We’ve already gone over our picks for the best new movies of 2022, but now it’s time to zoom in a bit closer and talk about our favorite scenes in this great year of movies. With meaningful moments, hilarious gags, memorable song-and-dance numbers, and shocking reveals, there was plenty for everyone to enjoy at the movies this year.
So the Polygon staff got together and picked our very favorite moments from movies through the year. Anything that made us laugh, cry, ponder, or shout out in excitement was eligible, as well as moments we’ve still been turning over in our heads months after watching.
Let’s get into it.
Naatu Naatu, RRR
Right at home alongside tiger fights and epic bridge swinging, the rambunctious dance battle in the middle of S.S. Rajamouli’s RRR plays just as an important role in slicing through the hateful heart of the British Empire as the film’s conclusion, in which our heroes literally slice through the hateful heart of the British Empire. Set at a Crown-worthy garden party, Rajamouli starts the scene with a bang, Raju (Ram Charan) striking a beat on a silver plate as Bheem (Jr. NTR) prepares to obliterate a racist twerp through the art of footwork. The duo launching into “Naatu Naatu,” written for the film by composer M.M. Keeravani, is a superheroic feat — their lyrics snap, the drums pound away, and their feet move like Goku’s arms. The cyclone effect of the number not only entrances the audience, but all the characters around Raju and Bheem; no one, not even the racist twerp, can resist getting up and dancing along. That ends as many scenes in RRR do, with an act of compassion, a friend aiding a friend live his best life, seals “Naatu Naatu” as using every bit of movie magic to make mind reel. —Matt Patches
The tape measurer, Barbarian
For being one of the scariest movies of the year, it’s often a little shocking to remember that Barbarian can be incredibly funny when it wants to be. This might be most obvious when Justin Long’s character finds the terrifying torture-video room in the hidden hallway of the Airbnb he owns and immediately starts checking whether or not he can charge extra for the square footage. The bit even calls back to director Zach Cregger’s roots in sketch comedy as it pushes itself way past the point of absurdity, then keeps going only to double back and become twice as funny. By the time the tape measure seems to extend well beyond 100 feet, dragging Long all the way back into the depths of his haunted basement, it’s likely that you’re so doubled over in laughter you didn’t even notice that Cregger threw another joke on top for good measure. —Austen Goslin
The first interrogation, Decision to Leave
Like everything about Decision to Leave, there are two different directions to approach this scene from. On the one hand, I could go on about how brilliantly writer and director Park Chan-wook works within the traditional format of an interrogation scene to subtly shift it into a romantic scene of mutual seduction. The script gives the perfect amount of room to the two brilliant performances by Park Hae-il and Tang Wei to walk the tightrope that never lets the movie entirely disentangle their romance from the investigation, while also making it clear that they wouldn’t want it any other way, and this interrogation scene is both the starting point for that dynamic and its most clear-eyed and uncomplicated representation.
Excuse me what pic.twitter.com/uvIS4Jeoio— Devan Scott (@SadHillDevan) December 3, 2022
On the other hand, I could include this one clip from the scene and say that it’s probably the most subtle, emotionally effective, and technically impressive piece of moviemaking all year. The focus sits simultaneously on a face in the reflected background as well as its opposite in the foreground, then switches as the dynamic does, to represent each character’s sliding feelings and emotions as the lines of case and romance start to blur all in one unbroken shot. It’s exactly the kind of thing that most people will notice without realizing and the kind of small moment that turns a great film into a masterpiece. —AG
Getting the perfect shot, Nope
Nope is a lot of things. It’s a sci-fi movie, a blockbuster adventure movie, and sometimes a horror movie — like when we watch Jean Jacket rain blood down on the Haywood family house. And while it handles all of these moments beautifully, there’s nothing quite as thrilling in the movie as the third act.
OJ, Em, Angel, and grizzled director Holst’s plan of using horses and used-car-lot balloons to lure the alien out in time for a hand-crank shot is among the most fun metaphors for filmmaking of the last two decades, and a wonderfully inventive set-piece that’s unlike any other movie. But most importantly, it’s also a ridiculously fun and thrilling sequence.
The movie’s ending is brilliantly conceived and executed by writer and director Jordan Peele and beautifully shot by master-of-scale cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema (Dunkirk, Ad Astra, Tenet, Interstellar), who recast the open waters of Jaws as the empty plains of Haywood Ranch. The pair turns the valley’s gorgeous vistas into the same threatening emptiness that make Spielberg’s shark movie terrifying, except something could grab you from above instead of below. When OJ starts his ride with Jean Jacket on his tail, or looks directly at the creature to save Em, we know exactly how far he has to go and how alone he and Lucky will be. It’s large-scale tension at its most entertaining.
Like all of Peele’s solo projects so far, Nope is a movie with an incredible amount on its mind. It’s deeply curious about Hollywood’s connection with trauma and violence, and how those things only matter if they’re rendered slightly less than real through the lens of a camera; it’s interested in the movie industry’s relationship with race, both historical and current, and even in the inherent violence of the kind of large-scale spectacle movies (including itself) rely on. But perhaps the most impressive element of the movie is how seamlessly Peele weaves all of these points into the most fun and entertaining blockbuster of the year. —AG
4*Town, Turning Red
This scene involves a bunch of Chinese women who have turned into giant fluffy red pandas uniting to help their family member, who has turned into a really giant fluffy red panda. As a traditional chant begins to play, the hip boy band that was previously cowering in fear decides to help and start singing their infectious hit song. It’s amazing. It’s a perfect fusion of cultures and symbolically represents our protagonist Mei realizing that she doesn’t have to pick between her Chinese heritage and her love for boy bands. She can embrace her unique hybrid of cultures! Makes me cry, while also being an absolute banger. 10/10 no notes. —Petrana Radulovic
The ice cream cone, Fire Island
I don’t think any Pride and Prejudice adaptation has nailed Mr. Darcy’s awkwardness so much as this particular scene. Earlier on in the movie, Noah (our Elizabeth character, played by Joel Kim Booster) teases Will (our Darcy equivalent, played by Conrad Ricamora) for eating a little ice cream cone. And then in this scene, Will spots Noah coming his way, while Will just happens to be eating a little ice cream cone. So he does what any rational anxious person would do — he yeets the ice cream cone in the bushes and just bolts away. #relatable! —PR
Why we’re at this cabin, Saloum
Saloum doesn’t come across as a film with a lot of twists in store — it hooks you, first and foremost, with momentum. In no time at all, it introduces you to Bangui’s Hyenas, a group of mercenaries capable of casually strolling through the West African nation of Guinea-Bissau in the middle of a violent coup, extracting a Mexican drug lord, and somehow making it clear that the entire episode would only be a footnote in their legend. Then things go awry, and they’re stranded with their target in a small village in the Senegalese region of Sine-Saloum, where things may not be what they seem. But then a straightforward thriller becomes something meaner and darker when one of the Hyenas reveals that he stranded them here on purpose, to satisfy a grudge that takes Saloum into searing, personal territory that makes it one of the most indelible films of the year. —Joshua Rivera
The big reveal, Orphan: First Kill
It is downright hilarious how long Orphan: First Kill fools you into thinking it’s just going to retread the 2009 original, exposing a new family to that film’s deranged twist: that (spoilers) the eponymous orphan Esther is actually a 33-year-old woman with a hormone disorder that makes her appear like a child. She’s also murderous. For 40 minutes, the prequel First Kill repeats a lot of those beats with a new family that’s has doomed itself by adopting Esther, only to brilliantly invert itself and reveal that Esther’s adoptive mother in this film knows about her condition, turning the tables on Esther’s deadly plots and taking First Kill from a retread to an ingenious cat-and-mouse thriller. —JR
Revolting children, Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical
A movie musical is only as good as its source material, but a movie musical is only great if the writer and director transform the source material. While composer and lyricist Tim Minchin saw rightful acclaim for his top-tapping Roald Dahl stage show when it hit the West End in 2011, stage-director-turned-filmmaker Matthew Warchus (Pride) found the perfect visual language for his 2022 adaptation: Matilda swirls the Kinky Boots-esque British working class comedy with the color and composition of Paddington 2. Anyone who knows Dahl’s book or the previous film adaptation knows how Matilda’s standoff with the punishing headmistress Miss Trunchbull escalates, but in Warchus’ hands, the payoff is a stomp-filled song-and-dance revolution that would make the kids in Another Brick in the Wall cheer. The number rocks. —MP
The legacy speech, Babylon
Damien Chazelle’s Babylon is a messy, self-indulgent movie that matches every poignant, essential scene with at least one sequence that feels excessive, redundant, or faintly ridiculous. But when it’s hot, it’s hot. And it’s even better when it’s chilly — as it is during the late-film scene where former cinematic superstar Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt) confronts Hollywood gossip columnist Elinor St. John (Jean Smart) about a devastating profile she wrote, suggesting that his career is over. Elinor is brutally gentle about telling him why his star is falling — but then she continues with a downright lyrical speech about the inevitable cycles of Hollywood fame and failure, the mortality of star power, and the immortality of being captured on film. A lot of Babylon is about the thrill of fame and the passion of creation. The legacy speech is about the cold comfort the movies give back — Jack’s chance to connect with future generations and still be beloved decades after his death. He clearly doesn’t find that promise compelling, but for those of us who grew up watching the film stars of the past work the same magic they worked 50 years ago, it’s a beautifully scripted sequence, acted with quiet passion. —Tasha Robinson
The “They Live” moment at prom, The Fabelmans
Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story has many memorable moments, many involving people transfixed and transformed by the power of images. The screening for Sammy’s boy scout troop! Michelle Williams’ life changing because of Sammy’s images! David Lynch as a cigar-toting John Ford!
But one moment stands out to me, and it reminded me of one of my favorite movies of all time.
At Sammy’s high school prom, he screens the movie he made about his class’s “Skip Day” trip to the beach. It’s a captivating sequence that draws in the whole room, but is especially notable for the way he depicts Logan (Sam Rechner), his bully. On the screen, Logan looks something like a golden god, shimmering in the California sun while he dominates his classmates in volleyball. The room erupts in cheers for him, as you can see his classmates’ conception of him change in real time.
But the real magic happens next. Logan confronts a despondent Sam (fresh off a rejected, hasty marriage proposal) in the hallway in a scene reminiscent of Roddy Piper and Keith David’s famous alleyway fight in They Live.
Logan and Sam may not fight directly, but the conflict comes from the same place — a violent resistance to something you don’t want to accept (except instead of aliens, it’s the power of cinema). Logan simply can not understand why Sam would depict him, someone who has been nothing but cruel to Sam, in this way. Sam doesn’t know either — was it because he just wanted Logan to be nice to him, or because it would make the movie better?
But it’s not just Sam’s decision that troubles Logan. Logan is shaken by seeing himself this way. He sees it as a version of himself he can never live up to, an impossible standard that the real Logan can never meet. It’s a powerful moment in a movie filled with them, and it gets right to the heart of Spielberg’s story of the undeniable power of images and the responsibility of those who wield them. —Pete Volk
Blood rain, Nope
In a year packed with scary movies with memorable imagery, nothing in horror felt quite as heavy as the moment in Jordan Peele’s Nope where a still-unknown, still-mysterious force haunting a California horse ranch suddenly moves in above the ranch house and rains blood on it. And not just blood, either — a whole selection of grisly, gruesome reminders of the entity’s last encounter with humanity. The people in the house have no idea what’s happening, how to stop it, or what’s about to happen to them. And Peele shoots the sequence as if a second night is falling over them — a blood-red night that makes the house look like the contents of an alien stomach. It’s scary. It’s eerie. It’s straight out of a nightmare. And it’s rad as hell. —TR
The rocks, Everything Everywhere All at Once
Amid all the frenetic multiverse shifting and wild martial arts battles in the Daniels’ epic action-comedy Everything Everywhere All at Once, frustrated mom Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) and her miserable daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), snag a startling moment of peace in an alternate timeline where life never developed on Earth and both women take the form of rocks. It’s literally just a series of shots of two rocks with subtitles, as the two women try to find common ground. And it’s a perfect moment. Like so many EEAAO sequences, it turns between emotions on a dime. But the quiet of the moment is essential. Out of context, it’s just an odd moment between rocks. But within the context of the film, it’s a breather the audience and characters both desperately need, and the emotions are so heightened that just the sight of rock-Joy and rock-Evelyn sharing a companionable laugh is remarkably heartening and hilarious. —TR
Box-opening montage, Glass Onion
Rian Johnson’s bubbly follow-up to 2019’s Knives Out packs a ton of character introduction into the early sequence where four smug “disruptors” (played by Kathryn Hahn, Dave Bautista, Kate Hudson, and Leslie Odom Jr.) each get a ridiculously elaborate puzzle box from their billionaire tech-mogul friend, Miles (Edward Norton), and conference call with each other to solve the box’s mystery. It’s a lively, frantic scenario, as the box keeps changing and the focus keeps shifting — each of the foursome (and in some cases, their hangers-on) leans in with some luck or knowledge that moves the puzzle forward, teaching the audience who they are and what they’re good at in the process. As they move closer and closer to completion, the pace ramps up, the tension builds, and the sequence gets almost alarmingly frantic. Then Johnson cuts to an estranged, angry friend (played by Janelle Monáe), who punctures all that tension with a perfectly timed solution of her own. It’s a dazzling bit of writing and visual legerdemain, all ramping up to a simple visual joke — one which says as much about Monáe’s character as all the preceding nonsense said about everyone else’s. —TR