Was 2022 a good year for movies?
That is the question I found myself trying to answer as I thought about the best way to briefly encapsulate this past year in film before getting to my list. The most optimistic answer that I could come up with was that it was an extremely up-and-down year. There were some incredible highs, pitiful lows, but above all else, the problem with 2022 seemed to be that the middle was exceptionally middle. It felt like, more so than usual, there were a great amount of highly anticipated movies that weren’t outright hated, but garnered nothing more than a “meh, it was alright” from viewers before disappearing from the public consciousness almost instantaneously after their releases. Perhaps it is because of the fact that we live in an age where new content is being shoved in our faces every day, making it hard for one thing—especially a film—to really grab hold of the culture for more than even a few days, but there were very few 2022 films that seemed to have real staying power in the cultural conversation. That is why, when constructing my list, I tried to focus on the films that I thought about the most, and had the most fun talking about, throughout the year.
Out of fear that my feelings towards the 2022 film slate are possibly beginning to sound too negative, I do think it is important to note that there were many new releases that I love, and am grateful for, from this past year. This is evidenced by the fact that, when I was beginning to think about my list, there were 20 or so films that I was trying to find a spot for. While the year as a whole may not have been as consistent as we all wanted it to be, we still did receive some incredible movies worthy of praise and admiration. Before I delve deeper into some of those films, I also want to state that I’m genuinely excited and hopeful for the films of 2023. And while the process of wondering what direction Hollywood, and the film industry specifically, is headed in has frequently been an anxiety-inducing exercise—I’ll always be interested to see what comes next.
Without further ado, here are my ten favorite films of 2022.
(Honorable Mentions: Fire of Love, Everything Everywhere All At Once, Cha Cha Real Smooth, Sr., Armageddon Time, Jackass Forever, Turning Red, Marcel the Shell With Shoes On, The Batman, Avatar: The Way of Water)
10. Emily the Criminal
John Patton Ford’s debut film was, without question, the biggest pleasant surprise of the year for me. On its face, it may appear to be a fairly simple little indie thriller, but in reality, Emily the Criminal was one of the most interesting and entertaining films I saw all year long. Much of the success of this film has to be attributed to the way it explores big ideas within a small, contained story. It’s not often you see a film that deals with some of these overarching themes be presented to audiences with such a naturalistic tone. I give so much credit to Ford, and the film’s star Aubrey Plaza, for pulling off that difficult task. It was the choices he made as the writer-director, paired with her brilliant performance, that made this film as special as it is. I appreciate the fact that Ford brings almost no sentimentality to this story at all. Lessons are not learned in Emily the Criminal, and the film does not seem to be interested much in empathy or sympathy as well. That being said, it is still a story that resonates with a lot of people. It’s not difficult to see what Ford was trying to say when he centered his film on a young woman saddled with enormous student debt who finds herself being pulled into Los Angeles’ criminal underworld after her many failed attempts to land a fulfilling and decent-paying job. It’s the uncomplicated way in which he explores these complex issues that makes this film so successful though. In an age when people constantly complain about movies hitting them over the head with a message, Emily the Criminal proves that perhaps the best way to make a politically aware movie is to fill it with nonpolitical characters.
9. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Admittedly, I struggled with whether or not I wanted to include Glass Onion on this list. While I debated swapping it out for films that were maybe more impressive from a filmmaking standpoint or contained better performances, I ultimately couldn’t deny the amount of fun I had when I saw this movie in theaters. And it is important to note that I was in fact fortunate enough to see Glass Onion in a movie theater during its extremely truncated theatrical run, because that experience has a lot to do with its placement on this list. Now, I don’t mean to make it sound like this isn’t a great film, and I only included it on this list because of my viewing experience. However, I honestly don’t know if I would think as highly of this film as I do if I had watched it at home. Nowadays, it’s rare that a film like Glass Onion is able to pack a theater. In the age of streaming, many casual moviegoers only feel obligated to go to a movie theater if they are promised some sort of spectacle. Superhero films, big blockbusters than contain impressive action set-pieces, technical achievements like Avatar: The Way of Water—these are the films that people show up for. So to have the experience of sitting down in a packed theater and enjoying a great, well-made, and funny comedy/mystery film with a crowd was something I really appreciated. Moreover, it’s always nice to watch a movie that people clearly had fun making. Everyone in the star-studded cast of Glass Onion knew what kind of movie they were in and embraced it. There is not a bad performance in the bunch, but Daniel Craig unquestionably steals the show. I’m very grateful that Rian Johnson was able to successfully introduce a new, fun, and original franchise to the film world. Personally, I look forward to the next installments, despite the fact that the discourse around this film turned out to be as exhausting and nauseating as it did.
8. The Fabelmans
For the second consecutive year, a Steven Spielberg film has landed on my top ten list. It’s no secret that we saw a lot of personal films from acclaimed directors this year in which they looked back on their lives, their childhoods, and their relationship to cinema. While that got a little tiresome as the year went on, no one should be surprised that Spielberg’s version of that movie was as good as The Fabelmans ultimately turned out to be. Also, it’s important to note that if anyone has earned the right to make a movie like this, it is Steven Spielberg. What sets The Fabelmans apart from a lot of similar films that came out this year, is that it’s actually not totally what you expect it to be. This movie is far weirder than I think anyone, including myself, thought it was going to be when they sat down in the theater. The Fabelmans is far less sentimental than its marketing would have you believe as well, which ultimately works to its benefit. It’s also rare to see someone explore certain uncomfortable aspects of their family history in as much depth as Spielberg does in this film. And while the deeply personal nature of this movie is ultimately what stands out, there is so much to admire about The Fabelmans. Spielberg, as he so frequently does, got incredible performances out of his cast. Specifically, Paul Dano, Michelle Williams, and Gabrielle LaBelle all did outstanding work in this film. The direction was obviously masterful. And the script, which was co-written by Spielberg and Tony Kushner, unexpectedly shifts a few times in interesting ways. While these shifts perhaps made audiences concerned that the film did not know where it was going, it’s made clear by the time we get there that Spielberg was always in control of his story.
7. Decision to Leave
Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave was not only a masterclass in directing, but quite possibly the most visually stunning film of 2022. There were several shots and sequences in this film that took my breath away as I was watching it. Decision to Leave did not make my top ten list due to its technical achievements alone though. The story, which follows a policeman whose life is changed after he meets the wife of a potential murder victim, is incredibly engaging due to its tense yet romantic nature. The two actors at the center of that story, Park Hae-il and Tang Wei, also deserve a lot of credit for the ultimate success of this film. I specifically want to highlight Wei who turned in one of the most magnetizing and memorable performances of the year. Returning to Park though, I appreciate that there does not appear to be a single wasted shot in this entire film. When watching Decision to Leave, it’s easy to recognize that Park not only had a clear vision for how he wanted to tell this story, but knew exactly how to execute that vision as well. The story—which is clever, but not overly complex—also never tries to be more than what it is. It never feels like Park is interested in proving to the audience how smart he, or his film, is. Instead, he just lets the story speak for itself.
6. The Banshees of Inisherin
Martin McDonagh seemed to have two things on his mind when he was making The Banshees of Inisherin: What makes a life, a life worth living? And, male friendships can be pretty fucking weird sometimes. Both of those themes are explored in this delightfully dark and preposterous tale that follows what happens when one man abruptly, and without reason, ends his relationship with his lifelong best friend. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are terrific in this film. Their performances—as well as McDonagh’s script—help turn this story of loneliness, despair, and forgiveness into one of the strangely funniest movies of the year. Comedy is not the thing that jumps out at you when you hear about the plot, setting, and themes of this film—but McDonagh’s ability to blend the comedy, drama, and absurdism with real emotion is what makes The Banshees of Inisherin so impactful. As I highlighted the work done by Farrell and Gleeson in this film, I think it is important to mention Barry Keoghan and Kerry Condon as well, who gave two of the best supporting performances of the year. Furthermore, I appreciate the fact that McDonagh crafted this story in a way where there is no real good guy or bad guy. There is no one we should inherently agree or disagree with. He puts two characters, with two different viewpoints, at the center of this film in order to represent two possible answers to the question of what makes a meaningful life. Is it the friends and memories we make, or is what we leave behind? Wisely, McDonagh leaves that up for the audience to decide.
Perhaps the most polarizing film of the year, Damien Chazelle’s Babylon, is the number five entry on my list. The polarizing nature of Babylon is an important thing to touch on because it is partially why I respect this film, and the choices that Chazelle made, as much as I do. As I mentioned earlier, there were a lot of films released this year that overwhelmingly received a reaction of “it was fine.” People didn’t love them or hate them, and two days after they came out, people stopped talking about them. Babylon is in direct contrast to those films. Whether you love this film like I do, or you think it’s a bloated piece of garbage—it forces you to have an opinion. Should something be admired based solely on its levels of polarization alone? Of course not. But I love how Chazelle said “fuck it,” and took a big ambitious swing with this film. I’ve already written about this film’s horrid box office returns. So instead of focusing on that, I want to explore some of the criticisms about this film that potentially led people to choose not to see it. There are still those out there who are content to throw this movie aside by labeling it just another “Love Letter to Hollywood.” For anyone who has seen this film though, it is clear that none of the feelings that Chazelle has towards Hollywood are even remotely related to the idea of love. Calling this a love letter to cinema or to movies is perhaps more accurate, but I still think it’s a little misleading to characterize Babylon as a love letter of any kind. If it is a love letter, it’s an incredibly morbid one, as I’m pretty sure someone dies in this film every 15 minutes or so. There has also been a lot of talk about Chazelle’s influences for Babylon. Undeniably, there is a lot of Boogie Nights and some Wolf of Wall Street within Babylon. And while I do think this is a film that stands on its own, my response to people who call this film a ripoff or criticize it for being derivative, would just be to ask them this: In this era of franchise entertainment where seemingly every movie is a sequel, a prequel, or part of some connected universe—is it actually fine if someone just wants to do an unofficial remake of Boogie Nights every 20 years? Is that really the thing worth complaining about these days?
4. Top Gun: Maverick
It’s hard to remember a time in recent years when I had more fun in a theater than I did while viewing Top Gun: Maverick. I also can’t remember a movie making me think “I can’t believe they’re actually pulling this off” as many times as this film did. It took 36 years to get a sequel to Top Gun, and after waiting all that time, those who were anticipating this film had to watch it get its release date moved back multiple times due to COVID. All that waiting built up the excitement level to a point which no film could conceivably reach. Somehow, they pulled it off though. In the best way possible, Joseph Kosinski and Tom Cruise gave audiences everything that they wanted in this film. They knew their job with this movie was simply to entertain. Krosinksi and the screenwriters of this film had fun with the story, they didn’t include details of the plot that were ultimately unnecessary, and they never tried to outsmart their audience. In many ways, this film reminds me of another recent smash hit, Avengers: Endgame. When I saw Endgame I thought to myself, “there was no better way they could have done that.” Neither Endgame, nor Maverick, are perfect films by any means. But, they both are the best possible versions of the thing they are trying to be. I truly believe the people behind the making of this film could not have done it any better than they did. Along with the aforementioned Krosinski and Cruise—Miles Teller, Glen Powell, Jennifer Connelly, and Monica Barbaro deserve a lot of credit as well. Truthfully, as this was one of the biggest and most talked-about films of the year, there is not a whole lot to say about it that hasn’t already been said. I’ll finish with this though: There has been a lot of debate in recent years about what is and isn’t “cinema,” as well as what the purpose of movies should be. Are they here just to entertain us? Or should they be more of an intellectual pursuit? Anyone with common sense knows that not all films have to be trying to do the same thing, and there is enough room for all different kinds of movies. To me though, there is a right way to make a “turn your brain off and just have fun” film, and a wrong way. I’m very happy that Krosinski, Cruise, and everyone involved in the making of Top Gun: Maverick did it the right way.
I acknowledge that there is something amusing about transitioning from the big, loud, action-packed spectacle that was Top Gun: Maverick to what is probably the smallest and subtlest film on my list. Aftersun is the debut feature from Scottish filmmaker Charlotte Wells, and stars Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio. I can confidently state that no film from 2022 emotionally leveled me the way that this film did. What appears to be a simple story about a father and daughter on vacation, is actually one of the most affecting and honest portrayals of the child/parent dynamic that I have ever seen on screen. I was shocked to learn that this was Wells’ debut because she was able to explore that dynamic so skillfully, and in a way that I don’t think many directors or screenwriters are capable of. Wells takes the viewers of this film on a journey that initially seems like a happy one, but she implements a melancholic tone that, perhaps subconsciously, makes audiences aware that the story is not headed towards a happy ending or a neat resolution. And while this film deals with big ideas and questions—such as, how do kids process the idea that their parents might be unhappy? Is it impossible for a kid to truly know their parent, and vice versa? And how do we look back on people after they are gone?—my admiration for it is far more emotionally driven than intellectually driven. It is a movie that sticks with you, it keeps you seated in your chair staring forward as the credits roll. It leaves you thinking about your own past, while also making you aware that none of us know what our futures hold.
There were a few films from 2022 that were just simply undeniable. They gave you an inherent sense that what you were watching was special. Jordan Peele’s Nope was one of those films. Outside of the number one film on this list, I have not thought about any 2022 film as much as Nope. It’s been one of the most fun movies to talk about as well, even if not everyone has the same adoration for it that I do. Much like Babylon, this was actually a fairly polarizing movie. Admittedly though, the detractors of Nope did not seem to have the same levels of vitriol for it that the detractors of Babylon have. Another 2022 film on my list I could compare this to is Top Gun: Maverick. My viewing of Nope was just as much of an enriching, fun, and exhilarating experience as my viewing of Maverick was. The reason that Nope is higher up on my list though, is because Peele gave us that thrilling ride, but also explored some incredibly interesting ideas in this film as well. Big blockbusters usually don’t deal with the kinds of themes that Peele was interested in when making Nope. This film touches on our national obsession with spectacle, exploitation, the consequences of not learning the proper lesson, animal abuse, capitalism, race, and whether or not our hubris will ultimately be our downfall. It’s not hard to see why some thought Peele overstuffed this film with too many ideas, but personally, the richness of this story is a key factor in why it has remained with me for so long. It’s also rare to see a film that contains this many intriguing ideas be expertly made as well. I consider this to easily be Peele’s best directed film to date. I can’t wait to see where his career goes from here, and I’m so grateful for the film that he gave us in 2022 because I truly believe Nope is a masterpiece.
Without question, the 2022 film that I had the most fun thinking, talking, and reading about was Todd Field’s Tár. Any analysis of this film obviously needs to start with Field’s masterful directing and Cate Blanchett’s career-defining performance. Together, Field and Blanchett gave us something that will truly stand the test of time. It’s easy to see, when watching this movie, that there was not a single choice, shot, or scene that Field did not put immense thought into. Whether it has to deal with the story being told or the technical aspects of the film, there is clearly intent behind every decision made. And the result of all of those decisions is the most immersive, engaging, and gratifying viewing experience I had all year long. This film is an incredible journey, and while you’re never really sure where the story is ultimately going to end up, you are more than content to just enjoy the ride—a ride that includes multiple “Scene of the Year” candidates, as well as one of the best endings of 2022 that really helps shape this film’s weirdly brilliant sense of humor. Like many great films, Tár requires something from its audience. You have to be willing to buy in and bring a level of thoughtfulness to this film to truly get the most out of it. Field brings up so many ideas and questions in this film but, as is standard for him, he has no interest in giving you all the answers. As any great director should, he leaves things up for the audience to decide. Personally, I like that I don’t know all the answers. A big part of why I’ve continued to engage with this film so much after initially seeing it is I’ve had a lot of fun trying to figure out what Field was trying to say with this movie. In recent years, we have seen other filmmakers explore some of the ideas that Field touches on in Tár. None of those filmmakers have done it nearly as well as Field did in this film, or with this level of control, though. All I know is, there was no film from 2022 which I had a greater urge to rewatch literally as I was walking out of the theater than Tár. It is a masterpiece, and my number one film of 2022.