And the best films of 2022 are…
There are plenty of things to be thankful for over the last 12 months: notably the quality of movies released over the past year. And among the movies that did hit the screen, there was something for everyone, including long-awaited new releases, epic blockbusters, sprawling sci-fi epics, gorgeous musicals, intimate character dramas, pulse-pounding thrillers, and more.
From an artistic point of view, 2022 was an excellent year for cinema. Not only did we get exciting releases from American masters, but many festival and international films from the past few years made their way stateside. It also helped that our staff kept busy covering over 20 film festivals worldwide, including TIFF, Cannes, Sundance, Fantasia, and more.
Needless to say, we watched a lot of movies, and after careful consideration and a complex voting process, we have narrowed down a list of what we consider to be the 20 best movies of 2022.
20. Mad God
The stop-motion nightmares that Tippett presents in excruciating detail throughout Mad God is the work of a legend in the field of animation and visual effects. Tippett’s credits run deep through Hollywood’s greatest achievements in visual effects from Jurassic Park to the original Star Wars trilogy, and while those were seen more as breakthroughs for the medium, Mad God is the extremely well-polished masterclass in stop-motion. It doesn’t break new ground, but it has an undeniable ability to transport audiences into its world of despair with a relatively wordless experience that makes it the work of someone at the top of their craft.
30 years in the making, Phil Tippett’s Mad God is an example of the power of endurance while textually showing the repetitive, cyclical collapse of civilization. Breathtaking to witness from start to finish, its simplistic set-up deceitfully suggests a case of style over substance, but it’s in every waking nightmare that Tippett serves up in a gloriously macabre fashion that Mad God’s emotional resonance starts breaking through. A man diving into the depths of a depraved world, armed only with a bomb and a map, attempting to change the course of events with an act of sacrifice. An audiovisual feast that rarely deigns to imply hope in its hopeless hellscape, Mad God’s final act pays off its chaotic and brutal journey with the potential for something new to form; maybe the violence and depravity will continue, but at least someone proved it can be paused, even if only for a moment. (Christoper Cross)
19. Avatar: The Way of Water
Yes, the debate is over, and Avatar is important to the culture once again.
Thirteen years after the original Avatar, James Cameron returned to that universe, and movies in general, with another massive epic that, among other things, did all the things that the Marvel and DC movies have been trying and failing to do for the last two or three years.
Cameron took advantage of the advanced technology available to him to build an amazing world, including large segments set underwater.
While I went into the movie worried I wouldn’t be able to follow it, tell the different blue characters apart, or remember anything about the first movie, the film established very real emotional stakes. I really gave a damn about that whale character, for instance. And having Sigourney Weaver voice a teenager was an out-of-nowhere masterstroke.
The Way of Water, unlike almost every movie in November and December, was a box office hit and might even hit its ridiculously high threshold for breaking even. And with three more sequels set to arrive, don’t expect Avatar to recede from the cultural consciousness anytime soon. (Stephen Silver)
At over three hours long, it’s not hard to conceive that Damien Chazelle’s Babylon will be another excruciatingly pompous and treacly polished vanity project about “The Power of Cinema”. However, he gloriously drops the polish for texture. Encasing this love letter to filmdom within the frame of a debauched epic that transfixes, repulses, and delights in equal measure, employing every element of the medium to a rapturous effect. Akin to an inviting labyrinth, we not only become bewitched by its immediate interconnected story about multiple people forever changed by the “land where dreams are made”, but also its broader, evocative, and all-encompassing treatise on the immortality of cinema.
The insultingly impressive camerawork— accompanied by Justin Hurwitz’s booming, infectious score—overwhelms the senses, injecting a kaleidoscopic quality to the silent film age. All-embracing, all-consuming, and yet wholly intimate, Chazelle’s masterful epic is not only an ode to where film came from but where it will further journey to continue capturing our hearts, minds, and souls. All the while beautifully conjuring the wide array of damaged, broken, and exploited people who create the very films that make us whole. (Prabhjot Bains)
17. Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood
Richard Linklater has made a lot of movies about Texas, and a lot of movies about different aspects of his childhood and young adulthood. He’s also made quite a few animated movies. With Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood, Linklater has done all three at once and made his best film in years.
The animated film tells the story of a kid in 1969 Houston (voiced by Jack Black but implicitly based on the director), who experiences touchstones of life in that era, from the Apollo 11 launch to call the rock music that was popular at the time. He ends up an unlikely participant in a NASA mission (the recent Beavis & Butt-head Do the Universe, amusingly, had a similar hook, with the space-bound kids also coming from Texas.)
This is extremely well-trodden stuff, from the nostalgia for the time period to the music, but Linklater has pulled off a funny, entertaining, and poignant work. It arrived at SXSW and then landed on Netflix in April to little fanfare, but it’s worth a look for fans of Linklater, space, and the ’60s. (Stephen Silver)
Charlotte Well’s Aftersun is a debut for the ages. Committed to both subjectivity and bracing honesty, it seamlessly settles into an equilibrium that brings forward a type of sincerity that is rarely, if ever, matched, seeping into the subconscious and probing its viewers into making their own profound reflections. With every carefully curated frame enveloping the senses, it’s not difficult to find yourself drifting into its serene, melancholic current as you come to terms with the fleeting memories you have of your own loved ones.
Though on the surface, Aftersun follows the fading reminiscences of a woman recalling a childhood vacation to Turkey with her father, she is seldom seen, only briefly flickering onto the screen within her dreamlike recollections. Instead, Wells points her brush towards singular moments during the trip, warmly bringing these cherished memories to life with the gentlest of touches.
The cinematic design fixates on reflections and shadows, visually evoking the refractional, murky, and obscured lens with which we recall our youths and loved ones. This is unequivocally one of the most gorgeous films of the year, with some shots leaving an indelible mark. (Prabhjot Bains)
15. After Yang
Kogonada’s follow-up to his quietly masterful Columbus is a sci-fi epic in miniature. Set in the near future, Jake’s android, Yang, malfunctions, leaving his daughter without her beloved companion. He searches for a way to repair himself but in the process, uncovers a whole other life that allows him to reconnect with his family. That might sound a little vague, but once you get to the film’s big philosophical twist, that ambiguity will be well worth it, as its utterly life-affirming finale will send you away with both tears and fervor for existentialism.
The film’s pensive and quiet story asks what it means to be alive while ruminating on humanity’s increased reliance on technology, the nature of loss, and the deeper facets of all social connections. Kogonada’s visual mastery boldly and sneakily renders its sci-fi world appealing, making its understated wavelength rewarding for those who desire to look beyond its alluring surfaces.
Featuring a terrifically subtle performance from Colin Farrell and a delicately poignant score from Aska Matsumiya (with a crushing piece from the legendary Ryuichi Sakamoto), After Yang both visually and sonically dissolves the boundaries between man and machine, laying bare an authentic portrayal of a family yearning for greater connection, despite an unfathomable loss. (Prabhjot Bains)
The year’s best horror film is a great meditation on age, beauty, and self-worth, all wrapped up in a terrific homage to the “70s slasher”. Ti West tows the line between exploitation and art beautifully, delivering a unique rendition of horror tropes we’ve become all too familiar with. Unlike the pornographers he’s depicting, West has meaningful things to say in addition to the bodies he’s showing, lending gravitas to his vision. The film unabashedly wears its influences on its sleeve and may appear like surface-level entertainment but unlike most of its predecessors, it digs a bit deeper, underpinning its grisly and memorable kills with thematic heft.
Boasting arguably the best use of Blue Oyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” in recent memory and wonderful performances from its cast (featuring star-making turns from Mia Goth and Kid Cudi), X is an enjoyably depraved jaunt through the Texas backwoods that gives its aging murderous specimens a touch of humanity. When That sex scene graces the screen, it’ll have you wincing even harder than its gruesome kills, not only due to its pervasive awkwardness but because of its scathing indictment of our gut reactions.
With a prequel, secretly shot back-to-back with this film, already in post-production, it will be exciting to see what West does with the genre in a much different period of American history (set during the First World War). So, here’s to more introspective blood and gore! (Prabhjot Bains)
13. The Batman
Batman is hands-down the most overused and overmined property in DC Comics. That’s why it’s particularly impressive that adaptations and extrapolations of his mythos continue to be so exceptional. Matt Reeves’ take on The Dark Knight reframes the hero as more troubled than ever, a man who is less concerned with doing good or helping people than with getting his aggression and rage out on the criminal elements of Gotham City.
It’s a bold take and one that examines The Caped Crusader, as well as other key characters from Batman stories, in inventive and exciting new ways. It’s also hands-down the darkest take on this world yet, with a vicious serial killer and his social media-obsessed acolytes at the heart of the conflict. Furthermore, the performances from Robert Pattinson, Zoe Kravitz, Colin Farrell, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, and a host of others really help to add new layers of depth to these characters. With a sequel already a sure thing, Reeves’ series of Batman films could rise to rival Nolan’s before the director is through. (Mike Worby)
12. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion had one of the weirdest rollouts of any major movie in history. It premiered at TIFF in September, before hitting other festivals, throughout the U.S., in the early fall, although the L.A. showing in November was, for some reason, called the “U.S. premiere.” Then, it played for a week in November in theaters, was pulled, and finally landed on Netflix at Christmas.
At whichever point in the cycle, you saw Glass Onion, you saw something very, very good, representing the equal of its 2019 predecessor, Knives Out. The new film traded a New England winter setting for a sunny Greek island and a completely new cast, with the exception of detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig.)
That cast contained several different varieties of terrible rich people, led by Miles Bron (Edward Norton), whose resemblance to Elon Musk was faint at the time I saw the film in September, and got a bit less faint as the fall progressed, Musk bought Twitter, and he lost his damned mind.
The film did get off to a bit of a slow start, but a reset about halfway through reinvigorated it, leading to payoff after payoff until the end. Janelle Monae steals the show in a large and eclectic cast that includes strong turns from veterans Kate Hudson, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom, Jr., upstarts Jessica Henwick and Madelyn Cline, and a pair of showbiz legends, seen only on a Zoom call, who have passed away since filming their parts.
My only question is if the first Knives Out taught us that villains aren’t allowed to use iPhones in movies, why is the villain in Glass Onion, in one scene, allowed to dress as Steve Jobs? Or is he dressed as Elizabeth Holmes? (Stephen Silver)
There are few blockbusters in recent memory that even compare to the luxurious over-the-top excess on display in S.S. Rajamouli’s Telugu-language epic, RRR (standing for “Rise, Roar, Revolt”). A blunt but melodic adventure that brings together two real-life revolutionaries, gives them both superhuman strength and abilities and then forges a relationship between the two as they find their alliance and their methods of taking down the British army frequently at odds with each other. Veering away from subtlety completely and leaning heavily into its bombastic nature, RRR is an infectious and endearing example of maximalist filmmaking that never misses a beat. (Christopher Cross)
10. Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio
This year’s unequivocally terrible live-action Disney remake starring Tom Hanks not only took away from both the 1940 classic and the original text but begged the question: What more can be done with Pinocchio?
Enter Guillermo Del Toro, whose intricate, glorious, and utterly lush stop-motion adaptation breathes new life into Carlo Collodi’s original fable, unearthing the realms of creativity and artistry that made it so special. While Del Toro’s Pinocchio follows the original closely, it never fails to inject a newfound sense of vigour and pathos into it. Setting it against the backdrop of 1930s Fascist Italy, Del Toro mines the nation’s deeply rich and tumultuous history, deftly touching on the complicity of the Catholic church, the dark impulses of man, and the power of familial bonds to embolden the original’s commentary on what it means to be alive.
This may be Del Toro’s third fantasy set against a fascist backdrop (the first two being The Devils Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth), yet he never fails to bring forth a staggering level of artistry, nuance, and perspective to the tales he weaves, and what he’s created is the new definitive version of a story long made inessential. It’s not only the greatest animated film of the year but one of the greatest, period. (Prabhjot Bains)
9. The Fabelmans
Steven Spielberg’s film about his childhood, the beginning of his love of cinema, and the dissolution of his parents’ marriage is the most personal of his career, something he’s made no effort to hide. It’s one of several movies this year that’s about a combination between the love of cinema and coming to terms with the legacy of parents, but it’s clearly the best.
Ultimately, it’s a movie about what movies can do and what they can’t do. Spielberg’s alter ego Sammy Fabelman can use film to gain friends, impress girls, and execute complex revenge against his antisemitic bullies, but he can’t keep his parents from splitting up. Especially after he has a Blow-Up/The Conversation moment while editing his own film.
We learn that Spielberg got his technical expertise from his father and his artistic touch from his mother, both of them highly imperfect people whose split inspired numerous Spielberg movies about the legacies of divorce, fathers trying to connect with their sons, and vice versa.
But The Fablemans is also an enjoyable and often funny film, highlighted by previous cameos from both Judd Hirsch and David Lynch.
True, the film didn’t draw much of a crowd to the box office, becoming the second straight late-career Spielberg masterpiece (after West Side Story last year) to flop; critics were also less unanimous than they were when the film debuted in September in Toronto. But it’s still one of the year’s very best. (Stephen Silver)
8. Decision to Leave
Park Chan-Wook is the only filmmaker who can turn convolution into a badge of merit. His labyrinthine storytelling is always a tremendous joy to traverse, even when you find yourself lost in its lavish, intricate, and engrossing dead ends. With Decision to Leave, the Korean master finds himself at the peak of his powers, as he constructs yet another elegant, intoxicating trail of clues that hypnotically marry a swooning romance with a masterful murder mystery, all the while being surprisingly playful. It’s the complete cinematic package.
Through each interrogation, conversation, and lovelorn stare the astonishing camerawork finds more meaning in the air between each word, as the opulent, layered compositions ascend to new heights of articulacy without ever coming across as overindulgent. The gloriously cool style, in itself, becomes the substance.
Park’s vision of modern romance is distinctly underpinned by the technology of today. From the painful disconnect in audio and video recordings to the agony of text delays, Park’s inventive lens taps into rich thematic veins, laying bare a poignant commentary on how greater online connection has both diluted and empowered the ways we experience love, loss, and remembrance. (Prabhjot Bains)
Jordan Peele is part of a rare collective of filmmakers whose name alone can generate immense buzz for a project. This reputation is well earned as his debut, Get Out, revolutionized the horror landscape with piercing commentary on America’s tumultuous relationship with race. His third feature marks his first venture into blockbuster territory, and, for the most part, is an unabashed success.
His latest offering is a meaty spectacle of epic proportions that thrills just as much as it provokes. With Nope, Peele remains a master of misdirection, confidently crafting a truly American parable that deftly touches on a plethora of themes, ranging from a commentary on family legacies to the innate struggle of creating movie magic. In an endless wave of empty action vehicles, Nope is the rare blockbuster that grounds its absorbing phenomena with thematic and philosophical weight, giving us new things to be afraid about in this ever-intimidating world.
While Peele’s allegorical and metaphorical aspirations can, at times, supersede the need for clear, cogent, storytelling, its mesmerizing spectacle more than makes up for it, as its wholly inventive and original finale is at once a feast for the eyes and a buffet for the brain. In many respects, it’s Peele’s greatest work yet, perfectly marrying the intimate scares of a horror film with the all-encompassing scope of an epic. For many, the sky is the limit, but with Nope, Peele confidently asserts he has bigger and bolder places to explore. (Prabhjot Bains)
6. Crimes of the Future
Cronenberg’s first film in eight years marks a return to many things. He brings us into another grotesque reverie filled with delightful abominations that prod at our ideas of humanity. This time, it’s a sci-fi/noir exploration of how our bodies adapt to the polluted world we’ve created. The impeccable cast naturally embodies the dark and sexy tone of the film. As with Cronenberg’s earlier films, so much of the wonder of the world he’s created is the tactile and physical nature of the world. He eschews CGI for real, gross objects that make your skin crawl simply by knowing they exist: a bed that looks like a hybrid of a walnut and testicle, a chair made from jawbones that helps you digest. My only complaint: I want more! (Kent M. Wilhelm)
Todd Field’s TÁR, his first film in 16 years, is a singular piece of filmmaking that will not only go down as one of the greatest character studies of this era, but all time. Field returns to the cinematic landscape with a fearless, sweeping sense of gravitas that is seldom realized.
All-encompassing yet wholly intimate, TÁR is an epic-in-miniature that never fails to awe us with its sheer technical prowess and sublime central performance. The Oscar is Cate Blanchett’s to lose, as her Lydia Tár is a cataclysmic presence, whose towering aura radiates off screen, entrancing us in each precise, piercing, and provocative conversation. By the time her inevitable collapse commences, we’re already deeply bewitched.
As the long, unbroken takes provide Blanchett a stage on which to take control of our senses we too, like her students and colleagues, are compelled into exploring the complex, austere realms in which artmaking resides. As such, Field’s 158-minute opus is not only an audaciously beautiful descent into the mind of a virtuoso, but a haunting, ethereal reckoning with the inherent intricacies of artistry itself. (Prabhjot Bains)
Through the mythic, melancholic eyes of a donkey, Robert Bresson’s canonical masterpiece, Au Hasard Balthazar (1966), broached what it meant to be human in a world growing ever so brutish and unflinchingly harsh. Fifty-six years later, veteran polish auteur, Jerzy Skolimowski, lovingly updates Bresson’s classic with EO, a surreal, otherworldly observation of some of the greatest beauties and brutalities of humanity.
The film, above all else, is a visual masterwork. Shot in narrow aspect ratios that let us see the world through EO’s innocent point of view, Skolimowski achieves both a lyrical and deeply observant perspective, driven only by a need for poetic contemplation and introspection, rather than an adherence to cause and effect.
Skolimowski’s striking and varied use of focus, lighting, and colour cement a breathtakingly observant and pointed examination of the meaning and meaninglessness of life. EO occupies a rare liminal space between bitter realism and stark surrealism, becoming a truly daring, dynamic project that repeatedly folds onto itself, manifesting as a completely different type of work as it continues. Boasting the Year’s best score, EO is a bleakly beautiful bray to the heavens that hope humanity will learn to change its inhumane ways. (Prabhjot Bains)
3. The Banshees of Inisherin
Depression and isolation slowly pick at the psyches of the characters in Martin McDonagh’s latest dark comedy, The Banshees of Inisherin. McDonagh is no slouch when it comes to making humorous films that also explore characters wrestling with their own personal demons, but his latest may just be his most deeply felt. A fictional island serves as the main stage for a conflict that is more internalized and personal than the seemingly pointless civil war being fought on the mainland of Ireland in 1923, giving way to an incredible ensemble led by the painful undoing of a friendship between Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson’s respective characters.
The conflict quickly escalates to self-inflicted violence which only accentuates McDonagh’s intimate portrait of how depression manifests and hurts the ones who care the most to help. There’s a pain in every laugh found in McDonagh’s nuanced screenplay as the isolation felt by both Pádraic (Farrell) and Colm (Gleeson) prevents them from being at peace, but their actions, no matter how irrational, demonstrate the bond they share. The fact that side characters like Pádraic’s sister (Kerry Condon) and Dominic (Barry Keoghan) still feel just as trapped in their pain exemplifies the ways in which McDonagh’s screenplay is so finely attuned to the ways depression rears its ugly head.
A gorgeous film that captures the beauty of Ireland even in dark times, its rural island setting and the sudden severing of a friendship instills that fear of being alone. In fact, few films understand what it means to be truly alone and the struggle to fix what others seemingly want to stay broken. Beyond that, the conversation it has regarding the importance we place on art over our well-being feels strengthened by characters that look at each other with vastly different perspectives. The Banshees of Inisherin is one of the best films of the year thanks to its tremendous cast, melancholic screenplay, and its detailed portrait of a friendship torn asunder. (Christopher Cross)
2. Top Gun: Maverick
Do not tell Tom Cruise what he cannot do. Don’t tell him not to make a sequel to a film that is 36 years old. Refrain from arguing that the previous entry is considered a bit cheesy by today’s standards and that many people love it “ironically,” as the cool kids say these days. Please, if a pandemic erupts that delays the movie’s release date, avoid telling him that the studio is considering shortening its theatrical window in order to boost its own new streaming service, Paramount+. Honestly, don’t say any of those things to Tom Cruise. None of those will dissuade him.
Against many odds, Top Gun: Maverick came (finally), saw, and conquered. Its victory is threefold. First and foremost, it has made well over 1B$ at the time of this writing, making it Cruise’s first project to join that coveted rank. Second, it was warmly received by critics everywhere. Thirdly, movie-goers around the world love it. It isn’t especially original, nor does it ask its star to flex his acting muscles more so than he has in recent years. What it lacks in those departments, it makes for in cinematic moxie. Incredibly well shot, a technical marvel, and a solid continuation of a character’s story we last saw in 1986. It’s extraordinarily easy to consume and digest and serves as engaging, simple, and effective summer entertainment. Unless one simply has a knee-jerk reaction to anything about the military (fair play), it’s genuinely difficult to say much bad about Maverick. The sky isn’t even the limit anymore for Tom Cruise. (Edgar Chaput)
1. Everything Everywhere All At Once
Anchored by its tremendous performance from Michelle Yeoh and dizzying yet confident direction from The Daniels (Swiss Army Man), Everything Everywhere All At Once feels like lightning-in-a-bottle and a fever dream rolled up into one emotional, action-packed journey. When the fate of every universe is placed at the feet of an immigrant laundromat owner (Yeoh) about to have her entire life dismantled by the IRS if she and her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), can’t figure out their tax situation and survive their next audit.
The stresses of life compound to live up to the film’s name and structure. The film’s plotting is a delirious balancing act as it captures the anxiety facing Yeoh’s character and then builds from there, expanding upon her relationship with her daughter (Stephanie Hsu) to provide the emotional throughline needed to keep everything grounded. But it’s a film that is always reaching for the stars. A smorgasbord of martial arts, absurdist comedy, and heartrending drama, Everything Everywhere All At Once is constantly firing off on all cylinders.
For a sophomore effort from Daniel Schienert and Daniel Kwan directing together, it feels like a miracle that never strays from its design. A meticulously crafted experience with incredible pacing, editing, cinematography, acting, and soundtrack, Everything Everywhere All At Once leaves nothing on the table. It’s a poignant look at people struggling to find meaning in existence despite having goals and purpose. The relatability of its concepts combined with the way its use of multiverses taps into the current zeitgeist, Everything Everywhere All At Once is a singular journey that feels vital at this exact moment in time with a message that will always be relevant. (Christopher Cross)