Folks, welcome to July and the second half of the year! Time flies, doesn’t it? Last time around, I remarked that we were already a third of the way through 2022. Now, we’re actually somehow halfway through it. As many of you know, it has been a hell of a year for me, and time is both incredibly slow and relentless in its speed, as you might imagine. Anyway, now that we’ve reached July, it’s time (at least for a certified nut like me), to continue sizing up the year. As such, this morning you’ll be able to take a look at what the cinematic highlights for the year have been for me, building on the prior articles here and here. I’m at 115 films seen so far (not counting an embargo or two), though even with that lofty number there are a few things I need to catch up on. Such is life, right?
Below, you can see what I feel are the best films and performances of the first half of 2022. My one rule here is still that it must have been released in January, February, March, April, May, or June. So, while that includes this past weekend’s releases, since they hit before July 1st, any movies from the 2022 Sundance Film Festival that have not come out yet remain ineligible, sadly. The same goes for things I’ve seen that haven’t been released into theaters yet, like Thor: Love and Thunder, or Three Thousand Years of Longing. Other than that, all of the flicks are on the table. Now, read on to see who and what made the cut for me this time…
These are the ten best performances of the year so far:
10. Emma Thompson in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande
9. Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick
8. Ke Huy Quan in Everything Everywhere All At Once
7. Daisy Edgar-Jones in Fresh
5. Mia Goth in X
4. Adam Sandler in Hustle
3. Sofia Kappel in Pleasure
2. Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All At Once
1. Nicolas Cage in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
(Honorable Mentions: Austin Butler in Elvis, Paul Dano in The Batman, Ana de Armas in Deep Water, Zoey Deutch in The Outfit, Zac Efron in Gold, Colin Farrell in After Yang, Dakota Johnson in Cha Cha Real Smooth, Pedro Pascal in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, Ryan Reynolds in The Adam Project, Tim Roth in Sundown, Mark Rylance in The Outfit, and Channing Tatum in Dog)
Here now are the top ten films of the first half of 2022, with a quote from my reviews for each:
Pleasure goes there, that’s for sure. Co-writer/director Ninja Thyberg shows you more than you’d ever expect to see in a non erotic feature. Of course, there’s no eroticism to be found here, as this is far more a clinical depiction of making it (or not making it) in the business. The film never wants to titillate, only to educate. Without question, had this played in person at Park City, there would have been walkouts. At the same time, those individuals would have missed a hell of a movie, graphic as it is.
Cha Cha Real Smooth is so genuinely moving, it feels like something more autobiographical than it likely is. It’s a credit to Raiff’s work both behind and in front of the camera that you get so instantly invested. This isn’t just true of his protagonist, either. Every supporting character is drawn so deftly they could have their own films and be just as interesting. You’ll truly want to live in this cinematic world for longer than he lets us, and that’s a rare compliment.
8. The Batman
The Batman presents us truly for the first time with a cinematic interpretation of The World’s Greatest Detective. This version of the character is as much a sleuth as a superhero. It’s a new feel for this type of film, giving it a weight that never feels overly grim, even if it’s probably the most serious of the lot. By feeling like a cross between SAW, Se7en, Zodiac, and the darker comic book takes on the character, we’re given a full meal. The movie looks at Batman as though he’s closer to a literary figure, given respect and a reality. There’s some of whatNolan did so well here, but it’s also very much blazing its own trail.
Fresh is a demented delight, through and through. Skewering the modern dating scene while also telling a thriller tale we’ve never seen before, it weaves an enthralling web. Deeply rooted in genre but also feeling somehow above it, all the while never seemingly “above” it, it’s an accomplishment I’ve been just giddy thinking about for the last day. This deserves to be the big crossover hit of the festival this year, without question.
Scream is, perhaps surprisingly, the most meta of the series to date. Not content to just be a goof slasher flick (which it is), the film takes aim at sequels of its own ilk. Also on the chopping block is the fictional Stab franchise, as well as elevated horror in general. What could have been scattershot and an attempt to be relevant instead feels like genuine freshness and the natural next step for this series. The movie bites off a lot, but its intelligence and sense of fun means that it never comes off as more than it can chew.
Say what you will about Adam Sandler, but the actor almost exclusively strives to entertain his rather loyal audience. By and large, he makes broad comedies meant to elicit chuckles and smiles. From time to time, he obviously takes a turn towards drama or dramedy, where things get heavier. Whether it’s Punch Drunk Love and Uncut Gems, both of which got him awards buzz and heavy acclaim, or more under-seen work like in Reign Over Me, those are opportunities for Sandler to stretch himself as an artist. Often, they come at the cost of a broader audience. Now, along comes Hustle, his latest Netflix film, but something is very different here. Instead of a silly comedy, this is a sports movie (albeit one that’s a drama with a ton of laughs), one that gives him a perfect role for his dramatic talents. Not only that, it’s arguably one of his best crowdpleasers, as well. If Hustle were a basketball prospect, it, along with Sandler, would be a first round draft pick. It’s a real winner, through and through.
The Adam Project is the kind of film that would make Steven Spielberg proud, so deep in its veins is the essence of vintage Amblin Entertainment. The Spielberg element looms large, but this is also very much its own thing. Utilizing family dynamics, time travel, and movie star charisma, this is exactly what audiences go to a multiplex for. The fact that most folks will be seeing it on Netflix is a conversation for another time, but if you can see it on the big screen, that’s the best way. This is, quite simply, supremely entertaining cinema.
Nicolas Cage is about as unique an actor as there is. No matter what he’s in, and he’s in kind of everything, Cage gives it his all, turning in work you wouldn’t get from anyone else. That kind of commitment, combined with his singular persona, has made him a figure that almost everyone has an opinion on. Whether it’s derision or worship, no one is indifferent to him. So, in crafting a film about him, for him, and in direct conversation with his fans, it’s presenting something rather bold. Luckily, not is Cage in on the joke here, he’s game to up the ante. The result is The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, a movie that goes gonzo and meta in equal measure. It may sound like something that shouldn’t work, but it really does, to the point that nothing else in 2022 to date is nearly as good.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t quickly mention how much I adored the rock universe within the film, as well as the homage to Ratatouille. The movie is emotional, funny, and constantly re-inventing itself. Both of the Daniels really have evolved as storytellers, while Yeoh, in my humble opinion, has never been better. Without question, this is one of 2022’s cinematic highlights so far.
Top Gun: Maverick could easily have just been a vanity project for Tom Cruise. Instead, it’s a moving and thrilling continuation of the character/story, going in directions you would not expect. Especially considering how ageless Cruise can often be, making this a tale of temporarily staving off the scrap heap is wildly compelling. Not only are the aerial scenes amazing, there’s an emotional core here that will wallop you at times.
As a bonus, here are a few awards for the first half:
Best Director – Daniels for Everything Everywhere All At Once (runner-up: Joseph Kosinski for Top Gun: Maverick)
Best Actor – Nicolas Cage for The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (runner-up: Adam Sandler for Hustle)
Best Actress – Michelle Yeoh for Everything Everywhere All At Once (runner-up: Sofia Kappel for Pleasure)
Best Supporting Actor – Ke Huy Quan for Everything Everywhere All At Once (runner-up: Pedro Pascal for The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent)
Best Supporting Actress – Dakota Johnson for Cha Cha Real Smooth (runner-up: Zoey Deutch in The Outfit)
Best Adapted Screenplay – Scream (runner-up: Top Gun: Maverick)
Best Original Screenplay – Everything Everywhere All At Once (runner-up: Fresh)
Best Animated Feature – Turning Red (runner-up: Lightyear)
Best Documentary Feature – The Automat (runner-up: Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America)
Best Production Design – The Batman (runner-up: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness)
Best Cinematography – Top Gun: Maverick (runner-up: The Batman)
Best Costume Design – Elvis (runner-up: The Northman)
Best Film Editing – Everything Everywhere All At Once (runner-up: Top Gun: Maverick)
Best Makeup & Hairstyling – X (runner-up: The Batman)
Best Sound – Top Gun: Maverick (runner-up: The Batman)
Best Original Score – The Batman (runner-up; Lightyear)
Best Original Song – Hold My Hand from Top Gun: Maverick (runner-up: At the Automat from The Automat)
Best Ensemble – Cha Cha Real Smooth (runner-up: Everything Everywhere All At Once)
What are your favorite films and performances so far in 2022? Let us know!