THE BEST MOVIES OF 2022
The 2022 film slate offered a terrific blend of thought provoking films and a return of high octane cinematic experiences. Both sides are welcomed additions to my 14th annual year-end list. Normalcy has largely been restored and the movie industry has appeared to have completely crawled out if its hole to present to us a beautiful melding of human experience as portrayed by some of the best film in recent memory. I was humbled by some of the groundbreaking and heart shattering work I saw this year. For the sake of the list, lets remember that I choose only from feature films, documentaries are not eligible, and as always, there were a few movies I would have loved to see but missed out on. So lets talk about them. My Top 10 Films of 2022.
#10. TOP GUN: MAVERICK
Listen, I don’t know how this movie cracked the list either. Full transparency, this list is comprised of 8 films that separated themselves from the pack that I knew had to be in here, and then as many as 10 films jockeying for the remaining two spots. The common thread among all those other films is that they were expertly made but all with demoralizing shortcomings, except for Top Gun: Maverick. Maverick doesn’t set its sights on the loftiest of cinematic goals, but the targets it has it strikes with pinpoint accuracy. It aims to be a crowd-pleaser and does so with lethal efficiency. There is something to be said for a film that is as good of a film as that one film can be. While many of the others left me wanting for better, this movie was the most pleasant surprise of the year. There is truth in the platitude “they don’t make movies like that anymore” when being applied to Maverick. The part that is often left out, however, is the “and for good reason.” They don’t make movies like this anymore because they can’t and probably shouldn’t. Everything like this typically feels derivative, or middling, or like egregious fan service, or like self-parody. Somehow Maverick taps into the nostalgia heavily but leaves enough room for new ideas to breathe. It also amazingly feels like a fitting and natural sequel despite the 36 (!!!) years of lapse between this movie and the original. If not for the tremendous visual advancements, our children might think these movies were released 3 years apart and would probably think “they didn’t use enough aging make-up on Tom Cruise, isn’t he supposed to look 30 years older?” The film’s only merit is not that nails what intends to be, because that would allude to the idea that this is a safe film, which is categorically untrue. The stunts and aerial effects are the best ever captured, the editing is excellent, the action sequences are enthralling, and there’s a simple but impactful emotional nerve that reverberates through the duration of the film. The movie, much like its protagonists, is confident bordering on arrogance. And at time when theatres needed it the most, it’s probably the most fun you and your whole family could have at the movies all year. As far as legacy, Maverick provides what should be the new blueprint for blockbuster remakes, reboots, and sequels, you know, like 80% of movies anymore. Take note, this is how it’s done.
Streaming on Paramount +
While Maverick stood out from the crop because of pure film efficiency, The Northman was the most inspired of all the slightly messy great films of the year. Robert Eggers has now made three films (The VVitch and The Lighthouse being his others) and they have all made my year end lists. His third effort is here because of its audacious scope and true sense of marvel. This is also where it differs greatly from his previous work, which were much smaller and more focused. This is still where Eggers is masterful, and even though The Northman is more ambitious in size and spectacle, the best moments are still found inches from our characters’ faces. The Northman’s early year release and divisive reviews made it so it was never going to be an award contender at year’s end, which is a shame because, on the technical side, it might be the most beautifully shot film of the year. I’m not concerned with how strange and alienating certain sequences could be when there’s a braces-clad, flying-chariot-piloting Valkyrie thumping through the cosmos. This was a jarringly handsome film, and I was transfixed on every frame. With The Northman, Eggers shows us you can’t spell gorgeous without “gore, as the film is certainly detestably violent. But the brand of violence depicted should feel detestable. Soft violence is insulting to the victim and doesn’t show the proper measure of malice of the perpetrator. The Northman doesn’t revel in its violence, but it won’t sugarcoat it either. Vikings weren’t cute, despite what DreamWorks might have you believe. And this is unquestionably the best Viking story we have to date. The imagery and components of the story are ripped straight from lore, and Eggers is so meticulous in his detailing of period that Scorsese might encourage him to loosen up a bit. The authenticity lends the film the requisite heft it needs to feel important and not just elegant. The message of violence begetting violence, and the pitfalls of vengeance are not new, but feel invigorated in this sumptuous film because it is so breathless in its execution. It is a movie weird enough to feel specific and unique even though it tells a story mired with themes thousands of years old. But it is not so offbeat that you can’t envision yourself in the vibrantly detailed world. Though the film has many triumphs this might be the most impressive and difficult task it pulls off. It feels, at once, foreign and domestic, strictly belonging to the characters, with enough space for us to live there for couple of hours.
Free to watch on Amazon Prime Video
They don’t make movies like this anymore either! It’s praise not exclusive to Top Gun this year. Decision to Leave is a hypnotic slow burn neo-noir crime story from legendary Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook. My love for Park’s work is well established in this space, as Oldboy is one of my favorite films of all time and when Bong Joon Ho took home Best Director and Best Picture Oscars in 2020 for Parasite, I was gleeful, but quick to remind that he still wasn’t Korea’s best filmmaker. Decision to Leave is the special kind of film that sublimates the information it relays to you. We see more than what we are shown. The film is seductive, despite depicting very little sex or skin. It is morbid despite showing very little gore or violence. Which is perfect because a great deal of this film is more about what we feel versus what we perceive. How our emotions manipulate our senses and disguise otherwise clear truths. Decision to Leave is considered a neo-noir mostly on the back of its inventive and modern cinematography, but this is firmly nestled within conventional noir. It’s bleak and pessimistic, drenched through with brooding, the Femme Fatale is beguiling and menacing in equal measure, and it’s got more twists than a silly straw. What is unique is that our hero detective is more beholden to his integrity than most in the genre, which unfortunately for him becomes his Achilles heel. The concessions he makes in the name of love, or obsession, or both (as the film beautifully illustrates how intertwined the two are), are a cost too great for him to bear. Decision to Leave would be much lesser movie in any less capable hands because it is not about its plot. To shoot this movie as written without the subtext would make it altogether forgettable if not unrealistic and silly. The plot points are somewhat contrived, but they are there as a vessel of greater work being done. The investigations of the story are secondary to the investigation the film makes into our own psyches. What do we truly desire and why? When do we know when we are loved? Where, and how, does an acquaintance pass into a more substantial object of affection in our lives? How do we reconcile such a person being at odds with everything we hold sacred and how can we forgive ourselves for putting ourselves in that position? Gentle suggestions to these questions are posited but no answers are eminent when watching Decision to Leave, but that doesn’t make them any less pertinent. That this film was snubbed for Best Foreign Film at the Oscar will be perhaps the most confounding and aggravating miss of the entire ceremony. My favorite foreign film of the year.
Streaming on Mubi or Amazon Prime Video $5.99
Jordan Peele’s third effort is likely his most ambitious and somehow also his most overlooked. A common slight of his masterful work on Nope, is that it is multiple movies crammed into one, which is an unfair and highly misplaced criticism. True, the film has two very separate threads that run the course of the movie, and true there are two separate overarching themes at play, but the magic and mastery of the film is precisely in how Peele deftly ties these stories and themes together in such a wonderfully emotional way. For those who are understandably somewhat confounded but what Peele is reaching for with Nope, might have soured on the film outside of its striking visuals and abundant comedy, but it is the deeper metaphor at play that makes the film special. The two main concepts that I could discern were the indictment our obsession with spectacle and also our relationship with tokenism, both historically and currently. The former speaks for itself with blatant imagery, like the alien’s mouth resembling the aperture of a camera and the reflective helmet of the TMZ motorcycle reporter revealing a constant mirror of our own obsession. Here the person themselves is never seen, only instead what we focus on. Our ever-wandering eye bouncing back at us. The latter plays out through Steven Yuen’s tragic “Jupe” character. Jupe is unfortunately beholden to his trauma. He clings to his token acceptance into his industry, built on the back of his otherness. An Asian child actor of the 90’s that is famous almost solely for his ethnic singularity (a sadly realistic trope, and one such person is in line to actually shirk that yoke and win an Oscar this year for another film). His most traumatic life events have been recycled into the remaining vestiges of his livelihood and by extension his whole identity. This becomes all he knows, that people love spectacle, people love the unpredictability and danger of the unfamiliar. This is depicted gracefully in the most horrifying scene of the film and likely the year as the Chimpanzee on Jupe’s childhood show infamously snaps and rampages on the entire in group before recognizing Jupe as not one of his exploiters but a fellow exploited. A sideshow. A token. Someone less than human specifically there for the in-group to marvel and gawk at his difference. This is unsurprisingly one of the most enjoyable movies to analyze and I am aware that this entire review leans heavily toward that instead of relaying the brighter aspects of the plot and performances. But this astute contemplation from Peele is why Nope is one of the best films of the year, regardless of how entertaining the film is and how marvelous the performances are. Peele is one of the most important voices in film today, and not solely because he’s funny.
Streaming on Peacock
Of all the legendary director vanity projects out there, Spielberg’s is the one that seems to be the most sincere and has the most to say outside of its inherently biographical nature. The film follows Sammy Fabelman, a thinly veiled stand-in for Spielberg himself, as he navigates his adolescence into young adulthood and his burgeoning love of filmmaking. This not entirely original setting, however, provides the backdrop for the larger theatre at play, which is the recounting of a dissolution of a family. The Fabelmans would argue that Sammy’s obsession with film provides him uniquely attuned insight and rare perspective to unfortunately all too common domestic struggles. His parents, played admirably by Michelle Williams and an entirely underrated turn from Paul Dano, are rifting at the fault lines and Sammy's camera is there to capture the unrest. The film vacillates between Sammy the young prodigy and Sammy the flesh and bone middle son of a family in crisis. By doing so, it poses the argument of how much we are active players in our own lives versus how much we simply frame the details that are largely beyond our control into a digestible story. In framing what goes into and more importantly what is left out of stories we impact the messages and lesson found within. Spielberg’s latest film is as much about the love of film making as it is about the inherent limitations and at times inevitable perversion of reality found in film. It reminds us that while memory is mailable and can contour to external emotions, filmstock is permanent and pristine, at times cold and unerring, yet not at all complete. Film is sheet music, memory is the song, as it were. The Fabelmans suggests several times that Sammy’s filmmaking is simultaneously the cause of and solution to many of his problems, and in doing so, paired with the knowledge of how intimate a portrait this is of the filmmaker, reveals Spielberg himself as tragic. He escapes behind his camera to make better sense of the world he is becoming increasingly less engaged in. The deeply personal nature of the project exhaustingly sieges the images of the film, and you can feel and partially share in the catharsis at play for Spielberg. All of his special talent is displayed here to create a lovingly visceral film.
Each year it seems that one of my favorite movies of the year is incredibly divisive among audiences and critics. This year that movie was Damien Chazelle’s dizzying enterprise of excess Babylon. There are several fair critiques of this film and there are several opinions from critics I respect that weren’t as enamored with the movie as I was. But perhaps the most common criticism I’ve heard, that the film is messy and unfocused, is the one that perplexes me the most. The movie blasts the doors open at an 11 and seldom slows down, but in no way did I ever find the movie to lose focus. It’s frenetic and unrelenting, but never tiresome, which to me is one of the film’s great plaudits. To say a film is too hectic, too jumbled, too bombastic are not new critiques. Similar ones were lobbed at The Wolf of Wall Street, Pulp Fiction, Apocalypse Now, and Citizen Kane in their own time. I am NOT attempting to insert Babylon alongside those films, some of the best ever made, but it does still smack of that familiar feeling that movies with the audacity to go for broke get labelled as messy. This complaint appears to come from people who evidently never caught the moving train that is Babylon. Once you surrender to film’s undeniable rhythm, everything else falls in to focus. The movie had maybe 6 or 7 of the 10 most exhilarating sequences of the year with the astoundingly provocative opening being one of the highlights. But it also had one of the scariest scenes of the year delving into opium fueled catacombs of forgotten old Hollywood spectacle, one of the funniest scenes unsuccessfully tiptoeing the obstacles of early sound pictures, and a typical Chazellian crescendo of an ending that reminds us that while the sausage is horrifying to make it is eternally delicious once on the plate. Babylon is one of the most profoundly poignant portrayals of how the industry will bend people to compromise their better judgement, hurt themselves and ones they love all in sacrifice of the one holy noble cause of great cinema. We see, firsthand, all that is broken to capture the otherwise ethereal. The golden hour moments, and close up tears, that fill us with splendor and surrogate our own emotions, allowing us to feel without having to endure that makes it all so special. And in the opinion of the film, also worthwhile, despite its hideous warts. And we are treated to this while the undoubted best score of the year blares out. Among an outstanding cast, Margo Robbie and Diego Calva shine brightest in their respective lead roles. Both of them feel like glaring omissions from the awards race. Robbie in particular gives the must guttural, physical performance of the entire year. She flits and flails and flat out oblates herself to the performance. In the end I find myself shaking my head in reluctant respect for Chazelle and his team’s efforts because I don’t know who else could have helmed this beast. He is one of the most exciting filmmakers today and this, while not his best film, is certainly his magnum opus. This is NOT a love letter to Hollywood, nor is it hate mail. Babylon is instead a testimony of abuse, unfortunately from one who will willingly return to the abuser.
Here’s a movie that features a kung fu fighting sequence against a character with an enormous butt plug protruding from his ass. Yes, it is the current front runner for Best Picture, why do you ask? The greatest spiritual crisis mankind faces right now is unquestionably how we handle the world of the internet age. Everything Everywhere All at Once (henceforth referred to as EEAAO), is not the first film to tackle this concept. Bo Burnham’s Inside, this year’s We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, and several others take on the topic head on. But EEAAO finds a way to burrow into the gut of the madness and excavate the key conundrum. If everything matters, then does anything matter? Over two hours and nineteen minutes director/writers Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert tour us through the progression of existential nihilism all the while treating us to some of the most outlandishly hilarious set pieces of the year. It is impossible for me to decide if the movie is more funny or more profound, which meshes perfectly with me because my most frequent response to profundity is indeed to undercut it with humor lest I slip into some authentic moment of realization. Who has time for that? Michelle Yeoh is the vessel that traverses these tricky waters and Ke Huy Quan is the tide that raises all boats. The supporting cast is excellent, and Stephanie Hsu and Jamie Lee Curtis nabbed their first Oscar Nominations for their resplendent work, but Yeoh and Quan are such inspired casting decisions. This is the rare film that fully leans into the unique skill set of its lead. Yeoh is funny and emotive and still remarkably athletic as our put-upon superhero. She is a sight to behold. Quan though, might be the best story of the year. Indiana Jones’ own "Short Round" hasn’t exactly been the busiest actor in recent decades but here he is perfect. Literally perfect. He finds such dignity and exudes such gentleness in his character that you fall in love with him almost immediately. The Best Supporting Actor field is crowded with phenomenal performances and likely better actors, but this is Quan’s, and no one who saw the film would deny him the honor. In truth, writing this review is a bit frustrating because there is too much to unpack and what of the film’s greatness that can be reduced to words already has been and likely stated better. EEAAO is a visionary journey and needs to be experienced to even remotely be extrapolated. It is a story about family sure, but its also a deeply personal exploration of how we face the backbreaking certainty of the world. We used to fear the unknown and now we cower under the tremendous weight of knowing too much. Do we despair and give in to our base cynicisms? Or if we are brave enough to follow that tunnel deeper, do we realize that if nothing matters, then that means all that matters is how we treat each other? In a world where everyone and everything is visible and knowable, will we realize that WE are all that there is? More movies will inevitably try their hand at understanding our place in our newly hyperreal world, and some of them I’m sure will be great and even enlightening. I am not sure any will capture the feeling more than Everything Everywhere All At Once does.
Available on Showtime
Charlotte Wells’ Aftersun is the most tender film I have seen since Moonlight. It is also one of the most impressive directorial debuts I have ever seen. It also might just be the best film of the year. The plot follows an 11-year-old girl on holiday in the Turkish seaside with her father who is recently divorced from her mother. Over 101 of the 102 minutes we are a party to their adventures and conversations as seemingly innocuous occurrences in the larger tapestry of their lives. Moving monographs of the unspectacular stroll across the screen, yet as they accumulate, they begin to presage some deeper, underlying, ineffable but undeniable feeling. These quietly pulsating inklings are eventually given credence in the film’s 102nd and final minute. These memories become more than loving reminiscences, but instead shards of a fragmented answer to a desperate question. This trip, in a manner not overtly expressed in the film, would be the last time the girl would see her father. Now an adult and mother in her own right, she re-watches footage of the vacation captured on home video trying to find the elusive truth as to what may have happened. What could she see now that couldn’t see then? The final shot of the film is the most incapacitating in recent memory and paints all that precedes with a devastating melancholy. The movie begins to replay in the viewer’s mind, in fast forward, the moment the final image sets in. Aftersun captures the true nature of memory, and more importantly how we use memory as a vessel to the past to better understand our present. It is a film about family, and hurt, and inextinguishable guilt that comes with grief. It is about our longing to resee things under new light with new perceptions that weren’t afforded to us initially, begging to find evidence to either absolve or indict us and allow us from underneath the crushing uncertainty. Wells shows us this with the most remarkable restraint of any film this year. Stacking brick by brick a structure we are too close to to decipher until it has enveloped us. Paul Mescal’s performance as the father is unfortunately the only nomination the film got from the Academy this year, and his work is undeniable. The direction and editing are also absolute top-drawer stuff. The screenplay is likely a mite too abstract and not showy enough for most audiences to recognize how spectacular it is. It feels more like literature than screenplay but it does contain mesmerizing visual storytelling. Watching Aftersun challenges us to explore our own past and to splash around in the sometimes unpleasant waters of our memories. This may be uncomfortable, but necessary as a method of deepening our own understanding of ourselves but also of those we have lost. We owe it to both.
Available on Amazon Prime Video $4.99
"Ennui" is a French word that captures the feeling of listlessness and melancholy brought on by stunted development and lack of meaning or excitement. I have never seen a stronger depiction of ennui than what we see in Martin McDonagh’s newest and best film, The Banshees of Inisherin. Peculiar then that it happens to be likely the funniest movie of the year as well. I was awed by the film’s ability to charm so effortlessly while recounting such a grim and depressing tale. The simple story unveils a central conflict of an old friendship torn asunder by one friend's sudden and largely inexplicable decision to sever ties. The friends here being McDonagh staples and In Bruges companions Brendan Gleeson as Colm and a never better Colin Farrell Padraic. Adding Padraic's (the defriended) frustration is the remote and claustrophobic setting of the small Irish island. The inevitability and frequency that these two will cross paths in the narrow corridors of Inisherin make it feel closer to a marital spat than a falling out. The reason given for the separation amounts to little more than Colm growing tiresome of Padraic's limited insights, and his crisis of mortality pushing him to strive for something more substantial. Outside of our central two we have some of the best supporting performances of the year from Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan. Keoghan especially shines despite the dimness of his character. The exciting young actor finds an eccentricity in his character that feels so authentic and a wounded vulnerability that makes him sympathetic before he utters a word. The philosophical contemplations that unfold beneath the otherwise modest story are deep and plentiful. As the events spiral, mild transgressions and tempered decisions to improve oneself slowly descend into irredeemable tragedy. "What do we owe to each other?" the film muses. Banshees explores the unfortunate consequences that can emerge when our self-fulfillment and obligation to others find themselves at odds. At any point Colm could concede his crusade and find compromise with his old friend. At any point Padraic could respect the wishes of his friend and attempt to move on without him. But as those choices are shirked time and again the two track themselves toward mutual, stubborn oblivion. There is a delightful scene that adds additional meditation where the characters discus if it is more important to be remembered as great or as kind. Colm tells Podraic that no one will remember who was nice but that everyone knows who Mozart is. To which Padraic replies “Well I don’t," which is the perfect microcosm of the issue at hand. Padraic poignantly defends the notion that debt of decency to each other is important while also illustrating precisely why Colm has grown weary of his friendship to Padraic. Is our legacy to strangers more valuable than the immediate impact we have on our loved ones? Is it vanity to pursue greatness at the expense of those that have loved and cared for us? Add to this all that the film also serves as pretty remarkable allegory for “The Troubles” of 20th century Ireland, and all of the sudden this slight little fable sneakily becomes the one of the most sophisticated and thought-provoking films of the year. And its damn funny too, don’t forget. Not any of the plot points of course, those are nightmarishly gloomy, but the manner in which those events are presented are hilarious. It is astounding how much this movie can say and do while never being too far removed from a good laugh. I can’t remember the last time I have seen it done so seamlessly. I left the movie with my sides busted from laughter yet also compelled to hug my family (and especially my dog) a little closer once I got home. That’s a special achievement.
Streaming on HBO Max
This year’s best film had the best lead performance quite possibly since Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood. Cate Blanchett is very likely the best working actor we have today and witnessing the nuance she brings to her character, Lydia Tar, is astonishing. Tar is somewhat being mislabeled as “the cancel culture movie” and while that is certainly one aspect the film explores, to try to distill the film into one narrative does great injustice to its depth. Lydia Tar is a powerhouse in the classical music industry. The film follows her fall in the wake of a handful converging scandals, as she acts as a stand-in for any number of once-believed, above the law, figures who have received their comeuppance in recent years for their misdeeds. But the film explores so much more than just whether or not cancel culture is good, or equitable. I find it to be a film about the corrosive nature of power and influence, and the slow deterioration of virtue that comes with it. We are given a predators perspective but one that we must reckon with because while Lydia is cold and some might say pretentious, she is talented, dedicated and passionate. We learn she is a rags to riches story, from small town America to the heights of the classical music world, without a morsel of the influence that many who achieve that feat benefit from. But along the way she becomes the monster she is when we meet her. She scratched and clawed and earned every shred of her influence and unfortunately was corrupted by it, indulging in inappropriate relationships and squashing the lives of those perpendicular of her ascent. She is the personification of the American wet dream. The film offers no apology for her behavior but also underscores the absurdity that allows this person to emerge. Our hero worship has reached an all time high. There is no room for nuance in our dossiers of humans anymore. Tar was hero, then she was monster, never mind that she is parts of both the whole time. Technically speaking the film is perfect. Todd Field gave the best directing performance of the year and his screenplay is whip smart and trench deep. Tar is the rare film that is at once dense and also accessible. It is an arthouse popcorn flick. Every two-hander conversation set piece is ripe for analysis and each one challenges theses stated in previous scenes. The film argues with itself, but in a way of brave exploration, not misdirection. One great philosophical sparring match that takes place early in film deals with identity politics, as Lydia is teaching a college student. The student is a self proclaimed person of color and non cis and is reluctant to enjoy music from people aim to injure those identities. Lydia encouraged him to look past the discretions of the artist and focus on the brilliance of the art. She challenges him to not critique historical people through modern consciousness, and this is a stance many could agree with, but we learn that this is a moment of self-preservation for Lydia. Her moral stance once viewed as measured and mature is later reduced to nothing more than service to her own ego for her own transgressions. And yet, none of this is force fed. There is a gentle touch to every observation the film delicately explicates. This is very cerebral stuff but paradoxically the film has an ice-covered sentimentality to it as well. There is a warm heart beating under its cold, blue, calculated exterior. The intriguing ending leaves us with yet one last ponderance. If monsters are created more than born, then can they be rebuilt good again? Is everything so dualistic that people can only be good or bad? We see Lydia rightfully stricken of everything except her own talents and cunning, but perhaps entering a fledgling comeback. We are left to determine if this is permanent exile, or if she can climb the mountain once again, born anew. Tar tops this list in a year with several worthy challengers, because it challenges us. It is a movie that illuminates and educated and questions unrelentingly. It reveals to us again that the more we learn the less we seem to know. The best film of the year.
So there it is. My choices for the 10 best films of 2022. Sorry I couldn't figure out how to put the accent mark on the "A" for Tar. Please feel free to start or join the conversation in the comments. Argue about the order or the selections or gripe about your favorite movie of the year that I snubbed. The discourse is what we love the most. You can always just pretend that I just didn't see your favorite movie instead of thinking I didn't like it. Also, in case 10 wasn't enough, here are some honorable mentions.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: 11-15 IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER
ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT
AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER
Ryan Garasich 2/9/23