People love lists, and none more than ones subjectively ranking assorted items (preferably related somehow). It is in that spirit that I have compiled my Top Ten Films released in 2022, especially now that I have seen some of the prestige films released near the end of the year. There are still quite a few movies that I believe might have shot at joining this list somewhere, but alas, we’ve simply run out of time to sample everything. Such is life.
Therefore, these are my favorite films from 2022, strategically ordered to keep you reading until the end (unless you read it backwards, of course).
#10 – Crimes of the Future, director David Cronenberg
Movies like this are definitely only for a certain set of people. Fortunately for me, I am a member of that set. Do you like bizarre body-horror, weird and inventive plots, and dark noir stories that unravel in confusing bits and pieces? Then this might be the movie for you, too. The story is set in a dystopian technological future a la Blade Runner where humans are growing new organs and immune to all pain. These new organs must be registered with some bureaucracy, but certain societies have emerged that are fascinated with these new organs and the men and women who grow them. As a result, the public removal of these vestigial growths has become an underground performance art. If that isn’t weird enough, there’s a significant B-plot that involves a gang of rebels who eat plastic. Viggo Mortensen and Lea Seydoux are wonderful in this film, and Kristen Stewart plays one of the organ bureaucrats with a prissy, sexually repressed energy that is an absolute treat.
#9 – The Northman, director Robert Eggers
Robert Eggers is one of my favorite directors of this new generation, with The Witch and The Lighthouse being two outstanding pieces of work. His big-budget follow up to these was the viking period epic The Northman, and while the film did not enjoy success at the box office, it is every bit the equal of those earlier works. The plot borrows heavily from Hamlet, with the old my-uncle-killed-my-father-and-I-will-get-my-revenge trope in full swing here, but in The Northman it is far more brutal and savage, with a nice bit of Norse mysticism thrown in for good measure. Alexander Skaarsgard looks the part of an absolutely ripped viking, and the battle scenes are executed well with a deft and confident camera that keeps the viewer immersed in the action. Anya Taylor Joy is a favorite of Eggers, and again she delivers a pitch-perfect performance. Nicole Kidman and Ethan Hawke do well for their parts, and Willem Dafoe and Bjork are nice additions as well in smaller roles. This is undoubtedly a more physical and violent film than many on this list, dealing with revenge on a visceral and bloody level.
#8 – Top Gun: Maverick, director Joseph Kosinksi
The sequel to Top Gun had no business being this good, especially some 35 years after the original film was released. We’ve seen these kinds of soft reboots or generational sequels or whatever the hell you want to call them for a while now, and they are almost always an absolute disaster. There are just so many pitfalls to avoid. Fan service is a constant temptation, bringing back old characters who have aged thirty years or more can be a challenge, and so often the audience is left wondering why such a belated continuation even exists in the first place. Top Gun: Maverick avoids all of these, and presents a stirring example of precisely how to capitalize on the success of a beloved franchise by adapting it to a new generation. Maverick himself is celebrated as a hero, not belittled or apologized for, and he has a genuine arc as part of the story (not a given for blockbusters these days). The plot is basic and slightly absurd, but exists mainly as an excuse to get the best fighter pilots in the world competing against each other for the right to fly a suicide mission, with Maverick to show them the way. The supporting cast is all outstanding, fun to watch play off each other, and not at all insufferable (again, not a given). But it’s the action sequences that put this film over the top. Filmed in real fighter jets with camera rigs designed for the film, it is obvious that all of these actors are actually flying around, not simply sitting in front of a green screen grunting. Apparently, if you put interesting characters with real conflict and arcs into situations with high stakes and actually perform the action stunts in-camera, people enjoy watching that.
#7 – The Menu, director Mark Mylod
This sardonic masterpiece about the high-end culinary world starring Ralph Fiennes, Nicolas Hoult, and Anya Taylor Joy (there she is again!) was right up my alley. I’m a bit of a foodie myself, so I was caught in the crossfire of many of this movie’s barbs, and I absolutely loved the ribbing. Set on a private island, Fiennes plays world-renowned Chef Slowik offering a tasting menu to a select group of patrons. As each dish is presented, menu cards show on the screen to offer additional explanation, like those one would read during an actual tasting menu experience. Except, with each passing course, more sinister truths are revealed about the diners, the chefs, and the meal as a whole. Indeed, this is about to be Chef Slowik’s masterpiece. I loved this movie, laughing out loud several times at the acerbic, dry humor, often deadpanned with aplomb by the great Fiennes. For those who have seen the film, “Tyler’s Bullshit” is probably the funniest thing I’ve seen all year, and I think about it weekly. For those who haven’t, you certainly should.
#6- Tár, director Todd Field
Tar is a tour-de-force for Cate Blanchett, who plays the titular character Lydia Tar, a world-famous conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra planning to conduct Mahler’s Fifth Symphony with the orchestra. If successful, Tar will complete all nine of Mahler’s symphonies with the Berlin Philharmonic, a feat which consumes the conductor and composer. The film is essentially a psychological thriller, detailing the slow descent of this accomplished woman, at first seemingly due to no fault of her own and then as a result of her own foolish – and perhaps predatory – actions. This is a quiet film, intent to allow the audience to consider multiple explanations, viewpoints, and possible conclusions. But the film is a marvel to watch, with intriguing compositions from the cinematographer, a cold and stark color palette, and and absolute masterclass of a performance from Blanchett.
#5 – RRR, director S. S. Rajamouli
RRR is a 2022 Indian epic action drama film directed by S. S. Rajamouli and co-written with V. Vijayendra Prasad, and it was one of the most fun things I watched last year. The particular style of Tollywood (Indian films produced in the Telugu language) oozes all through this movie, but the true power of the film is universally relatable: there is a ridiculously intriguing conflict at the center of this story. It mostly involves two men: one tasked with seeking revenge against the British imperialists who kidnapped a member of his group and another who has sworn to hunt him down and destroy him. When the two men first meet, they don’t realize that they are sworn enemies and so they cooperate to rescue a bystander during an accident. They become fast friends, setting up an astonishing narrative rife with conflict, surprising reveals, and satisfying conclusions. Action abounds, and though the CGI can be a tad wonky, much of the stunt and practical work is quite impressive, and definitely kept my attention. Plenty of singing and dancing, too! What more could you want?
#4 – Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
Well, you could want Everything, Everywhere, All at Once. This peculiar indie film surprised everyone when it was released in the spring. It is a science fiction story centered around the concept of navigating through the infinite multiverse, but it takes a very human approach to these ideas. It’s also quite quirky, with a lot of creativity and silliness throughout. But, at its core, this is really a film about family, choices, and the constant struggle for meaning in a cold universe. Great performances throughout really elevate this film into rarefied air.
#3 – Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, director Dean Fleischer Camp
Easily the best animated film of the past year, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is a stop-motion story about a small shell named Marcel who lives in an Air BnB with his grandmother. One renter is a documentarian, and he interviews Marcel to learn more about him, his life, and the family that he has lost. Marcel has the child-like naivete that affords him the ability to make profound statements about life without recognizing their aptness. When his interviews go viral, the world falls in love with him and helps him look for his family. But, as Marcel is soon to learn, the world is a big place.
#2 – The Whale, director Darren Aronofsky
I’ve written at length about this one already, so give that a read if you want my specific comments on this one. But, basically, this film was a masterclass in character, performance, pacing, and plotting. Brendan Fraser was especially amazing in this film, but you really can’t find a poor performance. The story isn’t really sunshine and roses, being that it essentially deals with an obese man slowly eating himself to death (maybe to punish himself, maybe to simply end it all on his own terms), but I found it profoundly uplifting and positive in its overall message of love, forgiveness, and moral salvation.
Tricked ya into reading one more paragraph before the big reveal. I wanted to mention some of the films that just missed this list. This really was a great year for cinema, if you were willing to go a little off the beaten path. The Batman was just bumped out of the #10 slot when I saw Tár a couple of weeks ago, and I would rather draw attention to a smaller piece like Crimes of the Future than the blockbuster, but The Batman was easily my favorite superhero flick of the year. A couple of smaller crime stories really stood out, too: The Outfit, starring Mark Rylance, and Emily the Criminal starring Aubrey Plaza. For detective flicks, Confess, Fletch and Enola Holmes 2 were impressive sequels, both taking me off guard with how much I enjoyed them. Finally, there weren’t a lot of horror movies that resonated with me this year, but of them I would have to say that X was my favorite (though I haven’t seen the companion piece, Pearl, I would love to).
Okay, thanks for your patience. My favorite film from 2022 was:
#1 – The Banshees of Inisherin, director Martin McDonagh
Another story with relationships at its center, The Banshees of Inisherin is set in the early 20th century on a small island off the coast of Ireland. There, things are pretty slow, most days are the same, and there isn’t much on the horizon for the members of the community. One day, Colm (Brendan Gleeson) decides that he no longer wants to spend time with his best friend Pádraic (Colin Farrell), breaking off their friendship immediately. Colm’s reasoning is simple yet heartbreaking: he’s tired wasting his life away, and thinks that unless he gets Pádraic out of his life, he won’t be able to make anything of himself in the short time he has left. Initially, Pádraic doesn’t take him seriously, but once Colm threatens to cut off one of his own fingers each time Pádraic speaks to him, things get weird and dark quickly. Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan are also astounding in this film, lending some incredible pathos to this muted and subtle masterpiece.