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Naru draws a bow at an unseen target in the film Prey Photo: David Bukach/20th Century Studios

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The best movies of 2022, so far

Here’s what’s excited us the most on screen so far this year

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We’re gearing up for the back stretch of 2022, and there’s been no shortage of great movies to delight us at the theaters and at home. There have been big theatrical events like Top Gun: Maverick and Nope, straight-to-streaming hits like Prey, and much more to thrill and surprise us this year at the movies.

So even though it’s there’s still plenty of time left in the year, we’ve been keeping up this list 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, the best books, and the best TV shows of 2022. Our latest update adds Prey, Thirteen Lives, Nope, and Hustle.


Prey

Naru (Amber Midthunder) hiding behind a tree as the Predator kneels down to observe her tracks in Prey. Photo: David Bukach/20th Century Studios

A return to form for a consistently fun sci-fi franchise, Prey dropped on Hulu (for business reasons) and quickly became the platform’s biggest success ever. A nice respite from how other franchises have approached world-building and stakes-setting in recent years, Prey relies heavily on the star-making performances of Amber Midthunder and Dakota Beavers, who shine as Comanche siblings in the Northern Great Plains who are stalked by the Predator.

Midthunder is Naru, a young woman who wants to prove herself as a warrior, despite the mockery of many young men in her tribe. It’s the perfect conflict for the Predator to wade his way into, as a creature whose only concern is challenging himself against the mightiest foes he can find.

A tense, economical thriller from director Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane), Prey is light on dialogue and high on excitement. —Pete Volk

Prey is available to watch on Hulu.

Thirteen Lives

Thira ‘Aum’ Chutikul as Commander Kiet, Popetorn ‘Two’ Soonthornyanaku as Dr Karn, Joel Edgerton as Harry Harris, Colin Farrell as John Volanthen and Viggo Mortenson as Rick Stanton in Thirteen Lives Photo: Vince Valitutti/Metro Goldwyn

Thirteen Lives, the adaptation of the true story of the 2018 Thai cave rescue, is a perfect match of director and material. Ron Howard is a deeply sentimental filmmaker who loves inspirational stories — Apollo 13, Cinderella Man, and his excellent sports drama Rush, for instance — and there are few more inspirational stories in recent memory than this one. It’s also one that’s quite impossible for him to overdramatize, because of how unbelievable the true story is.

An old-school tense, edge-of-your-seat thriller, Thirteen Lives avoids the pitfall of similar Hollywood adaptations by not locating the story as a journey of a singular group of outsider heroes (in this cave, the eccentric specialty cave divers portrayed by Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell). Instead, the movie effectively showcases how this was a group effort by volunteers from around the world. The heroics of the divers wouldn’t have been possible without the efforts of local villagers and other volunteers from around the world, and the movie does not forget it. The diving scenes are electric and incredibly tense, too — Howard and the crew built a gigantic set to replicate the caves, and Mortensen and Farrell shot their own diving sequences. —PV

Thirteen Lives is available to watch on Prime Video.

Nope

Emerald (Keke Palmer) wearing a white graphic T-shirt at night in Nope Image: Universal Pictures

Jordan Peele’s alien-invasion movie has its flaws, particularly a leisurely pacing that doesn’t fully serve the film’s tension. But it also stands out as one of 2022’s most visually indelible and memorable films, packed with horrors that imprint directly on the psyche. It’s a callback to an era when movies were allowed to be more mysterious, and horror leaned more directly on the unknown and unknowable. At the same time, it’s an incisive character piece, easily read as an analysis of fame, of response to tragedy, and many other things. It’s a thoughtful, well-constructed puzzlebox of a film, worth considering and unpacking at length — but it’s also just plain scary, and horror fans could hardly ask for more than that. —Tasha Robinson

Nope is currently in theaters.

Hustle

Juancho Hernangómez as Bo Cruz and Adam Sandler as Stanley Sugerman in Hustle. Photo: Scott Yamano/Netflix

A love letter to the sport of basketball and one of the better sports movies released in years, Hustle is a terrific display for Adam Sandler’s talents and his love for the sport.

Sandler is Stanley Sugerman, a former college star who is now a veteran NBA scout for the Philadelphia 76ers. He has a close relationship with the team’s owner (Robert Duvall), a father-like figure to Sugerman who sees Stanley’s value as a basketball mind. The owner promotes Sugerman to assistant coach, a position where he can spend more time around his wife (Queen Latifah) and their young daughter. But when tragedy gets in the way of Stanley’s new job, he has to prove himself yet again and find a winning prospect for the team.

That prospect is Bo Cruz (played by real-life NBA player Juancho Hernangómez), who Sugerman spots dominating a local pickup game in Spain. The movie shines as it showcases Sugerman and Cruz’s developing relationship — the two rely on each other, and Hustle delivers a must-have for most sports movies with a terrific training montage sequence, featuring Sugerman repeatedly chasing Cruz up a hill with a car.

Hustle’s performances truly shine. Sandler’s centered, grounded portrayal of a man who loves what he does but would rather have the job he was promised is another terrific, layered role for one of our great modern actors. The cast is also filled with NBA players who deliver memorable performances, led by Hernangómez as the temperamental and talented Cruz and Minnesota Timberwolves superstar Anthony Edwards as his trash-talking rival Kermit Wilts, a terrific addition to a long line of sports movie heels.

Bringing in real basketball players for leading and smaller roles lends authenticity to the whole thing, but especially in the scenes where the players actually play basketball. The camera is free to roam as athletes do what they do best, with thrilling basketball sequences that far outdo most sports movies that try to re-create the kineticism of live sports with non-athlete actors. —PV

Hustle is available to watch on Netflix.

Fire Island

Will (Conrad Ricamora) and Noah (Joel Kim Booster) walk on the beach together in Fire Island. Photo: Jeong Park/Searchlight

This delightful adaptation of Pride and Prejudice brings Jane Austen’s classic story to the gay vacation destination Fire Island. Comedian Joel Kim Booster wrote the movie and stars as Noah, the Elizabeth Bennet of this story. Noah and his friends travel to Fire Island every year to vacation for a week, but this year appears to be the last. Noah’s best friend, Howie (Bowen Yang, playing the Jane Bennet role here), has never been in a relationship, and Noah makes it his mission to get Howie laid this week. When the pair meet a group of rich guys also on vacation, tensions flare as some hit it off and some don’t.

Fire Island is the rare straight-to-streaming movie that doesn’t look like a cheap TV show, and director Andrew Ahn relishes the beauty present in both the people and the scenery. Every member of the cast is hilarious, with Booster and Yang earning the recognition they’ve already received for their particular takes on these long-explored roles. But for me, Conrad Ricamora as the Mr. Darcy of this world steals the show. While the other characters get lines filled with jokes and gags, Ricamora has to bring out the humor and charm in his character from moments of self-seriousness. It’s an impressive feat, and one that easily could have gotten lost under some of the energetic performances he’s acting across. Instead, it’s a star-making role in a lovely 105 minutes. —PV

Fire Island is available to watch on Hulu.

Top Gun: Maverick

Tom Cruise does some mechanic stuff, hotly, in Top Gun: Maverick. Photo: Scott Garfield/Paramount Pictures

“The sequel was so much better than the original” isn’t something movie fans say or hear often, but it’s true in the case of Top Gun: Maverick, a 36-years-later check-in on the high-flying 1986 action movie that gave Tom Cruise the need for speed. Cruise is back as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, the Navy test pilot who continually lives up to his name by breaking rules, flouting superiors, and charting his own course.

But Top Gun: Maverick walks far enough away from Top Gun’s testosterone-scented smugness to consider the cost of the Maverick life: namely, reaching a point where a fed-up military is ready to put Mav out to pasture, and he has to settle for teaching a class of up-and-coming fliers, some of whom as are as cocky and off-putting as he used to be. Maverick is an intense action movie where the actors really are flying planes and filming themselves in the cockpits, and even though the ending is a foregone conclusion, director Joe Kosinski pulls off plenty of breathless “Is this where they all die?” action. But the film is more interesting and more satisfying for its emotional elements, which include a tearjerking salute to (and premature goodbye to) visibly ailing Top Gun star Val Kilmer, and Maverick making it clear that he still keenly feels the loss of his wingman Goose more than 30 years later. —TR

Top Gun: Maverick is currently in theaters.

Hatching

Twelve-year-old gymnast Tinja (Siiri Solalinna) hovers over her massive, monstrous egg in Hatching Image: Sundance Institute

Hanna Bergholm’s debut feature film is a shocker — a horror movie that’s partly about living a fake life online for an anonymous audience, partly about adolescent growing pains, and partly about fraught family relationships, but with all those ideas filtered through the body of a hideous, murderous monster. The Finnish fairy tale, scripted by Ilja Rautsi, has a 12-year-old gymnast living to please her mother, who carefully curates every aspect of her family’s existence for a video lifestyle blog called Lovely Everyday Life. But then the protagonist nurtures and protects a woodland monster out of folklore, something dark and destructive that represents everything her mother is trying to erase in her. The conflict is heavily symbolic, but it’s also visceral and messy. And thanks to a Lucasfilm animatronics guru and one of the makeup team behind Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight, its monster is a memorable standout. —TR

Hatching is available to watch on Hulu.

The Northman

Alexander Skarsgard, wearing a wolf skin, howls during a firelight war ritual in The Northman Photo: Aidan Monaghan/Focus Features

Few things go better together than Vikings and revenge, and The Northman is the perfect proof. Drawing inspiration from the same Norse myth that inspired Shakespeare’s Hamlet, director Robert Eggers (The VVitch, The Lighthouse) has created a historical epic of the sort we rarely get to see anymore. The story follows Amleth (Alexander Skarsgaard) as he seeks revenge against his Uncle, who murdered his father and usurped his throne.

The Northman is a brutal movie, but among Amleth’s epic battles and lava-soaked duals, there’s a surprising heart and humanity, giving the character more compelling motivation than most revenge movies manage. Eggers brings this balance to every aspect of the movie, whether it’s the beauty and harshness of the Icelandic landscape, or combining incredibly detailed realism with the more operatic side of Norse cosmology. With this careful symmetry of real and surreal, The Northman is about as close as any movie has come to bringing the fantasy of myths to a live-action film. —Austen Goslin

The Northman is available to watch on Peacock.

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair

“I NEED TO TALK TO YOU” is projected in neon letters onto a flat surface, with a young woman standing in front of it. Image: Love In Winter LLC/Dweck Productions/Flies Collective

Writer-director Jane Schoenbrun has created something truly special: a coming-of-age horror film for the generation that grew up too online. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair communicates the excitement and fear that accompany creating a new self on the internet, as well as the excitement and fear of encountering others online who think they know you.

Casey, an internet-obsessed lonely teenager (Anna Cobb, in an unforgettable feature film debut), stumbles across The World’s Fair Challenge, a horror-themed online challenge that promises physical changes to those who take part. Casey begins to create videos of her participation in the challenge, opening the door to new experiences (and spectators) in her physical and virtual lives.

With effective use of creepypasta aesthetics (including striking collaborations with real YouTube creators), We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is an unsettling, immersive internet horror experience that is at once new and familiar to those who have visited these remote corners of the internet. Schoenbrun’s feature debut is one to remember, and they’re a filmmaker to keep an eye on as new projects emerge. —PV

We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is available to watch for free with a library card on Hoopla, or available for digital rental on Amazon and Apple.

Ambulance

Jake Gyllenhaal in Ambulance, as seen through the back glass window of the ambulance, which has a bullet hole in it. Image: Universal Pictures

Ambulance follows two brothers who steal an ambulance after a botched bank heist and lead the Los Angeles Police Department on a chase across the city, all with a couple of accidental hostages in the back. The robbers are played by Yahya Abdhul Matteen II, who brings a sympathetic presence to the high-stakes chase, and Jake Gyllenhaal at his unhinged best. But it’s action director extraordinaire Michael Bay who is the real star of the show.

After ten years in the dark dungeons of Transformers sequels, Ambulance is the best version of Michael Bay. The movie has all the hallmarks of Bay’s best work, like The Rock and Bad Boys, mixed with the mastery of new technologies that he’s shown in more recent works like 13 Hours. Drone cameras soar through car chases, hand-held shots give us an up-close view of panicked amateur-surgery, and every explosion looks incredible. Does every ounce of the story make perfect sense and conform to the laws of reality? No, it absolutely does not. But it is a tremendously fun 2-hour long car chase, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. It feels good to have Bay back at the top of his game. —AG

Ambulance is available to watch on Peacock.

Everything Everywhere All At Once

A furious-looking Jamie Lee Curtis, in a grey pageboy wig and unflattering mustard-colored turtleneck, with a piece of paper with a 0 on it stapled to her forehead, pushes Michelle Yeoh through the glass partition of an office cubicle in Everything Everywhere All At Once, because that’s how this movie rolls. Photo: A24

People who only know filmmakers Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert from their tongue-in-cheek 2016 indie-movie parody Swiss Army Man — yes, that’s the one where Daniel Radcliffe spends the whole movie as a vomiting, farting corpse — may be surprised at the sheer scope, scale, and ambition of the writer-directors’ new movie Everything Everywhere All At Once, which absolutely lives up to its name. It’s a wild, winning multiverse comedy slash kung-fu epic about a depressed laundromat owner (Michelle Yeoh) who’s called on to save billions of alternate universes from evil, but that only scratches the surface of what the Daniels are out to achieve.

Part metaphorical attempt to reckon with the chaos of the internet age, part life-affirming argument against despair, and part reckless absurdist action movie, it’s simultaneously hilarious and touching, an impressive special-effects experiment and a tremendous mental reboot on the order of The Matrix. This is the only movie you’ll see this year (or probably ever) where one man gets beaten to death with oversized floppy dildos, while another changes the world with the Kurt Vonnegut-derived message “Be kinder to each other.” —TR

Everything Everywhere All At Once is available for digital rental or purchase on VOD platforms.

You Won’t Be Alone

Noomi Rapace in closeup, blood on her shoulder and someone barely visible leaning over her, in You Won’t Be Alone Photo: Branko Starcevic/Sundance Institute

A story about a young witch that uses her power to shapeshift to live among humans in a small village, You Won’t Be Alone is a folkloric tone poem that uses horror as a form of yearning. As villagers disappear and the film’s protagonist replaces them, You Won’t Be Alone drifts into a dreamy, Terrance Malick-esque rumination on gender, community, and memory. Grotesque and lovely, You Won’t Be Alone lingers in the mind, wistful and aching, longing to wear your skin. —Joshua Rivera

You Won’t Be Alone is available to watch on Peacock.

RRR

A shirtless Jr NTR shoots an arrow through a gap in a wall of fire in RRR Photo: DVV Entertainment

RRR is the biggest, loudest, and most bombastic movie that’s likely to come out in theaters this year. The movie’s historical fantasy follows two Indian men on opposite sides of the country’s British occupation in the 1950s — or so they think. Both acting on parallel secret missions, the two men end up bonding over their bravery and strength and forming a friendship great enough to free the entire country.

RRR features fantastic dance sequences, and tremendous fights and stunts including more than a few battles against various creatures of the Indian jungles. But it’s also an incredibly earnest movie without a drop of cynicism in sight. In other words, it’s a welcome antidote for most American blockbusters. —AG

RRR is available to watch on Zee5, and the Hindi dub is available to watch on Netflix.

X

Mia Goth hides under the floorboards in Ti West’s X Photo: A24

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. —AG

X is is available for digital rental on Amazon and Apple.

The Long Walk

A young Lao boy stands with his back to the camera, looking at a pile of detritus in a dark, cluttered room in Mattie Do’s The Long Walk Photo: Yellow Veil Pictures

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. —TR

The Long Walk is available to watch on Shudder, for free with ads on Tubi, or for free with a library card on Hoopla.

Jujutsu Kaisen 0

Satoru Gojo in Jujutsu Kaisen 0 Image: MAPPA/Toho Ltd.

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 currently in theaters.

Turning Red

Turning Red: Mei (Rosalie Chiang) shows her red panda self off to her friends Image: Pixar

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.

The Batman

Robert Pattinson as the Batman. Photo: Jonathan Olley/Warner Bros.

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. —JR

The Batman is available to watch on HBO Max.

After Yang

Colin Ferrell examines his dark reflection in glass, symbolically, in After Yang Photo: Sundance Institute

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 to watch on Showtime.

I Was a Simple Man

In “I Was A Simple Man,” Constance Wu sits on a bed in the foreground while sunlight peers through a window onto another woman painting in the background of the same room. Image: Talk Tree

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.

Cyrano

Haley Bennett, in a white dress, holds her arms out as papers scatter across the room Photo: Peter Mountain/MGM

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

Cyrano is available to rent digitally on Google Play, Amazon, Vudu, and Apple.

Hellbender

Zelda Adams as Izzy in Hellbender, singing at a microphone while wearing a black hat with black stage makeup running from her eyes. Photo: Christine Ramage/Shudder

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.

Kimi

In Kimi, Zoë Kravitz sits at her desk and works at her computer. Photo: Claudette Barius/Warner Bros.

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.

A Hero

Mohsen Tanabandeh, Saleh Karimai and Amir Jadidi  Photo: Amir Hossein Shojaei/Amazon Studios

(Update, 4/14: Farhadi has been accused of plagiarizing the idea of A Hero by a former student.)

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 Prime Video.

Belle

Protagonist Suzu from the anime movie Belle stands in mid-air and looks out at a vast crowd of fans Image: GKIDS

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 to watch on HBO Max.

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