The first half of the year usually produces one or two solid hits that may make it into the bottom half of critics’ end-of-year lists. 2022 so far has produced enough great material that makes the second half even more exciting. Here are the best movie scenes of the year so far.
Navalny: The Phone Call
We live in a much different world now than when Navalny was filmed. The documentary began as a kind of profile of the titular Russian dissident and opponent of Putin’s regime, but everything changed when he was nearly killed with Novichok. The writing was always on the wall as to who the responsible parties were. But Navalny never had tangible proof of how it happened and who ordered it. Director Daniel Roher investigates the mystery with all the panache of a Netflix true-crime documentary, and the icing on the cake is Navalny’s prank phone call to one of the alleged perpetrators. What begins as a hopeless quest for answers unfolds as one of the most shocking moments in a documentary in years, one that has wide-ranging geopolitical implications. We had always known that Putin was a ruthless wolf in sheep’s clothing, and the post-Navalny world of today reflects that, but this scene just goes to show the lengths he would go just to silence anyone he deemed as a threat.
Top Gun: Maverick: Maverick and Iceman
Yes, the entire third act of Top Gun: Maverick belongs at or near the best scenes of the year, a rousing, heart-pumping action blitz that’s unlike anything you’ll see in the theater. As if the entire film that comes before it isn’t good-to-great, the finale takes it to another level, as a reminder of what blockbuster filmmaking can and should be. But if I had to pick a single scene that sums up what Maverick gets right as well as any other legacy sequel, it’s the heartwarming scene that Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer share together. Too often, films like this bring back the original cast without any idea what to do with them, with the thinnest veneer of reasons to use up valuable screen time. Joseph Kosinski utilizes Kilmer’s real-life diagnosis in a poignant way to bring the themes of the film together, and it’s as if Iceman and Maverick have shared the same bond over the past 36 years. The film could have easily coasted on thrills and chills, but when it utilizes its heart, it flexes its full potential.
Everything Everywhere All At Once: The Fanny-Pack Fight
Picking a singular scene from Daniels’ multiverse-spanning action-comedy-drama insanity is a tall order. The entire film flows together from one fight scene to emotional gut punch and rinses and repeats on a level of complexity unlike anything else this year. But what gets the whole thing kicked off, and really shows you what you’re in for, is the film’s first action set piece, where Ke Huy Quan uses nothing but his muscles, his wit… and his fanny pack. The fight choreography brings to mind the best of Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee, all while blending Daniels’ penchant for bizarro humor. I look forward to revisiting Everything Everywhere All at Once not only because of this scene, but to soak up every last fleeting detail on display.
The Batman: The Batmobile’s Entrance
Restraint isn’t exactly a word I’d use to describe Matt Reeves’ three-hour Batman film, but it does take a certain amount of restraint to only use the Batmobile once throughout the entire endeavor. Reeves makes sure to make it count though, and the Batmobile – in this vision, a souped-up 70s muscle car – is just as fearsome as the man driving it. The Batman is relatively light on action when compared to its Marvel peers, but Reeves’ insistence on mostly practical effects gives Batman’s chase with the Penguin a heightened level of excitement. That you have Michael Giacchino’s pounding score and Greig Fraser’s dynamic cinematography punctuating it all makes the whole sequence one of the best action scenes of the year.
After Yang: Opening Credits Dance-Off
Kogonada’s sophomore feature is a soulful, introspective drama that explores memory and how we grieve those we love, regardless of how they came to us. While it wouldn’t be inaccurate to call After Yang a sci-fi film, Kogonada only vaguely hints at how this futuristic world is different from ours (beyond the sentient robots, of course). Especially in the left-field opening credits sequence, wherein Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Justin H. Min, and Malea Emma – along with other cast and crew members – dance their asses off as part of some mysterious family contest. What’s remarkable is that the montage could be removed from the film entirely and the rest of the film proper wouldn’t be changed a bit. But by clueing us in to what kind of landscape his characters inhabit, and by bringing a jolt of excitement to an otherwise quiet film, Kogonada simply and smartly brings us into a place of endless potential.
The Northman: The Village Raid
There was just a little something missing for me overall from Robert Eggers’ third feature to vault it above his previous two films. Working with his highest budget yet, The Northman essentially tells the tale that formed the basis for Shakespeare’s Hamlet – blood, guts, and all. To fully grasp the depths of Amleth’s (Alexander Skarsgård) vengeance, Eggers uses one of his most impressive visual tricks yet, staging a brutal attack on a remote village that takes place over a single, long tracking shot. Skarsgård starts it off by catching a spear and chucking it back on his attacker in one impressively fluid motion, then he continues to butcher his way, along with his fellow Vikings, through the village. The film that surrounds the sequence may not have lived up to my expectations, a shallow exploration of the feebleness of revenge, but was at least comprised of a couple solid scenes. We knew that Eggers was a unique voice in modern horror, but with one unbroken scene, he shows that he’s just as capable at staging an exciting action scene.
RRR: Naatu Naatu
You’ve probably heard from someone you know, or a random stranger on the internet, that there is a 3-hour Indian action/adventure/historical epic in 2022 that ranks as one of the best action films in recent memory. This list could be populated entirely with scenes from RRR, like the flaming train stunt, or the one-versus-one-thousand fight, or any number of action sequences in the second half of director S.S. Rajamouli’s blockbuster. But watch the “Naatu Naatu” song and dance scene without any surrounding context and you’ll surely be won over by the film’s charm. From the dance choreography to the infectious performances of leads Ram Charan and N.T. Rama Rao Jr. to the earworm-worthy music, the scene exudes the infectious joy and imagination that mainstream American blockbusters have been sorely missing this millennia. 2021 was a banner year for musical adaptations, but it’s been a long time since dance choreography has left me so impressed, wondering how the human body could move in such imaginative ways.