It’s that time again. The time of year where we pour over what we’ve watched in the past year and whittle it down to our favorites. Not my preferred activity; as I’ve said many times I’m not a fan of ranking, grading, and otherwise pitting art against other art.
Still, I do this every year, and as with every year, 2022 has been a banner year for film. Seriously, those who, as also happens every year, decry it as a terrible time for film simply didn’t look hard enough because there have been some all timers.
This year I focused on revisiting a lot of films I haven’t revisited in years, including a full Bond rewatch. For many of them it’s been so long they felt like first-time watches. Still, I squeezed in a couple hundred new-release movies, so there’s plenty to choose from. There are also, of course, so many I haven’t had the chance to catch yet. Some I probably never will.
I don’t typically do a ranked list, I prefer to view this less as a competition and more as a celebration of movies that, for one reason or another, blew my hair back this year. There is almost always one that stands out as my clear favorite, and 2022 was no exception. One oddity, however, is that I have a pretty clear one, two, and three. And probably a four/five split if I’m being honest. That’s neat.
I also don’t know what, if anything this means or says, but this year, as opposed to many previous ones, I watched most of these movies multiple times. I don’t always do that and tend to wait to revisit. Just another curious fact for a curious year.
The usual note applies here: these are merely my favorite movies of 2022. I’m not saying mine are better than yours (though they are, jk), or that you have terrible taste if you disagree. Love what you love and who gives a damn if other folks feel differently.
All rambling aside, here are my favorite 15 (or so) films of 2022. Goddamn it was a good year at the movies.
Everything Everywhere All at Once
The latest from directing duo Daniels is hands down my favorite movie of 2022. It’s frenetic and weird, heartfelt and moving, and one of the most inventive films of this or any year. The dimension jumping saga of an aging immigrant woman seeing all the possible lives she could have led and using that knowledge to repair her own fractured relationships is crushing and heart-warming in equal measure. When it comes time to vote on this sort of thing, Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, and Stephanie Hsu are my top choices for best actress, supporting actor, and supporting actress, respectively. And it’s not even close. This is one of those movies that reminds you that movies are indeed goddamn magic.
Top Gun: Maverick
Long-after-the-fact legacy sequels are a tricky business, but this is how you do it. The further adventures of Tom Cruise’s hot-shot fighter pilot Maverick is a perfect bit of popcorn tentpole filmmaking. I missed two press screenings, was out of town and unable to make it to a theater the week it opened, and upon my return was immediately waylaid by Covid after avoiding it for two plus years. But when I finally sat in the theater, I don’t know that I’ve ever been happier watching a movie. And FYI, this is my clear number two for 2022.
Decision to Leave
South Korean auteur Park Chan-wook is a damn hit factory, and his Hitchcockian riff on infatuation-turned-obsession, deception, murder, and watching and being watched, sits at number three. Dreamy and lush, twisting and clever, Park weaves together a murder mystery, a tale of forbidden love, lust, looming violence, and much more. He plays with framing, depths of field, reflective surfaces, mirrors, windows, screens of all sorts, piling layer on top of layer. Just when we think we’re sure of what we see, the film steps in and subverts that gaze. In the midst of a slew of fantastic performances, Tang Wei absolutely kills it as the mysterious possible-femme-fatale.
Admittedly, this is a bit of a cheat, and in reality, X and Pearl are both very different films; the former a stripped-down grindhouse throwback, the latter a horror meditation on loneliness, ambition, sex, and more. But they’re both wonderful and are inexorably linked in multiple ways. Director Ti West shot both back to back, the narratives cross over in key places, and thematically they’re of a piece. Both also feature Mia Goth giving very different but equally incredible performances. Actually, the two movies feature three great Mia Goth performances. Not only two of the best horror movies of 2022, just two of the best overall.
From here, things get a bit nebulous. The rest of these appear in no particular order other than that which they occurred to me. Just know that if I include a film on this list, it wrecked me in one way or another. That’s more important than whether it’s six or eight or eleven in line.
Bones and All
Overall, I’m indifferent to Luca Guadagnino’s films. Except for when he plays around in the horror sandbox. That goes for his take on Suspiria, and it sure as hell goes for his cannibal coming-of-age young-love road trip movie Bones and All. Quiet and low-key and strange, Taylor Russell gives a stunning, nuanced performance in this gauzy, maudlin saga of young love and finding your place and your people in a world that rejects you at every turn.
I’d never heard of slab surfing until watching this documentary. The basic premise is that when waves crash into shallow reefs or submerged outcroppings of rock, it produces big, fast, intense rides often in barely any water. It’s even gnarlier than it sounds, and Facing Monsters follows Kerby Brown, a pioneer of this extreme, niche arm of wave riding. It offers an in-depth, warts-and-all portrait of a driven outsider, pushed by passion to go further and further, closer and closer to the edge. We see the profound bond he has with the ocean, and witness the push-pull of what moves him with the love and concern of his family. Bently Dean’s film is also one of the most beautiful sights I saw on screen all year, and it contains one of the most visceral, suck-the-air-from-your-lungs moments I’ve ever witnessed in a movie. I can’t recommend this highly enough.
I thought the opening 20 minutes of 6 Underground was the most pure Michael Bay ever put on screen, but Ambulance might be Bayhem distilled down to its most fundamental essence. I’ve said many times before that Bay is America embodied in a single filmmaker, for good and ill, and his latest drives that fact home yet again. Ambulance does that Bay thing I love where every frame, no matter how inconsequential or innocuous, is an exercise in cinematic excess. Establishing shots swoop down the sides of skyscrapers, characters exchange warm greetings amidst a swirling cyclone of cameras, and high-performance drones tear down Los Angeles streets. It’s wasteful and over-the-top and every shot costs more than I make in a year, but damn if it isn’t spectacular.
Another thing I’ve said before, and that I’ll surely say over and over again, is that I find a certain nobility in people who put their safety and well-being on the line to entertain. And nowhere is that more parent than in the Jackass franchise. Yes, they’re old. Yes, they know all too well how bad it’s going to hurt. And yes, they do it anyway. For that, I salute them. Uproarious, profane, occasionally poo-covered, there is also, as is their pattern, an undercurrent of sweet, earnest friendship below all the bawdy antics. Maybe the real Jackass was the friends we made along the way after all.
Predator, as a franchise, is an up and down affair. Fortunately, the latest installment, Dan Trachtenberg’s Prey, absolutely rips. There’s great action, Predator fights a bear, we get the year’s best movie dog, and there’s plenty of terror and violence. It’s straight-ahead sci-fi badassery, imminently rewatchable, and not for nothing, Amber Midthunder just announced herself as an action star of the highest order.
Goop-drenched cosmic horror about a rest stop glory hole occupied by an ancient evil voiced by J.K. Simmons. In 79 minutes, Rebekah McKendry’s Glorious manages to be horrifying, funny, twisted, gooey, visually striking, and a total blast. It builds and subverts expectations, and winds up going to surprising places and in unanticipated, but wholly satisfying directions. And it accomplishes all of this with basically one location and a handful of actors, one of whom, the one with the second biggest role, never actually appears on screen.
After catching the attention of a lot of folks with her segment in V/H/S/94, Chloe Okuno dropped Watcher as her feature debut. A creepy, slow-burn thriller about a woman being stalked by a serial killer, or maybe losing her mind, this calls to mind various Giallo’s in tone and theme, if not aesthetics. The film seeps into your skin, leaving an eerie, unnerving feel, similar to that of the lead, played with quiet, almost serene terror by Maika Monroe. It’s a hell of a picture, especially for a first timer.
With After Yang, director Kogonada crafts a soothing, tranquil meditation on the nature of existence, what it means to be alive, and carefully brewing a cup of tea as a metaphor for the delicate complexities of life. Gorgeous, esoteric sci-fi ostensibly about the breakdown of a robot companion, this invites you to luxuriate in moody contemplation about identity, the things we think define us, and the things that actually do. Of two great Colin Farrell performances this year (the other in The Banshees of Inisherin), I think this is the best. Also, for a movie this restrained and measured, it also features the second best dance number of the year. An absolutely lovely movie that will haunt you for days.
This one will singe your damn eyebrows. Romain Gavras’ Athena might be the most urgent, propulsive, visceral film of the year. Set in a French housing project hours after a young boy dies at the hands of police in shady circumstances, three brothers, all orbiting in different worlds, find themselves embroiled in a chaotic uprising. From an epic, ten-minute unbroken shot (actually unbroken, not rigged to look that way), the film grabs you by the back of the neck and drags you forward at a dead run. Formally the most impressive work on this list, various behind the scenes features exploring how the cast and crew accomplished mind-boggling shots only serves to make them that much more awe-inspiring.
Dinner in America
A “middle-finger-flying, punk-rock-fuck-you of a love story,” Dinner in America was actually on my best-of list in 2020. It didn’t receive a domestic release, however, until this year. Since I can finally vote for it in the various critics groups I’m part of, I thought I might as well include the Repo Man/Bonnie and Clyde riff on this list too. And remember, “Fuck the rest of them, fuck ‘em all but us.”
I don’t adore Indian import RRR quite as much as many people out there, but hot damn is it a wild time, just bugnuts crazy. It’s been a hell of a phenomenon to watch unfold throughout the year as it took the film world by storm. Watching S.S. Rajamouli’s film, I kept thinking, maybe this has peaked, but then the movie is like, nah, here’s a slow motion flying tiger attack. It’s that level of one-upping itself for a full three hours. And it also features the single best cinematic dance number of 2022.
Honorable Mentions/Other Movies I Loved:
Like I said, there were a lot of movies in 2022 that kicked my ass. Many could also easily be on this list or just missed the cut by my largely arbitrary guidelines. These are also films that have lived, as the kids say, rent free in my head for much of the year.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
A late-in-the-game addition, I might need to sit with this one for a while longer before I can definitively determine where it stands on my best-of-2022 list. That said, it’s a damn blast, another twisty, shifting mystery. It’s really Rian Johnson’s take on The Last of Sheila, and if he wants to keep turning out a Benoit Blanc mystery every few years, we can do a lot worse. I don’t know that I like Glass Onion better than Knives Out, but it’s a fun, breezy time that I’ll probably revisit more than most movies.
The Big 4
Of course a Timo Tjahjanto movie is going to be a clear frontrunner for any year end list I put together, and The Big 4 is no exception. This sees the Indonesian director reaching out into new territory. There’s broad comedy, sweet and earnest bonds between a family of adopted children-turned-vigilante squad, and, of course, plenty of his trademark violence. You didn’t think he was going to skimp on that, did you?
The Antares Paradox
Framed as one woman’s obsessive quest to prove the existence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, this Spanish import was easily the best thing I saw at Fantasia this year. Set in a single location, largely in a single room, making inventive use of videoconferencing technology thanks to the pandemic and minimal resources, Luis Tinoco’s film digs into the personal costs of the Alexandra’s (Andrea Trepat) singular fixation as she struggles to make the impossible decision between realizing her lifelong dream and experiencing brutal personal loss from which there may be no recovery. I wrote, “Constantly mounting pressure, an incredible central performance, technical chops for days, and a devastating climax, all add up to something very, very special and well worth getting excited about.” Nothing has changed since then.
I’m not as high on The Northman as some, but it is a damn fine time. What I am in love with is someone saw The Witch and The Lighthouse and gave Robert Eggers that much money to make this movie. Think hallucinatory Apocalypse Now vibes filtered through viking mythology. Hell, it starts with two banger action set pieces, dudes tripping balls pretending to be wolves, and ends with two naked hunks sword fighting on an active volcano.
Another one I’m not as in love with as many others, though as I said, if it’s on this list, I think it’s very, very good. Jordan Peele’s latest is another big, strange swing. While it doesn’t always land for me, I have to applaud the ambition and imagination. It’s also gorgeous to gawk at and super damn fun to watch. And I don’t think we, collectively, talk about just how weird Jordan Peele movies are. That fact gets lost in all the well-deserved critical acclaim, but he’s a weirdo.
Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off
As an older person who has a lot of lingering injuries and still thinks skateboarding is fun, this hits in all the feelings places. Loving something that hurts you more than it doesn’t, trying so hard to do something that used to come so easily, coming to terms with the fact of your body breaking down, it’s all very on point. He’s only a few years older than me, so I grew up with Tony Hawk being an omnipresent face in skateboarding. I’ve never loved him as a skater (his brand of automatic technical precision always bored me), but his insight, drive, and perspective make him a relatable, likable elder statesman.
This was not a great year for superhero movies. I actively hated two of the biggest ones, and many others are so, so meh. But Matt Reeves’ The Batman clearly stands as the high-water mark. I wrote that if you think previous iterations are too well-lit, cheery, and short, this is the movie for you. While a glib assessment, this is overlong (it feels over then goes on for another act that loses most of the accumulated momentum), but it’s also grim and engaging, grounded, and offers the chance to see the world’s greatest detective actually work a case like a detective. And Robert Pattinson’s goth Kurt Cobain take on the Dark Knight is a nice change from the billionaire playboy iteration we’ve seen so many times.
This is getting out of hand, length wise, so I’m going to speed things up.
Let’s start with horror. It was another banger year for the genre. The likes of Barbarian, Scream, Bodies Bodies Bodies, and The Menu are all super fun and worth checking out. Speak No Evil erodes social niceties in uncomfortable ways that build up to an utter gut-punch of a finale. Project Wolf Hunting is just the bloodiest movie of the year. (Unless you count The Sadness, which I do not care for but is bloodier, as a 2022 movie.) Every wound, no matter how minor, is an absolute gusher. Day Shift is more of an action movie, but a horror-themed one that’s a total blast for fans of both worlds. Not a horror movie but a thriller about a prolific Iranian serial killer, Holy Spider ends with the scariest movie moment of 2022. It’s truly chilling and made my blood run cold. Also, it’s an incredible movie outside of that.
French sequel Lost Bullet 2 is one of the best international action movies of the year, offering some emotional beats the first film didn’t necessarily have and upping the ante action wise. Emily the Criminal crafts non-stop tension and a thrilling crime saga steeped in gig economy economics that revolves around Aubrey Plaza turning in one of the best performances of the year. Kimi is a taut, pandemic-filmed-and-set thriller that plays a bit like Steven Soderbergh updated Rear Window for the Millenial/Gen Z crowd.
Documentary was a bit of a blind spot for me in 2022. I watched a bunch, but not as many as usual and I still haven’t caught up with many of the high profile films. That said, Fire of Love follows a pair of volcanologists as they pursue their passion, capture incredible footage, and indulge in an epic romance that nearly matches their fiery surroundings. Filmed on the streets of my old neighborhood in Seattle, often just blocks from where I lived for almost a decade, Sweetheart Deal follows four sex workers in various cycles of addiction, abuse, and betrayal. Equally a testament to the power of the human will and an absolute soul crusher. Stunning, powerful verite style documentary filmmaking.
What to say about Banshees of Inisherin? Like most of these supplementary titles, this just missed making my list. While it doesn’t quite connect for me in a couple key ways, there are a handful of incredible moments. And Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleason, and Kerry Condon give three devastating performances. Every year there’s one I regret leaving off, and this might be the one for 2022. Subsequent viewings will tell the tale.
What were your favorite movies of 2022? New or new-to-you? First timers or revisiting favorites? Sound off in the comments below.