It’s 2022 and regular moviegoing feels normalized again, only back from a long, 2-year pandemic, but so are many superlative blockbusters that are pulling in audiences, with such box-office spectacles as Top Gun: Maverick, Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and The Batman. There have also been some unexpected indie box-office draws this year, like Everything Everywhere All at Once. Most people spent the last 2 years streaming on their favorite platforms, or if they did go out to the movies last year, it was mainly for the latest Bond flick, Dune, and, of course, Spider-Man: No Way Home. With the country and world currently enduring a lot of bad morale, crises, war, and uncertainty, one thing remains clear: audiences are proving they want to be back at the theaters as they are gravitating more towards nostalgia and franchises. Currently, just as with anything at the moment, film has become more disposable than ever as there are far more films being released and even more platforms for movies to find viewers. With so many films being pumped out, which titles are worth seeking out? Chief film critics Robert Butler and Noah Damron, along with guest critic Michael Powell, reflect back on the first half of the year, selecting these unmissable titles. We hope you venture out to the theater, or at least prioritize them on your endless watch list.

In Alphabetical order:

Ali & Ava (2021) | MUBI

Ali and Ava (d. Clio Barnard) 

The expectations of family. The general wariness that can come with age. The baggage and broken feelings that come from past relationships. The societal pressures of race and class. All of these can be stumbling blocks on the path to a new romance. And all of them arise for the central couple the new film from writer-director Clio Barnard (The Arbor, The Selfish Giant). This is a beautiful film about two lonely people who find comfort with each other. It’s a quiet film for adult audiences, something that often seems lost in the shuffle these days. —Michael Powell

Mad Magazine In Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood (2022)

Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood (d. Richard Linklater) 

Following up with critically acclaimed hits like Dazed and Confused, Boyhood, and Everybody Wants Some, Richard Linklater demonstrated how fondly he remembers his youth and how much he draws from his past experiences. He’s always been a filmmaker that’s been drawn into certain eras as his characters drift through life and live in the moment as uncertainties loom ahead. His most recent film, Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood, is a unique animated coming-of-age saga that captures these same sensibilities with a joyous spirit and undeniable charm. –Robert Butler

How 'The Batman' Cinematographer Greig Fraser Crafted an 'Urban Noir' Take on the Caped Crusader

The Batman (d. Matt Reeves)

What was once a solo project for Ben Affleck has now morphed into an entirely new adaptation of the Caped Crusader, one that stands apart from the current DC extended universe. This Batman, helmed by Let Me In and Dawn & War for the Planet of the Apes filmmaker, Matt Reeves, harkens back to the moodier, more noir-inspired takes on the character with a grungier depiction of the bat. And thankfully we get spared the sights of seeing Thomas and Martha Wayne gunned down in crime alley. The Batman is the best adaptation of the character since Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. This Batman is a thrilling, sophisticated, exhaustive pop epic that also features the most tangible cinematic portrayal of Gotham City yet–Noah Damron

Benediction (2022) - Movie Review

Benediction (d. Terence Davies) 

Terrence Davies’ skillful direction and the engaging storytelling of Siegfried Sassoon’s life are just some of the highlights in this luminous biographical drama. From an original screenplay by Davies based on the events of Sasson’s life, the gay English war poet and writer whose antiwar poetry had empathetic verses on the agonies of war, ended up bringing him great notoriety after World War I. The film is visually sublime but not always seamless in terms of pacing and structure, particularly in the beginning. But it’s a deeply affecting, empathetic, and emotionally vulnerable character study of Sassoon’s fragile psyche. Both emotionally and visually sumptuous, Benediction is one of the most eloquent and emotionally charged cinematic experiences of the year. –Robert Butler

Both Sides Of The Blade': Berlin Review | Reviews | Screen

Both Sides of the Blade (d. Claire Denis)

French auteur Claire Denis’s first film since High Life is an emotionally charged portrait of Sara (Juliette Binoche), a talk radio host who appears to be very happy with her husband Jean (Vincent Linden). The film even opens with them cuddling with each other on the shores of the sea. Once their vacation ends, they are back in a wintry Paris, which appears to be just past the halfway point of the COVID era as the characters and extras are masked up. After experiencing deep moments of bliss and affection, Sara and Jean find their lives quickly altering once two people from their past lives re-enter their lives. Both Sides of the Blade is perhaps Claire Denis’s most emotionally raw film since 35 Shots of Rum, and Juliette Binoche delivers one of the most impressively dramatic performances of the year that will sadly go overlooked. (Opening July 8th Limited Theaters) -Robert Butler

Everything Everywhere All At Once': Kung-Fu, raccoons, and the immigrant experience

Everything Everywhere All at Once (d. Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) 

An endlessly inventive, skillfully crafted, genre-bending journey that is deeply absorbing. The Daniels are pulling from every director’s tool in the book, and it somehow comes out cohesively. There’s a staggering level of craft here and features a truly rich screenplay. This is a movie that is both aggressive on a sensory level and tender with its characters. Michelle Yeoh gives the performance of her career, playing to her every strength as an artist. One can’t help but get swept up in this crazily hyper, emotionally dense kaleidoscope of self-acceptance.–Noah Damron

Gwendoline Christie Interview: Flux Gourmet - News Express US

Flux Gourmet (d. Peter Strickland)

Outside of the absurdity, the rich satire, dark humor, and bizarreness of Peter Strickland’s fifth feature film titled Flux Gourmet, it’s quite perplexing how deep Strickland is really going here. There are certainly some grotesque and unpleasant moments in the film, but Flux Gourmet should be embraced for its daring framework and creative approach. This is certainly one of the year’s most original and unforgettable films that takes the Italian Giallo genre and style and rather subverts it to some new and unusual heights. Strickland has proven over and over again that he’s a stylized filmmaker with a singular style and vision, and his new film proves horror filmmaking can still be absurdist, darkly funny, and strange. –Robert Butler

Review: Happening - Cineuropa

Happening (d. Audrey Diwan) 

The top-prize winner of the Golden Lion at the 2021 Venice Film Festival, newcomer writer-director Audrey Diwan has delivered a timely call to action with Happening, a visceral, character-driven, and morally complex yarn that recalls the work of other indie dramas such as Never Rarely Sometimes Always and4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days about the agonies and desperation of an unwanted pregnancy.  It’s the story of a college student named Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei) who discovers she’s pregnant while secretly seeking an abortion in 1963. While abortion feels like an endless polarizing debate, Diwan’s film is another empathetic portrait that at least gives vivid insights into what unwanted pregnancies for women are like. The film puts a humane touch on such a controversial subject. –Robert Butler

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On' returns in part three of this painfully adorable video series - ABC7 New York

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (d. Dean Flesiher-Camp)

As charming as any Pixar or Hollywood family film, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is the feature film version of the 2010 successful You Tube short film of the same title. This is the debut feature for helmer Dean Fleischer-Camp, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jenny Slate and Nick Paley. Slate reprises the voice role of Marcel, a petite animated seashell with a large googly eye and a pair of pink plastic sneakers. Although this is a feature version, Fleisher-Camp, Paley, and Slate stay faithful to the idiosyncratic and cozy tenderness that made the YouTube short so beloved. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On delivers an endearing morsel, delightful but not too cutesy, absorbing but never too cloying.–Robert Butler

Males Film Ending Defined: Spoilers Alert! - TV News | Movies | Music | Celebrities | Gaming | Trending | Theinspi

Men (d. Alex Garland) 

What could certainly be labeled as a “thinking person’s” horror film—audiences walking into Men expecting a conventional horror film to deliver the thrills, chills, or other mysterious forces that hunt down their victims will find some of those elements in Alex Garland’s third feature, Men.  However, they will also be frustrated with just how uncompromising of a vision it is.  The film, which features Jesse Buckley as a widower who slips down a rabbit hole (or in this case, a decayed deer eye hole) of anxiety-inducing, cerebral horror movie elements, taps into the psyche and psychology of its distraught protagonist. A horror film that bounces between reality and a massive amount of surrealism merged with rich abstractions, striking imagery, and a haunting climax that will certainly get a rise from the audience. The film is destined to become a cult film, maybe even a film that will be mentioned in best-of-the-decade lists, at least in the horror category, in years to come. –Robert Butler

The Northman': A Brutal, Bloody, Kinda Bonkers Tale of Viking-on-Viking Crime

The Northman (d. Robert Eggers) 

At just his third feature film under his belt after the richly atmospheric, The Witch, and the darkly absurdist, The Lighthouse, filmmaker Robert Eggers takes his deconstructionist approach to the Viking legend. His newest film, one that closely echoes  Apocalypse Now, Conan the Barbarian, Apocalypto and The Revenant is the kind of trippy experience that fits perfectly alongside Eggers’ previous films, while delivering on the bone-crunching essentials to play to a mass audience. The brutal spectacle Eggers offers up features one staggering set piece after another. An awe-inspiring sequence early on captures a siege on a local village where Eggers’ camera, alongside cinematographer Jarin Blaschke, seamlessly travels in and out of the carnage where Vikings are viciously slaughtering one another as dozens of extras are fleeing around the space. It’s the kind of ambitious, unflinching sequence that calls to mind the frontier sequence in The Revenant. The framing and compositions are among Eggers’ most skillfully constructed thus far. –Noah Damron

Competencia Oficial" estrena su primer trailer - Haciendo Cine

Official Competition (d. Gaston Duprat and Mariano Cohn) 

An insider satire that will likely amuse audiences that are highly interested in acting and the filmmaking process that generates some amusing laughs, Official Competition is a clever parody of the absurdity and pretentiousness of the creative process, that balances caricature with existentialism. The results are sophisticated, with some repetition in the narrative but enough surprises that, despite being slightly overlong, it clocks in at just under 2 hours. The Argentinian filmmaker duo, Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn, co-wrote and directed the film. Hopefully the star power of leads Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz will bring this film a wider audience. Official Competition is essentially about competition and cinematic rivalry when egos collide, and with that, it becomes an intriguing, brutally honest portrait of the maddening behind-the-scenes antics within the filmmaking world.–Robert Butler

Pleasure' Director Ninja Thyberg's Film Influences - Thrillist

Pleasure (d. Ninja Thyberg)

Based on the 2013 award-winning short film of the same title, Pleasure, the feature film debut by Swedish filmmaker Ninja Thyberg is an impressive debut feature. A harrowing, deeply disturbing character study about a young woman who moves from Sweden to Los Angeles to become a porn star actress. Pleasure is certainly a journey into Belle’s psychology; it’s her perspective, a film that holds no punches in showcasing the cruelties of the porn industry, eventually ending with a very empowering and earned finale that feels relieving and equally liberating. Thyberg’s film jumps continents from her short film, about a young Swedish woman named Linnéa (Sofia Kappel), who ends up finding roommates in the suburbs just outside Hollywood Hills. The film recalls the work of Sean Baker, most notably his 2013 underrated gem Starlet, which was also about a young woman working in the porn industry. Though not as affectionate or emotionally resonant as Baker’s film, Thyberg’s vision is more fearless and uncomfortable to endure, as it holds a feminist perspective on just how degrading and misogynistic the adult film industry really is.–Robert Butler

RRR review: an Indian action epic finds the universal thrills in revolution - Polygon

RRR (d. S. S. Rajamouli) 

The biggest film to ever come from India is a gargantuan, maximalist blockbuster epic in every sense of the word. Possibly the best action film since Mad Max: Fury Road, SS Rajamouli’s RRR: Rise Roar Revolt reaffirms the need for original, larger-than-life cinema. A film in which one man successfully takes on a mob of hundreds with just a club, a man wrestles a tiger with his bare hands and an epic bromance is formed whilst saving a child from a burning bridge, all before the films title card appears. Over 3 hours in length, including an intermission, RRR simply does not stop in delivering body-pulsating thrills. From its concise, heartfelt storytelling, impeccable action sequences, not to mention a rousing dance battle against colonialists with footwork that would make Fred Astaire jealous, it all sounds like it shouldn’t work, but oh my, does it ever. It’s not hyperbolic to call Rajamouli’s jaw-dropping spectacle one of the single most invigorating pieces of cinema in recent years. –Noah Damron

Sundown review – Tim Roth a wonderfully relaxed sociopath in Venice's funniest film | Venice film festival 2021 | The Guardian

Sundown (d. Michel Franco) 

A very austere and deeply mysterious character study drama whose subtext is to expose the world’s haves and have-nots, Sundown is Mexican filmmaker Michel Franco’s most gripping and visually pleasing work to date. The film focuses on its protagonist Neil (Tim Roth), who deceives his family about misplacing his part while they are on vacation in Acapulco, Mexico. The brilliance of the film is that we don’t know the motivation behind why Neil would deliberately lie to his family like that. With minimalism in both terms of tone and performance, Tim Roth delivers a very brilliant performance where he isn’t exactly the most outgoing and extroverted person, but his demeanor and expressions speak volumes that this is a lonely soul that is searching for some kind of joy while despair surrounds him. The way the film unfolds is quite engrossing. As you watch the film, you have no idea where it’s going. The less you know going in, the more rewarding the journey and experience will be. –Robert Butler

Box Office: How high could Top Gun: Maverick fly?

Top Gun: Maverick (d. Joseph Kosinski) 

Top Gun: Maverick elevates nostalgia, and similar to its predecessor, this energetic and witty follow-up to the 1986 Bruckheimer produced/late Tony Scott directed action movie classic titled Top Gun delivers breathtaking set-pieces and thrilling action that lives up to the original. Sci-Fi filmmaker Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy, Oblivion) serves up the adrenaline of often nail-biting airborne action with ingenuity and craftmanship, but it’s a movie that certainly drowns into the implausible and predictable in the final stretch. While being logistically impossible and borderline eye-rolling during the climax, the moments after are quickly redeemed by a few more jaw-dropping sequences that deliver some of the most inventive spectacle of any summer blockbuster you will probably see in years. –Robert Butler

Film Review: 'Vortex' – The Hollywood Reporter

Vortex (d. Gaspar Noe)

Gaspar Noe’s most compassionate film of his career, Vortex, recalls Michael Haneke’s 2012 masterpiece Amour as both films explore the final months of an elderly married couple who have been married for nearly seven decades. In Noe’s version, the film is very similar to Amour in terms of its existential themes of death and the cruel nature of aging. It’s also about a French husband taking care of his ill wife, who sadly suffers from dementia and is only getting worse by the day. It’s quite remarkable how Noe, most known for his controversial, disturbing, and violent masterpieces like Irreversible (2003), Enter the Void (2010), and Climax (2019), has turned the tides of his provocations and has made a poignantly crafted and superbly acted two-handler that is also a humane exploration of aging, illness, and the passage of time. By setting aside these preconceived notions about Noe, both Noe detractors and enthusiasts will find that the provocateur has delivered another masterful film that is both potent and strikingly beautiful.  -Robert Butler


Other notable titles 

Cow (d. Andrea Arnold)

Crimes of the Future (d. David Cronenberg)

Navanly (d. Daniel Roher)

Paris, 13th District (Jacques Audiard)

X (Ti  West)