The first few months of the year is a good time for resolutions, renewal, and taking stock of life, but it’s often a slow time for new movies. The streaming era has changed that calculus — a novelty-hungry home-viewing audience doesn’t much care about the season, so more release houses are slipping interesting movies onto VOD or even bringing them to theaters during a season when they’ll face less competition.
And then there are always the little gems that were never intended for a blockbuster audience, and the compelling surprises we weren’t expecting would move us. So even though it’s still early in the year, we’ve started a survey 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, and the best TV shows of 2022.
The new slasher X is the best Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie of 2022. Set in 1979, writer-director Ti West’s loving homage to all things exploitation cinema follows a porno director and his cast as they head to a small farm in Texas to shoot their next movie. Unfortunately, the farm’s owners don’t approve one bit of the filmmakers’ immoral ways, and that results in a lot of blood and guts. There’s sex, murder, quite a few uncomfortable scenes, and every minute of it is a film-grainy, old-school blast. —Austen Goslin
X is available in theaters.
The Long Walk
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. —Tasha Robinson
The Long Walk is available for rental or purchase on Amazon and other digital platforms.
Jujutsu Kaisen 0
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 in theaters.
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
Turning Red is available to watch on Disney Plus.
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. —Joshua Rivera
The Batman is available in theaters nationwide.
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
After Yang is available in select theaters and to watch on Showtime.
I Was a Simple Man
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. —Pete Volk
I Was A Simple Man is available to watch on the Criterion Channel.
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
Hellbender tells the story of Izzy, a teenager who lives isolated in the woods with only her mother, who says Izzy has a debilitating disease and can’t be around other people. That isn’t quite true. The movie delicately balances Izzy’s perspective and her mother’s, working as a movie both about the struggles of adolescence and about the inherent terror of trying to raise a child well. But for all the virtues of its story, Hellbender’s greatest feat is how gorgeous it looks.
Created by a filmmaking family who produce, direct, and star in the movie, Hellbender is an early contender for 2022’s most visually striking horror film. Directors John and Zelda Adams and Toby Poser use forests, and the movie’s many mystic visions, for both serene beauty and creeping terror, swapping effortlessly between the two to match their characters’ fears and discoveries. —AG
Hellbender is available to watch on Shudder.
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
Kimi is available to watch on HBO Max.
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 Amazon Prime Video.
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
Belle is available in select theaters and will be available on digital platforms May 3.