I had plenty to consider for this year’s top ten movies list. The continued mix of theater-going opportunities and streaming options allowed me to watch over 200 new films once again. Narrowing down a lot of good-to-great-to-spectacular films to merely 50 was a task unto itself, but well worth it. I have everything here, from skillfully made contemplations of the past to a futuristic apocalypse told through stop-motion animation, and everything in between. So, here is my complete list of favorites for the year 2022, with plenty of runner-ups, honorable mentions, and some special mentions as well. Reviews are linked where applicable, availability is specified for the top ten, AND, as per usual, I’ve also linked fun Easter Eggs in every picture you see. Enjoy!
Movies I Missed:
All Quiet on the Western Front, Baby Assassins, Both Sides of the Blade, Entergalactic, Happening, Hit the Road, The House, Moonage Daydream, The Quiet Girl, Riotsville U.S.A., R.M.N., Speak No Evil, Strawberry Mansion, To Leslie, Utama, Vortex, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair
Ambulance – Given how I can only imagine this Michael Bay thriller finding more life on screens at home after underperforming at the box office, it should be noted just how much I’ve found myself coming back to this wild ride through LA via an emergency vehicle taken hostage by sibling bank robbers. It’s absurd but also pure Bay, who manages to tap into other exciting themes, intentional or not.
Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes – This debut Japanese film from director Junta Yamaguchi is currently available on Amazon Prime Video. It is so incredibly fun to watch unfold that I have no desire to reveal what it’s about. Despite being a 2020 film, it found U.S. distribution this year, so I just want to note that it’s edited to appear as one long continuous take, has a time-travel premise, is very funny and delightful, and should be watched immediately (It’s only 70 minutes).
Breaking – I felt the need to point this film out as a way of praising John Boyega, who has such a strong career in front of him, and Michael K. Williams, who sadly leaves this performance as his last following his recent demise. Both are at their best here in a true-to-life banker robbery/hostage film that doesn’t work quite as well as it could have overall but didn’t get nearly the attention it should have earned.
Confess, Fletch – Outside of some picks in my top ten, Confess, Fletch is perhaps my biggest surprise of the year, as the film looked like bad news all around, given its lousy trailer and what appeared to be an attempt by the studio to dump this reboot. With that in mind, Jon Hamm leads a wonderful crime comedy full of entertaining bright spots in this twisty story, making me hope this isn’t the last we see of Irwin M. “Fletch” Fletcher in the modern era.
Moon Man – China made their equivalent of The Martian this year, and while the film was a huge hit outside of America, I wanted to make some additional notice of it, as I was impressed by how wrapped up I was in this comedic tale of a flight engineer-turned-space janitor attempting to navigating being stranded on the moon after an asteroid appears to wipe out life on Earth.
“Sr.” / Putney Swope – While Chris Smith’s “Sr.” is a decent enough documentary concerning the relationship between the Robert Downeys, it’s the focus on Robert Downey Sr.’s career that got me to watch Putney Swope, the best new-to-me film from the past I’ve seen this year. As a 1969 racial satire, it had a lot of great comedy and plenty going for it to have me understand why it’s held onto a strong legacy.
Runner-Ups (Ranked 50-21):
|50. Jackass Forever
|49. Emily the Criminal
|48. The Bad Guys
|43. Three Minutes A Lengthening
|41. The Sea Beast
|40. Is That Black Enough For You?
|35. No Bears
|39. Bad Axe
|38. God’s Creatures
|33. Triangle of Sadness
|36. Official Competition
|31. Wendell & Wild
|30. After Yang
|25. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
|24. Three Thousand Years of Longing
|28. Something in the Dirt
|23. Bones and All
|27. Crimes of the Future
|22. The Woman King
|26. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Honorable Mentions (Ranked 20-11):
|20. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
|15. Return to Seoul
|19. Mad God
|14. The Northman
|18. Mr. Malcolm’s List
|13. Catch The Fair One
|12. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
|16. Top Gun: Maverick
|11. The Eternal Daughter
The Top Ten
“Trust me, I know bad: I used to moderate for Facebook.”
The first of two Hitchcockian films on this list, I’m enjoying this yearly routine of director Steven Soderbergh dropping off a movie on HBO Max (or wherever) that feels both indebted to his filmmaker interests yet still ambitious in its own right. This time, Soderbergh teams with writer David Koepp for something specifically placed yet crowd-pleasing, even feeling as though it could serve as a superhero origin story for Zoë Kravitz’s Angela Childs, who finds herself investigating a possible murder captured over the Alexa-like device, Kimi. With that in mind, the film’s way of navigating the politics surrounding smart devices while fully acknowledging and incorporating the current pandemic allows for a thematically and cinematically exciting thriller anchored by a strong lead performance. Having Cliff Martinez onboard to deliver an entirely fitting score only helps. (Available on HBO Max)
“One little Black girl algorithm brings it to life.”
The wildest thing about Neptune Frost is that I’ve seen it a few times now and have taken in the absorbing accompanying soundtrack, and I still couldn’t necessarily say I’ve cracked all that it has to offer. Writer/director/composer Saul Williams and co-director Anisia Uzeyman have constructed an Afrofuturist musical designed to address and critique the power of technology, the exploitation of miners, the transformative nature of the future, and more. It approaches all this through striking imagery, a tricky dual lead performance (where two actors of different genders play the same character), and frequent pulsating musical numbers that vary between raps, rallying cries, and expressive tone poems. As some sort of cosmic adventure, there’s nothing like this movie. (Available on VOD/Kanopy)
“When they strike, we strike back. When they kill, we kill.”
A few years ago, French filmmaker Ladj Ly delivered the angry yet incomplete Les Miserables. Now he’s teamed up with director Romain Gavras for something even angrier, more ambitious, stylish, and chaotic in all the right ways. Athena is an explosive look at a possible reality that comes from French civilian revolts against police and government injustice, told from the perspective of three Algerian brothers operating on different sides of the law. The film is perhaps most notable for its incredibly structured long takes, immersing the viewer further into the anarchy unfolding in a French banlieue. Perhaps the stylization is too much of a way to sensationalize its story, yet seeing this exciting form of creativity bring more attention to such an area seems entirely fitting of what art can accomplish. (Available on Netflix)
“I know one thing: wherever we go, this family is our fortress.”
As expected, the extra time James Cameron took to deliver a follow-up to Avatar, the biggest film of all time, was well worth it. Improving on its predecessor in nearly every way, The Way of Water is not only a spectacular delivering system when it comes to seeing the most impressive 3D visual effects possible thanks to Weta FX and the teams of special effects artists involved, but an incredibly well thought out blockbuster in how it expands upon the world and narrative introduced in 2009. In terms of making a movie of this size, there’s just no one who can do what Cameron does. Even if one puts the strengthened characterizations aside, recognizing a familiar narrative structure matters little when watching how this filmmaker can stage incredible action sequences to balance out the time spent with the characters inhabiting a whole new world featuring never-before-seen aquatic creatures. Add to that emotionally compelling stakes and a fascinating bond between a teenage Na’vi and a space whale (Payakan rules!), and I can’t wait to see where things go from here. (Available in Theaters and IMAX)
“Since the moment pictures could move, we had skin in the game.”
By aiming higher in terms of budget and reach, given its summer release date, did Jordan Peele falter in bringing his unique storytelling sensibilities to the realm of Summer blockbusters? Nope! A film that only becomes more interesting as time passes, what could have simply been a fun take on the UFO/alien abduction sci-fi/horror sub-genre functions as a metaphor regarding spectacle, exploitation, and filmmaking itself. Add in thoughts on the marginalized roles of people of color working behind the scenes, man’s capacity to understand nature, and the revisionist history when it comes to the erasure of Black cowboys, and there’s a film here that is full of ideas and layers to peel back. It’s also a wildly crowd-pleasing thriller featuring a healthy amount of humor, a solid cast, memorable imagery captured by cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, and stunning visual effects to deliver a new kind of alien. Now that Peele has gone full Spielberg with “Sky Jaws,” I can only imagine what he aims for next. (Available on VOD/Peacock)
“Am I so wicked?”
The other Hitchcockian film on this list, director Park Chan-wook is entirely in his zone here, even while holding back from his more extreme depictions of what various genre exercises can offer. If this does lead to more audience crossover, it’s well worth it, thanks to his concentration on depicting both an intriguing mystery and a superb romance. Tang Wei and Park Hae-il are excellent as a suspicious widow and the insomniac detective who falls in love with her. The movie is incredibly artful in balancing its various storylines and characters, with the added bonus of featuring the best editing I’ve seen this year. Knowing it has to entertain, the way Park finds so much grace in how he puts the details on display allows for a thoroughly absorbing, deliberately paced, yet incredibly satisfying story. (Available on MUBI/VOD)
“Thanks for lookin’ after me dog for me, anyways.”
What a skill it is for Martin McDonagh to find a way to balance pitch-black humor with tragedy, delivering entertaining features in the process. I’ve enjoyed the film career this playwright has had thus far. It’s only improved when considering just how well McDonagh has expanded on these character-focused stories and his efforts at putting real cinema on display. This tale of a breakup between two friends (expertly played by Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) is enhanced by Ben Davis’ lush cinematography that emphasizes the emptiness of this fictional Irish isle and the poetic score by Carter Burwell. Supporting work from Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan adds further curious dynamics to this unfolding story, which balances the nature of relationships with a subtle examination of mental health. Of course, the outcomes for some of these characters are anything but understated. Yet, the film gets so far by holding onto a sense of tenderness amid gloomy times. (Available on VOD/HBO Max)
“I made you look like you can fly.”
Decades of filmmaking have allowed themes to emerge reflecting Steven Spielberg’s upbringing and memories. Now we finally have a straight-up coming-of-age story loosely based on the Beard’s actual childhood. Perhaps the most inspired choice in Spielberg and Tony Kushner’s script is the lack of drama surrounding young Sammy Fabelman’s ability to make movies. This is not a film in need of interrogating Spielberg as a cinematic savant. Instead, there’s a deeply felt drama surrounding a young man’s realization that his parents have issues, and his best way of processing this is through the creative lens in his head, pushing him to see the best way he could frame the fallout of his family’s dysfunction. On top of all this, however, is another example of Spielberg knowing how to make an endearing film that taps into the drama as needed but is also very funny, well-acted, and assembled by all of the esteemed director’s top collaborators. (Available on VOD)
“You think because I’m kind that it means I’m naive, and maybe I am. It’s strategic and necessary. This is how I fight.”
I took in Everything Everywhere All At Once within the same week as my number one film, and it’s the best example of this year when I felt I could say to myself, “Wow, movies!” This absurdist action-comedy-drama from the director duo the Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) feels like a cinematic miracle. It’s not just that this totally unique story manages to effectively balance comedy, drama, science fiction, fantasy, and martial arts. And it’s also not just that Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan are so fantastic in how they commit to their characters that it’s earned them proper notice for award consideration. What makes it so impressive is how the film could tell a complicated story revolving around the multiverse and turn into a major success story as far as connecting to audiences and becoming A24’s highest-grossing film. For a movie that goes hard in being as crazy as it can be, it must be how it delivers on various emotional high points that has allowed it to play to a much bigger audience than expected when thinking of how weird this film is. Of course, given how being kind is one of the central messages of a movie that also features elaborate fight sequences and clever visual effects, the appeal makes plenty of sense. (Available on VOD)
“Not salsa, not flamenco my brother. Do you know Naatu?”
Was there ever any doubt? I had no idea what I was getting into when I walked into a theater to see S.S. Rajamouli’s Indian Telugu-language epic action drama. Upon arriving at the first of many action sequences (the one where Ram Charan’s Raju battles a thousand men while trying to capture one guy), I knew I was seeing something memorable. Getting to the “Naatu Naatu“ dance sequence, I was hooked on whatever this new discovery was. When RRR reached its intermission, I had no idea how it could match all the amazement I had been witnessing. And then it did.
This fictionalized tale of what it would be like if two famous Indian revolutionaries were best friends delivers on every possible level. The film is so earnest in its delivery that it would make James Cameron blush, yet it also provides maximalist entertainment by relying on visualization akin to a comic book come to life. Additional fun comes from knowing I am only just now entering the joy that comes from Tollywood cinema (note, this is not a Bollywood film). I can’t wait to see more. In the meantime, there is so much to praise when daring to examine just some of the ideas, set pieces, and characters we’re meant to connect with, let alone all of what’s presented during this three-hour wonder of a film.
Best of all, RRR feels like the exact answer to the question of what else cinema can do to really impress upon audiences what kind of creativity is still out there, especially when moving beyond the boundaries of films produced by Hollywood without any sense of boldness. Well, between movies such as Neptune Frost, Nope, Everything Everywhere All At Once, and RRR¸ it’s easy to see where imagination and risk can really take a filmmaker, let alone the audience. (Available on Netflix/ZEE5)
And that ends my list of favorite films of 2022. Movies are still going strong, and whether I saw films in the theater or at home, I once again enjoyed the variety of new releases that made their way to my list and hope more can discover what they can as well. Be sure to enjoy some of the other recent lists I’ve put together, including my picks for the best 4K & Blu-ray releases of the year and my upcoming favorite movie moments of 2022. Additionally, feel free to hear more of my thoughts on the year’s releases, along with many others, via the podcast I’ve co-hosted for over a decade with my pal Abe. Soon, there will also be a list of my most anticipated films of 2023. With so many movies on the horizon, I look forward to seeing what will be topping my list next year and what surprises are to come.