The Top 10 Movies of 2022

I’ve never committed harder to keeping up with new releases than I did in 2022. Including short films, I’ve seen 86 of the movies marked with a 2022 release as of this writing, and will likely eclipse 100 by the Oscars as I cram the nominated shorts and features I’ve missed. (I currently categorize films by premiere date, not wide release date, so my grouping has some inclusions and exclusions you might not see in other rankings. When in doubt, I went by the date marked on TMDB/Letterboxd which typically matches IMDb.)

One theme of 2022 for me is that it felt dense with excellent films but light on near-masterpieces. There are no films from the year that I’m dying to rewatch, no obvious candidates for my Top 100 favorites list — but more than 20 I seriously considered for a spot on this list. The top six I locked into pretty quickly (though rearranged the sequencing quite a bit in various drafts); the next four I’ll probably wish I picked a different four moments after hitting publish.

In that spirit, for each of the ten, I’ve included another film from 2022 I loved that’s somehow similar in spirit to the Top 10 pick that I considered for this list but couldn’t find room for. Just pretend all of those are ranked here, too, and this is a stealth top 20 instead of a top 10, and even then a couple favorites slipped through the cracks.

As I watch more 2022 movies, including things I haven’t seen yet and rewatches of these movies that inspires more shuffling, this Top 10 might be upended. You’ll have to check my Year in Film page, where I maintain a complete ranking of every movies I’ve seen for the year.

(The most acclaimed films I haven’t seen yet: RRR, EO, No Bears, Return to Seoul, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, Avatar 2, Crimes of the Future, All that Breathes, Kimi, The Whale, plus loads of praised foreign films)

10. Do Revenge (Robinson, Jennifer Kaytin)

The best teen movie of the year and second-funniest overall (behind the one next on this list), Do Revenge is remarkably great until the final act — or I should probably say “final acts”: There are about three endings smushed together. Nonetheless, the film is a terrific slab of trashy rich teens quipping and backstabbing each other, one of my favorite subgenres. Robinson, who’s also a co-writer, rejuvenates the cliches and upends the stereotypes. As leads, Camila Mendes is great and Maya Hawke is even better. The poisoned pastel visual schema is terrific. And the final shot is of two kids driving down the highway singing along to the radio, which is never not the perfect final shot for a teen comedy.

(Full review)

And one more: My second-favorite teen movie of the year, this one featuring slightly more cannibalism: Bones and All (Guadagnino, Luca)

9. Banshees of Inisherin (McDonagh, Martin)

Much hullabaloo has been made about how bleak Banshees of Inisherin is, and it certainly is one of the most nihilistic dramas of the year. Less has been made about how damn funny it is. No movie made me laugh harder this year. Collin Ferrell is absolutely terrific as an exasperated 1920s Irish peasant named Pádraic. The film is not without problems: The first act is slow and, despite being shot on location, there’s a distinct lack of engagement with the beautiful setting. I also think McDonagh leans a bit too hard into the fookin’ Irish-isms in his dialogue. But once we hear that first ungodly thump of something thrown against Pádraic’s door, Banshees transforms into something special.

And one more: Another well-acted, downbeat story about two broken people baring their souls in an uneasy relationship, Causeway (Neugebauer, Lila)

Babylon' actor Diego Calva gives nod to Latino movie pioneers

8. Babylon (Chazelle, Damien)

It’s no La La Land, but that’s a high bar. Chazelle’s latest is a decadent dive into the transition from silent cinema to talkies. Its structure is essentially Boogie Nights, almost down to the scene, following an ensemble of characters impacted by the evolving industry. My biggest issue with the film is its impish gross-out humor — it literally opens with elephant shit — but it’s such a layered story that kept me riveted for more than three hours. And the ending does what Fabelmans‘ more touted finale doesn’t: it serves as an elegiac tribute to Hollywood’s greats while highlighting the film’s complex, somewhat contradictory themes.

(Full review)

And one more: Another overlong piece of sensory maximalism celebrating the rise and fall of great American art, Elvis (Luhrmann, Baz)

7. Aftersun (Wells, Charlotte)

Aftersun, the debut by Charlotte Wells, observes a weeklong vacation for a tween daughter and her early-thirties father. Every moment of the trip simultaneously means nothing and everything as we gradually contextualize that there’s more finality to this outing than either participant realizes. Frankie Corio gives the best performance by a child actor that I’ve seen in ages, unwinking and engaging, and Oscar Nominee Paul Mescal is great, too. The entire film has an aura of heartbroken nostalgia without drowning us in sentimentality. I’m cooler on the flash-forward segments, which show the daughter grown up and watching clips of the vacation on videotape; they encourage puzzle box viewing (i.e. “can we deduce the dad’s fate?”) rather than emotional immersion. And I seem to be the only one who thinks the “Under Pressure”-set climax should have been more explicitly about the father-daughter bond than it is. But I still really, really loved it.

And one more: Another semi-autobiographical story of a filmmaker revisiting their adolescence filtered through the medium: The Fabelmans (Spielberg, Steven)

6. Top Gun: Maverick (Kosinski, Joseph)

They don’t make ’em like they used to! That’s the thesis of Top Gun: Maverick which is the year’s big classical-style Hollywood hit, raking in titanic box office draw on star power and spectacle and a cracking yarn. And what do you know, it’s pretty goddamned great. The airborne set pieces, filmed practically, are visceral perfection. There’s just enough of a story, blending nostalgia for a lost age with optimism for the future, to hang it all on.

(Full review)

And one more: Another immensely entertaining piece of throwback filmmaking based on a franchise from the ‘80s: Confess, Fletch (Mottola, Greg)

5. Pearl (West, Ti)

When X released in March, the ’70s-inspired slasher was a critical and financial surprise. But the biggest surprise came a mere six months later, when West released a prequel. Pearl is much more than a bit of filler, though. It’s a total reinvention, a genre-bending delight orbiting around Mia Goth’s gravity. The colors are faux-Oz technicolor. It has the year’s best dance scene, heartbreaking and hysterical. It climaxes with an 8-minute single-shot monologue (followed by a 2-minute single-shot axe murder). In a year filled with movies about movies, this was both the best and most curdled.

(Full review)

And one more: The other slasher by Ti West starring Mia Goth, this one grimier and gorier: X

4. Tár (Field, Todd)

As Tar ended, I was sure I had just watched the next Best Picture winner. It has the brilliant direction, the timely voice, the handsome production, and the fierce energy that I associate with Best Picture winners. (It did get nominated, but betting odds have it as a long shot.) Cate Blanchett gives a powerhouse performance as an orchestra conductor whose life spirals out of control in a story that gradually escalates in pace and compounding shocks. And for a movie centered around cancel culture, the film is remarkably non-didactic, letting the viewer decide if Lydia Tar’s crumbling power is a cruel mass lynching, much-deserved comeuppance, or both. The final scene is a real corker of a punchline.

(Full review)

And one more: Another technically thrilling production about a problematic woman’s slipping grip on power: Matilda the Musical (Warchus, Matthew)

3. Everything Everywhere All At Once (Daniels)

What a strange world we live in that an indie sci-fi action-comedy as loopy as EEAAO could become an awards season powerhouse and the Best Picture frontrunner. I’m pleased that it has, though I have just a little bit of hesitation at 2022’s enduring cinematic legacy including an extended dildo fight. But for every bit of strained comedy, there’s also some otherworldly bit of creativity that builds its cinematic tower closer to the heavens. The cast is tremendous, and the emotional script centers the film on its characters more than its gimmicks. The film’s biggest accomplishment, though, is how it transforms the inherent nihilism of multiverses — where so much happens that it’s hard to find meaning in any one outcome — into a screaming cry of love against infinite odds.

(Full review)

And one more: Another visually audacious, multi-timeline consideration of radical love: Three Thousand Years of Longing (Miller, George)

2. Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (Crawford, Joel)

2022 featured a lot of forgettable mainstream animated movies. Pixar both led the pack and brought up the rear, with Turning Red and Lightyear, respectively. At least, Turning Red was my favorite mainstream animated movie of 2022 until Puss in Boots 2 completely rocked my world in December. Remember when animation was daring and fun and narratively sophisticated? Stylish and cutting-edge cool? DreamWorks remembers. (In fact, DreamWorks has stealthily emerged as the most interesting American animation studio, even if The Bad Guys didn’t work for me.) Puss in Boots 2 takes place in a morphing dreamscape as various characters hunt down a wishing star, Puss seeking an escape from his fear of death. The latter is personified in the best animated villain in decades: Death himself, a whistling, red-eyed wolf. The zippy, anime-inspired animation is the most high-octane CGI since Spider-Verse.

And one more: Another animated tour de force that reckons with our inevitable mortality: Pinocchio (del Toro, Guillermo – not Zemeckis)

1. Decision to Leave (Park Chan-wook)

Decision to Leave is an embarrassment of filmmaking riches. The neo-noir follows a sleep-deprived detective as he investigates the widow of a recently deceased businessman. The case begins to resemble a courtship that only grows stranger and darker as it comes to a close and a new murder mystery emerges. The direction is intoxicating, Park playing the audience like a fiddle. Underneath the twisted sexual politics and psychodrama, he’s pondering the ways technology can refract our humanity: step counts and cell phone alarms become clues and love letters. It’s got more twists than a pack of Red Vines and a haunting, almost spiritual, final image. No movie from 2022 gave us more, no movie is closer to a masterpiece.

And one more: Another story of a man seeking justice for murder buoyed by world-class direction and production: The Northman (Eggers, Robert)

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5 replies on “The Top 10 Movies of 2022”

I know I said I’d have a regret as soon as I hit publish, and that regret at the moment is Elvis, which I know is in your Top 10. Such a great theater experience.

Oh, and we’re dead-on agreed as regards The Last Wish, which would also be my no. 2.

When do we get your list? Can’t wait to see where We’re All Going to the World’s Fair places in your top ten.

Ha-ha. I dunno, there’s still at least ten that I need to catch up with, not least RRR.

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