Top 10 Films of 2022
The best that 2022 had to offer
While some of the most stringent critics consider 2022 to be a dud year when it comes to film, I disagree wholeheartedly. The highs of 2022 were some of the highest in recent years, especially considering that many of us returned to the theater for the first time since the pandemic. However, no matter how optimistic you try to be, there is no denying that the lows in the world of film were incredibly low in 2022. For example, the top 25% of new films in 2022 are some of my favorite films in quite some time, the bottom 25% are some of my least favorite films in quite some time, and the other 50% were enjoyable but ultimately forgettable. In other words, the variance for quality was VERY wide in 2022. This isn’t incredibly surprising given how many films are being put out into the world with the streaming wars at their peak. Studios were more desperate than ever for content and that led them to rushing things out and leaning on some very un-original stories and tropes to check the box of putting something out into the world.
I think when we look back at 2022 in a few decades, we won’t look at it as anywhere near peak quality, but instead peak quantity. There were so many films that studios had in the can from Covid times and so many streamers that had to crank out content to drive subscriber growth that it all led to a weird convergence in 2022. According the IMDB, 14,013 new films were released last year. It wasn’t uncommon on any given weekend for there to be three new movies in theaters and five new movies. How can anyone watch all of that or even know what to watch? The answer is they can’t, and studios are quickly catching on to that. Studios are also realizing quickly that the streaming business isn’t a profitable one and as the economy starts to slow down, productions are getting scrapped and budgets are being cut drastically. 2022 may not be the exact year of peak quantity, but if it isn’t, I think it will be pretty close.
The fall of the average American going to the movie theater and the rise of streaming has put the movie business in a weird place for years now. As a fan of filmmakers getting a shot to make their dream project, I personally love that Disney gave James Cameron $400 million to make Avatar 2 and that Netflix gave the Russo brothers $200 million to make the Gray Man and Noah Baumbach $140 million to make White Noise. Are any of these films masterpieces? Not in the slightest, but I do think that they will serve as unique relics of this time when studios were trying to outspend one another. But where is this all headed? Is the ultimate end game going to be that only tentpole franchise movies are in theaters? Will indie cinema see a resurgence as budgets get smaller? The jury is still out, and I don’t envy the studio executives that have to make some tough decisions in the coming years. However, as a fan of film I wasn’t complaining about the wide array of films released in 2022, even if the quality was often subpar.
Before 2022 becomes a forgotten memory, I wanted to highlight some of my favorites. Throughout the year I watched 220 films, which included 90 new releases from 2022. Of those new releases, here are my favorites:
Honorable Mentions (In alphabetical order):
Armageddon Time (directed by James Gray)
Emergency (directed by Carey Williams)
Everything, Everywhere, All at Once (directed by the Daniels)
Fresh (directed by Mimi Cave)
The Banshees of Inisherin (directed by Martin McDonagh)
The Batman (directed by Matt Reeves)
The Fallout (directed by Megan Park)
The Swearing Jar (directed by Lindsay Mackay)
Spring Awakening: Those You’ve Known (directed by Michael John Warren)
Vengence (directed by BJ Novak)
Bodies Bodies Bodies (directed by Halina Reijn)
What it is about - When a group of 20-somethings all get stuck at a remote mansion during a hurricane, a party game gone very wrong ends with a dead body on the ground and fake friends at every turn as they try to find the killer among them.
What makes it so great - For starters, this movie is just loads of fun. Aside from Top Gun Maverick, this was probably the most fun that I had in a theater in 2022. Layered into the fun is a really deep story about how social media culture has made many of us more scared of being outed for our true self than dying. This (along with the #1 movie on my list this year) fits perfectly into the “Gen Z” sub-genre movies that have started to find their way to the big screen. I will be the first to admit that I am biased to this films given it is the generation I am apart of, but I also think that older generations will enjoy these fresh stories being told from a differing perspective.
Palm Trees and Power Lines (directed by Jamie Dack)
What it is about - A disconnected teenage girl enters a relationship with a man twice her age. She sees him as the solution to all her problems, but his intentions are not what they seem.
What makes it so great - Easily the most gut wrenching film of 2022, that stuck with me for weeks. One of the most tragic endings to a film that I have ever seen, and should be a requirement for every teen in America to watch this. The craft in this film is remarkable given this is Jamie Dack’s directorial debut and Lilly McInerny’s first on screen appearance. McInerny and Dack will both be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. This film still is yet to have a release date, but when it does, don’t miss it.
Top Gun Maverick (directed by Joseph Kosinski)
What it is about - After more than 30 years of service as one of the Navy's top aviators, Pete "Maverick" Mitchell is tasked with training a detachment of graduates for a special assignment. To succeed, Maverick must confront the ghosts of his past and his deepest fears.
What makes it so great - If you are yet to hear how great Top Gun Maverick is, you likely live under a rock, so I will keep this short and sweet. What makes this sequel so great compared to the first is the emotional depth and complexity of every character involved. Cruise goes full movie star and marvels, but the ensemble cast led by Miles Teller and Glen Powell add some much needed layers to the story.
Aftersun (directed by Charlotte Wells)
What it is about - Twenty years after their last holiday at a fading vacation resort, Sophie reflects on the rare time spent with her loving and idealistic father Calum. Sophie's recollections become a powerful and heartrending portrait of their relationship, as she tries to reconcile the father she knew with the man she didn't.
What makes it so great - There are some films that smack you in the face while watching and others that as they sit in your subconscious & stew, seem to impact you in more profound ways every day that passes. Aftersun is one of the rare films made these days that fits into the latter. What Wells has accomplished in her directorial debut is nothing short of astounding. This story & the way it is told is the complete anthesis of the loud, over the top superhero or action focused films that thrive at the box office in modern times. The average moviegoer has gotten so used to that being what “film” is that they will gloss over this masterpiece and call it boring or uneventful since it actually requires some thought. No, this is storytelling and filmmaking at it’s finest.
The Northman (directed by Robert Eggers)
What it is about - Prince Amleth is on the verge of becoming a man when his father is brutally murdered by his uncle, who kidnaps the boy's mother. Two decades later, Amleth is now a Viking who raids Slavic villages. He soon meets a seeress who reminds him of his vow - save his mother, kill his uncle, avenge his father.
What makes it so great - Each and every shot in The Northman oozes with Eggers dedication and commitment to telling this story. His cold, dark, visually astonishing, and nuanced look at revenge and Norse mythology gives us a nightmare of a movie that holds more secrets than answers. I have lots to say about how great this film is, so if you are interested in hearing more, check out my full review here.
Bones and All (directed by Luca Guadagnino)
What it is about - Love blossoms between a young woman struggling with cannibalism and a disenfranchised drifter as they embark on a 3,000-mile odyssey through the backroads of America. However, despite their best efforts, all roads lead back to their terrifying pasts and a final stand that will determine whether their love can survive their differences.
What makes it so great - I certainly didn’t have cannibal drama moving me to tears on my 2022 bingo card, but here we are. While the subject matter is unpleasant and at times very tough to stomach, Guadagnino does a masterful job telling a story about guilt, shame, and acceptance that will stir even the hardest of hearts. At its core, the film acts as a great road trip film, but underneath lies a beautiful portrait of two wandering souls loving each other for who they are, even when they don’t love themselves. As usual for a Guadagnino film, it is stunning to look at and the scenery is breathtaking as these two travel across the Midwest.
TAR (directed by Todd Fields)
What it is about - The film, set in the international world of classical music, centers on Lydia Tár, widely considered one of the greatest living conductors. We meet Tár at the height of her career, as she's preparing both a book launch and much-anticipated live performance of Mahler's Fifth Symphony. Over the ensuing weeks her life begins to unravel.
What makes it so great - TAR is without a doubt the tightest, most original script of 2022, with a performance of a lifetime by Cate Blanchett. The world that Todd Field creates is so real throughout the film that you truly believe that Lydia Tar is a real person by the time to credits roll. This is a story with lots of questions, but no real answers, which will frustrate some, but stir lots of great conversation in households and online. It is easy to make something where the message and meaning is clear and smacks the audience over the head, but making something nuanced and double sided takes real skill, which Field does flawlessly with TAR.
The Fabelmans (directed by Steven Spielberg)
What it is about - Young Sammy Fabelman falls in love with movies after his parents take him to see "The Greatest Show on Earth." Armed with a camera, Sammy starts to make his own films at home, much to the delight of his supportive mother. As Sammy gets older, he learns firsthand the power of story telling.
What makes it so great - Many will find this movie worthwhile simply from learning what Steven Spielberg’s childhood was like. It isn’t every day that one of the greatest living filmmakers makes something so blatantly autobiographical. Even that aspect aside, The Fabelmans is a riveting coming of age story about the power of film and the impact that stories can have on people, both in front of the camera and behind the camera. Anchored by remarkable performances from Michele Williams, Paul Dano, and Seth Rogan, the Fabelmans is a knockout in almost every regard.
Babylon (directed by Damien Chazelle)
What it is about - Decadence, depravity, and outrageous excess lead to the rise and fall of several ambitious dreamers in 1920s Hollywood.
What makes it so great - The size and scale that acclaimed La La Land director Damien Chazelle aims for in Babylon is one that isn’t seen often in modern Hollywood. After the first 45 minutes, you get the feeling that Chazelle thinks he won’t get a chance to make another big budget studio film and as he seems to be quite literally doing everything he has ever wanted to do in a film. This approach won’t work for some and will feel cluttered and clunky to others, but my reaction was simply amazement at the spectacle that was unfolding before my eyes. From start to finish Babylon not only gives the audience a behind the scenes look at what Hollywood was like during the 20s, but it also highlights the importance of chasing your dreams and the legacy you leave behind in pursuing those dreams. Often times history idealizes what former periods were like, but Chazelle hones in on the messiness and imperfections of Hollywood during the 1920s and how these characters grappled with that as they got older and the Hollywood that they once knew changed around them.
Cha Cha Real Smooth (directed by Cooper Raiff)
What it is about - Fresh out of college and stuck at his New Jersey home without a clear path forward, 22-year-old Andrew begins working as a party starter for bar/bat mitzvahs—where he strikes up a unique friendship with a young mom and her teenage daughter.
What makes it so great - While this is only his second film, Raiff has already proven that he is a master at telling coming of age stories about young twenty somethings trying to figure out how they fit into the world. Part of this is because Raiff himself is only 25 and those thoughts and experiences are still front of mind. Often times a coming of age film puts so much effort into that central story line that the rest of the characters have no depth. In Cha Cha Real Smooth we not only get a detailed look at a 22 year old fresh out of college, but we also explore a young mom afraid of being having her heart broken a second time, a brother who wants his older brothers attention, a stepdad who wants his new family to accept him, and so much more. The really good coming of age films make a small group of people feel something special, but the great ones make everyone feel something. Since Cha Cha Real Smooth does that flawlessly, it is a film that will be enjoyed by almost everyone who watches it.
The film also perfectly touches on some heavy themes and does so in a way that doesn’t feel forced or unnatural, but instead feels genuinely authentic. Everyone is fighting their own battles and dealing with their separate issues and insecurities, which is tough on its own, but through another person into the mix and things get messy. Things don’t get messy in this film for the sake of adding tension to a storyline, they get messy because that is real life. Cha Cha Real Smooth never attempts to sugar coat any of its central storylines and how things get resolved. Instead, it highlights that in the real world the fairytale ending that we often would see in a movie is actually more nuanced in reality than is often portrayed on screen. While often times that heavy and messy look at real life would weigh you down, Cha Cha Real Smooth does a remarkable job of tackling those topics while still making you smile. I have watched it six times so far and enjoy each watch even more than the first. See my full review below:
While some will agree and some will disagree with this list, I think top 10 year end lists are fun because it helps us see first hand how subjective art is. Your favorite film of the year could be my least favorite and vice versa! That is the beauty of continuing to explore the art form of storytelling and filmmaking. What is one persons trash is another persons treasure. I am never one for bashing what other people thought was great, you like what you like and I will like what I like. If anything, it is fascinating that a piece of art can be viewed by 100 different people and they will all have 100 different views on that film. So that being said, what were your favorite films of 2022?
Here is to the fun year in film that 2022 was and to hoping that 2023 will have even more great storytelling in store!
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