1. "Top Gun: Maverick” (2022)
Discussions about a second “Top Gun” started more than a decade earlier, with Tom Cruise set to reunite with director Tony Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer (all three were key architects behind 1986’s astronomical success). After Scott died tragically, it seemed as though a sequel would never happen. But, incredibly, it did. This time Cruise teamed up with his “Oblivion” director Joseph Kosinski and his constant partner-in-crime Christopher McQuarrie to make a movie that not only honors the spirit of the original film but surpasses it. “Top Gun: Maverick” isn’t just the greatest legacy sequel ever made, it's one of the rare sequels that makes the original retroactively more powerful. It is as improbable as it is miraculous.
36 years later, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise) is still a captain and is tasked with training a group of new Top Gun recruits (including Miles Teller’s Rooster, the son of Maverick’s former wingman Goose) for a harrowing suicide mission behind enemy lines. Cruise’s new realism-first methodology meant that the actors went up in real fighter jets, making every action sequence even more heart-stopping. But the real surprise of “Top Gun: Maverick” is how emotional it is. Maverick, who in the original film was a cipher for the go-go-jingoism of Reagan’s America, is now a broken man, empty and alone. It’s a fascinating character study, one in which Maverick is made whole by understanding his own capacity for family. Making things right with Rooster and also Penny (Jennifer Connelly), an old flame he’s decided to reconnect with. As it turns out, your emotional connections on earth get a little lost when you’re so focused on flying above it.
Kosinski gamely takes over for Scott, recreating his aesthetic and worldview, with the sun in perpetual sunset and every perfectly etched body glistening with dewy sweat, but adds his own stamp, namely his love of symmetrical, nearly mathematic compositions a willingness to evoke the past without being slavishly devoted to it. (There’s no “Take My Breath Away” or “Playing with the Boys” on the soundtrack.) If there’s a movie, since the beginning of the pandemic, that most deserves to be seen in a theater, with the sound cranked way up and the screen pristine and gargantuan, it’s “Top Gun: Maverick."