2022 was the first full year that movies came back to movie theaters. And the result was a spectacular year for big-screen popcorn entertainment. Of course, the year still had its fair share of great smaller, independent films and streaming films. I don’t know if there’s any thematic subject that ties the films of 2022 together neatly, but if anything, it’s in its cohesion to give both casual moviegoers and hardcore cinephiles enough to be excited about.
I also changed the way I’ll do my Top 10 going forward; rather than a fully ranked list of the ten best films, I’ll simply share my “Movie of the Year”, along with an unranked, alphabetical list of the remaining nine. So without further ado, here are my ten favorite films of 2022.
Honorable Mentions (in Alphabetical Order):
- All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
- All Quiet on the Western Front
- Bad Axe
- The Banshees of Inisherin
- The Batman
- The Eternal Daughter
- Everything Everywhere All at Once
- Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
- Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
- Three Thousand Years of Longing
- Women Talking
The first time I watched Charlotte Wells’ hauntingly beautiful debut feature, I viewed it primarily as a coming-of-age film about a young girl on the precipice of her impending adulthood. The second time I watched it, I was more keyed into it as a memoir of Wells’s real experiences with her own father and her struggle to understand his mental health issues. Of course, one of the beauties of Aftersun is that neither reading is incorrect. Wells delicately balances both themes, making both feel equally monumental without overplaying it or delving into sentimentality. Indeed, Wells trusts her audience enough that she can show, rather than tell explicitly, where each character’s headspace is during any given moment. Paul Mescal and newcomer Frankie Corio both give incredibly layered performances that ease us into the themes at play. Mescal shows how depression can slowly eat away at a person, and Corio plays a delicate balance between childlike joy and grown-up sadness. From beginning to end, Wells expresses a universal sentiment, but it’s deeply rooted in a specific pain, and its result is a stunningly assured debut film.
2022’s first great film came back around for me at the right time, as I continued to reflect on its lovelier, more pronounced elements. Like Colin Farrell and Justin H. Min’s soulful and profound performances, or Aska Matsumiya and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s wistful score. Kogonada’s sophomore film showed an increased level of confidence and beauty from his already high standard set in Columbus as he explored a pseudo sci-fi world while touching on timeless ideas. After Yang feels like one that will elicit a different reaction every time I re-watch it – the mark of a great film. It’s not that its bittersweet portrayals of memory, family, identity, and grief were less profound the first time I watched it, it’s that I’ve now amassed a year of memories that have caused me to look at the film at a different angle. Like my grandmother passing away, or my sons growing and learning. And I suspect that my reactions will continue to evolve as I amass more memories when I watch the film next year, and the year after, and so on.
Writer and director Hirokazo Kore-eda understands that this life is mostly only bearable if we’re not going through it alone. His Palme d’Or winner Shoplifters shares a thematic thread with Broker, in that both deal with families who have been forged through fire. Broker turns a story about a ragtag group of orphans and loners into a meditation on looking out for each other. Add in a subplot about our preternatural need to seek forgiveness, and you have one of the most emotionally rich films of the year. Of all the films this year that tapped into today’s culture wars and talking points – notably Happening and Women Talking – Broker resonated most with me because of its perfect blend of humor, sharp dialogue, rich performances and nuanced sentimentality.
Decision to Leave
Decision to Leave is more than another tale of a policeman who falls in love with the prime suspect in a murder. Yes, that is what the film is about, but Korean auteur Park Chan-wook is more interested in what compels two diametrically opposed souls to come crashing together. It’s longing, it’s understanding one another’s quirks and passions, it’s the inescapable feeling that you’re incomplete without them around. Immaculately edited by Kim Sang-bum and beautifully shot by cinematographer Kim Ji-young, Decision to Leave trades Park’s penchant for violence but retains his labyrinthine plotting to create 2022’s most romantically complex film. Even if the film doesn’t ultimately rank as the best of Park’s work, it’s only because he’s set the bar so incredibly high already. Most detective thrillers are rewatchable solely to spot any indicators of the crimes being committed, and while there is that factor with Decision to Leave, it’s one I’ll revisit to soak up every salacious detail within Park’s densely intricate world again and again.
I Didn’t See You There
Movies are a vehicle for empathy, which is the perfect way to describe Reid Davenport’s invigorating documentary I Didn’t See You There. The film may not concern itself with the most complex subject matter, but the way Davenport goes about its discussion resonated with me beyond a pure surface level. As Davenport captures the everyday beauty throughout our world, he posits some thought-provoking discussions about how those with disabilities are perceived in our world – not to mention how they literally get around. That the film essentially unfolds as from his point of view makes it all the more poignant. Especially when he is haunted by the circus unfurling across the street, and their history with the “freak shows”. Indeed, Davenport’s home town is the same of PT Barnum, who popularized the circus and the freak show, a happenstance detail that shows that Davenport will never be able to get away from how the world views the disabled. The best films, and the best documentaries, allow us to see outside ourselves, from the perspective of someone else. With I Didn’t See You There, it’s impossible not to do so.
Jordan Peele’s third feature wasn’t the immediate crowd-pleaser that his previous films were, and I left the theater feeling a little let down. But the more I sat with Nope, and the more I marinated on all of its different elements, the more it burrowed under my skin, and the more I loved it. The film may not be as frightening as Us, or as satirical as Get Out, but it tackles a nuanced conversation about entertainment, fame – and infamy – and exploitation that only Peele could provide. Indeed, Nope employed Peele’s finely tuned sense of humor in several key scenes, often right before or right after unveiling some truly horrifying imagery. Featuring Hoyte van Hoytema’s gorgeous cinematography and Oscar-worthy sound design, Peele also stepped his game up considerably behind the camera, creating a number of spectacular shots that paid homage to classics like Close Encounters, The Shining, and Akira. Peele’s film was easily my most anticipated of the year, and Nope is a film that hasn’t strayed far from my mind since I first saw it, and will likely warrant several rewatches until his next film.
Much like 2021 was a stacked year for musical films, 2022 was a stacked year for action blockbusters. And none exploded via word of mouth like a herd of wild animals out of a truck onto the scene like RRR. Simultaneously an alternate-reality action-adventure set against British Imperialism in the vein of Inglourious Basterds, but also a bromance featuring two of India’s real national heroes with some songs and dancing thrown in, S.S. Rajamouli’s film shattered our expectations for what an action film could be, putting Marvel and DC films with twice the budget on VFX alone to shame. Over the course of three exhilarating hours, RRR ups the ante from one outrageous fight sequence to the next, and when it lets up on the brakes, it shifts to a better-than-it-ought-to-be love story and a tale of redemption. I saw plenty of great films in theaters and it pains me to have not seen RRR in a packed house to soak in every bonkers stunt and set piece. Cinema came back to life in 2022, and RRR gave audiences a chance to see what the world had to offer.
I have to admit that, before TÁR was announced, I had never heard of Todd Field, or his films. But then again, that will happen when a director hasn’t made a movie in 16 years, the last of them being a quiet (but still stunning) indie melodrama. What I’ve come to learn this year is that Field is one of our contemporary giants at crafting powerful and smart films that connect with the greater American mentality, and TÁR is no exception. Field spends the better part of two hours building up the world of Lydia Tár, a virtuoso orchestral composer (and real person) preparing for the biggest performance of her career, only to implode her world in stunning fashion in the final act. Part character study and part MeToo parable, Cate Blanchett delivers the best performance of the year as she fully inhabits a character that has grown accustomed to praise and acclaim to a dangerous degree. We never see any improprieties on screen, but Field masterfully implies every misdeed and thinly veiled power play from Lydia. Also deployed with brilliant restraint is Lydia’s mounting frustration with virtually everything around her; she’s a perfectionist living in an imperfect world, and her contempt for life’s little annoyances is brilliantly portrayed by Blanchett. You don’t have to be a musician, a music historian, or interested in classical music to understand the world of Lydia Tár, you simply have to be willing to have the conversation with how someone so ruthless and so cunning could be praised so heavily. And given the world we live in now, it’s a question that’s impossible to escape.
Top Gun: Maverick
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. A 36-years-too-late sequel to a middling Navy recruitment ad masquerading as a movie was supposed to just happen and leave our collective consciousness shortly afterwards like so many other ill-advised legacy sequels. Instead, Tom Cruise, Joseph Kosinski, and Top Gun: Maverick came roaring in at Mach 10.2 to remind us that blockbusters don’t have to feel flat and lifeless, to remind us that actors are willing to do whatever it takes to entertain us. There was hardly a week that went by during the film’s theatrical run which somehow lasted most of the summer (virtually unheard of in the 2020s) where I didn’t contemplate going back to see it on the big screen, a testament to the sheer excitement brought on by big planes going real fast and being real loud. But the film packed in enough heart as well, with Jennifer Connelly giving a better performance than anyone had any right to expect, and Cruise’s reunion with Val Kilmer providing a solemn reminder of the relentless march of time. It’s nothing new to say that Tom Cruise is out to cheat death and put it on film for our entertainment, and after experiencing the thrill ride of Top Gun: Maverick, who am I to stop him?
Movie of the Year: Marcel the Shell With Shoes On
I took a different approach to my top 10 list in 2022 as compared to years past. In addition to picking the “best” films of the year – movies that had the most intellectual screenplay or the most nuanced performances or had something profound to say about the state of the world – I went by which films left me with a radiating sense of joy, a love for movies that can’t be easily replicated. Each of these films on this list fits that criteria, but Marcel the Shell With Shoes On stands above the rest because it most closely mirrors the world I want to emulate. Whenever I began to feel frustrated in my career path, my financial status, my lack of a social life, or any other aspect of my life that wasn’t going according to plan, I found myself thinking about Marcel (and the uniquely personal circumstances in which I saw the film), and my mood instantly brightened. Marcel’s ability to not only get around but to view his life as a blessing, despite whatever hardships – size-related and otherwise – come his way, speaks to my inherent optimism. Or, as the fearless Leslie Stahl would put it: “he adds new meanings to the simplest of ideas. Marcel reminds us of the true value of community, the transformative power of friendship, and the most ingenious use for a tennis ball”. Marcel may not objectively be the best film of the year compared to others on this list (though there are certainly elements of it that surpass others, like Jenny Slate and Isabella Rossellini’s hall of fame voice performances and the Disasterpeace score), but it’s the film that makes me the happiest, and the film I’ll likely return to the most. And for me, that’s enough.