2022 was the return of the Blockbuster both on the big and small screen. It felt like we were in a deluge of genre TV shows this year with Star Wars, Game of Thrones, and Lord of the Rings all premiering big splashy seasons of television at the same time — and that was just in August. There was also (more) Star Wars, Star Trek, and Stranger Things dominating the summer. At the multiplex, this was the year that Marvel finally lost its grip on being the only show in town to bring audiences back out to theaters. We’re still not all the way back to pre-pandemic form as the arthouse continues to struggle, but the likes of Tom Cruise, Michelle Yeoh, and James Cameron were here to remind us that not all heroes wear capes… some have flight jackets, blue tails, and hotdog fingers.
And now onto the Movies of 2022, with a list of Honorable Mentions…
Best Lead Performances: Michelle Yeoh, Everything Everywhere All at Once / Colin Farrell, The Banshees of Inisherin
Best Supporting Performances: Janelle Monáe, Glass Onion / Ke Huy Quan, Everything Everywhere All at Once
Best Screenplay: The Banshees of Inisherin
Best Cinematography: Nope
Best Editing: Top Gun: Maverick
Best Production Design: The Northman
Best Score: The Batman
Best Visual Effects: Avatar: The Way of Water
Under Pressure, Aftersun
Naatu Naatu, RRR
The Juilliard Lecture, Tár
Sammy Meets His Hero, The Fabelmans
Maverick Flies the Mission Himself, Top Gun: Maverick
10. After Yang
Colin Farrell, in one of his several great performances this year, stars as a father trying to repair his daughter’s android/nanny, Yang, who has broken down. While technically a work of science fiction, what follows is perhaps the softest form of sci-fi you’re ever likely to find. Farrell’s journey to repair Yang leads him to discover the entirety of his “refurbished” robot’s existence and all the lives he’s touched along the way. It forces him to re-examine his own interactions with Yang and how to re-connect with his own family and his own sense of self. The snippets of memory Yang chose to save shows us brief glimpses of the beauty in life’s small moments and how we build our own identities within our own small moments. An absolute gem of a movie, After Yang is exceptionally profound and tender in its examination of life, love, and family.
9. The Northman
Dir. Robert Eggers
Ever since his feature debut, The Witch back in 2015, writer/director Robert Eggers has been one of cinema’s most distinct voices. Watching an Eggers film feels like undergoing a dark and dangerous form of hypnosis which is incredibly seductive. Here he sets his sights on the retelling of an ancient Viking myth that was the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Hamlet and starring a cast of knock-out actors in Alexander Skarsgard (arguably his best role here), Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicole Kidman, Ethan Hawke, and Willem Dafoe. With this exceptional cast and incredible production design, Eggers delivers a Nordic epic that is brutal, mesmerizing, and singular.
Dir. S.S. Rajamouli
From Bollywood comes a team-up between its industry’s biggest action stars in what seems like one of the biggest movies ever made. Director S.S. Rajamouli’s action-musical-epic feels like the most movie to have ever movie’d as it crams so much into its 3-hour running time. RRR is a movie that truly has it all… breathtaking action setpieces, a sweeping story, and irresistible musical sequences. It wears every emotion on its sleeve and is impossible to deny. It almost feels like an exercise in absurdity if it wasn’t so gonzo-entertaining. If you ever have the opportunity to watch in a movie theater, packed with patrons dancing in the aisles to “Naatu Naatu” with infectious enthusiasm, don’t miss it. In fact, you may even find yourself dancing in the privacy of your own living room and having the time of your life.
Dir. Charlotte Wells
New filmmaker Charlotte Wells’ semi-autobiographical examination of memory and parenting is one of the most emotionally devastating experiences I’ve ever had watching a movie. In the film, a mid-30’s Sophie looks back on old home videos captured during a vacation with her dad at a Turkish resort when she was 11. While young Sophie is grappling with aging into adolescence, her father is dealing with darker demons that he works to shield his young daughter from. Aftersun is a breathtaking piece of slice-of-life filmmaking but also a gut-wrenching look at the flawed humanity inside all of us. Paul Mescal and newcomer Frankie Corio give exceptional performances and the film delivers one of the most powerful final scenes in years. I’m reluctant to call any filmmaker’s first feature a masterpiece, but Aftersun is one of the best movies on parenting I’ve ever seen, particularly for father-daughters. It’s an overwhelming emotional experience that has stuck in my gut more than any other movie this year.
6. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Dir. Rian Johnson
Benoit Blanc returns in writer/director Rian Johnson’s follow-up to his 2019 hit, Knives Out, and the results are largely the same: an outrageously fun romp with an outstanding ensemble cast and two great performances at the top, this time with Daniel Craig and Janelle Monáe. What’s really impressive with this murder mystery sequel is how well Johnson is able to restructure what made the original Knives Out so successful and yet keep the formula fresh. Part of the original’s success was that it was just as much fun on a second viewing as the first (if not more) and the same holds true here once real motivations for various characters are revealed. Daniel Craig has quickly moved on from Bond and looks to be having a delightful time diving head first into Johnson’s world. While the original was a takedown of the privilege that comes with generational wealth, Johnson’s latest takes no prisoners in skewering the tech generation and he has once again crafted a superb piece of entertainment that is both timely and potent.
5. Avatar: The Way of Water
Dir. James Cameron
It almost seems trite at this point to say, “Never bet against James Cameron,” and yet people keep doing it. It’s been 13 years since his last film, the original Avatar, and he’s back to remind us that he is unmatched when it comes to delivering spectacle. Watching all that Cameron and his team of artists have created is a jaw-dropping and overwhelming experience. What’s fascinating about this return trip to Pandora is how it establishes its own genre formula that we’re likely to repeat with impending future installments. These movies are built to be vehicles for discovering this stunning and expansive world, and Cameron only injects as much plot as absolutely necessary to do just that. Avatar is a vibes movie and the vibes are as immaculate as the Pandora oceans. It’s also a rewarding emotional experience as Cameron turns his saga into a family drama, which adds tremendous stakes and poignant character connections that were lacking in the series’ first chapter. This world is wondrous and breathtaking and James Cameron can keep taking us back as many times as he likes.
4. The Banshees of Inisherin
Dir. Martin McDonagh
Writer/Director Martin McDonagh re-teams with his leads from 2008’s cult classic In Bruges, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleason, and the trio deliver their best work yet. Set during the Irish Civil War on the fictional island of Inisherin, Colin Farrell’s Padraic is shocked and bewildered when his best friend Colm abruptly ends their friendship. Banshees has the signature wit and sharp dialogue that fans of McDonagh have come to expect, but the former playwright also imbues his tale with some of the most poignant examinations on depression, aging, relationships, and what makes a worthy life. These are questions that we all wrestle with on a daily basis and seldom have they’ve been so aptly portrayed on the screen than they are here. The highlights of the movie are really the performances. Colin Farrell gives career-best work as a simpleton grappling with deep issues of abandonment, Brendan Gleeson is heartbreaking as a man who feels like he’s running out of time, while both Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan are equally as impressive as the stars of the picture. Banshees is a rare movie that deals with heavy themes, is quite sad mostly, but also a delightful joy to watch.
3. The Fabelmans
Dir. Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg has been telling this story his entire career, but now he has stripped out all of the bells and whistles of some of his most iconic pieces of entertainment to deliver the quintessential Spielbergian story in its raw form. Part of what makes Spielberg such a special filmmaker is his ability to capture the specificities of every day life and make them feel universal. The Fabelmans, led by wonderful performances from Michelle Williams and Paul Dano, feel like our own family and this late-career gem about a teenage outsider/filmmaker who is both ridiculed and admired in seemingly equal measure struck a very strong and personal chord. While it was sold as a sentimental wide-eyed look about the magic of movies, The Fabelmans is far more complicated, and its characters are far more complicated than any archetype you can fit them into. It’s an inspiring coming-of-age epic that I felt deep in my bones with one of the best final shots of Spielberg’s whole career.
2. Everything Everywhere All at Once
Dir. Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert
Commonly referred to as simply “The Daniel’s”, this duo’s first feature, the wonderfully weird Swiss Army Man ended up on my Top 10 back in 2016. When their next project was revealed to be an inter-dimensional sci-if/action/comedy with Michelle Yeoh and Short Round from Indiana Jones, it felt impossible to miss. Everything Everywhere is its title — it’s a movie about everything… every decision, every life path we could have taken and its ramifications. Not only is the movie outrageous (it is), hilarious (definitely), and filled with wild action, but it’s also an incredibly emotional and profound journey that attempts to unravel all the mysteries of the universe. It almost feels impossible to describe as it’s one of the most original films to be released since perhaps ever. There’s no other movie like it. Everything Everywhere All at Once is in a class all its own. Michelle Yeoh gives the performance of her career while Ke Huy Quan is the beating heart of the film. Incredible work from both Stephanie Hsu and Jamie Lee Curtis must also be mentioned. Everywhere Everything is likely one of the weirdest movies you’ll ever see, but also one of the most unforgettable.
1. Top Gun: Maverick
Dir. Joseph Kosinski
The longer one works in this industry, the easier it is to become jaded and cynical. Then a movie like Top Gun: Maverick flies in and reminds you of what made you fall in love with movies in the first place. This movie had so much going against it: a sequel to a 36-year-old 80’s action movie that due to the pandemic, had been delayed from release for two years. What more could one really do with this concept? Did anybody really even want it? Is it just a cynical cash grab based on our fondness for nostalgic IP? What Top Gun: Maverick became was an allegory for the state of blockbuster filmmaking and its producer/star being the last grasp of a dying breed. “Your kind is headed for extinction, Maverick.” “Maybe so sir, but not today.” For the last several years, Tom Cruise has been pushing the limits of blockbuster filmmaking with his Mission: Impossible franchise and he brings that same approach to Top Gun. The action is absolutely breathtaking with some of the most exciting sequences ever put on screen… and it’s because it’s real. Cruise and his collaborators, including Christopher McQuarrie, the architect of the last several Mission: Impossible films, could have just left it at that, a great action movie. But instead they find the guts and the pathos to Maverick, resulting in a movie that makes you cheer and cry, often at the same time. It wears its heart on its sleeve and proves that old fashioned entertainment has not gone out of style. Top Gun: Maverick is exhilarating, rousing, moving, and just plain fun. It’s the defining movie of Cruise’s career and an all-time great.