|Me after each of the movies on this list ended|
2022 was a strange year, though, then again, aren't all years, to some extent, strange? But 2022 was especially peculiar as we all tried to navigate what the new normal of reality was in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. There was no going back to the status quo of pre-2020, but then, what does this new world look like? It was one of many questions that dominated people's minds in such an oddball year. Throughout the uncertainty of 2022 was a tidal wave of new movies. As with any other era of uncertainty in the history of the world, movies, like any medium of artistic expression, can be a great way to escape the confines of reality, come to terms with everyday hardships, or even do both of those things at the same time. Such is the magic of cinema.
Having seen well over 210 movies released into theaters and streamers throughout 2022, this year certainly offered a little bit of something for everyone. Much like last year's features, I was constantly impressed with how many artists still had the energy, creativity, and determination to realize new movies in the face of the countless hardships facing the everyday world. Movies haven't gotten lost in the wave of headline-grabbing calamities that have shaken humanity in 2022. On the contrary, they've helped us all make sense of the world we inhabit and inspire us to understand our neighbors a little better.
Movies can be anything and 2022's best features proved that's just as true today as it was in 1922. Whether it was cannibal love stories, a multiverse adventure romp with an intimate emotional scope, or a Norwegian lady who was just the worst in the best possible way, the cinema of 2022 went all over the map and was all the better for it. It was hard to whittle down this list to just 25 entries (even extending things to include an honorable mentions section wasn't enough to ensure there weren't some heartbreaking exclusions from this list), but that's just a testament to the burning passion for creativity that informed the filmmaking scene of 2022.
First up, a handful of honorable mentions that narrowly missed getting onto this list...
Honorable mentions: The Northman, The Eternal Daughter, Beba, Jackass Forever, On the Count of Three, Neptune Frost, Till, Pearl, All That Breathes, A Night of Knowing Nothing, Barbarian
And now, the top 25 movies of 2022, which, as in years prior, is delivered in alphabetical order save for one movie that rose to the very top among all other movies this year. Let's begin with...
After YangKogonada demonstrated such a gift for quietly moving storytelling in the 2017 movie Columbus. His follow-up to that feature, After Yang, does not disappoint in maintaining that intimacy and subtle poignancy while also expanding out the scope of his storytelling to include the world of tomorrow. The whole thing would be impressive already by being a rumination on what makes us human hinging on a robot that doesn't instantly make you wish you were watching A.I.: Artificial Intelligence instead. The fact that it's also such a compelling feature on its own terms instead (right down to the tiny touches like the subtle depictions of how things like taxis have evolved in the future) just reinforces not only the greatness of After Yang but the filmmaking chops of Kogonada.
It's always difficult going into a movie that's already been hyped up so much on the film festival circuit. What may have blown away people going in cold at the Toronto International Film Festival or Sundance Film Festival can risk coming off as underwhelming to those entering the proceedings with lofty expectations. Thankfully, Aftersun is that glorious case where all the film festival hype may have undersold just how great this directorial debut from Charlotte Wells is. This tale of a father and daughter on vacation in Turkey just gets more and more fascinating and emotionally stirring as it goes along, especially in its evolving depictions of how the past bleeds into the present. Anchored by two great lead performances from Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio, Aftersun's gifts as a piece of filmmaking will resonate long after its film festival hype has vanished from memory.
All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is about trailblazer painter Nan Goldin. Actually, it's about the opioid crisis and the Sackler family's role in this tragedy. Actually, it's about protests...and also the HIV/AIDS Crisis, not to mention the flourishing queer scene in New York City of the 1970s. In truth, director Laura Poitras manages to make All the Beauty and the Bloodshed about all these things at once. Not only does her filmmaking avoid feeling overstuffed, but it's also impossible to imagine the film without any of its various pieces. Poitras provides the connective tissue between all these disparate elements (such as the AIDs crisis and the opioid epidemic being defined by similar instances of U.S. government indifference) that makes it clear both why these concepts inhabit the same movie and how they resonate with Goldin personally. American institutions often turn a blind eye to those who need help the most, but Goldin's paintings were always there to provide a reflection of society's outcasts. It's only fitting her life would be chronicled in such a moving piece of filmmaking like All the Beauty and the Bloodshed that carries on the underlying themes of her paintings and so much more.
Bad Axe concerns director David Siev returning to his hometown of Bad Axe, Michigan to chronicle his family (which includes his father, a survivor of the Cambodian Genocide) navigating what to do with their restaurant throughout all the chaos of 2020, including the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic and an increasingly apparent Neo-Nazi presence in their hometown. Bad Axe juggles a lot of material with deft skill and a willingness to go bleak. Siev isn't afraid to confront the darker interactions between his loved ones nor the most horrifying instances of racism and aggression from other Bad Axe, Michigan residents. The unflinching nature of Bad Axe, combined with such a detailed and emphatic portrayal of a family enduring times of hardship, makes for a stirring motion picture.
The Banshees of Inisherin
As someone who is plagued with fears about close friends never talking to me or suddenly abandoning me (rejection-sensitive dysphoria is a pain, y'all), the central concept behind The Banshees of Inisherin wasn't so much the premise of a dark comedy but rather the stuff of nightmares! Discomforting personal relevance aside, this new Martin McDonagh feature was fantastic, a tour de force for its primary actors as well as a marvelous showcase for the gifts of supporting player Kerry Condon. The consistently dark atmosphere of McDonagh's work is here recontextualized to serve as a fascinating referendum on how man's eternal desire for conflict can only lead to ruin. Banshees will have you laughing one minute before making you truly melancholy or even appropriately uncomfortable the next. Not everybody could handle such a complicated tone. But Martin McDonagh navigates this style of filmmaking with aplomb.
Bones and All
The year's best cannibal romance story was an enjoyable strange beast. Bones and All functioned as an eerie thriller, an intoxicating tale of love, and even a moving portrait of various gorgeous American landscapes. The result? A film that was as unique as it was emotionally affecting. The bold creative sensibilities of the project were encapsulated by Mark Rylance's gung-ho performance as Sully. Comical, threatening, and pathetic all at once, Rylance perfectly captured the multi-faceted nature of Bones and All. It didn't hurt that the film also closed out on an instantly unforgettable Trent Reznor tune.
Broker chronicles, as one of its main characters puts it, "a van full of liars." But within those lies is a lot of emotional truth that proves transfixing to watch come floating to the surface. Broker is the latest Hirokazu Koreeda directorial effort concerning ramshackle families (a theme he covered beautifully in is 2018 masterpiece Shoplifters) and is the newest feature from this director to register as thoroughly impressive. What's especially great about Broker is its willingness to embrace morally complicated characters and situations with empathy rather than judgment. Broker invites viewers to examine these fictional individuals, and the people around ins the real world, with a bit more compassion without lapsing into unbearable schmaltz. In other words, it's no lie to dub Broker something special.
Cha Cha Real Smooth
Good crowdpleaser entertainment can seem so effortless when you're watching it, but it takes a lot of work to make a film that can really stir your smile and make you smile. After all, if it was easy to do, wouldn't every feature make you wanna cheer? That's what makes the Cooper Raiff directorial effort Cha Cha Real Smooth such a delight. It's just the kind of low-key crowdpleaser comedy you'd expect to find getting buzz at the Sundance Film Festival (where it premiered at the start of the year), but there's a specificity to the characters and their storylines, not to mention an earned sense of joy, that makes the film work so well. It doesn't hurt that Cha Cha Real Smooth also nonchalantly features the kind of delightful autism representation most movies never come close to realizing. If you want to be reminded of what a great art cheerful feel-good entertainment can be, then give this one a watch.
Costa Brava, Lebanon
Confined largely to just one house, the main family of Costa Brava, Lebanon is isolated from the rest of the world but they become like old friends to the viewer long before the credits begin to roll. Written and directed by Mounia Akl (Clara Roquet also penned the screenplay), this feature delves deep into the often conflicting desires of these parents and their two daughters while creating a compelling ticking clock out of an ever-growing pile of garbage. Akl shows remarkable skills as a director with her work here, especially with how she repeatedly uses depth of field to suggest how deeply connected different people and locations are even when they're a great deal apart. Those shots are just one of the many subtle details scattered throughout Costa Brava, Lebanon that make it soar as a contemplation on what it means to lead a "safe" or "fulfilling" life.
Decision to Leave
It was a good year for detectives at the movies (see also: Benoit Blanc's second adventure in Glass Onion) and it's no wonder that was the case since the great filmmaker Park Chan-wook embarked on a movie about sleuths this year. Per usual for one of the director's works, Decision to Leave was a twisty tale with shocking revelations, but also like his prior features, Decision to Leave was not just getting by on cheap shock value and contrived plot turns. There's a narrative elgenace and intoxicating eroticism to this story about a detective who becomes too enamored with a lady whose also a potential murderer. These qualities ensure that the assorted twists and big developments in Decision to Leave actually mean something and ensure you're always on the edge of your seat. Would you expect any less from Park Chan-wook?
Rather than function as a hagiographic ode to director Steven Spielberg's past, The Fabelmans went in a much more interesting direction as an autobiographical drama. A meditation on the complicated nature of our parents as well as the ways films can impact us as human beings, writers Spielberg and Tony Kushner made something that could captivate both Spielberg devotees and novices alike. The incredible visual sensibilities of Spielberg as a filmmaker and a murderer's row of top-notch performances (Seth Rogen was such ingenious casting as a fun uncle) cemented The Fabelmans as an impressive directorial effort even by the standards of Spielberg.
Trying to recapture the magic of Knives Out with a sequel should've been the ultimate folly. Instead, writer/director Rian Johnson delivered an incredibly fun romp with Glass Onion that proved so exciting in all the ways it differentiated itself from its predecessor. A more complicated narrative structure was just one of the many ways Glass Onion functioned as far more than just an encore of Knives Out. Johnson's filmmaking is packed with tiny intricacies that make the whole production work so well, but it's also just a darn good time at the movies. Like the first Benot Blanc adventure, Glass Onion is crowdpleaser entertainment done oh so right.
It's been seven months since I saw Happening in a theater and I still can't get certain moments or images from the feature out of my head. Director Audrey Diwan's portrait of a teenage girl navigating an unwanted pregnancy in an era in France where abortions are illegal radiates quiet tension throughout its whole runtime. The meticulous sound design adds mightily to all that tension, particularly in the masterful absence of sound for key sequences. A similar level of thought is put into Happening's superb camerawork, which deftly reinforces the perspective of its lead character. One of the quieter devastating dramas of 2022, Happening still provides a mighty loud impact through its thoughtful filmmaking.
Leonor Will Never Die
Leonor Will Never Die follows in the footsteps of projects like the works of Joe Dante that are so meta about movies while also reminding viewers why they love this medium in the first place. Writer/director Martika Ramirez Escobar deftly blends fiction and "reality" in telling the entertaining yarn of an older woman who ends up stumbling into the world of her unfinished screenplay. Said script is for an over-the-top action feature and Leonor wrings so much great material out of juxtaposing an ordinary person with such maximalist surroundings. The tributes to vintage Filipino action films are delightfully realized, but the rich humanity of the movie (especially in the incredible lead performance from Sheila Francisco) is what really gives it a kick. Dante would be proud of Leonor Will Never Die, which is one of the highest compliments you can give a movie.
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is about...a shell named Marcel (Jenny Slate) who wears shoes. Sounds simple enough in concept, but in execution, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On packs a fierce emotional wallop that sneaks up on you. Director Dean Fleischer-Camp (who also penned the script with several other writers, including Slate) commits to a quiet atmosphere that allows the most devastating moments of Marcel the Shell to sneak up on you. This is a movie that doesn't poke you in the ribs about when it's time to cry, but gradually draws out tears as you realize how invested you've become in a stop-motion animated shell. The quietly outstanding animation (it's a marvel to see how such stylized characters feel like they fit into their live-action surroundings) and steady stream of unforgettable comedic lines reinforce just how special Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is. More movies should really wring so much pathos out of such simple concepts.
There wasn’t a better blockbuster this year than Nope, which functioned as Jordan Peele’s inaugural foray into big-budget filmmaking. Peele had more tools than ever to work with here (including glorious 70mm IMAX cameras), but he also made great use of his previously established gifts as a director, like his ability to weave well-timed suspense or draw out rich performances from his actors. Above all else, though, Nope delivered just what you’d want out of a summertime movie: being wildly entertaining. Wielding a hefty dose of imagination in addition to a sizable budget, Nope was blockbuster filmmaking done oh so right.
Director Celina Sciamma returned to making movies about adolescents navigating growing up with Petite Maman. Anyone expecting a hollow retread of her earlier works like Water Lillies or Girlhood with this return was in for a glorious surprise with this incredibly moving tale about a young girl who encounters an adolescent version of her mom. The most memorable moments of Petita Maman, like our protagonist encountering the woman who would become her grandmother, take full ingenious advantage of the emotional possibilities of this high-concept premise. Meanwhile, the gorgeous backdrops, infused with the colors of autumn, lend a quiet bittersweet feeling to the whole production that's impossible to shake. There are so many reasons why Petite Maman was one of the best movies to grace theaters in 2022, including the simple fact that no other feature this year had that hysterical play the two little girls put on.
Guillermo del Toro finally directed a fully-animated movie in 2022. The concept of this auteur letting his imagination run wild in the confines of an animated setting alone is enough to get one's excitement bubbling, but the fact that his filmmaking skills were applied to a stop-motion animated retelling of Pinocchio is just even more enticing. Infused with genuine heart but also delightful streaks of scariness (what an ingenious idea to have Pinocchio initially walk around like Gabriel from Malignant), Pinocchio's world is made all the more engrossing thanks to the compelling textures and character designs realized in its stop-motion animation. Through this medium, which has always lent a sense of tangiblity to the impossible, del Toro's penchant for making the monstrous human is more vividly alive than ever.
Riotsville, USA isn't just the title of this Sierra Pettengill documentary, it's also an actual location chronicled within this movie. Riotsville was a fake town built by U.S. military to offer soldiers and police officers a place to train for how to handle riots. Within this domicile, the dehumanization of marginilized populations is normalized and laid bare for all to see. Pettengill makes incredible use of haunting archive footage of military officials carrying out operations within Riotsville that would eventually be replicated in the real world to suppress protests. Riotsville, USA takes pre-existing footage (including news interviews with Black protestors) and emphasizes the quiet ways these pieces of media minimize the humanity of the marginalized. It's a difficult watch (especially thanks to Jace Clayton's unnerving score), but even more so, Riotsville, USA is an incredibly important and well-made feature.
You don't just get a movie with RRR. You get a four-course cinematic meal! No matter what your interests are in the wide world of films, director S.S. Rajamouli has you covered here. If you like a searing indictment of colonialism, RRR is your movie. If you want one of the all-time great musical numbers in all of cinema, just look for RRR. A delightfully sincere friendship between dudes that touches the heart, that's also in here. Action sequences heavy on tigers? RRR. Has. It. The incredible ambition of Rajamouli's filmmaking sensibilities is utterly glorious to watch unfurl, especially since he's as enamored with pathos as he is with maximalist spectacle. Plus, was there a better sequence in all of 2022 cinema than the "Naatu Naatu" musical number? The crisp editing, dazzling choreography, the bright lighting letting you appreciate all the finer visual details in this set piece...what a masterclass in musical filmmaking that never fails to make me smile.
A haunting, quiet slow-burn of a movie, Tar initially seems like an incredibly observational movie that's just about following the day-to-day life of famous composer Lydia Tar (Cate Blanchett). Writer/director Todd Field ingeniously slowly but surely pulls the rug out from under the viewer as the story goes on, though, to reveal that there's a lot more going on with Tar. It's an outright gift to watch Tar reveal its true colors to the audience, while its complicated tone makes room for both extremely eerie scenes of sparseness and darkly comical moments involving Blanchett blaring out a tune on an accordion. Tar is many incredible things, but it especially functions exceptionally well as an invitation to look closer at the systemic inequality and toxic rhetoric that's just become part of the fabric of our day-to-day lives.
Director Domee Shi already threw the gauntlet down as an artist with her 2018 short film Bao, an equally touching and darkly comical film about a mother/child relationship. She's kept that spirit alive and well with her feature-length directorial debut, Turning Red. Happily, she's also brought with this movie some unique details that differentiate Turning Red from the other entries in the Pixar canon, like zippier animation, a distinct color palette, and pop culture touchstones rooted in the early 2000s. At once something incredibly over-the-top but also deeply rooted in grounded mother/daughter dynamics, Turning Red was no mere retread of Bao but rather a vibrantly creative joy. Oh, and it also gave us the character of Abby, one of the best and most hysterically chaotic creations in all of 2022 cinema.
At the start of Women Talking, the film's narrator notes that she and the other women trapped in this Menonite colony "never talked about our bodies", which meant they "didn't have the language" to express their pain, torment, and countless other emotions after experiencing sexual abuse at the hands of the men in their community. Sarah Polley's incredible feature provides an outlet for that language to develop. Its story is confined largely to the top floor of a barn, but Women Talking's ability to explore so many varying perspectives on coping with trauma gives it a much more expansive scope than so many other globe-trotting but ultimately hollow films in 2022. Each performance in this stacked ensemble cast is impressively detailed while Polley shows such care in her measured but by no means lifeless camerawork. Women Talking as affecting as it is insightful, with Polley using the form of cinema to bolster the voices of the otherwise silent.
The Worst Person in the World
Thanks to movies like Top Gun: Maverick and the impending Avatar: The Way of Water, a lot of movie discourse in 2022 has centered around how massive spectacle is the only thing people want to see in movie theaters anymore. I can't speak for the general public, but me, I like to see every kind of movie on the big screen, even the more difficult thorny dramas like The Worst Person in the World. This feature from director Joachim Trier is a lengthy meditation on how to navigate that constant voice all adults grapple with that just says "you're not doing enough with your life." The big screen is the perfect canvas for such a yarn, with the life of Julie (Renate Reinsve) being projected on a space a massive as the most petrifying insecurities. Wherever you see The Worst Person in the World, though, it's bound to impress you, especially with its incredible performances, particularly Reinsve in the lead role.
And the best film of 2022 is...
Everything Everywhere All at Once
What is it about Everything Everywhere All at Once that makes it such a remarkable achievement? Why has this feature resonated with so many, including yours truly, on such a deeply personal level? For my money, it's the way directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert use a sense of imagination and creativity to create a connective bridge between the cavalcade of ideas present in their script. Those qualities may be obvious in a trip to a multiverse where people have hot dog fingers or an ingenious riff on Ratatouille. But Kwan and Scheinert also have the boldness to imagine that a couple of rocks and a smattering of on-screen text can capture so much emotional power. That same quality ensures that the movies climax dares to dream of an action movie concluding with love and kindness, not just violence. Everything Everywhere All at Once was a gloriously bold exercise that crafted both pathos and excitement out of a seemingly endless supply of inventiveness. Put simply, it's one of those films that reminded me why I love movies so much in the first place. Even in a year crammed with exceptional motion pictures, there really was no other choice to pick for this year's best movies of 2022 than Everything Everywhere All at Once.