From top-gun mavericks to hormonal pandas, here are the cinematic highlights of this half-year.
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Best Movies of the Year So Far 2022
Credit: Amazon Prime; Everett Collection; Paramount Pictures; Allyson Riggs/A24; Disney/Pixar; Scott Yamano/Netflix; Andrew Cooper/Universal

It's been a weird, unpredictable year for many things, including movies. Somewhere between the dregs of winter and the 17th wave of COVID, though, a little light snuck in — and reminded us how good it still feels to get lost on screen, whether that happens in an air-conditioned multiplex or the glow of a thigh-scorching laptop.

Below, unranked, is a highly subjective list of the 10 best films of the year so far (plus a few bonus picks), from laundromat fantasias to basketball dramas and beyond.

Top Gun Maverick
Credit: Paramount Pictures

Top Gun: Maverick

A man, a plane, a Kenny Loggins chorus (again): It hardly seemed like the most auspicious plan for box-office supremacy in the vast, disjointed landscape of 2022. And yet director Joseph Kosinski's soaring reboot managed to be, for all its retro American triumphalism and Mach 10 tricks, an oddly sweet and stirring experience. More than that, it was a reminder that true movie stardom — in the toothy, undimmable form of Tom Cruise (can he really be turning 60?) — is still a hell of a drug.

Sundance Film Festival Preview
Credit: Sundance Institute

The Worst Person in the World

While it swept through the festival circuit last year like a small Scandinavian comet, Norwegian-Danish filmmaker Joachim Trier's exquisitely rendered portrait of a young woman in search of herself (Renate Reinsve, flawless) didn't actually land in the U.S. until February. Come for the romance and humor and late-millennial angst; stay for the profound emotional transcendence of its final scenes. (And also, the one where everybody's on mushrooms.)

Everything Everywhere All at Once
Credit: Allyson Riggs/A24

Everything Everywhere All at Once

Rarely has a movie title so aptly captured the prismatic madness of its premise (or rather, the impossibility of even trying to). Everything's wild rumpus springs from the everyday struggles of an L.A. laundromat owner (Michelle Yeoh) and her semi-estranged husband and daughter (Ke Huy Quan and Stephanie Hsu, respectively), then starts shooting out sparks from there like a Catherine wheel. Some of those flares fizzle before they land, but at its best, Everything, with its hot-dog fingers and sentient, googly-eyed rocks — is surreal and funny and unaccountably moving, all at once.

Hustle
Credit: Scott Yamano/Netflix

Hustle

Who knew that Adam Sandler's gargantuan Netflix deal could yield a hoop dream like Hustle? The actor-comedian's broad chops came into sweet, sharp focus for this basketball drama about a Philadelphia 76ers scout who finds his three-point unicorn in a Spanish construction worker named Bo Cruz (real-life Utah Jazz power forward Juancho Hernangomez). ­The all-star NBA cameos fly fast and loose, but it's the odd-couple friendship at the center— and the Rocky-like rush of the storyline — that score.

Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood
Credit: Netflix

Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood

Two decades after Waking Life, director Richard Linklater (Boyhood, Before Sunrise) revisits that movie's hyper-real animation in his endearingly ramshackle fantasy about nine-year-old Stanley, a Houston fourth-grader secretly recruited to be the first human astronaut in space. (NASA messed up their rocket measurements, see, so they need someone small enough to squeeze in.) The real gift of the film, though, is its tender, slow-baked exploration of 1960s Texas from a child's-eye view — a vanished era of Frito pie, wood-paneled station wagons, and stickball in the street.

NAVALNY, Alexei Navalny
Credit: Everett Collection

Navalny

Weeks before the invasion of Ukraine, Navalny arrived under a veil of secrecy at Sundance, a raw and urgent document of the Russian opposition leader whose attempted obliteration by Vladimir Putin — including a notorious and near-fatal 2020 poisoning — essentially unfolds in in real time on screen. For all his dogged political fervor, Alexey Nalvany also turns out to be a man of immense charisma and goofball-dad energy, and director Daniel Roher's fly-on-the-wall style is smart to center that: The result serves as both an intimate family portrait, a gripping true-life thriller, and a painfully timely reminder of what it actually means to speak truth to power.

Turning Red
Credit: Disney/Pixar

Turning Red

There's a reason teen wolves are such an enduring metaphor for the feral whiplash of adolescence, though Turning Red picks another apex predator to make its point: Any time Toronto tween Mei Lee (voiced by Rosalie Chiang) gets too mad or sad or emotionally overwrought — which, when you're 12, is a lot — she explodes into a panda, literally. "Pixar does puberty" is a logline that could have gone seriously awry; instead, director Domee Shi (the Oscar-winning short Bao) steers her story so breezily that it's easy to miss how low-key radical Red turns out to be.

HAPPENING
Credit: Everett Collection

Happening

A bright young co-ed in 1960s France named Annie (Anamaria Vartolomei) yearns to escape her working-class fate at university. But when a unwanted pregnancy threatens to upend everything, the brutal, fact-based Happening becomes a harrowing exploration of just how far society will go to legislate a woman's body — and how desperately she'll fight to reclaim it.

MASTER
Credit: Amazon Studios

Master

Regina Hall gives a powerhouse performance as a professor at a picturesque New England college where the racial politics, beneath a performatively woke surface, turn out to be as ugly and deep-rooted as the dusty portraits and old Mammy dolls that haunt her university-supplied housing. Don't fear the reaper, director Mariama Diallo implies in her uneven but piercing debut — though you may want to take a good long look in the mirror.

Ambulance
Credit: Universal Pictures

Ambulance

Insanity, thy name is Michael Bay. The man behind Transformers and Armageddon pumps his tale of two adoptive brothers (Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) on the run from an L.A. bank heist gone wrong with so much gonzo energy, it's like being continually shot up with Narcan. Still, the movie has enough visual wit and easy chemistry between its leads to pull off something a Bay movie hasn't been in a while: pure, cerebellum-jolting fun. 

And the next 10: A Hero, Jackass Forever, Marcel the Shell With Shoes On, Cha Cha Real Smooth, You Won't Be Alone, X, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, The Northman, After Yang, Great Freedom

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