2022 has been an incredible year for film and television. Audiences were able to revisit classic characters and worlds as we soared the skies with Lieutenant Pete “Maverick” Mitchell and were welcomed back to dragon–filled Westeros.
2022 was also the year to celebrate original, ambitious films—take RRR, a three–hour epic Bollywood film, which is unrivaled in its dance and action sequences (it’s a must watch). Besides film, television continued to dominate much of our time as the pandemic’s effects still loom large. From experimental comedies like The Rehearsal to gripping dramas like Tell Me Lies, the small screen remains in its golden era.
A Penn student’s time is too limited to spend hours scrolling to catch up on or discover this year’s hottest show or film; fortunately, Street’s staff has compiled the very best TV shows and films of 2022 that are guaranteed to bring sometimes laughter, sometimes tears, and always keep you entertained.
– Jacob Pollack, Film & TV editor
RRR, dir. S. S. Rajamouli
RRR (Rise, Roar, Revolt) was undoubtedly the surprise hit of the year. It’s an action flick from Tollywood—India’s Telugu–speaking film industry, now the largest in the country—which unexpectedly became a smash in Western markets after a limited but extremely popular run in cinemas.
The story follows two action heroes in 1920s India: Bheem, the designated guardian of a forest tribe who travels to Delhi seeking a young girl kidnapped by the British empire, and Raju, a talented and ruthless Indian officer intent on rising up through the ranks of the colonizing British Army. Their relationship quickly blossoms into a bromance for the ages; the result is a three–hour spectacle featuring fight scenes, plot twists, romance, musical numbers, questionably–animated CGI animals, and everything in between. Though its run time is certainly a commitment, the film’s appeal is in its unapologetic embrace of unbelievable action and drama; in a world dominated by serious, gritty, and crossover–laden superhero fests, RRR is a complete breath of fresh air. It’s a joyous rollercoaster of a movie: All 187 minutes will have you gripped to the edge of your seat.
– Alex Baxter, Film & TV beat
Fire of Love, dir. Sara Dosa
The most romantic piece of media released this year was, as everybody already knows, a documentary about volcanoes.
Fire of Love follows Maurice and Katia Krafft, a married couple who spent the 1970s and '80s studying, as they put it, “how the Earth’s heart beats.” In other words, they chased volcanoes all over the world, waiting for one to blow so that they could get close.
Fire of Love is really two love stories; it traces the emerging relationship between Maurice and Katia as young researchers through gorgeous and whimsically animated sequences. It also follows the (arguably more passionate) love story between the Kraffts and volcanoes. As they take on more and more dangerous exhibitions, director Sara Dosa lingers on long shots of red hot lava and plumes of smoke. It’s beautiful and terrifying.
Fire of Love actually opens with the deaths of Maurice and Katia. This transforms the film into a sort of mystical tragic love story, ruminating on the allure of the unknown and the beauty of human curiosity. Fans of nature documentaries may admire this film, but Fire of Love is really for the romantics. It’s the most dangerous love story of 2022.
– Catherine Sorrentino, Film & TV beat
Bodies Bodies Bodies, dir. Halina Reijn
Bodies Bodies Bodies might not be the cinematic pinnacle of horror, but it's a damn funny encapsulation of what Gen Z fears most: horrifically un–self–aware rich kids, natural disasters that trap you at home with no internet access, wild age gap relationships with men who can only be described as peak scrub, and frivolous backstabbing (literally) by your closest friends. A classic whodunnit that takes a wild turn by the end, Bodies Bodies Bodies occupies a special place in the comedy–horror crossover genre, but often feels more like social commentary. And while at times it veers into heavy–handedness, it's also a rather on–the–nose depiction of how digital culture spills over into the real world. So whether you end up laughing or screaming or something in between, this A24 film should definitely be on your watchlist.
– Emily White, Editor–in–chief
Tell Me Lies
I had a feeling before I even began watching the first episode of Tell Me Lies, a Hulu limited series based on Carola Lovering’s novel of the same name, that it was going to become a new addiction—solely based on of the fact that Emma Roberts is an Executive Producer. I was right.
This romantic melodrama is reminiscent of The Sex Lives of College Girls in many ways, except much darker. Tell Me Lies follows a toxic couple over the span of eight years: Lucy Albright and Steven DeMarco. Their tumultuous relationship begins in college, and we as the viewers gradually uncover several sinister secrets. The show sucks you in immediately, as the plotline is anything but predictable. Even with an incredibly strong cast, it's often difficult to root for the characters, as all of them are deeply complex and flawed. Chock full of dark humor, lies, and twisted romance, this show is a true highlight from the year.
– Emma Marks, Film & TV beat
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, dir. Jane Schoenbrun
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is a story of two worlds: one bleak and empty, the other vibrant, saturated, and terrifying. In the former, Casey—played by Anna Cobb with wide eyes that question but never answer—is devastatingly alone. In place of a mother, she watches ASMR videos on a projector in a barn to fall asleep. Meanwhile the internet presses her up close, precipitously so, to strangers who may not have her best interests at heart.
Many critics took a stab at the debut cinematic work from filmmaker Jane Schoenbrun. Few actually got it, but I doubt most ever spent hours trawling Tumblr late at night. World’s Fair has been framed as a portrait of transness, depression, trauma, or the panopticon. And it might be about some, or all, or none of those, but it’s the only movie I’ve seen with the power to dredge up the long–buried memories of the first generation to grow up online. Accompanied by an Alex G score that blends folk horror and futurism, the scariest part of World’s Fair is the same as any Creepypasta site; there’s no knowing what awaits on the other end of Schoenbrun’s buffering screen.
– Walden Green, Print editor
House of the Dragon
House of the Dragon is a gorgeous welcome back to the world of Westeros. Focusing on the internal succession war within House Targaryen at the height of its power, the prequel potently re–imagines the strange and chaotic world with massive amount of riveting details and a myriad of interesting, complicated characters. Every episode contains a breathtaking climax, and opens up new possibilities for the next. Worth noting is that the series is not a Marvel or Disney Plus type of prequel that simply finds a popular intellectual property and exploits its remaining values to the end. Instead, House of the Dragon is at its core a classical, almost Shakespearean tragedy that embraces the depth and convolution of history. Rarely is the course of history linear, straightforward, but instead a labyrinthine contour where multiple factors play into a seemingly–impossible outcome. Either as a pure entertainment of royal courts, political tactics, and many more dragons, or as a solemn chronicle of a past glory, House of the Dragon is a must–have, whether you're a Game of Thrones fan or not.
– Weike Li, Film & TV beat
Top Gun: Maverick, dir. Joseph Kosinski
Most movie sequels that hit theaters 46–or–so years later feel detached from the original. Not Top Gun: Maverick, though. Continuing to follow Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, the second installment picks up, appropriately, with the next generation of Top Gun trainees—one of whom is the son of the late Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, Maverick’s best friend and right–hand–man. In fact, Goose’s son is even present in the original Top Gun, wearing a cowboy hat as he sits atop the piano in the iconic “Great Balls of Fire Scene.” The great thing about the new film is that it stays true to its roots: Now known as Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, Goose’s son plays a piano rendition of the very same song. The subtle calls back to the original Top Gun and the renewal of Maverick’s relationship to Goose through Rooster make this a successful and heartwarming sequel.
– Arielle Stanger, Assignments editor
I know that much of Street's readership probably doesn’t have a high opinion when it comes to TV shows about sports. But Winning Time isn’t about sports; it’s the story of a family overcoming adversity, just told through the lens of a sports team. For ten weeks last spring, as soon as the film–grain–tinted opening credits came on, I was transported to LA in the early 80’s, a land of blow, bikinis, and basketball. Normally Adam McKay’s directorial flourishes annoy me, but the story of Winning Time, based on Jeff Pearlman’s nonfiction book “Showtime,” was insane enough to warrant it. At least once an episode, I asked my dad whether Jerry Buss actually did cocaine out of someone’s belly button or if Magic Johnson really passed up on a fortune that would be worth billions today. Every time, the answer, delivered in a tone that made me wonder why I’d even asked, was “Yes.”
– Caleb Crain, Deputy Design editor
The Batman, dir. Matt Reeves
In spite of recent years' superhero fatigue, the magic and excitement of The Batman franchise has endured. The caped crusader’s films have been inextricably linked to the evolution of cinema for the last 3 decades, serving both as reminders of the eras of their inception, and in some instances, as timeless landmarks that have defined the medium. Matt Reeves’ The Batman continues this storied tradition, not only holding up to the standards of past films—and providing the most comic–accurate Batman film ever in the process—but also giving general audiences an intelligent and moody detective thriller to sink their teeth into. The movie is filled with jaw–dropping sequences, from incredibly kinetic, expertly choreographed fight scenes to grizzly scenes of investigative work, never losing its spark through its extensive runtime. The entire cast delivers, with Robert Pattinson’s grim and complex portrayal of the Dark Knight taking center stage, and the movie has a great way of serving as a character study while also giving the supporting cast its due care and attention. Lush cinematography, a dark orchestral score, and immaculate production design give this movie a second–to–none atmosphere and make it a masterclass in worldbuilding. This is not just a great comic book movie. This is a great movie, period.
– Rahul Variar, Film & TV beat
In television terms, The Rehearsal would be considered a dramedy: a place where both heartfelt moments and laugh–out–loud moments converge. However, The Rehearsal is one of the most unconventional television shows ever created, which makes it difficult to fit it in one genre. Rather, the show is a social experiment on how humans interact and speak with each other, led by deadpan comedian Nathan Fielder.
The Rehearsal follows Fielder, previously known for Comedy Central’s Nathan for You, as he tries to answer his own question: if we rehearse certain events or conversations before they occur with the utmost detail, can we predict positive outcomes? These life events Nathan rehearses start trivial, think confessing to a lie, but grow more complex, like rehearsing how to be a parent.
The Rehearsal takes its rehearsals very, very, very seriously. Fielder leaves nothing to chance, from dialogue to the actual settings where certain events take place. It becomes a running joke how Fielder exploits HBO’s lavish budget to build extravagant, exact replications of sets to make sure there are no possible variables in his grand design.
This August, HBO renewed the series for a second season, so I insist you check out this wildly–original, social–commentary show before its follow–up drops.
– Jacob Pollack, Film & TV editor