The film critic's year-end list of favorites has always struck me as a provisional undertaking at best, a flawed but essential attempt to bring some coherent framing to a year's worth of cinematic plenty. Any honest list, however comprehensive its sweep or authoritative its posture, is made in the full awareness of potential lapses, blind spots and, yes, in-the-moment errors of judgment.
The 2022 halftime report that follows must therefore be reckoned even more hasty, unreliable and premature. Given the glut of movies that will be unveiled over the next six months — many of them timed to drop during that competitive annual scourge we call awards season — I have no idea how many of these terrific 12 will land among my top favorites come December. Even still, despite how cinematically backloaded each year invariably is, I'm gratified by how many good and even great movies I've seen released in the first half of 2022 alone.
I'm also dispirited, if hardly surprised, by how quickly so many of them evaporated from theaters, assuming they played in theaters in the first place. The speed at which independent movies now pass through screening venues, en route to their hopefully long VOD shelf lives, is nothing new. What's especially alarming now is how many art-house theaters, hit hard by the pandemic shutdowns of the past two years, are themselves exiting the fray.
But no movie lover — and no lover of theatrical moviegoing — can afford to take this cherished pastime or their favorite venues for granted. I'm as heartened as anyone by the record-setting box office for "Top Gun: Maverick," but movies without blockbuster budgets, franchise hooks and/or Tom Cruise face as uphill a battle as they ever did.
Here are just a few of the recent best, listed in (roughly) alphabetical order:
'Benediction' and 'Great Freedom'
Two wrenching dramas about what it meant to lust, love and survive as a gay man in earlier, more oppressive eras of European history. "Benediction," a portrait of the English poet Siegfried Sassoon and his struggles through love and war, is one of Terence Davies' most piercingly personal works, built around a career-peak performance by Jack Lowden. In Sebastian Meise's tender and harrowing "Great Freedom," Franz Rogowski is equally galvanizing as a German man for whom prison offers the unexpected comforts of love, sex, community and refuge. ("Benediction" will be available for streaming July 26. "Great Freedom" is available to stream on Mubi or to rent or purchase on multiple platforms.)
'Crimes of the Future' and 'Flux Gourmet'
The funniest, freakiest comedies of the year so far both imagine hard-to-stomach forms of performance art: wild gastronomical soundscapes in Peter Strickland's "Flux Gourmet" and anesthesia-free abdominal surgery in David Cronenberg's "Crimes of the Future." But for all their outlandish, satirical touches, both movies are also fundamentally serious-minded undertakings, and they treat their artist protagonists with the kind of tenderness that points to the presence of real artists behind the camera. ("Crimes of the Future" and "Flux Gourmet" are available to rent or purchase on multiple platforms, but both are also still playing in theaters — see them as soon as you can.)