2022: TOP FILMS OF THE YEAR

Introduction

Hello royals. It’s the end of the year and I’ve got a Top 10 list to share. I saw 109 movies this year and roughly 40 of them were released in the calendar year of 2022. If you want to see everything I watched, check out my Letterboxd profile in the description. If you don’t see a movie you thought was one of the best of the year, it may be I simply did not see it. More likely than not I did see it and didn’t think it was good.

I want to say at the start, I think 2022 was a great year for movies. It feels like movies are back. Disney is floundering in the post-Avengers landscape. Netflix is failing. I think businesses are getting tired of churning out generic crap and audiences are sick of watching it. We’ve paved the way for actual filmmakers to return. I’m excited for next year and what it has in store but first let’s reflect on the best from this year.

Before we get to the list I want to do some honorable mentions. Movies I really liked but aren’t on my list. I’ll speed through these.

Avatar: The Way of Water. This is a good movie. I am pro Avatar. I am a James Cameron stan. I will gladly watch another 3 more Avatar movies. I would watch more than 3 Avatar movies. The world of Pandora is cool. The stories are cool. The characters are cool. James Cameron knows how to make an action movie. I don’t think this movie needed to be 3 hours long and I think people claiming it’s the greatest movie this year are insane, but it’s still pretty great.

The Batman surprised me by being a lot better than I thought it would be. I thought surely I’ve reached the point where I stop caring about superhero movies but this movie earned its relevancy. I loved how this movie is far more of an investigation and mystery rather than an action movie. I’d much rather see more movies in this tone than a Marvel copycat. I believe franchise filmmaking is a necessary evil of our era but I am glad some brands – like Batman – have identified a genre niche they can fit within. I would love to see more Batman movies that are thrillers rather than generic superhero films.

Ok now we’re in another grade of honorable mentions. These next few movies I think are just kind of ok, I’d give them all 3 out of 5s but there’s something about them that has really stayed with me.

The most surprising is Smile. This movie is in the same class as many other horror films that get released every year but this one has a unique gimmick with the smiling curse that leads to your own death. It is undeniably creepy. I also really liked how this movie depicted trauma as a curse that passes through interpersonal relationships. I thought that was really fascinating. I want to see more from Smile, I hope they make it a franchise or continue that idea in some other project.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Three Thousand Years of Longing is a movie more people should see. It has a terrible trailer because it is basically impossible to market this movie. I would call it a mythology anthology romance film? This is an imprecise description but it’s basically three short stories told in one film with a connective story across each one. The final act is terrible, but the storytelling in this film is imaginative and really quite wonderful. Check it out if you can, but maybe turn it off before the last 30 minutes.

Finally, The House was the first movie I reviewed this year and I’m surprised how long it’s stayed on my mind. This is another anthology of three short stories. I was disappointed the stories had no relationship with one another but as I’ve spent more time away from it I look back fondly on the art direction of this film. I like the stop motion animation and how it was applied in the context of a disturbing horror film. The first and second story are very memorable and I think it was overall a neat little project.

That’s it for honorary mentions. Let’s get on with the list.

10. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

I am keeping up the tradition of reserving my number 10 spot with a television show I’ve been watching this year. I don’t typically watch television shows for a variety of reasons but I need to plug my favorite from this year — Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. This show is a miracle. I became a Star Trek fan in 2015 when all the series were added to Netflix and I have since fallen in love with Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Enterprise. I have been in some process of rewatching one of those shows ever since 2015, so we’re talking about a 7-year love affair that’s going to continue into next year. Part of the reason I love those older Star Trek shows is because they provide something that television doesn’t do anymore. Self-contained episodic content and science-oriented resolutions. Despite the “golden era” of television we’re apparently in… there’s no show on today like old Star Trek — and that’s including Star Trek: Discovery. But now there is!

Strange New Worlds is exactly what I want from new Star Trek. It’s episodic. It has a genuine appreciation for science, curiosity, and complex stories. It knows the power of centering episodes around minor characters. It knows Star Trek was never a deeply serious show and has humorous elements, but it’s not sarcastic or quippy or irreverent. Unlike Discovery, Strange New Worlds wasn’t written by people who admit they don’t like Star Trek. Star Trek isn’t a franchise that needed to be changed, it just needed people who understood what made it appealing. That’s proof in the fact many people have had the same experience as me — rediscovering the show 30 years later and falling in love with it. Strange New Worlds is exactly the show Star Trek has needed. Discovering the quality of this show was such an immense joy for me this past year. Not every episode is great. There’s at least one real stinker, but I would love for CBS to make episodes of this show forever. If you’ve hesitated to watch new Star Trek before — this one is worth it. If you’ve never seen Star Trek or never understood why people like it, this is an excellent place to start.

9. The Whale

Next up we have the most recent release in the calendar year — The Whale. I did a review for this movie earlier this week so it’s still fresh in my mind. This movie marks the return of Brendan Fraser to a leading role. Fraser has had a very tragic career trajectory with many contributing factors to the evaporation of his relevancy. He experienced a sexual assault, his mom died, he got divorced, and he had some movies that bombed. He has become a character in Hollywood that inspires pity and sympathy, which makes him the perfect casting decision for The Whale. This film focuses on a character named Charlie whose life has fallen apart for a similar collection of tragedies. I think Fraser’s involvement in this movie elevates its significance because he has so many similarities to the character he is playing.

This is also a Darren Aronofsky film who has a track record of making really whacky films that are way too obvious with their allegories or metaphors. The Whale definitely has some stilted writing and that’s a challenge you have to overcome to enjoy this film. If you don’t, you can probably complain about how it’s written badly the entire time, but if you do get past that I think there’s something really special in this movie. It has some of the most complex interpersonal relationships in film this year. If I had to compare it to another movie, I think the depth of the emotion in this film is similar to last year’s Drive My Car — another movie that was good at laying it all out for the audience to see and come to their own views of the characters. They don’t really make movies like The Whale anymore. This year — and this list — is dominated by action movies and horror films. We’re in one of those cycles which is fine, but when it comes to classic drama films The Whale is one of the better ones this year.

8. The Fabelmans

At number 8 we have the first Steven Spielberg movie in the past decade I’ve cared about — The Fabelmans. This is the project Spielberg has thought about making his entire life. It is an autobiographical story effectively about Spielberg’s own upbringing but it abstracts it to be about Sammy Fabelman and his family unit. Over the course of Sammy’s life he discovers a love for filmmaking and that love is tightly intertwined with his relationship to his parents’ divorce. This is one of the more personal films Spielberg has made in this life so it has all the emotion and passion that I thought has been lacking from his more recent work. This movie has some of the best montage sequences of his career and it really is a return to form for his seemingly effortless style. If you haven’t checked in on Spielberg since War of the Worlds, The Fabelmans is a good time to return to his work. I’m not sure how many more movies Spielberg has in him, but I hope this project rejuvenates his love for the medium and we get more personal projects from him.

7. Prey

Next up is the biggest surprise for me this year. It is a reboot of a franchise that has been struggling to find its identity pretty much since the first movie that was released more than 30 years ago — I’m talking about the Predator prequel Prey. Prey focuses on a Native American tribe that comes into contact with the famous Predator. The main character is a young woman named Naru who has ideals of being a hunter in her tribe but she’s discriminated against because of her gender by the other men. The film sets up the framing that in order for Naru to prove herself she has to bring home a big game like a mountain lion. Of course, the way the film unfolds leads her to take on a bigger enemy — the predator.

If it’s not clear from the short synopsis I gave, the best thing about this movie is how it effortlessly elevates the Predator concept. The pre-revolutionary backdrop following Native American hunters is a genius setting for a fictional alien race that hunts people for sport. They have really nailed the colonial theme that’s always been at the bedrock of Predator. What really made this movie special for me is how good it was even before the Predator entered into the movie. We spend a good 30 minutes following Naru and her struggles in the tribe and I remember thinking I would’ve been happy watching a movie just about that. This movie feels like a 2000s-era epic action film like The Last Samurai or Gladiator. I have a fondness for those movies and they don’t really make them anymore. It was a great experience having already enjoyed the movie for its introduction and then to top it off the predator shows up. Prey establishes its story really well with some strong characters and follows it up by tying an already great movie to the rejuvenation of a struggling franchise. It was the biggest surprise for me this year.

6. Barbarian

Another big surprise for me this year was the horror film Barbarian. It’s not completely accurate to call Barbarian a horror film. If you’ve seen the movie you know what I mean and if you haven’t seen it you need to go watch it right now. This is one of the rare films that genuinely feels like a rollercoaster. I think people use that phrase as a critique to suggest filmmaking has become entertainment and lost its artistry. That is certainly a tragic thing but we also need to remember that rollercoasters are pretty cool. Barbarian is a ride that is best experienced with as little information as possible. This movie mixes genres and plays with your expectations. This year was notably because it had so many movies where you couldn’t guess what would happen next and Barbarian is really the best example of that. It’s not a particularly scary film, but it has all the makings of a cult classic horror film. I think this will be one of the fastest movies to enter the horror canon and it deserves it because it’s so good.

5. Emily the Criminal

The year 2022 saw two different movies about dispossessed female protagonists fighting to be moral individuals in the face of unethical capitalism and my favorite of the two was Emily the Criminal. The other one was Kimi which was also very good. Emily the Criminal is my preference because I really digged the raw atmosphere of this film. This is a film where the tension is derived from con jobs but unlike other films in the genre the cons are never centered around the main character being charismatic and doing a social sleight of hand with their marks. All the scams are low-brow rip-and-runs. The realistic filming style creates a gritty atmosphere that feels palpably dangerous. It’s probably the most tense I’ve felt in a movie this year and that’s saying a lot since we had a lot of high quality action and horror films this year.

The other element of Emily the Criminal that won me over was the framing of the main character being the victim of an unfair economy. She has thousands of dollars of student loan debt and a felony background that makes it impossible for her to re-establish herself in society. I thought the depiction of this character felt very authentic. I am certain there are real life Emilys all over the United States. This movie did a phenomenal job creating an attachment to its main character and showing the injustice and immorality of our system. It’s a movie that shows the world has effectively ordained a system of scammers and suckers. This story follows one character who’s sick of being taken advantage of. It is easily the one of the best culture critiques in film this year and one of my favorites for the year.

4. RRR

It was a big year for action films in 2022 but the one that I enjoyed the most was the Bollywood film RRR. This film had renewed interest in the United States when it received a limited theater release followed by its availability on Netflix which turned it into an overnight sensation. I can say without reservation RRR is a fantastic film. It is a historical fiction action film that speculates how Indian history might have been different if two impactful civil rights leaders knew each other. The main characters are based on actual historical figures but that’s pretty much the end of the historical accuracy. They never met in real life. This movie is really an excuse to show an underdog David vs Goliath story in the context of the British Empire’s colonial rule of India. Finally, the movie Americans have always wanted where white colonialists are the bad guys. It only took the production being based in India to make it happen.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed this film because I usually do not like Bollywood films. I don’t like musical numbers and — although I enjoy over-the-top action — I think Bollywood has a habit of overdoing it so it loses its effectiveness. I sometimes refer to this concept of “escalation” which is similar to the concept of “nuking the fridge.” If a character does an incredible feat in the first 15 minutes, it lessens the stakes of all subsequent action. Bollywood does that all the time but RRR does not. This movie has a great escalation of its stakes and it actually uses its hyperbolic set pieces to integrate with the story. There’s a scene early on that’s meant to show how a character was unfairly passed over and we get to see what the character did to earn acclaim. It is a benefit to the film’s point that the depiction of his action is so over-the-top because it strengthens the feeling of injustice later in the film.

Beyond the appropriate use of crazy action, I really liked the character moments in this story. This is a de facto bromance film that’s just as much about friendship as it is about its more political topics. More than anything though, this movie knows how to have fun and keep things exciting. As I mentioned earlier in this video, RRR is one of the films from this year where I didn’t know what would happen next. Each development in the story feels earned and it kept me enraptured with the characters, their actions, and their consequences. I think the western critics who are fawning over this movie may be driven primarily by a self-hatred for their own culture, but I don’t think that should get in the way of recommending what is legitimately a fantastic film.

3. Crimes of the Future

We’re in the top 3 and this is where my love for this year in film was really cemented. Any one of the next three films would be an easy #1 pick in another weaker year which speaks to the strength of this year’s releases. We’re starting with what I thought would be my number one for a number of months Crimes of the Future. This is a David Cronenberg film and it is his first horror or science fiction film in more than 20 years. He’s spent a lot of time making gangster dramas with Viggo Mortensen and this project merges late career Cronenberg and early career Cronenberg with a return to form that can only be described as a triumph. Cronenberg became famous because his body horror films struck a nerve by drawing a contrast between the fragility of the human body with the fragility of the human mind. His movies have always had the theme of how what we do in life affects who were as people and he really landed on that point in Crimes of the Future.

This movie takes place in the near future where the proliferation of sleeping pods that prevent all pain has led to a derangement in society where self-mutilation has become a new artform. The movie focuses on a performance artist played by Viggo Mortensen who has the ability to regrow his own organs, so he regularly partakes in performance art of live surgery. This concept is obviously disturbing, but it’s not simply for shock value. Cronenberg wrote the screenplay for Crimes of the Future in the 2000s and it’s speculated his initial interest in the story was due to the proliferation of plastic surgery among ordinary people. He sat on the project for a while and it is incredible how the themes of this story are more relevant today then they would have been 20 years ago. I’m told teenage plastic surgery is more common than people even realize. One friend of mine — who is in a position to know these things — said it’s a pretty safe bet to guess any teenage girl in high school has asked to get plastic surgery for her birthday and many of them have actually gotten it. The plastic surgery element of this story remains relevant, but I think what Cronenberg didn’t expect was how many people would connect with this story because of the growing concern of pollution leading to contamination the human body. Microplastics, lead, PCBs, and other chemicals that exist in our buildings, our water infrastructure, or our soil for the food we grow has become a huge point of concern for younger generations familiar with environmental activism. All of this merges quite sublimely with Cronenberg’s repeated cultural critique that society has flirted with immoral mutilation of the human mind and body for our own entertainment. That’s depicted quite literally in this film.

Crimes of the Future is a disturbing and incisive cultural critique. I think it’s Cronenberg’s best movie which is an incredible accomplishment since he’s 80 years old and effectively at the very end of his career. Even so he dropped one of the best films of this year. This movie was also a complete box office failure so I really encourage you to pay for it if you can.

2. Tar

For my number 2 film of the year — again a film that could’ve been number one if it was a weaker year — we have Todd Fields’ return to filmmaking after 16 years with his drama film Tar. This is a film essentially about the cancellation of a high-status orchestral conductor. While that pitch may sound very snooty like this movie is made for rich people, I really think it has more appeal than the premise suggests. The director Todd Field has said Tar could’ve been set in any high-stakes environment that relies on transactional relationships, he just happened to pick the orchestra scene. One thing I’ve always loved about Field’s movies is he’s great at portraying the entirety of morally dubious characters. He doesn’t force the audience to make a judgment of these characters. Instead he lets you come to your own conclusions. Tar is a film set in the modern day so it has the benefit of feeling very fresh and current and allowing you to digest some of the complex thoughts you might have about cancel culture, personal relationships in the workplace, favoritism, etc.

I did a review of this movie earlier this year where I gushed about its ability to immerse you in Lydia Tar’s world. I also really liked the artistic deviations in its filmmaking. It’s not a straight drama film, there are fantastical elements like nightmare sequences or the appearance of ghosts throughout the story. These elements are not a significant part of the film’s identity but there’s just enough to make the experience feel disturbed and — at times — creepy. The film doesn’t overdo these elements and is largely very grounded, but it’s just enough to make it feel unique.

The thing I would add to my appreciation for Tar since my first viewing is how it managed to portray its main character so honestly. I’ve talked about how I get annoyed by movies making all of their characters explicitly likable. We’re never trusted to make our own judgments on characters, we’re also spoon-fed how we should feel or think about anyone at any point in time. When I rewatched Tar, I noticed how the film makes no effort to make Lydia Tar likable. There are certainly things about her you can connect with such as her passion for music, her competency, or her quick wit — but none of this is an appeal to the audience to like her. She simply is. I think that’s why a lot of critics were disappointed to find out Lydia Tar isn’t a real person although she does feel like one in this story. I really loved how this movie didn’t set out with a goal to make us like or dislike Lydia, it simply wanted to depict her story as truthfully as possible. It’s a story that is undeniably relevant today and it makes for one of the most interesting films this year.

1. Everything Everywhere All at Once

For my number one pick, the only movie this year to reliably bring me to tears and force me to face my own depression — Everything Everywhere All at Once. You knew it was coming.

Everything Everywhere All at Once has started to get some pushback because it’s winning awards and some very self-serious critics are concerned it will win an Oscar. That’s inspiring a lot of people to say this movie is “basically a superhero movie” or “rick and morty as a movie,” and other dismissive comments. If you’re hearing this stuff and you’re concerned this movie is overrated, I’m here to tell you it’s not.

This movie is an action comedy drama film where the antagonist is being depressed and becoming nihilistic. It frames this conflict within a family unit where the protagonist is the mother and the antagonist is the daughter. This is such a smart framing because it shows how the problems the world is having right now are generational — the result of how we’ve treated or been treating each other. The most personal version of that conflict is how we feel fractured from our family as a result of our depression. This movie is very empathetic in its portrayal of how people become nihilistic and it is surprisingly optimistic about how to overcome that situation. It also helps that this movie is the definition of maximalism. It’s got frenetic pacing, bombastic action sequences, an immense number of special effects, but even with all those distractions this is a deeply personal film about a very important topic — which is your own happiness.

I think this movie is beautiful. I just did a video on it where I go into a lot more detail about what it gets right. I consider Everything Everywhere All at Once an instant American classic. Even if you don’t think you will like it, you should see it just so you know it exists. So, there you have it. Everything Everywhere All at Once is the best film of 2022.

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