22 Best Movies of 2022
No one could be blamed for thinking that the Movies — the capital-M medium — was in a midst of an existential crisis in 2022. The theatrical experience constantly seemed to be hanging on by a thread, threatening to become a thing of the past. (Though a hearty thank you to you, Mr. Tom Cruise, for saving it for at least one more year.) Streaming services kept underwriting canon-worthy directors’ new projects, then undermining those same films by throwing them to the algorithm wolves and turning them into just another bit of “content.” Superhero movies continued to dominate multiplex screens, and I.P. franchises continued to multiply and/or go multiversal at the expense of a variety of other options. (If we have to suffer through one more “Marty or Marvel?” argument on Film Twitter…just kidding. R.I.P. Twitter.) If a film fell in the forest, and a pop star wasn’t accused of spitting on a costar while promoting it, did it even make a sound? The phrase “casual moviegoer” remained on the verge of becoming an oxy-moron. The sky is falling!, cried the chorus of chicken-little cinephiles, before turning back to the Criterion Channel to binge yesterday’s arthouse heroes.
Yes, the big-picture view of big pictures did sometimes seem dire. But once again, the movies delivered. Sometimes, it was a matter of knowing where to look for them, and to keep the faith that something lifechanging, if not gamechanging was right around the corner. Other times, there seemed to be a bounty of incredible cinema, running the gamut from lyrical documentaries to genre exercises to left-field blockbusters, coming in waves. Films like Tár could still inspire arguments and discussions; Nope could still inspire deep-dive explainers that went way beyond “Killer Spaceship 1, People 0.” It was a good 12 months to be an cine-omnivore. We expanded the roster to 22 films this year — because 2022! Yes, we are indeed shameless! — but even then, there were a number of extraordinary films that kept crowding their way into the idea of a “best of” lineup. The movies aren’t dead. They’re not even the past.
(A quick shout out to some honorable mentions: All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, Armageddon Time, Barbarian, Bones and All, Catherine Called Birdy, Corsage, Donbass, The Eternal Daughter, God’s Country, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, Men, Montana Story, Moonage Daydream, The Northman, Peter von Kant, Playground, Return to Seoul, The Silent Twins, Top Gun: Maverick, and The Wonder. Also, there was some debate over including Petite Maman and The Worst Person in the World in this year’s best-of, since their qualifying runs in 2021 meant they showed up on a number of lists last year. We’ll save those two for our best-of-the-decade list.)
‘Crimes of the Future’
Welcome back, David Cronenberg! Canada’s favorite cinematic son returns with his first film in eight years, which finds him once again exploring the gooey, gristly subgenre that made him both a midnight-movie icon and an international sensation. A superstar performance artist (Viggo Mortensen) and his partner in crime (Lea Seydoux) engage in the now-popular pastime of self-administered medical procedures. (“Surgery is the new sex,” coos Kristen Stewart’s fangirl bureaucrat, instantly coining a perfect t-shirt-friendly meme for our modern age.) A murder plot, some straight-outta-noirsville cops and an underground movement dedicated to progressive evolution also factor in, as do several techno-organic contraptions that suggest the writer-director himself has come full circle. Forget the new flesh. Long live vintage Cronenberg.
‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’
Not all multiverse heroes wear capes — some merely sprout long, hot-dog fingers and/or googly third eyes. One of the surprise box-office hits of 2022, this absurdist romp from the duo known as Daniels, a.k.a. Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, turns the existential crisis of a mother/wife/laundromat owner (Michelle Yeoh) doing her taxes into a when-alternate-timelines-collide epic. Pathos and silliness sit side by side with Pixar in-jokes, Wong Kar-Wai references and adrenaline-rush action sequences; name another movie with a kinetic, martial-arts showdown revolving around makeshift butt plugs. (We’ll wait.) Yet Kwan and Scheinert don’t let the gonzo, anything-goes approach detract from a story about generational trauma, the benefits and burdens of familial bonds and the sense that your life (or lives, plural) has passed you by. Plus it gives Ke Huy Quan the comeback role and the mighty Yeoh the full-range showcase they both deserve.
Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei) is a university student in France circa 1963. She discovers she’s pregnant, and isn’t ready to become a mother. Abortion is still illegal in that European country at that point in time, however, and the more Anne talks to disapproving doctors, disappointed professors and other male authority figures, the more desperate she becomes. Writer-director Audrey Diwan’s award-winning adaptation of Annie Ernaux’s novel hit American theaters a few after the SCOTUS leak on the fate of Roe vs. Wade hit newsfeeds, which made this period piece feel extremely up-to-date. Yet it would be damning indictment of how women’s rights regarding their own bodies have been under attack regardless of when it hit these shores. And Diwan’s use of silence and space, her talent for letting scenes unfold at a deceptively leisurely pace before turning the screws, and her seemingly telepathic rapport with her lead actor immediately established this film as an extraordinary work of art, headlines be damned.
Bay Area documentarian Sam Green (The Weather Underground) turns his lens on — and his boom mics toward — the subject of sound. Designed partially as an essay film and partially as an one element of an immersive live event (though it works wonders either way you view it), this unique look into the role that audio, natural or manufactured, plays in our lives is more than just a deep dive into our great big sonic world. Yes, avant-garde musicians, archivists and experts weigh in on the science of it all. But the film also touches on sense memory, where a snippet of an old disco song can make an ex-pat think of home, or an old phone-message recording can remind someone of an immeasurable loss. And it dares to tackle the question: If a tree falls in the woods, does it really make a sound? The answer is yes, if you hire a professional Foley artist to recreate it. Playful, profound, and probably the only movie to ever turn a Moho braccatus’s mating call into something that could move you to tears.
Director Dan Trachtenberg’s addition to the Predatorverse isn’t just an intriguing franchise expansion or a cool intellectual-property detour. It’s something close to a B-movie masterpiece, a survivalist thriller-slash-proto-Western-slash-final-girl horror flick that, like both its iconic alien and its indigenous tracker, is extremely good at what it sets out to do. Dropping the creature from outer space into the Commanche nation circa 1719, this entry transfuses fresh blood by flashing back (not to mention drawing a parallel between all sorts of invaders in the “New World”) and gives us a first rate female action hero in the form of Amber Midthunder’s resourceful, take-no-prisoners Naru. A totally unexpected termite-art blast.
Let us now praise Bill Nighy! The Love, Actually star gives a beautifully calibrated, tamped-down performance in this remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Ikuru set in 1950’s London, and adds his own touches to the Takashi Shimura role of a civil servant who finds out he’s terminally ill. His work alone would be enough to single out director Oliver Hermanus’ pitch-perfect period piece. But everything from the opening credits (which replicate the opening of a vintage film from the era) to an immaculate script by The Remains of the Day‘s Kazuo Ishiguro to impeccable supporting turns from Tom Burke and Aimee Lou Wood make this feel like one of the rare occasions where high style and substance align just right. An absolutely gorgeous, heartbreaking piece of work.
Lots of folks pay homage to the dingy, grungy horror movies of the 1970s; Ti West is one of the few to make a throwback that felt like it could have actually played the grindhouse circuit on a double bill with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. An old-school porn-film crew in Texas travels to a remote farmhouse to shoot their XXX magnum opus. The place’s God-fearing owners aren’t too keen on having these sexually liberated heathens on their property — and one of them may even feel slightly homicidal about their presence. What jolts you out of your slasher-flick comfort zone, however, is how poignant he gets with the raw material. There is an emotional heft to what he’s doing amid all the red-hot naked bodies and still-warm cadavers, a sense of longing that plays on the sensation that you haven’t lived the life you believe you deserve. (See also: Pearl, West and co-writer/star Mia Goth’s prequel released a few months later — it’s almost as good as X and nearly as gory.)
Steven Spielberg finally gives us his Roma. Looking back on his formative years in the 1950s and ’60s, the director and screenwriter Tony Kushner chart how a sensitive kid survived geographical relocations, familial strife and anti-Semitic bullies thanks to the power of — wait for it — the movies. Spielberg has long alluded to an upbringing with its share of tumult over the years, but to see him re-enact the agony and the ecstasy of his early life (and to feel like he’s finally at a place where he can do so with empathy and forgiveness) is to witness American cinema’s great escapist looking inward. Imagine American Graffiti crossed with a Eugene O’Neill play and a primal-scream therapy session, and you’re halfway there. Bonus: Michelle Williams redefines the concept of an onscreen mother on the verge. Plus it’s blessed with a casting-coup coda and a parting visual gag that’s absolutely rapturous.
Filmmaker Alice Diop turns to a real-life court case involving a Franco-Senegalese woman on trial for murdering her 15-month daughter on a beach. A documentarian by trade (her other 2022 film We is also a standout), she’s taken court transcripts and had actors re-enact scenes from witnesses’ testimonies in long takes, with a writer (Kayije Kagame) standing in for the director herself. And somehow, in the act of translating this factual material for her fictional-feature debut, Diop manages to take notions of truth, justice and the second-hand thrill of a courtroom drama and slyly bend them into a dialectic on who benefits from modern social norms and why. Stunning.
In which Penélope Cruz and one hell of a frizzy wig turn a satire of showbiz ridiculousness into a thing of beauty. Argentine directors Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat set the stage for a battle between art and commerce, with the pretentious theater veteran (Oscar Martínez) in one corner and a vapid movie star (Antonio Banderas) in the other. Yet it’s the woman calling the shots on their latest project, an adaptation of a popular novel done at the behest of a billionaire, that renders both of their arguments null and void. What creativity requires is not so much inspiration or money but total chaos, which Cruz’s crackpot auteur (who may or may not be based on a real cineaste) is capable of conjuring in spades. She gives what’s easily one of the best comic performance of her career, and though the movie would hit every bullseye it needed to even without her near-surgical deconstruction of narcissistic monsters who scream “action” and “cut,” it’s Cruz’s take on artistic “genius” that officially this into a work of actual genius.
A ripped, shirtless man narrowly avoiding a midair collision between an angry wolf and an even angrier tiger. An rescue mission involving a sinking raft, a flaming train, a horse, a motorcycle, some rope and the flag of India. A dance-off, complete with some highly choreographed suspender-based moves, that doubles as a class-conscious fuck you. Bromantic montages, slo-mo brooding, flashbacks that constitute their own short films, a man kicking an arrow through a tree trunk into another man’s head, and an acrobatic sequence involving a hero fighting legions of soldiers while perched on his best friend’s shoulders. These are just a few of the things you’ll see in S.S. Rajamouli’s Tollywood blockbuster, although referring to this as a single “blockbuster” feels weird. Charting the bond between an undercover police officer (Ram Charan) for the British Raj and the rural revolutionary (N.T. Rama Rao Jr.) he’s trying to bust, this fit-to-burst story of “Rise, Roar, Revolt” felt like you were mainlining a century’s worth of cinematic epics in one three-plus hour rush.
Is Todd Field’s controversial, divisive look at the downfall of Lydia Tár, famous female conductor of classical music and breaker of glass ceilings, a portrait of an artist as a.) a power broker, b.) a monster, or c.) a compartmentalized construction that borrows ideas of what an artist is supposed to be (and how they’re supposed to behave)? The answer is “all of the above,” and this elegant, elliptical, and often unsparing character study is less interested in “cancel culture” than in the way the abuses of creative geniuses are given license to flourish and fester. It’s also one of the most thrilling collaborations between a writer-director and an actor in decades, with Blanchett essentially staking her claim to being our greatest contemporary actor with the title role.
‘Fire of Love’
There are couples who share a common interest. And then there’s Katia and Maurice Krafft, two French scientists who met, fell in head over heels for each other and traveled the world together, all of it spurred on by their mutual obsession: volcanoes. Filmmaker Sara Dosa gives you the Greatest Lava-Fueled Love Story Ever Told, utilizing the Kraftts’ own films of active eruptions and spewing magma geysers to complement their passion — for both their work and each other. It’s ethereal, elliptical in its construction and eerily beautiful; not even Miranda July’s oft-kilter narration can break the spell. And even if you know the ending of this story going in, the documentary is still an extraordinary testament to one white-hot meeting of hearts and minds.
From the very first shot — a 12-minute single take that turns a Parisian police precinct into the frontline of a war zone — Romain Gavras’ incendiary tale of three brothers caught in a cops-vs.-citizens crossfire is designed to rattle you, raise your pulse and force you to ride shotgun with the participants of a social uprising. The sheer technique that the French filmmaker brings to this story of a banlieue under siege would be impressive enough on its own; A colleague compared it to Fury Road set in the City of Light’s housing estates, and the description is apt. But it’s the way Gavras marshals all of this spectacle in the name of fusing social commentary and Greek tragedy that makes this more than just highly choreographed sound and fury. This movie does not depict a confrontation. It is a confrontation.
‘The Banshees of Inisherin’
Martin McDonagh returns to his Irish roots with this bitterly funny tale of a middle-aged fiddler (Brendan Gleeson) who decides to cut ties with his best friend and slightly daft drinking buddy (Colin Farrell). The idea is that he wants to use his remaining years to compose great music; unfortunately, his erstwhile pal won’t take no for an answer. If you’re familiar with McDonagh’s stage and screen work, you know that salty, warp-speed banter and shocking violence are on deck, both of which are present and accounted for here. Yet there’s a humanity to the humorous back and forth and, eventually, bloody self-harm that harkens back to the writer-director’s early plays, and benefits from having his In Bruges duo once again bringing his dialogue to life. You can believe the hype regarding Farrell’s performance — it’s a brilliant interpretation of a kind, dim-witted soul who is pushed to his breaking point.
A divorced father (Paul Mescal) and his preteen daughter (Frankie Corio) take a vacation in Turkey. Everything seems picture-postcard perfect on the surface, as the duo lounge their days away by the pool and occasionally go sight-seeing. Something seems to be fraying on the edges of their story, however, and it’s to writer-director Charlotte Wells’ credit that nothing is explicitly spelled out or explained. You begin to realize that her remarkably self-assured feature debut is, in fact, a memory piece, filtered via old video-camera clips and the prism of an older woman (Celia Rowson-Hall) sifting through pain. What you don’t catch at first is that the movie is also a ticking time bomb — and that when it finally goes off, the effect is seismic.
Even by the high standards of Terence Davies’ impressive body of work, this biopic of WWI veteran and poet Siegfried Sassoon stands out as something unique in the British filmmaker’s four-decade-plus career: a blend of period drama, literary memoir, queer desire, quiet passion and raging anger at the senseless loss of an entire generation of men. The acting is first-rate (especially Jack Lowden and Peter Capaldi as younger/older versions of Sassoon, and Ben Daniels as a sympathetic doctor). The wit is scathing, even as tragedy hovers constantly in the background — imagine The Guns of August rewritten by Oscar Wilde. And the final shot, in which a lifetime’s worth of melancholy and trauma suddenly hit like a hurricane, will knock the wind out of you.
Iranian director Jafar Panahi’s ongoing status as a political prisoner — he’s currently serving a six-year sentence for “producing antigovernment propaganda” — certainly lends his latest meta-drama a sense of urgency and regrettable currency. Yet it would be a masterwork regardless, as Panahi once again uses his situation to produce something that’s somehow life-affirming and a sucker punch. Unable to make movies in his own country, a slightly fictionalized version of the filmmaker skirts the ban by remotely directing a production in Turkey via laptop. The quaint village he’s staying in, however, begins to worry that their famous visitor has shot something in his off-hours that affects some local residents. They demand to see the pictures. He doesn’t respond well to being strong-armed. What plays out is like his real-life tribulations in miniature, with irony and tragedy waiting right around the corner.
The photos of 14-year-old Emmett Till’s mutilated body, lying in his open funeral casket, galvanized a nation when they ran in Jet Magazine in 1955. Filmmaker Chinonye Chukwu (Clemency) could have simply told the story of how those pictures came to be, and how this child’s kidnapping and murder became a flashpoint in the Civil Rights Movement. Instead, she lets you get to know Emmett (Jalyn Hall) as a carefree boy running around Chicago, and allows you to spend time with his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley (Station Eleven‘s Danielle Deadwyler). What once was a significant turning point history is brought back down to the level of a human story — which only makes the act of revisiting the inhumanity of what happened, and the loss and grief that followed, that much more shattering. It was impossible not to see Chukwu’s sensitive (though not punch-pulling) handling of Till’s death and not feel the still-raw pain around too many recent instances of racial injustice, yet the movie never tries to be a lecture about the need for healing. It simply shows you the tragedy as seen through the eyes of a mother who lost her son. And thanks to Deadwyler’s astounding, emotionally open performance and the visionary behind the camera, Till lets the rest speak for itself.
‘Decision to Leave’
One of cinema’s great baroque stylists, Park Chan-wook shows a more restrained touch than usual in this story of a detective (Park Hae-il), a dead body, and the victim’s widow (Lust, Caution‘s Tang Wei), i.e. this murder case’s prime suspect. The South Korean filmmaker’s sly riff on Vertigo still has a number of jawdropping visual flourishes, but this time, he’s left the Grand Guignol set pieces on the cutting room floor and instead focuses on the way that obsession slowly, methodically chips away at his white-knight hero. It’s as much a love story as it a fatalistic neo-noir, however, and one of the single most romantic movies of the year, even when director Park and screenwriter Seo-kyung Chung essentially reset the narrative at the halfway point. New city, new case, same old amour fou. That gamble somehow makes this tragedy twice as swoonworthy, and when Park is twisting the screws here, he’s being cruel to be kind for once. It makes all the difference.
‘Lingui, the Sacred Bonds’
A young woman (Rihane Khalil Alio) finds herself with child, and is cryptic about who the father may be. She wants an abortion — which, in her home country of Chad, is forbidden by law. Her mom (Achouackh Abakar Souleymane), no stranger to unwanted pregnancies or the social-pariah status that comes with it, is determined to help her by any means necessary, even if that means being exiled from their community. Legendary filmmaker Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (A Screaming Man) turns this mother-daughter tale into a moral parable, a cri de coeur and a formalist wonder; the use of composition, color and mood he employs here is virtually peerless. That he also manages to celebrate the sacred bonds of sisterhood among the women moving in and out of this story without sacrificing a sense of outrage at the situation they’re up against only makes it that much more impressive.
‘Hit the Road’
The debut film by Panaha Panahi — son of the aforementioned legendary Iranian director/political martyr Jafar Panahi — drops viewers into a family trip already in progress. Dad (Hasan Mujuni) is cranky, bearded, partially hobbled by having his leg in a cast. Mom (Pantea Panahiha) is fretful, slightly fussy, nurturing to a fault. Their bookish older son (Amin Simiar) is driving. The youngest child (Rayan Sarlak) is raising hell in the backseat. Where they are all going is, initially, a mystery. You’re not even sure what type of road movie you’re watching at first.
Yet once you’ve seen how the younger Panahi makes all of Hit the Road‘s various tones and borrowed genres — from family drama to political allegory, deadpan comedy to tearjerking tragedy — come together so seamlessly, you’re reminded that sometimes, the journey is more important than the destination. Or, to paraphrase another wise man, Parting is such sweet sorrow…even when you cackling at a precocious six-year-old boy or chuckling over a married couple’s Bickersons-ish double act. Iranian cinema has long used car trips and children as go-to narrative devices, yet few films from any country have used both so sublimely in an effort to crack you up and break your heart. And when you do discover the purpose of their trek, it’s suddenly apparent that a sly critique of the powers that be has been passing by those passenger-side windows the entire time. No other work this year stuck with us as much as this graceful, deceptively simple tale of saying goodbye. It’s an impeccably paced, beautifully composed voyage to sheer moviegoing bliss.