Oh, how time flies...
After a deep, rich and simply amazing year of film in 2021, this year seems to be a bit slow out of the gate. There is still a pandemic (multiple at this point) and general audiences might still be uncomfortable traveling to theaters, even with some movies exclusively showing there. And streaming is still first option with studios making that their bread and butter business wise. All of that said, the first half of 2022 still delivered some good material and the following six films have laid a great cinematic tract for the rest of the year to follow.
Directed by The Daniels (Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan)
The multiverse event of the summer, year and possibly recent history - sorry not sorry, Doctor Strange - the Daniels duo steps up multiple levels of their cinematic game after 2016's very strangely weird Swiss Army Man to provide what is essentially a never overwhelming showcase for living legend Michelle Yeoh. But not only her, even though there's as many versions of her as one could possibly want, there's also Jamie Lee Curtis, James Hong and a brilliant heartbreaking showcase from a returning Ke Huy Quan. (From Temple of Doom to this, he has been missed.)
In addition to the actors, this film is an emotionally resonate tour de force. Starting with a woman in dire tax straits to being the linchpin of a multiversal adventure that focuses on life, love, family, choices, different worlds, forms and so much more. The film riffs on so many notions, while being illuminating, touching, hilarious and gross all at once. But the real miracle is that it keeps everything in the narrative as tight and rewarding as can be. But when you focus everything on the near limitless talents of Michelle Yeoh, it makes it look easy.
Directed by Audrey Diwan
For those of us not always connected to the festival circuit, where this film toured in 2021, this period piece character study finally arrived on American screens this past May. And with the way news and events have turned out so far this year, it couldn't have happened at a more apropos time.
Set in 1960's France, a young woman full of life and focus, Annie dedicates a strident focus in her schoolwork to achieve her dreams backed by her working class parents - but when she discovers she is pregnant, and trying to deal with the harsh circumstances of the situation at a time when abortion was illegal in the country, Annie does what she needs to do to keep everything in her life still aligned as it was. Considering the subject matter, and usually anytime this is the focus of a film, this pulls no punches especially in regards to American sensibilities no matter where one places themselves accordingly.
In both an analytical approach that is still teeming with a slice of life quality, Diwan's direction is both sensual to the era depicted and hardhitting. Led by a captivating top performance in Anamaria Vartolomei, we see Annie's navigation all while dealing with the subjective notions of the day that others have about abortion and what she should do through their own lens. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Directed by Robert Eggers
Inspired by viking folklore and one of the original texts, myths that William Shakespeare drew from for his Hamlet, Eggers serves up his usual ingredients in this historically accurate and visceral film. There's a sword fight in what could be both figuratively and literally Hell. so the canvas doesn't get much bigger. From the chest thumping and neck grabbing trailer, to the incredible surreal vivacity that would make for a great double feature with David Lowery's The Green Knight
. This is a classic tale that is easy to tell (and market
A simple plot: A prince witnesses his father's murder at the hand of his uncle. Prince grows up to exact revenge. The End.
However, Eggers infuses this text with so much more. Wide Icelandic vistas, visions, mythology, action and some of the most harrowing and brutal fight scenes that has come across the big screens in a while. With a cast led by Alexander Skarsgård and his yoked chest (giving a performance that evokes more Charlton Heston in the '50s, than Arnold Schwarzenegger in the '80s
), but also filled out with some of the best actors today - Ana Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Claes Bang, an amazing scene stealing Nicole Kidman and even, somehow, Björk returning to movies for the first time in 22 years. Tangible mythmaking that plays with the senses before your very eyes, this third feature from the director of The VVitch
and The Lighthouse
delivers another bombastic ride that has to be experienced.
Directed by S.S. Rajamouli
The clear unexpected hit of the year so far. This Telugu-language epic (and epic it is, even more so than the previous film mentioned here) does in all aspects what Western blockbusters can't even dream of doing in the conceptual stage, let alone any other point after that. Filtering in through word of mouth via social media, appearing sparingly in theaters after that, and then getting the mainstream casual Netflix bump to take it to another level, Rajamouli's film (the most expensive Indian film to date, which is saying something) has hit a pop culture cord that isn't too far off from any other American franchise.
To say that Rajamouli is playing fast and loose with Indian history is a massive understatement, but this is a massive film that looks at the rise of two real revolutionaries against the deplorable British Raj in Komaram Bheem and Alluri Sitarama Raju who work through the most different means as possible to achieve Indian independence, while growing and sharing in the most engaging bromance that you might ever see. As is usually the case with most Indian films, this throws everything at the viewer, but knows that the audience is more than capable of keeping up if they allow themselves to let the film work. And by everything, that means dance numbers, romantic comedy, fight sequences that almost break physics (but will also break multiple smiles across your face), prison breaks, multiple one man army scenes and many many animals killing imperialists in the most extravagant ways. The film is almost insane, but in all the best ways possible. Such a gripping full throttled entertaining masterpiece. A cinematic feast for the eyes that might, hopefully, be a gateway to Indian cinema for Americans, like the past decade did for the filmmaking industry of South Korea.
Directed by Joseph Kosinski
The fact this movie exists at all doesn't make sense (even though they've been trying to do so for decades, and even the lead man himself said it would be "irresponsible" to do so). Even more, the fact that it worked, is beyond what passes as a miracle in this age of filmmaking. Like described for The Batman, when American blockbusters are made with an intention of actually telling a story, you get entries like this that more than exceed all expectations one would have for it.
Continuing in his modern franchise mode with more seemingly life-threatening stunts, Tom Cruise is back as Pete 'Maverick' Mitchell for one last mission. Now positioned as an instructor, he'll have to prepare a new generation for a high octane, near impossible (pun intended) mission. A mission which includes the son of his former partner, and explores the question: can the old dog learn a few new tricks and keep up with the new crew, or will the powers that be finally put him out to pasture?
As with all his movies now, this is essentially about Tom Cruise the persona and his place in whatever the current Hollywood landscape is. But beyond that, this is a riveting action movie that entertains all the way through. Being a sequel, it does more to use the original 1986 movie as a guideline and thankfully doesn't drench itself, or the audience, in needless nostalgia. It does what it aims to do, and then some; fast planes go really fast, callbacks are a joy and it is damn near perfect in how charming and tasteful (especially with Val Kilmer) it is to watch as well. The cast up to the task too, with Jon Hamm, Miles Teller in a great showcase, Glen Powell, Ed Harris and the always welcome Jennifer Connelly. Postponed for nearly three years, Cruise stuck to his guns (pun intended) and delivered another banger of a big budget blockbuster that was worth the wait.