2022 brought about a mixed bag of developments from current events, but cinema has provided reasons to have hope in the coming years, as Hollywood has been persistent in its push for more narrative work from filmmakers of diverse backgrounds. But while some stories are told with humility, others are overbearing with their politics to the point of smugness or possessing misguided execution. Thankfully, filmmakers from other countries are there to balance out the self-righteousness with artistic, eye-opening tales about what’s going on in their corners of the world. Films like these have been playing in multiplexes all over America, further showing that stateside theaters have opened themselves up to films from around the world on their screens, suggesting that the nation is becoming more accepting of a globalized, multicultural cinema crafted with budgets big and small. These results have allowed this particular best-of list to grow from ten entries to fifteen, as there are just that many great films to have come out this year worth writing home about. So without further ado, here is a look back at the year that was, along with the best films of 2022.
Worst Films of the Year (from 5-1): Black Adam, Jurassic World: Dominion, Halloween Ends, Moonfall, Morbius
Biggest Disappointments: The Eternal Daughter, The Gray Man, Thor: Love and Thunder, Empire of Light, Uncharted
Most Overlooked Surprises: Inu-Oh, Meet Me In The Bathroom, Last And First Men, We’re All Going To The World’s Fair, Armageddon Time
Honorable Mention: Decision To Leave (Park Chan-wook)
Leave it to Park Chan-wook to take the neo-noir genre and turn it on its head with his newest mind-bender. Decision To Leave takes the standard trope of the workaholic private investigator and ramps his obsession up to a billion, only to take him down a beguiling path toward romance with his top murder suspect, amounting to a sumptuous and spellbinding, if melancholy thesis about the human condition and man’s inner pride in constant conflict with his capacity for love. These statements are further amplified by the power of Tang Wei and Park Hae-il’s chemistry, as well as Chan-wook’s singular and kinetic directorial style. Read the full review HERE.
And now, onto the main list:
15. Women Talking (Sarah Polley)
Based on Miriam Toews’ novel, Women Talking is about a community of female Mennonites debating whether or not to leave their colony after suffering repeated assaults by its men. The ensemble delivers incredible performances across the board, with Jessie Buckley and Claire Foy expressing their feelings and beliefs with strong conviction, only to reign themselves in mid-monologue to convey changes of heart on their stance with remarkable resolve, which Rooney Mara gracefully demonstrates during insightful proposals and intimate moments with her lover. Director Sarah Polley doesn’t shy away from showing the trauma within each woman’s mind in brief spurts, yet she also creates comfort through a unique aspect ratio to counter tense arguments with tender images of girlish companionship in the background, such as when two children tie their braids together. Little details like this in the script create a beautifully written testament to every aspect of femininity, and the inner strength a woman must possess to live daily with compassion and assertiveness in the face of sexism and horrific atrocity.
14. Nope (Jordan Peele)
Nope follows Otis Haywood Jr. and his sister Emerald, who work as horse wranglers on big-budget Hollywood film sets only to find their stables are being raided by a menacing unidentified flying object from outer space. Jordan Peele’s latest entry in thought-provoking horror conveys its ideas about the struggles diverse people have had finding success in entertainment through smartly implemented visual motifs, clever creature designs and references back to racist caricatures in mass media. The moody cinematography ramps up the tension as do the long, slow takes and panoramic wide shots, as well as some very effective sound design and use of visual effects. What also makes Nope stellar are the actors, particularly Daniel Kaluuya who hides his inner frustrations with natural stoicism, while Keke Palmer counters him wonderfully with an exuberant energy. Peele’s third feature script also blurs a multitude of genres to the point where Nope doesn’t feel like a horror movie, but a unique film that defies classification and sums up the entire history of African Americans in cinema, while also serving as a testament to how far they have come and the brightness of their future.
13. Bodies Bodies Bodies (Halina Reijn)
Halina Reijn’s first English language feature begins as an innocent night of partying between a circle of college friends only to turn into a bloody but biting horror comedy where this snapshot of Generation Zers learn more about each other to the point of realizing they never really knew each other. Delving too far into what’s really going on would result in giving the best parts of the film away, but all that must be said is that the visuals are great at building tension with moody atmospheres, the music is excellent in its minimalism and the writing is smart and sharp in building eclectic characters, performed brilliantly by an ensemble full of the best young actors today. This comedic slasher is a terrifying and hilarious but thoughtful depiction of mob mentality, as well as the harrowing effects technology has had on social interactions here and now. After the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, when some had no option but to take refuge in the wasteland of social media, those coming out of the entrenchment that ensued will find Bodies Bodies Bodies to be a more than satisfyingly cathartic experience.
12. Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio (Guillermo Del Toro)
The timeless fairy tale of Pinocchio has arguably never been this layered since Carlo Collodi’s original novel, which is wonderfully adapted to add necessary depth to the story’s beloved characters, tell honest truths about recognizing and confronting evil, and preach important lessons to kids and adults alike. Netflix’s rendition of Pinocchio is brilliantly performed, brilliantly animated, brilliantly scored, and brilliantly directed by Guillermo Del Toro, further adding another masterstroke to the tapestry that is his career. Read the full review HERE.
11. Medusa (Anita Rocha da Silveira)
Medusa is an arthouse film from Brazil that ingeniously blends the girl gang and coming-of-age subgenres as well as visual standards in today’s horror movies to create a contemporary allegory which reframes the titular Greek figure into a figure of feminine independence. The timing for the release of this gem from Anita Rocha da Silveria couldn’t be more perfect as millions of women all over the world yearn for liberation, and Medusa succeeds as a satire, horror film and rallying cry to provide empowerment. Read the full review HERE.
10. Babylon (Damien Chazelle)
What happens when you give Damien Chazelle $90 million and full creative control over whatever he wants to make? You get Babylon, a chaotic and cacophonous celebration and criticism of Hollywood’s silent era; one which makes the daring proposal that the racism and sexism today’s film industry is trying to atone for was embedded in its early days when the hottest stars of the time drowned in excess until their inevitable but depressing downfall. A special note must be made of the breakthrough lead performance from Diego Calva and more outstanding work from Margot Robbie. Read the full review HERE.
9. Turning Red (Domee Shi)
It’s a shame that Turning Red was restricted to a streaming-only release, because there’s a lot that theater-going audiences of all ages would find captivating about Pixar’s first feature from female Asian filmmaker Domee Shi. After the success of her short film Bao, her latest film follows Meilin Lee, a young girl who balances her social life with her three best friends and her duties to her family’s temple only for it all to come crashing down when she suddenly gains the hereditary power to transform into a giant red panda every time she feels an extreme emotion. What places Turning Red among the best of Pixar’s output is the evolution of its iconic animation style to implement mainstays reminiscent of anime; exaggerated facial expressions, abstract backgrounds and snap zooms help ground the film wonderfully in its Asian culture, and gives it an infectious energy not unlike that of Meilin and her circle of friends, whose chemistry and personalities play off each other with realistic endearment. Turning Red’s script also covers Chinese spiritual ideals for thoughtful substance and communicates important messages for kids and adults to implement about embracing their fun side, and standing up for their path in life as they come of age.
8. The Banshees of Inisherin (Martin McDonagh)
After Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri broke through with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, writer-director Martin McDonaugh returned to his native land of Ireland to make The Banshees of Inisherin, where well-meaning if dimwitted Padaric (Colin Farrell) lives on the titular island longing to understand why his best friend Colm (Brendan Gleeson) suddenly doesn’t like him anymore, with Padaric’s sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon) trying to talk some sense into him. The cast delivers McDonaugh’s sharp, well-written dialogue in a manner authentic to their Irish heritage and with a captivating energy that keeps audiences engrossed from start to finish, and horrified over the extremes Colm and Padaric go to achieve their goals. What starts out as a hilarious comedy about a small-minded man going to incredible lengths to mend fences with his former friend slowly but surely burns into a pitch black commentary about rural communities, the effects of their closed-mindedness on those who stay, and the mental health of those with regrets of never leaving.
7. The Batman (Matt Reeves)
The Batman is by far the most definitive and truthful portrayal of the World’s Greatest Detective’s work as just that in a slow and dreary but engrossing and tense crime mystery/thriller that merges comic book-style adventure with elements of neo-noir and detective fiction. Gotham City looks and feels like a metropolitan cesspool brimming with nightmarish darkness, the characters Batman investigates have infectious personalities that add humor and ominousness depending on the scene, and Robert Pattinson nails his role as Batman, delivering his inner monologue with menace and conveying his progression from a symbol of terror to one of hope through subtle but powerful facial nuances. That said, at three hours long, a turn that the movie takes toward the finale could leave some audiences deflated before the climax, and Paul Dano overdoes it as The Riddler on occasion. Despite those flaws, however, Matt Reeves’ first film in a trilogy about the Caped Crusader still builds a gothic world full of intrigue as well as villainy, and plants a LOT of seeds for what should be a great iteration of Batman going forward.
6. The Fabelmans (Steven Spielberg)
Steven Spielberg’s autobiographical recount of his childhood does take some time to find its footing tonally and Paul Dano is difficult to buy as a middle-aged father at first, but the performances are excellent and what’s especially fascinating is Spielberg’s classical Hollywood approach to filmmaking; a lot of the most intimate scenes are done in long, slow takes with simple camera movements and artful, meticulous composition. The Fabelmans should also be commended for its existence as the antithesis to its trailer; it’s easy to be tired of love letters from an auteur to his hometown after Belfast and Bardo, but unlike the former, Spielberg chooses not to resort to nostalgia bait or melodramatic grandeur, but rather, he lets the moments of Sam’s childhood and adolescence tell an understated, affecting, relatable and honest story about a boy and his relationship with his parents and the medium of cinema, culminating in a scene every aspiring filmmaker dreams of experiencing for themselves.
5. All Quiet On The Western Front (Edward Berger)
During the Civil War, General William T. Sherman famously said, “War is hell.” The best-selling novel All Quiet On The Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque would only further that unsettling truth, as would the original film version from 1931 and this harrowing but powerful film adaptation from Edward Berger which sees viscerally haunting character development and gruesome battle scenes that make its characters feel like cogs in the proverbial war machine. Read the full review HERE.
4. Mad God (Phil Tippett)
Visual effects pioneer Phil Tippett spent thirty years bringing the stop-motion hellscape that is Mad God to life, and the results are almost ninety minutes of pure nightmare fuel. We follow The Assassin as a decaying map guides him toward a destination unknown through a world where death comes for the faceless denizens as soon as they’re manufactured, whether it’s by flying monolithic bricks from out of nowhere or weapons wielded by a giant Eldritch monstrosity of a creature. Just when The Assassin seems to have reached his goal, the movie takes turns from the nightmarish to the cerebral, then metatextual and back again. Tippett’s epic odyssey is a phantasmagoric melding of Pink Floyd: The Wall, Eraserhead, Paradise Lost and the Jupiter: And Beyond The Infinite segment from 2001: A Space Odyssey, made frightening through gorgeously rendered set and character designs, lyrical, abstract storytelling, and thoughtful, if chilling ideas about the effects of war on authoritarianism, and the madness within the artist.
3. TÁR (Todd Field)
Todd Field’s return to film directing for the first time in 12 years with a compelling character study of a fictional composer’s fall from grace that immerses everyone into the world of Lydia Tár so well through Cate Blanchett’s commanding performance, long gliding takes and Field’s direction which makes the contemporary classical music scene feel suffocating on every level, that audiences are dumbfounded and awestruck to see the consequences when she’s finally forced out of it. Read the full review HERE.
2. Marcel The Shell With Shoes On (Dean Fleischer-Camp)
Marcel The Shell With Shoes On’s existence began as a children’s book and series of viral YouTube shorts, and now Dean Fleischer-Camp and Jenny Slate turned it into a feature film this year, and the results are true to the wholesomeness of the original series, while sending Marcel on an endearing journey that helps him and audiences around the world discover how connected we are to all living things, and that nothing we long to achieve is within our grasp no matter how big or small we are. Read the full review HERE.
1. RRR (S.S. Rajamouli)
A lot goes into making movies in the Indian film industry, from the elaborate musical numbers to a myriad of storytelling motifs and spectacular stunt choreography. All those elements and more helped to form RRR, an epic period drama set in 1920s India, where warrior Komaram Bheem and his Gond tribe join forces with soldier Raju on a quest to rescue his young sister Malli from the British Governor, unaware that Raju has his own secrets to employ for personal gain. Once Raju’s true name and intentions are revealed, the union of these two real-life revolutionaries becomes a quest for India’s freedom from British colonialism. The script beautifully ties in elements from the Hindu pantheon and blends several genre tropes together to seamlessly create a film that looks, sounds and feels epic from the first frame to the last. Add amazing VFX, intense performances, wild action sequences, an earth-shaking audio mix and incredible music, and you have a grand monument of a movie. But what sets RRR apart from epics of India’s past is the sincerity Rajamouli employs in his direction; the action sequences are balls to the wall insane but never feel over the top because the character growth of Raju and Bheem, as well as the dynamic of their friendship feels endearing and natural from start to finish, further propelling this Tollywood masterpiece to a wondrous celebration of Indian culture, brotherhood and history. It also reaffirms cinema’s bright future as a multicultural haven of globalization by filling the void left by the American star-driven blockbusters of old, and that’s why RRR is the best film of 2022.