First-half favorites bode well for 2022 at the movies

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Perhaps the floodgates opened after two years of dribbling, where a handful of films braved theaters while others went straight to streaming or were simply dry-docked.

Now things are looking better (ish?) and the studios are simultaneously releasing movies they’ve been keeping at bay since late 2019. Audiences are showing a willingness to return to theaters giving box office long legs to movies ranging from blockbusters like “Maverick” to indie oddities like “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”

Movies are back, can we now say without irony. The Year of Our Lord 2022 promises, even halfway through, to be the best cinematic journey around the sun in 15 years. What was so great?

I will avoid repeating comments on four-star masterpieces like “Elvis”, “The Nordic”, and “Event,” having dedicated entire columns to them quite recently. Although the latter two are both available to rent and well worth your time. Especially “Happening”, a film about abortion in 1960s France that seems more relevant than even a month ago.

Almost everything else below is already out in theaters, but available at home thanks to shrinking broadcast theater windows.

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‘Little mom’

I saw some rank “Little mom” as a 2021 offering, but it was released almost exclusively in the US this spring well outside of awards season, so I’m going to declare it the best movie of 2022 so far.

It’s a seemingly simple story about a little girl who travels with her family to her grandmother’s house. In the woods, she spots another little girl and they quickly become friends.

I dare not spoil the sequel. There’s some sci-fi involved, but not enough to distract from a great story about how kids view adults and vice versa. It’s a story about how we deal with things like childhood memories and death. It is poetic and elegantly simple in its execution.

It’s also refreshingly PG; there’s nothing remotely disgusting about “Little Mom.” It’s a wonderful job from director Celine Sciamma who last made ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ – also a touching and layered film that you should watch if you haven’t had the chance .

“Future Crimes”

Kristen Stewart and Lea Seydoux in "Crimes of the future."

David Cronenberg provides nothing but delicacy in “Crimes of the Future,” but it’s a bold film brimming with ideas that go beyond body horror, performative surgery, and child homicide. (Monsignor, this is how the film opens!)

“Crimes” ask questions – and pose possible answers – about whether society should undo bad things or just adapt to them. About how our body will evolve towards pollution and climate change. About what happens when we run out of ways to shock ourselves. About what we are willing to sacrifice for the greater good of our perception of an ideal society.

I am by no means a fan of Cronenberg. I often find his openings shockingly hollow. But now he’s 79 and a widower, and this story seems steeped in a dark melancholy. Basically, the film is a reflection of the filmmaker’s style in the face of mortality. Plus, it has a killer cast with great performances from Viggo Mortensen, Kristen Stewart, and Lea Seydoux.

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‘Men’

This image posted by A24 shows Jessie Buckley in a scene from "Men." (Kevin Baker/A24 via AP) XMIT ORG: NYET162

Alex Garland — one of the finest directors to emerge in the past 10 years — is also swinging for intellectual fences with his folk horror flick “Men.” It’s the story of a woman (Jessie Buckley) who flees to the countryside after the death of an abusive spouse and struggles to escape trauma, grief and guilt. Literally everyone else in the village is, well, “men” and all played by Rory Kinnear.

The film could be seen as pretty much gender-violent in nature, but Garland digs into philosophical questions about religion and death; culminating in a bonkers third act that suggests man’s greatest resentment stems from his inability to create life. It’s heavy, told with the feverish urgency of telling a nightmare.

“Everything, everywhere, at once”

Michelle Yeoh stars as a laundromat owner-turned-multiverse martial artist in "Everything everywhere all at once."

The struggle to understand others is told more lightly with The Daniels’ “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Using the elevated concept of the multiverse, we see characters in different iterations of different planes of existence. Some are envisioned as great novels, some as sci-fi action shows, and some are just plain eccentric.

What emerges is a deep reflection on the challenges that families face when adapting to societal changes and age. Plus, it’s incredibly funny and exciting. Best to see with a large crowd.

Michelle Yeoh anchors the fantasy tale, which also features the year’s big Hollywood comeback: Ke Huy Quan, who starred in ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’ and ‘The Goonies’ and then was all but shunned by Tinseltown. He emerges here as Yeoh’s husband and steals the show with a sweet performance. In my mind, the best supporting actor run for 2022 begins and ends with Quan.

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These films are not only solidly artistic and thought-provoking, but also very interesting to watch. Good, and good for you.

My list ignores really strong movies like the Gothic Fairy Tale “You won’t be alone” crowd pleaser “Maverick” or the guilty pleasure of the very meta and the very imaginative “Tick and Tock: Rescue Rangers” reboot on Disney Plus. I am not joking.

It’s been a rough few years for moviegoers, but we’ve finally reached the promised land. I can’t wait to see what the rest of 2022 has in store.

In real life, James Owen is a lawyer and executive director of energy policy group Renew Missouri. He created/wrote for Filmsnobs.com from 2001-2007 before a long stint as an on-air film critic for KY3, NBC’s Springfield affiliate. He was named one of the top 20 artists under 30 by the Kansas City Star when he was much younger than he is now.

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