of grief, though it captures this painful mourning process with care and sensitivity. “Aftershock” is a powerful project inspired by loss, one that aims to move us closer to a world where all women, and especially Black women, are listened to and given the birthing experiences they deserve, so that we can one day begin to see an end to the abysmal statistics on maternal mortality in the United States. —SG
“After Yang” (A24)
At some unknown point in the near future, an android named Yang (Justin H. Min) stops working. Jake (Colin Farrell), the tea seller who bought the refurbished “technosapien” as a big sibling and cultural anchor for the young daughter he and his wife adopted from China, drags the uncannily lifelike machine down to the local tech center in much the same way someone might take a cracked iPhone to the Genius Bar, because that’s what you do when a piece of technology dies.
But replacing Yang’s role in Jake’s house won’t be as simple as buying a newer model. And when it seems clear that Yang may never come back online, Jake unexpectedly begins to mourn the robot’s loss in a very different way than one might grieve a broken toaster or a bricked laptop. There’s a little more to it than that, as filmmaker Kogonada digs some lovely rabbit holes of his own design and tunnels into soft pockets of memory only hinted at (if that) by the source material, yet this is still very much sci-fi at its coziest.
Perhaps there will come a day when Kogonada is compelled to scale up his delicate brand of cinema without breaking it — to replace pillow shots with cranes — but the wistful beauty of “After Yang” is as rooted in its domesticity as the tree that grows in the center of Jake’s house is rooted to the soil below. —DE
“Anonymous Club” (Oscilloscope)
Courtney Barnett stands alone in the middle of a recording studio in Oslo. A dressing room in Bloomington. A rooftop in Berlin. On stage, the Australian singer-songwriter commands attention, her propulsive energy and raspy croon animating everyone in the room as she bares her soul with songs like “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch.” It’s these in-between moments, however, that speak to Barnett’s genuine nature — a shy, oftentimes sad human being who leads a solitary life, and has difficulty opening up anywhere but in her lyrics.
All of these qualities and more are captured on striking 16mm in “Anonymous Club,” the first feature from music video director Danny Cohen. A frequent collaborator of Barnett, Cohen developed a friendship with the singer that inspired him to try his hand at documentary filmmaking. Familiar with her reticence as an interview subject, Cohen asked her to speak her mind into a dictaphone during a three-year period, much of it spent on an international tour. The film places these stream-of-consciousness half-thoughts, at once mundane and profound, but always sincere, over footage of the singer on the road and on stage, at home in Melbourne and in hotel rooms around the world, adding up to a unique, vivid picture of the Barnett’s inner and outer worlds. —SG
“Benediction” (Roadside Attractions)
With “Benediction” — another spectacular and terribly sad biopic about a poet cursed with the ability to express a private agony they could never escape — Terence Davies has once again made a film that feels like the work of someone flaying their soul onscreen. Last time it was Emily Dickinson who provided the prism through which Davies could refract his own wants and wounds, and here it’s the English poet Siegfried Sassoon, an openly but resentfully gay man desperate for a peace of mind he only knew how to look for in other people. This is a film that trembles with a need for redemption that never comes, and the urgency of that search is palpable enough that you can feel it first-hand, even if “Benediction” is never particularly clear about the nature of the redemption it’s hoping to find.
We first meet Siegfried (played by Jack Lowden as a young man, and briefly by Peter Capaldi as an older one) as a bright-faced chap in London circa 1914, days before he’s sent to fight in the Great War that he will survive but never escape. The film is hardly a few minutes old before Siegfried has lost a brother, saved a number of men on the field of battle, and thrown the Military Cross he’s been awarded for his bravery into the River Mersey.
That bit of history turned out to be apocryphal, but hard proof exists of Sassoon’s blistering letter against the “political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed,” a seismic anti-war screed published by the press and read aloud in the House of Commons. It was the start of his career as a writer, and an act of gallantry that shadowed the rest of a life spent in retreat. —DE
“Both Sides of the Blade” (IFC Films)
A white woman living in a post-colonial African country refuses to abandon her family’s coffee plantation even as civil war brews around her. A derelict spaceship full of criminals sails across the stars towards a black hole, adrift between their histories on Earth and the oblivion that awaits them in the cosmos. A former officer in the French Foreign Legion remembers his time stationed in Djibouti, where his men lost themselves in the desert (and each other) while preparing for a fight that never came.
The people in Claire Denis movies are seldom in a hurry, but they’re often out of time. They’re drawn and quartered between the soft flesh of memory and the acrid metal of waking life — pulled apart by an artist whose films are as fluid as memories, and yet also mesmerized by the violence of inflexible social constructs that separate people against each other and themselves. Her debut feature “Chocolat” (1988) ends with a Cameroon-raised white woman named France being told that a “horizon” cuts between now and then, white and Black, colonizer and colonized — invisible lines that are nevertheless impossible to pass. More than 30 years later, Denis is still haunted by the danger of those boundaries, and the self-immolating harm that can result when the mind lures people across borders the body isn’t allowed to cross. No wonder she couldn’t resist the appeal of making a COVID film. —DE