The Top 20 Movies of 2022 (#10 – 1)

Top 20 Films of 2022 (#10 – 1)

Welcome, one and all, to the final part of my Movies Year in Review for 2022! I’m your host Jeremy Thomas, and today we’ll concluding our look at the worst films of the past year. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You’re free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong but stating that an opinion is “wrong” is just silly. With that in mind, let’s get right into it!

My 2022 year in review is coming to a close as we look at the absolute best of the year in film. 2022 was a year of ambitious films that were willing to break the mold, taking big swings with the kinds films that we don’t often see break through into the mainstream. Last week I looked at numbers 20 through 11 and while those were all films I treasured watching in the past year, what follows is truly the best of the best. From a second stop-motion animation film for the list to a legacy sequel no one expected to shine to a Tollywood epic and more, my top 10 shows how unique and diverse a year it was for the best in cinema. No sense talking around the matter; let’s just get right into the list!

Caveat: My criteria for a film qualifying for this list is simple: if a narrative film had its domestic release this past year, either theatrically or on VOD or a major streaming service, then it was eligible. The only other caveat is that I have tried, but have not seen everything that was released in 2022, especially factoring in streaming services. The films that I missed that could have possibly qualified based on reputation were Aftersun, Belle, All’s Quiet On the Western Front, and Vortex. Other than that, I feel reasonably confident I would have seen just about every movie that would have likely made the list. For those curious, I saw a total of 182 films that were released in 2022 (up from last year’s 168).

Turning Red
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Emily The Criminal
Hellbender
The Outfit

20: Midnight
19: Mad God
18: The Menu
17: The Fallout
16: Puss in Boots: The Last Wish
15: Pearl
14: The Fabelmans
13: We’re All Going to the World’s Fair
12: The Northman
11: Decision to Leave


Image Credit: Jonathan Olley & Warner Bros.

It is an understatement to say that DC Films had a rough 2022. From Batgirl being shelved and all the other news out of the Warner Bros. Discovery merger to Black Adam’s middling efforts, and more, this was a year that the studio probably would have liked a redo on. And yet, DC had one unmitigated success in The Batman. And as a film, it had all the elements to go wrong. It was in development for what seems like forever, went through multiple changes (several involving Ben Affleck’s decision to step away from director and writing, then starring, in it), and came amidst another low time for the studio when its efforts were generally falling short. Given all of that, it would not have been a surprise to see it follow suit.

Instead, Matt Reeves took the reins and rode off to 2022’s first blockbuster success. Reeves turned his plan for a younger Batman early in his vigilante career into a compelling, sprawling yet well-paced exploration of the character from a new viewpoint. Reeves had already proven himself as a fine writer and director, but he outdid himself here with a vision of Gotham City that feels very familiar while also staying unique from previous versions. The story manages to touch on multiple points of important Batman lore, yet stays engaging and fairly focused with a terrifying iteration of Riddler and compelling characterizations of Batman, Catwoman, Penguin and others.

Essentially, just about everything about this movie hits the spot. Robert Pattinson leads the way as a different look at the Dark Knight than we’ve typically seen, still consumed by pain and figuring out who he needs to be. Zoe Kravitz gives us what is, for my money, the best Catwoman we’ve seen in live-action to date and the rest of the cast nails it from Paul Dano as Riddler to Andy Serkis as Alfred, Colin Farrell as Penguin, and Jeffrey Wright as Jim Gordan. The visuals are breathtaking and the action scenes are viscerally exciting. That this all clicks so well and provides us with a new take of a character seen time and time again is a credit to Reeves’ vision, and I am certainly looking forward to the sequel and the Penguin spin-off series.


Image Credit: 20th Century Studios

As I noted in part one, horror had a very strong year in 2022, with several films in the genre resonating with fans and becoming impressive hits. Some of them came out of nowhere to capture moviegoer’s attention, and there is perhaps no better example of that than Barbarian. Zach Cregger’s directorial debut was a revelation. serving both fun and thrills in qual capacity with a wild ride that kept fans on their heels from the first act all the way to the wild climax. It’s not something that many would have expected from Cregger, best known for his comedy work with The Whitest Kids U Know. But Cregger wrote a great script and directed the hell out of this twisty plot that starts with two people being booked in the same rental house and goes from there.

Barbarian admittedly doesn’t work for some people, and I get it. The film makes some big, bold moves — most notably a complete narrative shift about halfway through the film. But it’s also sharply written, with Cregger using those twists to keep the audience unsure of what to expect. He also makes sure that the script stays funny throughout, particularly when Justin Long’s character enters the picture. The first act of the film plays deftly with all the warning signs that set off Georgina Campbell’s Tess when she finds herself stuck with Bill Skarsgård’s Keith, but also doesn’t sell Tess’ smartness short. She makes mistakes, but she’s also resourceful and adaptable in ways that make her someone we can root for.

And when things get wild, they get absolutely WILD. I’m trying to keep spoiler-free here, but suffice it to say that when the story opens up in the second act, Cregger leans into the craziness of what’s going on in such a way that allows his characters to go along for the ride. Campbell, Skarsgård, and Long are all excellently cast here and give us a nice spectrum of characters, keeping on pace with the twists and bouncing off each other well. The violence is effective and the gore effects work is appropriately nasty. This is a film that gives zero fucks about doing exactly what it wants to and even a bit of a stumble in the final act can’t keep it from being one of my favorites of the year.


Image Credit: DVV Entertainment

I’m not going to beat around the bush here: RRR is quite simply one of the most deliriously entertaining movies of 2022. The Tollywood action epic was one I had been interested in seeing for much of the year, but that three-hour runtime kept me at bay. When I finally settled in to watch it, I was amazed how quickly the time flew by thanks to the pure thrill of cinema that this whole production had to offer. RRR is a potent mix of action, larger than life characters, a bit of historical context and the ability of director S. S. Rajamouli to tug on our emotions in just the right ways to get us fully invested.

Everything about this seems like it probably shouldn’t work as well as it does. Who takes a revered real-life historical revolutionaries and heavily fictionalizes their stories for a film whose action scenes would put the Fast & Furious franchise’s defiance of physics to shame? And yet it works because Rajamouli never lets the action sequences, as fun as they are, take away from the heart of the film as provided by N. T. Rama Rao Jr. and Ram Charan. These stars are absolute forces of nature, dominating the screen in a way I don’t think we’ve seen in American action films in a while. They’re more superhero than most of what Marvel and DC have presented; Charan’s massive fight scene early in the film is breathtaking, and Rao gets a very similar scene later in the film at a climactic moment.

And all that is before we even get into the most fun moment in the film: “Naatu Naatu,” the musical sequence featuring Charan and Rao opposite Eduard Buhac’s snooty British noble Jake and a host of his fellows. We aren’t normally used to dance numbers in our action flicks, but everything about this sequence is a blast. It fits perfectly within the narrative of the film and keeps the film jumping along as it transitions into its second act, and just as importantly the song is catchy as hell. It is the cherry on top of one of the most engaging action films of the year and one I was incredibly thankful that I finally took the time to watch before the year was out.


Image Credit: John Wilson/Netflix

Knives Out was such a singular success of a film that I have to admit, I was surprised and just a little skeptical when sequels were announced. Don’t get me wrong; I could spend decades with Benoit Blanc solving mysteries every couple of years and be a fairly happy guy. But I did have concerns over whether Rian Johnson could re-conjure the magic of the very particular blend of mystery, humor, and manic energy that the first film had a second time. It would be fair to say that Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery doesn’t hit the same blend — but then again, it probably shouldn’t have. The kinetic urgency of the first film is replaced this time around by surprise plot twists and recontextualizations galore, all of which adds up to a very different kind of mystery but one that is equally as entertaining.

And really, that’s how it should be, right? Like Agatha Christie, Benoit Blanc finds new mysteries and each of them is their own, unique thing. The story behind this one is as bitingly sharp as the first — and it couldn’t possibly be more timely (even if it wasn’t intentional), focusing on a billionaire tech man surrounded by many people who have reasons to want to murder him. In this, Glass Onion feels a bit like the original, with a cast filled with actors at the top of their game playing characters who are at best morally ambivalent and at worst fully corrupt. Edward Norton, Dave Bautista, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Kate Hudson — they’re all at the top of their game here, as is Madelyn Cline as Whiskey, the girlfriend of Bautista’s MRA YouTuber/Twitch streamer Duke.

The absolute highlight however is Janelle Monae. This should be a surprise to no one, as Monae has consistently proven her acting chops. Here she is killing it as the jilted business partner of Norton’s techbro billionaire. To say too much about this plot at all is to spoil things so I’m keeping everything intentionally vague but suffice it to say that everyone has layers here, and everyone is clearly having a blast and letting their characters’ layers be peeled back. Now, with all that said, is Glass Onion better than Knives Out? I don’t know, and I don’t even think it’s a fair question. I think it’s as good, or at least very close on one side or the other. Regardless, Johnson has proven that Benoit Blanc mysteries are a sustainable thing beyond the first with this super-fun entry, and that’s more than good enough for me.


Image Credit: A24

Not many filmmakers had the banner year that Ti West did. West’s return to the horror genre after nine years yielded two entries on my top 20 of the year: Pearl and X. I adored both of the two for their different charms, but in my book X is the better film by a hair. A24 is known for their horror, but they are also known films that lean into the slow burn and prioritize style and mood over scares. This slasher film changed that tune up quite dramatically by being a throwback to the classic slashers while filling itself with great performances and West’s sharp stylistic touches.

It would be easy to dismiss this as “Texas Chainsaw Massacre if it had a budget,” as a lot of the early hype seemed to suggest. But the truth is that it’s a lot more than that. It contains all of that classic’s hallmarks, following a group of city folk into the rural area of Texas where they run afoul of killers, but West puts his own spin on the story and the style from there. It doesn’t hurt that the characters here are ones we can actually like; Mia Goth, Brittany Snow, Scott Mescudi, Jenna Ortega, and Martin Henderson all bring their porn cast and crew to life in charming ways, making them endearing and even quite likable. Even the least likable character among them, Owen Campbell’s director RJ, has his chances to shine.

With a talented cast pulling their weight on screen, West is able to let loose and have fun with some stylistic moves such as the clever use of framing to switch aspect ratios early on to a starkly effective stutter cut, not to mention a grotesquely gorgeous use of blood-as-lighting in an early kill. There’s more to this movie than just kills — it’s a sex-positive story that also touches on aging and being unable to let go of the past — but West doesn’t use that as an excuse to skimp on the slasher aspects, and you don’t have to get deep into the themes to have fun here. This was one of the happier surprises for me and in a year that saw a disappointing Texas Chainsaw Massacre release, it was nice to see West step in to save the day. Between X and Pearl, I’m supremely excited for the trilogy capper MaXXXine when it arrives.


Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

I think we can all be honest here…did anyone — anyone — expect Top Gun: Maverick to be as good as it was, or to become a cultural touchstone of 2022? I honestly don’t even believe the talent involved with the film thought it would accomplish everything it did. And I said that as a fan of the original Top Gun; I think it’s one of the heights of big-budget 1980s action. But we also have to note that it was very much a product of its time, and a movie that never once cried “I need a sequel.” And if a sequel was going to come, 30-plus years felt way too late.

As it turns out, not so much. Top Gun: Maverick is not only one of the highest-grossing films of all-time; it was one of the absolute best movies of the year, setting the blueprint for how to do a legacy sequel right. Maverick is the rare example of these films that manages to find the balance between respecting its history and forging a new story that isn’t overly beholden to the past. The script from Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, and Christopher McQuarrie (based on a story by Peter Craig and Justin Marks) contains all the cameos and callbacks you would expect, but it also uses them in ways that seem natural and don’t get in the way of the story. In fact, they do what they’re supposed to do: enhance the story and make Maverick’s journey more emotionally resonant. In the meantime, it has a strong story that can stand on its own and give its cast of young and older performers plenty to do.

It also doesn’t hurt that this is Tom Cruise in one of his best performances. Cruise gets a lot of crap as an actor, even if it is fair to say he’s played very similar roles over the years. Revisiting Maverick allows him to add the weight of years to one of his most famous characters ,and he shines. He also brings a great dynamic with the rest of the cast, most notably Miles Teller as Rooster and Jennifer Connelly as an old love interest of his. But the key thing about Maverick is that while it’s not the deepest or most complicated story, it does what it does almost perfectly in every moment. The jet fighter and action sequences are thrilling, the touching scenes are emotionally resonant, the humor is just right. Sometimes being one of the best movies of the year doesn’t need a lot of twists and turns or incredibly deep themes. You just need to be a popcorn movie done more or less to perfection, and that’s what Maverick is.


Image Credit: Universal Pictures

In many ways, Tár follows the “Oscar bait” formula to a T. Take a perennial awards contender (Cate Blanchett) and cast her in an austere, serious film with timely themes from a director beloved by the Academy (Todd Fields). But while the term is generally used in a pejorative context, it has to be said that your “Oscar bait” movie still typically has to be great to earn those nominations. Plenty of films have tried and failed to follow the Oscar formula to success because they couldn’t put the pieces together and come out with a good film, from Seven Pounds, Australia, and House Of Gucci to this year’s Emancipation and Babylon.

While Tár does follow the recipe for success, it doesn’t rest on those laurels. Fields’ movie about a fictional female conductor whose world starts to crumble when she is accused of sexual misconduct is a gorgeous and sharp character study about the abuse of power. Fields makes the film feel so authentic that there was more than a little surprise when people realized that this was not in fact about a real person; Lydia Tár does not exist. You’d be entirely forgiven for thinking otherwise though, the way Fields sets her in the real world and references real-life conductors — some of whom had their own allegations.

The realism of the film provides a rock solid foundation upon which Blanchett builds her best performance in a career of great performances. Blanchett lets us see the many sides of Lydia — the loneliness and the passion she has for music, the loving relationship with her daughter, but also the arrogance and almost emotionless way she manipulates her way in and out of situations. This is a film that takes its time and lets Blanchett show us everything, but never wastes a moment. Lydia’s quiet moments with her wife (a pitch-perfect Nina Hoss) are as important to the film as the scene in which she takes no small amount of joy in threatening a child who said mean things to her daughter. This is a truly enthralling character piece that builds toward a final scene that is as surprising and ballsy as it is brilliant and, in retrospect, inevitable.


Image Credit: Open Road Films

Martin McDonagh doesn’t make bad movies — or at least, hasn’t done so yet. Sure, not all of his films are perfect (I’m looking at you, Seven Psychopaths), but even that one is a well-made and generally engaging flick that is worth the watch. With The Banshees of Inisherin, he’s achieved his peak to date. The tale of two men who start a brutal chain of events in motion when one of them decides they can’t be friends anymore is a deeply funny yet also tragic meditation on loneliness and depression, friendship lost, the Irish Civil War.

Colin Farrell gives the best performance of his career as the distraught Padraic, who can’t seem to understand why Colm (Brendan Gleeson) doesn’t want to have anything to do with him anymore. The two previously put their fantastic chemistry on display in McDonagh’s In Bruges, and it is in top form here. As Padraic and Colm find themselves deeper in conflict over the latter’s decision and the former’s inability to let go, they play off each other in their own particular styles to great effect. And the supporting cast are all up to the task, particularly Kerry Condon as Padraic’s sister and Barry Keoghan as the troubled Dominic, who have their own subplot resulting on an acting clinic during one particular scene between the two.

There’s nary a misstep in this whole film, which balances the tricky tone of the tragicomedy quite well. The jokes all land and yet they don’t distract away from the quiet, careful sadness that is felt throughout — none more notably than a scene of Padraic and Colm riding together in a cart after Colm has already decided they can’t be friends anymore. It’s another home run for McDonagh, Farrell and Gleeson and frankly, with their track record thus far I wouldn’t mind seeing these three come back together every few years for one unrelated movie after another.


Image Credit: A24

Not every film needs to be about serious drama issues, thrills or massive action sequences. Sometimes you just need a movie that is quietly earnest and heartwarming, and I can’t think of a better film in recent memory like that than Marcel the Shell With Shoes On. Spawned from a series of viral YouTube videos from Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer-Camp, this stop-motion animated/live action hybrid movie is a tonic to sooth just about any ills you might be feeling with its cutely endearing protagonist, a sentient seashell who lives in a house with his aunt and becomes the subject of a documentary within the film from the man who rents the home while recovering from a divorce.

As adorable and eclectic as it is, Marcel could have easily gone off a cliff into cloying, saccharine territory. But Slate and Fleischer-Camp don’t let that happen. Instead, it captures the essence of what it felt like to be adrift and isolated from loved ones over the past several years. This is a movie that came along at a perfect time; the melancholy and pain that isolation gave most of us is present, but it is done in such a way that you can’t help but be drawn in by Marcel’s wide-eyed view of the world. The stop-motion animation effects come off without a hitch, and the voice work by Slate and film icon Isabella Rossellini as Marcel’s Nana Connie are wonderful. They play off of each other — and off Fleischer-Camp as Dean the documentarian — in touching ways that make this an emotional, funny and bittersweet experience.

As the director, Fleischer-Camp keeps his film walking a very careful line. A lot of films have tried to tackle grief and loss of community from a perspective of humor or whimsy and come up short; this isn’t an easy thing to do. But Fleischer-Camp and Slate trust their audience, and the results are staggeringly good. It may have gotten somewhat lost among more bombastic and prestigious entries by the end of the year (though it did thankfully land an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature), but Marcel the Shell With Shoes On can stand proud as one of the absolute best movies of 2022.


Image Credit: A24

I would argue that the hype around Everything Everywhere All At Once was something we haven’t seen for a film like this for a long, long time. However, that would imply there has been a film like this before, and there really hasn’t. Anyone who knows Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan’s previous work like Swiss Army Man — the Daniel Radcliffe as a farting corpse movie — knows that they have a track record of making great and surprisingly touching films from bizarre concepts. Everything Everywhere All At Once is the pinnacle of that notion and like their other work, no reason it should work as well as it does.

I mean that sincerely; I am mystified as to how they made this film as close to perfect as they did. The story here (also written by The Daniels) is all over the place and to call it “idiosyncratic” would be a wild understatement. I know I’ve said this multiple times already on films this year, but I absolutely understand if this doesn’t work for anyone. That said, the Daniels are not only able to tie several disparate genres and themes together, they do it with impossible smoothness. Everything Everywherejumps from black comedy and martial arts to sci-fi and surrealism at the drop of the heat, and yet it never feels jarring — at least, not in a way it isn’t supposed to. And in the process, it touches on everything from nihilism and family generational tensions to relationships, identity, the Asian-American experience and more.

It’s a stunning achievement, made somehow almost mainstream by the constant humor that hits its marks, the inventive action sequences, a spectacular visual palette and superlative performances. Michelle Yeoh carries this movie on her back, but she gets ample support from the likes of Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, Jamie Lee Curtis, and James Hong. This is a bizarre, hilarious, exciting and heartstring-pulling cinematic experience that has not left my head from the day I saw it. Some love it, some hate it, but that’s almost kind of the point here. And for me, it’s the unquestioned #1 film of 2022.

****

And that will do it for this! Have a good one and don’t forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.