The 15 Best Straight-to-Streaming Movies of 2022 So Far
A savage horror-comedy about dating, a queer Jane Austen adaptation and a Pixar charmer — they're some of the movie gems that bypassed cinemas for streaming across the first six months of 2022.
July 15, 2022
Every single week, new releases grace the country's cinemas, spanning instant masterpieces, forgettable dreck and everything in-between. But as glorious as the silver-screen experience is — for watching a film, there's absolutely nothing like it — that's not the only place to see an ace movie.
Plenty of standout flicks are now dropping in your streaming queue every single month without gracing a picture palace first. Sometimes, they've had small film festival runs beforehand — but definitely not always. Back in the day, these would've been dubbed 'straight to video' and come with an air of suspicion. But bypassing cinemas has never been synonymous with terrible films.
It certainly hasn't been in 2022 so far, with the first six months of the year delivering a heap of highlights — 15 that we've picked, in fact — that rank among the year's best. Here's the full rundown of the straight-to-streaming gems that you need to catch up with. The added bonus: you can watch them all from your couch now.
For the second year in a row, Steven Soderbergh has made one of the year's best movies and it has completely bypassed Australian cinemas. Unlike last year's No Sudden Move, however, Kimi was always destined for streaming. The latest in his series of paranoid thrillers that also includes Contagion, and once again female-fronted as Haywire, Side Effects and Unsane were too, this Zoë Kravitz-starring standout takes its cues from smart devices, humanity's increasing dependence upon technology, and the kinds of events that a virtual assistant like Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant might eavesdrop on. As a result, Soderbergh has crafted another movie that riffs on a growing area of real-life interest, then turns it into a tense, potent and devilishly smart feature. A bonus: focusing on a protagonist who doesn't feel safe leaving her house, Kimi couldn't better capture how the pandemic has felt without overtly needing to be a COVID-19 film.
Kravitz (The Batman) plays Angela Childs, who works for Seattle-based tech corporation Amygdala from the comfort of her own sprawling loft — and from her own audiophile's dream of a computer setup — listening to snippets of conversation captured by smart speaker Kimi for quality assurance. In one clip, she hears what she believes to be a horrible crime and is compelled to follow up; however, her bosses aren't thrilled about her probing. Complicating matters: after being the victim of an assault a couple of years earlier, Angela suffers from anxiety and agoraphobia, making leaving the house to investigate a fraught task. As he did to particularly stellar effect in Unsane as well, Soderbergh styles his latest psychological thriller after its protagonist's mindset, making unease and suspense drop from every aesthetic choice — camera angles and placement, jittery frames and a voyeuristic perspective all included.
Kimi is available to stream via Binge.
Finally, a film about dating in the 21st century with real bite — and that's unafraid to sink its teeth into the topic. In this hit Sundance horror-comedy, Normal People's Daisy Edgar-Jones plays Noa, and once again gets entangled in a romance that'll leave a mark; here, however, the scars aren't merely emotional. Swiping right hasn't been doing it for Fresh's protagonist, as a comically terrible date with the appropriately named Chad (Brett Dier, Jane the Virgin) demonstrates early. Then sparks fly the old-fashioned way, in-person at the supermarket, with the curiously offline doctor Steve (Sebastian Stan, Pam & Tommy). Soon, he's whisking her away to a secluded spot for the weekend — a little too swiftly for Noa's protective best friend Mollie's (Jojo T Gibbs, Twenties) liking, especially given that no one can virtually stalk his socials to scope him out — and that getaway takes a savage and nightmare-fuelling twist.
If Raw met Ex Machina, then crossed paths with American Psycho and Hostel, and finally made the acquaintance of any old rom-com, Fresh still wouldn't be the end result — but its tone stems from those parts, as do some plot points and performances, and even a few scenes as well. First-time feature director Mimi Cave doesn't butcher these limbs, though, and screenwriter Lauryn Kahn (Ibiza) doesn't stitch them together like Frankenstein's monster. As anchored by the excellent Edgar-Jones and Stan, there's care, savvy, smarts and style in this splatter-filled, satirical, brutal, funny, empowered and sweet film. Its twists, and its cutting take on predatory dating, are best discovered by watching, but being turned off apps, men and meat in tandem is an instant gut reaction.
Fresh is available to stream via Disney+.
As its name so clearly explains, Cow devotes its frames to one farmyard animal — and it's one of the most haunting films of the past few years. It's the third feature to take its title from a four-legged critter in the past 12 months, after the vastly dissimilar Pig and Lamb. It's also the second observational documentary of late to peer at the daily existence of creatures that form part of humanity's food chain, following the also-exceptional Gunda. And, it also joins 2013's The Moo Man in honing its focus specifically upon dairy farming, and in Britain at that. But the key to Cow is Andrea Arnold, the phenomenal filmmaker behind Fish Tank, Wuthering Heights, American Honey and the second season of Big Little Lies. She sees Luma, her bovine protagonist, with as much affection and understanding as she's ever seen any of the women who've led her projects. While watching, viewers do as well.
Starting with the birth of Luma's latest calf — and, in the beginning, taking detours to see how it's faring as well — Cow unfurls with the rhythm of its agricultural setting. It's the rhythm of Luma's life, too, as she's milked and fed, moos for the offspring that's taken away too quickly, and is soon impregnated again. There's no doubt where the documentary is headed, either. There's simply no shying away from the fact that Luma and cattle like her only exist for milk or meat. Without ever offering any narration or on-screen explanation, Arnold stares at these facts directly, while also peering deeply into its bovine subject's eyes as often as possible. The result is hypnotic, inescapably affecting, and also features the best use of Garbage's 'Milk' ever in a movie.
Cow is available to stream via DocPlay.
I'M YOUR MAN
Since 2013, any film that's involved making an emotional connection with artificial intelligence has brought Her to mind. Since 2014, any movie about human-android relationships has conjured up Ex Machina as well. And, since 2007, any flick that focuses on the companionship that a lonely human soul might find in an artificial companion has walked in Lars and the Real Girl's footsteps, too. In smart, perceptive and warmly humorous German gem I'm Your Man, however, it's a woman who is opening her life to a male presence — an AI-run robot designed to be her perfect match — and she's not too happy about it. Archaeologist Dr Alma Felser (Maren Egger, I Was at Home, But) is merely and begrudgingly testing out the technology that brings Tom (Dan Stevens, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga) into her life, for three weeks at the behest of her boss at Berlin's Pergamon Museum, and solely for the good of science.
I'm Your Man is a rom-com, which means exactly what viewers think it does going in: that Alma slowly starts rethinking her position on Tom. But that's about the only aspect of this thoughtful, witty and yearning exploration of what it means to be human and to truly connect that does what's expected. Fresh from winning an Emmy for directing Unorthodox, German filmmaker Maria Schrader helms a charming and insightful take on what's beginning to be an oft-considered topic, and is unpacked in a moving and delightful way in her hands. Her film is also extremely well cast, with Egger thoroughly deserving her 2021 Berlinale Silver Bear for Best Acting Performance as Alma, and Stevens pitch-perfect as the supposed robotic man of her dreams — who just wants love himself.
I'm Your Man is available to stream via Binge.
Meet the Adams family — no, not the creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky characters that've featured on pages and screens for decades (including in two terrible recent animated flicks), but the filmmaking collective comprised of couple Toby Poser and John Adams, plus their daughters Zelda and Lulu Adams. The quartet might be missing a letter from their well-known counterparts' names, but they're just as fond of all things horror. Case in point: their second feature Hellbender, a self-financed standout that's both a spellbinding tale of witchcraft and a clever coming-of-age story. It starts in a house in the woods, and also spends most of its time there. It includes the arrival of an unexpected stranger, shattering the status quo. But formulaic and by-the-numbers, this must-see isn't. In making first-rate use of its setting, and of a cast that's primarily comprised of Adams family members, it's also a masterclass in lockdown filmmaking.
In the most expected aspect of Hellbender, the film's name does indeed refer to a punk-metal band, with 16-year-old Izzy (Zelda Adams, The Deeper You Dig) and her mother (Toby Poser) its sole members. No one else has ever heard them play, either, given that Izzy is both homeschooled and confined to the family's sprawling mountainside property, as she has been since she was five. Her mum tells her that she can't venture into town or around other people due to a contagious autoimmune disease; however, when a lost man (John Adams) wanders their way and mentions that his teenage niece Amber (Lulu Adams) lives nearby, Izzy gets the confidence to go exploring. As both written and directed by three out of four Adams family members — all except Lulu — Hellbender proves an impressive supernatural affair from its opening occult-heavy prologue through to its astute take on teen rebellion. Here's hoping this Adams family spirits up more DIY horror delights soon, too.
Hellbender is available to stream via Shudder.
APOLLO 10 1/2: A SPACE AGE CHILDHOOD
In 1969, the year that Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood is set, writer/director Richard Linklater was nine years old and living in Houston, Texas. This lovely animated film happens to follow a boy around the same age in the same city — and trust the filmmaker behind Boyhood, Dazed and Confused, and the glorious trio that is Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight to make viewers who weren't there then (who weren't even alive and have never been to America, too) to feel as nostalgic about the place and era as he clearly does. As narrated by his Bernie and The School of Rock star Jack Black, the film's entire middle section dances through memories of the time and city with infectious enthusiasm, but its biggest dose of affection radiates towards the technological promise of the 60s. The Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions were rocketing into space and it patently felt like anything was possible, a sensation so marvellously captured in each second of Apollo 10 1/2.
Jumping back into the rotoscoped animation that served Linklater so well in Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, this loving ode to years and moods gone by also sports a delightful premise. As his older guise (Black) explains, young Stan (debutant Milo Coy) was an ordinary Houston kid with a NASA-employed dad (Bill Wise, Waves), doting mum (Lee Eddy, Cruel Summer) and five older siblings when he was approached by two men (Shazam!'s Zachary Levi and Everybody Wants Some!!'s Glen Powell) to help them with a problem. In the lead up to Apollo 11, it seems that NASA accidentally built the lunar module a couple of sizes too small, so they need a kid — Stan — to help them by going to the moon to test things out before Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins make their famous trip in a bigger version. That fantastical idea feels ripped from Linklater's childhood dreams, and it well might be; it also makes for a warm and charming entry point into a movie that's as much about life's ups and downs, the bonds of family and the wide-eyed optimism of youth as it is about heading to space.
Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood is available to stream via Netflix.
In the perfect version of 2022, watching The Janes would resemble unpacking a time capsule. In this documentary's frames, remnants of life during 60s and 70s America flicker across the screen — visions of what the US was like for women before the Supreme Court's landmark 1973 Roe v Wade ruling. But, devastatingly, that's not how viewing this Tia Lessin (Citizen Koch)- and Emma Pildes-directed film feels like now thanks to recent developments with America's current conservative-skewed highest judicial body. Accordingly, this powerful doco might just offer a window into the possible future by cataloguing a dark and heartbreaking part of the past. Its focus: members of Chicago's The Jane Collective, who stepped in to provide safe, affordable but also highly illegal abortion services when terminating pregnancies, and therefore giving women agency over their choices and their very existence, was a crime across the nation.
Fellow 2022 highlight Happening has charted the same territory at around the same time, but in France and fictionalised. Back in 2020, the phenomenal Never Rarely Sometimes Always examined the situation in the US recently — well, before this year's Supreme Court ruling undoing Roe v Wade — as well. Each of the above, and The Janes as well, unsurprisingly makes for harrowing, infuriating, heart- and gut-wrenching viewing. In this instance, the film sticks with current-day talking heads and archival footage to step through why the service provided by Jane, aka the Abortion Counseling Service of Women's Liberation, was necessary and important. The brave and heroic women involved talked through the details with clarity and potency, as do some of the men who assisted, whether as husbands who were also lawyers, doctors, or construction workers-turned-abortionists. Of course, unlike in the times chronicled, women never come second to men in this gripping and resonant doco.
The Janes is available to stream via Binge.
CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH
With Freshman Year, Cooper Raiff cemented himself as a talent to watch, both on- and off-screen. The writer, director, actor, editor and producer wore many hats on the likeable romance-meets-coming-of-age film, and he wore them all impressively and effortlessly. With Cha Cha Real Smooth, he hands over splicing duties, but he's just as ace in every other guise yet again. Winner of the Audience Award at this year's Sundance Film Festival, in the prestigious event's US Dramatic competition, this comedy also focuses on the fact that no one really knows how to handle life — this time centring its tale around the just-out-of-college Andrew (Raiff, Madeline & Cooper). The character returns home after graduating with the sole aim of making enough cash to follow his girlfriend to Spain, but falls into a gig hosting Bar Mitzvahs for his younger brother David's (Evan Assante, Dinosaur World) friends.
Andrew falls in another way, too: in love with Domino (an exceptional Dakota Johnson, playing a mum again after The Lost Daughter), mother to Evan's classmate Lola (debutant Vanessa Burghardt). Lola has autism, is bullied by the other kids and usually finds herself ignored at parties, somewhat happily so; however, Andrew makes her feel comfortable and accepted, which doesn't go unnoticed. His growing fondness for Domino is complicated, though. So is the object of his affection herself — and, while more than half a century ago The Graduate splashed in a similar pool, Johnson brings her own shades and depths to a woman who is yearning for stability yet rallying against it. Everything also remains complex about Cha Cha Real Smooth's portrait of being a fresh college graduate with everything ahead of you and zero ideas of how what to truly do — and proves always-earnest as well, a description that applies to Raiff's work as Andrew and this low-key, insightful and charming movie alike.
Cha Cha Real Smooth is available to stream via Apple TV+.
Pride and Prejudice, but set on New York's Fire Island. That's it, that's the queer rom-com that shares its setting's name. Fire Island, the movie, even comes with its own Mr Darcy — here called Will and played by How to Get Away with Murder's Conrad Ricamora, who should enjoy the same career bump that Colin Firth did in the 90s when he stepped into the part in a far-more-faithful TV adaptation. Updating Jane Austen isn't new, of course. Bridget Jones' Diary, also famously starring Firth, did the same with Pride and Prejudice. Stone-cold classic Clueless, which gets a shoutout here in a perfectly co-opted line of dialogue, did it with Emma, too. One of Fire Island's best traits is how new yet comfortable it feels, though, like thumbing through a favourite but seeing it afresh — with hot tubs full of praise deserved by director Andrew Ahn (Spa Night, Driveways) and screenwriter/star Joel Kim Booster (Loot).
Booster also boasts a writing credit on The Other Two, one of the best new TV comedies of the past few years — and that bitingly smart, laugh-a-minute tone shines through in Fire Island, too. He takes Austen's tale about love and class and steeps it within the queer community, its subdivisions and subcultures, and issues of race and socio-economic status that ripple through, as they do in America and the world more broadly. That's what Booster's self-confident Noah finds himself navigating on a week-long annual getaway with his best friends, and after he decides to put his pal Howie's (Bowen Yang, Saturday Night Live) romantic prospects above his own. If you know the OG story, you know what happens next, including Noah's path towards the initially stern, quiet and standoffish Will. The end product here is witty, funny, heartwarming and sincere, as well as supremely well cast, energetic from start to finish, and bursting with queer pride.
Fire Island is available to stream via Disney+.
Ascension may not be one of this year's Oscar-winners, losing out to the also fantastic Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), but it'll always be among 2022's nominees. More than that, this two-time Tribeca Film Festival winner will forever remain one of the most arresting documentaries of the past 12 months as well. Helming her first feature-length doco, filmmaker Jessica Kingdon turns her gaze to the Chinese dream — and what she sees, while situated in a very specific cultural context by design, is a clear and easy sibling to its American counterpart. That's part of the statement her film makes, all just by watching on patiently but meticulously as people go about their lives.
Starting with factory recruitment on the streets, then moving into mass production, then climbing the social hierarchy up to the rich and privileged, Ascension explores employment and consumerism — and what they mean in an everyday sense in modern-day and modernised China. It's a portrait of the needs that make working on assembly lines a necessity, and of the dreams that inspire every climb, rung by rung, up the societal ladder. Some folks build sex dolls, their uncanny valley-esque forms adding an eerie mood. Others take lessons on etiquette for service jobs, including about not letting your face betray your emotions, and the tone is also unsettling. Observational to a mesmerising degree, Kingdon's exceptional film lets its slices of life and the behaviour, attitudes and patterns they capture do the talking, and they all speak volumes. Indeed, what a clever, telling, incisive and surreal story they unfurl.
Ascension is available to stream via Paramount+.
Not to be confused with well-cast but decidedly unfunny Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler-starring comedy of the same name, The House dedicates its weird and wonderful stop-motion animated frames to three tales all set in the same abode. In the anthology film's first chapter from directors Marc James Roels and Emma De Swaef, a poverty-stricken family mocked by richer relatives luck into a deal with an architect, which results in the movie's central dwelling being built — and its new inhabitants getting more than they bargained for. In the second part by Niki Lindroth von Bahr, a developer, who also happens to be a rat, finalises his renovations and readies the place for sale; however, two odd prospective buyers won't leave after the first viewing. And in the third section from Paloma Baeza, the home towers above an apocalyptic future flooded with water, with its owner, a cat, struggling with her fellow feline tenants.
Each of The House's films-within-a-film hail from a different creative team, boast different voice casts and splash around their own aesthetics — and they're all a delight. The constants: the titular structure, the fabric-style look to the animation (even as each director comes up with their own take) that makes you want to reach out and touch it, and mix of creativity and emotion in its dark-skewing stories. This is a movie that questions the comfortable mindset that bricks and mortar are expected to bring, and where where just trying to get by is recognised as the struggle it is in a variety of wild and inventive ways. And as for that vocal talent, Matthew Goode (The King's Man), Mia Goth (Emma.), Helena Bonham Carter (The Crown), Susan Wokoma (Truth Seekers) and Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker all do ace work.
The House is available to stream via Netflix.
What'd happen if the Hulk was a teenage girl, and turned into a giant, fuzzy, super-cute red panda instead of going green and getting ultra-muscular? Or, finding a different riff on the ol' werewolf situation, if emotions rather than full moons inspired a case of not-quite-lycanthropy? These aren't queries that most folks have thought of, but writer/director Domee Shi certainly has — and they're at the core of Pixar's Turning Red, her debut feature after winning an Oscar for 2018 short Bao. As many of the animation studio's movies do, the film takes its title literally. But, it also spins the usual Pixar question. Turning Red does indeed wonder what'd happen if red pandas sported human-style emotions; however, the Disney-owned company has been musing on people becoming other kinds of critters of late, with particularly astute and endearing results here.
The movie's focus: 13-year-old Chinese Canadian Meilin Lee (Rosalie Chiang, also making her film debut). The year is 2002, and she loves meeting her strict but doting mum Ming's (Sandra Oh, The Chair) expectations, hanging out with her pals and obsessing over boy band 4*Town. And while her mother doesn't approve of her friends or her taste in music, Mei has become accustomed to juggling everything that's important to her. But then, after a boy-related mishap, the red panda appears. Mei goes to bed feeling normal, albeit angsty and upset, only to wake up looking like a cuddly creature. Like werewolf tales about teenage boys tend to be, Turning Red is all about puberty and doesn't hide it — and whether it's tackling that head-on, pondering generational trauma or showing its rampant love for boy bands, it sports sweetness, soul and smarts.
When well-deserved Oscar predictions came Adam Sandler's way for the astounding Uncut Gems, the actor and comedian said that he'd make the worst movie ever if he didn't win one of the Academy's shiny trophies. He didn't, and then Hubie Halloween arrived — and now Hustle. No, neither is the most terrible film on Sandler's resume. In Hustle's case, it happens to be home to one of his best performances. He has plenty to his name, including in Punch-Drunk Love, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) and, of course, Uncut Gems, so it's in good company. There's also an element of art reflecting life in this new sports drama, even though basketball isn't what Sandler is famous for IRL. He knows more than a thing or two about only being seen one way, however, when his talents span much further. Whenever he branches away from the style of comedies that made his name, starting with Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore, he knows plenty about being the underdog, too.
On-screen, Stanley Sugerman is Hustle's underdog. A scout for the Philadelphia 76ers, he jets around the world scoping out new talent in the hope of finding a future match-winner, but it's not the job he wants. He loves basketball, he used to play and he's long dreamed about being a coach — but when good news arrives, then tragedy strikes, then the calculating Vince Merrick (Ben Foster, Galveston) takes over as the team's owner, it seems he'll be on the road forever. Bo Cruz (real-life NBA player Juancho Hernangómez) might be his ticket to better things, though, if he can get the Spanish construction worker signed or drafted. There's nothing that's surprising about director Jeremiah Zagar's (We the Animals) choices, or screenwriters Taylor Materne (video game NBA 2K20) and Will Fetters' (A Star Is Born) either, but Hustle remains a strong and lived-in character-driven drama as much as a tense against-the-odds sports film — and it's as entertaining and engaging to watch as the playoffs.
Hustle is available to stream via Netflix.
LUCY AND DESI
Icons celebrating icons: when Amy Poehler directs a documentary about Lucille Ball, as she does here, that's the end result. It's fitting that Lucy and Desi includes a letter read mere days after Desi Arnaz's death, about his ex-wife and longterm professional partner, that included a touching line: "I Love Lucy wasn't just the name of the show". Poehler loves Lucy, too, understandably. Watching the compilation of clips curated here — spanning Ball's movie career in the 30s and 40s, as well as her TV shows such as the pioneering I Love Lucy, follow-up The Lucy–Desi Comedy Hour, and later sitcoms The Lucy Show and Here's Lucy — it's impossible not to see Ball's influence upon the Saturday Night Live and Parks and Recreation star, and upon the generations of female comedians that've followed Ball. Lucy and Desi loves Arnaz as well, though, and truly adores the pair's tumultuous love story — one that changed the course of comedy history.
Forget Being the Ricardos, the average-at-best Aaron Sorkin film that inexplicably earned Oscar nominations — including for its one-note performances — and doesn't even dream of being funny. A deeper, meatier, far more interesting dance through Ball and Arnaz's life comes from Lucy and Desi, which benefits not just from Poehler's affection and her eagerness to ensure that her subjects' personalities shine through, but also from previously unreleased audio tapes of the pair talking about their ups and downs. Recent interviews pepper the film as well, including with daughter Lucie Arnaz Luckinbill, and the iconic Carol Burnett. Still, this doco's points of focus truly do speak best for themselves, whether chatting frankly or seen in all of those wonderful sitcom snippets.
Lucy and Desi is is available to stream via Prime Video.
As a next-generation scream queen, Jenna Ortega has had an eventful 2022 so far. She proved one of the highlights of the latest Scream, in fact, then popped up in Foo Fighters horror movie Studio 666. And, she also made a firm impression in 70s-set, porn-shoot slasher X. Similarly a recent highlight: The Fallout, which earned both jury and audience awards for Best Narrative Feature at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival, and is horrifying in a completely different way to its star's other roles of late. To be precise, it's devastating. Here, the former child actor plays an American teenager who endures what must be every American teenager's worst nightmare, then understandably struggles to process the aftermath. Surviving a school shooting isn't something that anyone should be expected to come to terms with, to move on from, or to slide easily back into their everyday life — including going back to the same classes — after, obviously.
When that terrifying incident occurs, Vada Cavell (Ortega) happens to be in the bathroom. As soon as the first shots are heard, she's hiding in a toilet stall with the school's resident dance star Mia Reed (Maddie Ziegler, thankfully worlds away from Music), and both emerge physically unscathed. But the trauma and emotional scars run deep, with The Fallout chronicling Vada's post traumatic stress disorder-affected headspace in the days, weeks and longer that follow. Written and directed by actor-turned-feature filmmaking debutant Megan Park, this is an immensely powerful portrait of grief on several levels — for classmates lost, lives forever changed and innocent views of the world instantly shattered. Every choice made by Park, and also by Ortega and Ziegler, plunges viewers into their Vada and Mia's internal tussles, including the score by Finneas O'Connell.
The Fallout is available to stream via Binge.
Looking for more viewing highlights? Check out our list of film and TV streaming recommendations, which is updated monthly.
We've also picked our top 15 movies that hit cinemas in the first half of 2022, as well as the 15 best new TV shows and 15 best returning TV shows of the year so far.
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