2022 has been quite the ride so far. From superhero films that both exceeded and fell slightly short of expectations to the most unlikely of perfect legacy sequels and a few surprises along the way, the year in film has yielded some pretty great stuff, and (so far) not a ton of outright letdowns. Even the movies that haven’t really worked, such as Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis or Netflix’s Spiderhead, have at least had some interesting individual elements for viewers to dig into. Then again, I haven’t exactly sought out many of the year’s worst-reviewed films either, so for this piece, there will be no top five in that respect. Instead, I’ve opted to recommend five shows I’ve watched so far this year – although they are exclusively shows that were available to watch at the halfway point – as we begin the second half of 2022. There’s a lot more still to come, so let’s reflect, reassess, and revisit some of the year’s best efforts thus far.
5. Cha Cha Real Smooth
Cooper Raiff’s sophomore follow-up to his underrated debut Shithouse finds the young filmmaker attempting to expand his understanding of the dichotomy between purpose and passion, largely succeeding thanks to Raiff’s uncanny ability to make both himself and the other characters he writes extremely likeable. Both Raiff and Dakota Johnson have an easy chemistry with each other that makes their on-screen friendship engaging to watch, but it’s Raiff’s unexpected yet heartwarming connection with Vanessa Burghardt’s Lola that ultimately serves as the film’s most thoroughly beautiful non-romantic love story.
Cha Cha Real Smooth Review
4. The Northman
Robert Eggers is an uncanny filmmaker in that his ability to commit to absolute authenticity in storytelling can only be surpassed by the choices he makes when he desires to challenge that authenticity for the sake of story. A feature adaptation of the Norse tale of Amleth (the story upon which Shakespeare’s Hamlet is based), Eggers crafts a tale of vengeance which is blood-soaked mythos wrapped in a cloak of rage so boiled it could break open a volcano. Alexander Skarsgård is an absolute beast in one of his most thoroughly appropriate roles as Claes Bang and Nicole Kidman nearly steal the show right out from under him. If anything can be counted as a drawback for it, The Northman is relatively light on action sequences, and the sports segment towards its middle can take some of the wind out of its sails, but as that’s not the story it’s telling anyhow, it’s an easy thing to forgive. Plus, Anya Taylor-Joy is there to put the wind right back in anyway.
The Northman Review
3. Top Gun: Maverick
After multiple Covid-related delays and a general worry of whether the public might ever actually get to see it, 2022’s first $1 billion movie is still in theaters and thriving. And why shouldn’t it? The most perfect legacy sequel since Blade Runner 2049, Top Gun: Maverick is everything to loved about the original Top Gun wrapped in a better movie with a more emotionally-resonant story and a whole lot of “hell yeah!” filmmaking. The heart, the action, the humor – pretty much all of it works exactly the way it’s supposed to. Honoring the legacy of the original without sacrificing anything it needs to do in order to bring these characters into the modern day, Maverick finds the heart of its story and never lets go even as Tom Cruise and co. pull up to 10 Gs just trying to fly up the side of a mountain. To see these planes really flying and know it’s all there on screen is a special thing, and that combined with a healthy dose of honoring Anthony Edwards’ late Goose and Val Kilmer’s Iceman in the most appropriate ways it can makes Top Gun: Maverick one of the best movie of 2022, as well as one of the best legacy sequels ever made. I can’t wait to watch it again (and I’ve already seen it three times).
Top Gun: Maverick Review
2. The Batman
Matt Reeves near-perfect detective noir featuring the Caped Crusader has a lot more on its mind than just being easily one of the best-looking and best-sounding comic book movies ever put to screen (Greig Fraser’s cinematography really pops in this one and that Batmobile chase is an all-timer set piece). Accompanied by Michael Giacchino phenomenal score – an Oscar-worthy effort in my eyes – the story of The Batman redefines who the character is understood to be as a pop culture artifact, re-contextualizing his quest for vengeance not as a force for inspiration but for infection. Paul Dano’s unsettlingly plausible Riddler is the perfect foil for the Robert Pattinson version of the character, a near mirror image reflection of what Batman has been in his first two years on the job with a different target in mind and a purpose which challenges the viewer to reckon with whether or not the most-lauded kind of Batman in the mainstream is really all that much of a hero in the first place. Given all that, plus Zoë Kravitz’s instantly iconic Catwoman and the murderer’s row of character actors like Jeffrey Wright, Colin Farrell, and John Turturro just lining the edges of the frame around all the heroes and villains, The Batman is easily the closest any DC adaptation has come to capturing the lightning-in-a-bottle movie magic of The Dark Knight, even if it doesn’t quite get to that level (maybe one rung under on the ladder).
The Batman Review
1. Everything Everywhere All at Once
The only film on this list for which we never published a review, the second collaboration between A24 and the Daniels directing duo is an ingenious, creative, moving, and all-consuming effort featuring some of the most insane and original storytelling I have ever seen in my life. Given how brilliant its script is, how fun it is to watch Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Jamie Lee Curtis, and a resurrected Ke Huy Quan churn out some of the year’s best performances, and how insane this multiverse movie gets with everything that can happen via its stellar visual effects (from a team of no more than 5 people, I might add), it’s no surprise that it recently became the indie studio’s highest-grossing film ever. In fact, its only real drawback the first time watching it is that there’s so much to absorb, you might need to watch it a second or third time to truly appreciate everything it’s doing. And with A24 seemingly pushing some of their late 2022 hopefuls into 2023 according to recent press releases, it seems like they’re going all in on the Oscar campaigns for this one in every conceivable category, which they should – it could win as many as it wants to, and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.
Honorable Mentions: The Bad Guys, Brian and Charles, Hustle, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, Scream (2022), The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
5. We Own This City
A fast-paced, slickly-written investigation of the Baltimore PD’s corruptions post-Freddie Gray, We Own This City may not feel like something entirely new to those familiar with co-creator David Simon’s work on The Wire, but it is as excellent as it could be in its own right, and marks a triumph in direction for Renaldo Marcus Green. Jon Bernthal, Wunmi Mosaku, Jamie Hector, and McKinley Belcher III all excel in their parts, and even if it is a little hard to follow at first, this miniseries is one HBO’s mist thoroughly underrated.
4. Hacks: Season 2
While not as underrated as the previous entry, Hacks continues to feel like the best show that no one I know is actually watching. A shortened season does leave a little bit to be desired in terms of smoother resolution, but in season two, the writers bring out nearly all the stops they have, as each single episode has something new to offer all of its characters, both in growth and in absurdity. Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder continue to be inarguably the most iconic comedy duo on TV right now, and even if Carl Clemons-Hopkins isn’t given a ton to do this season, he’s still immensely fun to watch (and does eventually get things to do). Please bring season 3 fast!
3. Under the Banner of Heaven
When I started FX’s miniseries Under the Banner of Heaven, I thought for sure it would be just another run-of-the-mill detective story cosplaying a True Detective aesthetic and Mare of Easttown pace in order to disguise the fact that it just didn’t have much else to offer. But when the show started leaning – in its pilot episode – into exploring the depths of how organized religion can be used to warp minds searching for purpose and driven by ego, I became hooked. Having grown up in a religious household, I am familiar with a lot of the same beats this series touches upon, though this series explores the Mormon church rather than the Christian one, especially those by which religiosity is perverted under the guise of righteousness by those most eager to serve their own power, and what they’re willing to do (or not do) to attain and keep it. In many ways, but especially that one, this is a horror show. Andrew Garfield manages to wring gravitas out of his understated performance – yet another win for him – but although Daisy Edgar-Jones and Joel Edgerton (in fact, the whole cast) is excellent, it’s Sam Worthington who walks away from this series on everyone’s minds. We all wondered if there was more to the actor than simply having starred in the biggest movie ever made, and it turns out, there is more…a lot more. If you can stomach religious trauma and enjoy true crime storytelling that wants to explore something more than just the central murder mystery, this is definitely one you should check out.
2. Stranger Things 4: Part 1
Yes, I have now seen Part 2 and wrapped the season, but as Part 2 released a day after the halfway mark, I am not able to include it in my recommendations here, nor can I include season four of Stranger Things as a whole (but don’t worry, Part 2 is very good and I will be releasing my thoughts on it soon). For now, however, I can say that Part 1 of Stranger Things season four is an excellent return to form for the hit series, and easily the closest it’s gotten to capturing the proper Amblin horror vibes from the micro-miracle of season one. Yes, Sadie Sink is amazing and should be up for an Emmy. Yes, Eddie is a fantastic new character, and yes, Kate Bush’s resurgence into the mainstream of American music is something only this show could have pulled off in the way it did, but the best part of this season – for me at least – has been the editing, especially in episodes three and four. Each camera motion rolling right into the next, each scene cutting to the other at just the right time, each action directly reflecting or predicting the one on either side of it. They really popped off this season with how it’s all cut together. I’ll say more once I release my review of the season as a whole, but for now I’ll simply say: hell yeah, Stranger Things is back.
What is it with AppleTV+ and constantly giving us my favorite shows of each year that I honestly had no to minimal anticipation for before they aired? Between Ted Lasso and this, their track record with unexpected successes couldn’t be more clean, and yet, when watching the mostly Ben Stiller-directed Severance, one would never suspect its success as being unexpected at all. Everything in this series is so tightly managed, so thoroughly thought-out, and near-perfectly written. As good an actor as Ben Stiller has always been, he might be an even better director, and it’s a testament to his immense skill that Severance doesn’t feel as if it has to wrap up any story in its debut season just to tell a new one the next. There is an ending, absolutely, and one that rockets my anticipation for next season sky high, but it doesn’t resolve every little thing the season introduced so it could be somehow tied off into a miniseries if necessary. Apple is playing the long game with this one, and if they keep playing it this well, with something this well-designed, this well-acted, and this well-paced, this game could go on for a long time. In fact, I hope it does.
And those are my Top 5 Movies and Series Recommendations for the first half of 2022! (Unfortunately I haven’t yet seen RRR, so I can’t include it on this list, but maybe it will make an appearance somewhere down the line.) What are your favorite things you watched this year? Any I missed that you’d recommend? Let me know in the comments section below, and thanks for reading!
- The Friendly Film Fan