From the crowd-pleasing blockbusters to the little indies that could, both international and domestic, here are the films I loved the most from last year.
By Sean Blanford
For all the nay-sayers on the interwebs who say that 2022 was not a great year for film, I ask you this: What have you been watching? The year of our lord two thousand twenty-two has produced a litany of fantastic motion pictures. While some have been underwhelming and didn’t live up to our expectations, countless others came out of nowhere to become not only some of the best in the last twelve months but, in my humble opinion, of the last several years. This year has been the best in terms of the quality of options crossing many genres since 2019. As of this writing, I viewed 111 films released in the US in 2022 (113 if you count Petite Maman and The Worst Person in the World, both of which featured on my best of 2021 list). Of those 113, 45 I graded a 4/5 or higher (which on my scale is a B+). Was I a bit generous? Sure. Did I make sure I didn’t waste my time watching the worst of the worst? You’re damn right I did. Am I done watching films released last year that could sneak onto this list? Probably, but I had to rip the bandaid off at some point.
Coming up with a top twenty was hard enough, not because I was not confident in the films I selected but because coming up with the order was a daunting task that had several drafts. While I will go into more detail about what I deemed my personal “best of the best” or “my most favorite movie children,” I will also feature a list of honorable mentions of the films I ranked at the four-star level because they deserve to be seen. Lastly, and I can not stress this enough, this is just my opinion. If I have a movie ranked, say, eighteen, and you have it at number one, that’s awesome! Please don’t waste your breath trying to convince me I am wrong or being a jerk on social media because no one likes that guy. Now without further ado, here are my twenty favorite films of 2022.
Twenty-three films I rated at four stars (B+) in alphabetical order:
All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
The Black Phone
Bodies Bodies Bodies
Bones and All
Emily the Criminal
Fire of Love
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
On the Count of Three
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story
The Woman King
The last five out (25-21) in no particular order: Aftersun, X, The Fabelmans, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, and Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Part One: 20-18 (aka the bestest B+ films)
#20- All Quiet on the Western Front (Edward Berger, Director): Much like 2021, Netflix has been hit and miss regarding their film acquisitions. When they hit quality, they knock it out of the ballpark. At the top of that list is Edward Berger’s stirring anti-war epic All Quiet on the Western Front, a blistering remake of the 1930 Best Picture winner. Telling the story of a group of friends who leave England to enlist in the military during the height of World War One, the film is a literal ticking time bomb where you have those bravely giving their lives in the name of honor and country while those on the sidelines are working to a peace agreement to end the war. You can not take your eyes off the screen for a split second. The visuals are exquisite, the score by Volker Bertelmann is chilling, and the lead performance from Felix Kammerer in his feature debut should garner awards consideration. It is much less gruesome than Saving Private Ryan or Hacksaw Ridge, but it may still be a tough watch for those who squirm at war violence.
#19- Pleasure (Ninja Thyberg, Director): A film that has been on my radar since Sundance 2021, was nominated for multiple Independent Spirit Awards that year and, due to a change in the distributor, wasn’t released in the States until May of 2022, Pleasure is a pull-no-punches look at the adult film industry through the eyes of a young aspiring actress who aspires to be the next big star. While other films either skewer this subject matter as a negative or gloss over some of the darker aspects instead of coming off as remotely offensive, Pleasure gives you more than enough to grab onto, even rooting for Sofia Kappel’s Bella Cherry to succeed and feel for her when she is put into real danger. Like All Quiet, Kappel is fantastic for a first-timer.
#18– Top Gun: Maverick (Joseph Kosinski, Director): Speaking of young up-and-comers, this Tom Cruise guy sure has a bright future, amiright? All joking aside, Tom Cruise this year did what Tom Cruise doe best: make compelling popcorn action films that have him doing the most ridiculous stunts. While I may not be as high on it as most, if not a majority, of like-minded cinema lovers, there is no denying that Top Gun: Maverick is an absolute banger of a popcorn flick. One of the best examples of a modern-day blockbuster since Mission Impossible: Fallout, starring none other than that Tom Cruise fella.
Part Two: 17-14 (the 4.25/A- tier)
#17- Fresh (Mimi Cave, Director): Sundance 2022 featured several well-crafted genre films that ranged from above average to near great, with my favorite being Mimi Cave’s feature directorial debut, Fresh. Starring Daisy Edgar-Jones as a young twenty-something with a cold streak when it comes to the online dating scene and Sebastian Stan as the attractive surgeon that sweeps her off her feet. If you go into the film knowing nothing about the plot, you would think by the first half hour that it was your meet-cute, run-of-the-mill romantic comedy. However, at that moment, you realize everything you thought you knew was wrong, taking a hard left turn of thrills and gruesome terror. In a year that produced several fantastic horror/thrillers, Fresh is near the top of that list.
#16- Memoria (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Director): It is understandably frustrating that Memoria was difficult to see unless you were in the right city at the right place at the right time. On the other hand, this film must be seen on the biggest screen possible with the best sound system. While the plot sounds simple, the performance of Tilda Swinton, combined with the cinematography, and sound design, makes this a must-watch cinematic experience…if you can find it.
#15- Happening (Audrey Diwan, Director): The Golden Lion winner at the 2021 Venice Film Festival but not released in the United States until May of 2022, Happening has been elevated to being a film that is very “of the moment” due to the subject matter of abortion rights in 1960s France. The film is centered around Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei), a young college student who gets pregnant unintentionally. Knowing how this will hold her back, she searches for that which is unspoken, where even a brief mention or being eluded to abortion will get her ridiculed by her friends and thrown out of doctor’s offices. Vartolomei is the film, being in every single scene, and some of the imagery may be difficult for some to stomach, but have been emblazoned in my brain since I first saw it in early 2022.
#14- Girl Picture (Alli Haapasalo, Director): A story of young love and friendship, this Finnish film follows three friends searching for the same thing in different ways: acceptance, love, and appreciation. Spanning over three weekends and covering subjects like young love in awkward situations, family connections, being the outlier in your class, and the obsession to chase perfection, Girl Picture is a simple story crafted expertly. The three female leads bring something different to the table regarding their personalities. Knowing nothing about director Alli Haapasalo going into the film has made me want to try and chase down some of their previous features. Go out of your way to try and watch this film (legally, of course).
Part Three: 13-6 (the 4.5/A tier)
#13- Women Talking (Sarah Polley, Director): Women Talking may sound overly simplistic, as the title may suggest. However, it is so much more than that. This film is a showcase for so many of our biggest up-and-coming stars not just to chew the dialogue but craft an eight-course meal of suspense and dread over two days of, yes, women talking. Do nothing, stay and fight, or leave: this is the decision that the women of a religious group must make while the men of the sect are in town bailing out one of their brothers, currently incarcerated for sexual assault. Claire Foy, Rooney Mara, and Jessie Buckley are the three “leads” we gravitate toward the most, but the entire cast and the exceptional writing are why this is a must-watch.
#12- RRR (S.S. Rajamouli, Director): Making up for the last few films on the list being low-key, RRR makes up for it in spades by being big, bold, and excitingly fun. It is great to hear that this will be re-released in theaters in the coming weeks heading into the awards season because this is a film that is the definition of “watch on the biggest screen possible.” While it may drag a bit in the middle (it’s a three-plus-hour film, after all, so it’s not going to be all high-highs), when it goes big, it goes massive to the point of gonzo. Stay for the big explosions and killer fight sequences, but go just for the Naatu Naatu sequence.
#11- Cha Cha Real Smooth (Cooper Raiff, Director): Apple has been the major player in Sundance acquisitions and big spending over the last two years. In 2021, it paid off with CODA winning multiple Academy Awards, including Best Picture. In 2022, it was Cooper Raiff’s micro-budget romantic comedy Cha Cha Real Smooth. While the latter didn’t get the awards love its predecessor did, it did do one thing for me that I rarely ever do: screen the same film multiple times over multiple film festivals before the film is released. I watched Cha Cha four times between Sundance, South by Southwest, and the Minneapolis/St. Paul Film Festivals, while your mileage may vary depending on how you feel about writer/director/producer/star Cooper Raiff mugging up the screen time. I found it a charming film that did an excellent job subverting the genre’s tropes.
#10- Pearl (Ti West, Director): Deciding between which of Ti West’s latest films was released this year to make my top twenty of the year was a difficult decision. While I loved X and its retro feel, I decided to highlight Pearl because of the central lead performance of star Mia Goth. Like Toni Collette in Hereditary, Florence Pugh in Midsommar, and Lupita Nyong’o in Us, Goth gave a performance on the year that was never going to get the awards love it richly deserved because it’s a genre film. Thank goodness there is the Independent Spirit Awards to come in and save the day. A24 took a big gamble by having West release a sequel to X in the same year; we now have 2023 to look forward to with the third film in the trilogy, Maxxxine.
#9- The Menu (Mark Mylod, Director): 2022 will go down as the year of the “aren’t rich people the worst” super-subgenre. The Menu is one of these films, allowing Chef Slowick (Ralph Fiennes) to stick it to all those he feels wronged him, all in one ultra-exclusive multi-course meal. The problem is Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), the plus-one of Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), who wasn’t on the original guest list. The entire cast is strong, but the tet-a-tet between Margot and Slowick drives the film with sharp wit and just the right amount of snark. By the film’s end, you’ll be drooling for the perfectly-made burger while never looking at s’mores the same way again. This is the first of two top-notch performances by co-star Hong Chau, but more on the other film later.
#8- The Batman (Matt Reeves, Director): I love Batman as a character. He’s my favorite superhero, and it’s been a while since he has had an excellent portrayal on the big screen. While it’s cool to see him as the billionaire vigilante with all the cool gadgets, Matt Reeves gave us the vision of Batman, the detective that harkens back to who he was in the comics. Everyone who has played the Caped Crusader has to fit a mold (and have a strong chin). While Robert Pattinson may not have been the person you thought would be that person ten years ago, he has long dusted off just being Edward Cullen and has chalked up a stellar resume in recent years. Paul Dano’s Riddler is chilling, Zoe Kravitz as Catwoman kicked all sorts of butt, and Colin Farrell delivered his first of several outstanding performances this year as The Penguin. Much like Hong Chau, we will hear Colin Farrell’s name again later in this list.
#7- Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (Dean Fleischer Camp, Director): I didn’t know of the YouTube series going into the film, but in a sea that is snark, sarcasm, and soul-crushing performances, a little stop-motion shell with cute sneakers and a googly eye is a breath of fresh air needed to keep me a happy boy. There are still plenty of emotional moments and tons of heart. Still, there is no denying that Marcel and the overall story of reconnecting with your lost family is beyond adorable. If it weren’t for Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, Marcel would more than likely be the front-runner for Best Animated Feature.
#6- Decision to Leave (Park Chan-wook, Director): Apart from horror/thrillers, crime dramas are my favorite film subgenre, and the more layers of storytelling, the better. Decision to Leave, on its surface, is the story of a police detective solving the case of a dead man found at the bottom of a cliff, with the deceased’s wife being the most likely suspect. This sounds like the plot of 90% of the hour-long procedurals on TV since the beginning of time. However, in the hands of master storyteller Park Chan-wook, the film becomes a journey into this detective’s existential dread, trying to mask his issues at home by falling for this newly widowed woman. You never know where the story will go until the credits begin to roll, with the conclusion both shocking and sad. How Decision to Leave missed being nominated for Best Internation Feature is beyond me.
Part Four: My Top Five (4.75/5 or Higher)
#5: Triangle of Sadness (Ruben Ostlund, Director): Maybe I have a thing for Palme d’Or winners. Or, more likely, I love black comedies. Two films in my top five qualify as black comedies, and Triangle of Sadness is a pitch-black look at how awful rich people are. Sounds like The Menu, right? In a way, it is. The reason I have ToS higher on this list is because of how much I enjoyed how the story was told and not expecting the twists and turns it took at the end. While our central characters are model couple Carl (Harris Dickinson) and Yaya (Charlbi Dean), going from a sour date to a free cruise that Yaya obtained for being an influencer to landing on a deserted island, there are so many great characters in the film that the individual moments create a full story. The ending comes out of nowhere, but in a way that had me thinking about it well after I left the theater. 4.75/5 (A)
#4- TAR (Todd Field, Director): Some films are iconic because of a great performance, and then there are iconic performances that make a great film exceptional. Cate Blanchett becomes Lydia Tar, and the film is all the better for it. So many of this year’s awards contenders for Best Picture are quite long (150 minutes or longer), but I did not feel the length of the film watching TAR because of how engrossing I found the story and how much I loved to hate Lydia Tar. A story of an obsessed conductor and how she is willing to do anything and everything to be the best in her craft, TAR is arguably the best performance of Cate Blanchett’s career, which is really saying something given how prolific it has been over the last two-plus decades. 4.8/5 (A)
#3- The Banshees of Inisherin (Martin McDonugh, Director): The king of pitch-black comedy reunites Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson in one of the best films of the year. In Bruges showed how the two had chemistry, but Banshees is the evolution of the two because of how great the two leads have been between then and now. There is so much to love about this movie. Whether it be McDonugh’s spot-on screenplay that is a joke a minute (if this kind of humor is your thing), the performances of the four leads (all of whom are Academy Award nominees), or the lush cinematography of Ben Davis, there is a lot to love about this story of two friends who are abruptly no more. More than any film this year, I found Banshees to be better with multiple re-watches. 4.9/5, (A+)
#2- The Whale (Darren Aronofsky, Director): I may be over-rating this film, and I get it if you hated this movie or found it to be cloying in nature at best or a problem in depiction at worst. When I screened The Whale in Toronto, it left me crushed. So much so that I left the theater crying and continued to sob outside the theater for fifteen minutes afterward while walking to my next screening. I didn’t know if I wanted to see this again. Why would I want to subject myself to these feelings? The reason why I did is that I needed to know if it was the hype of the festival setting that gave me this feeling or if this was truly how I felt about The Whale. So when it was finally released in my hometown, I was there on opening night and was crushed again to the point of tears, but not for the reasons I did before, but because I knew where the film was leading. Brendan Fraser makes The Whale, with the third act being moment after moment of emotional devastation. It is a small film with a small cast set in one location about a 600-pound man who has comes to terms with his own mortality, welcoming death with open arms. I said pretty much all I could about the film in my full review of TIFF, so I highly suggest checking it out by clicking this link. It could have been my #1 film of the year, but the film at #1 held its spot since March, and it never let it go. 4.95/5 (A+)
#1- Everything Everyone All at Once (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Directors): Way to clown Marvel by having the better film about the multiverse. Comedy, action, family drama, love story, time-travel science fiction. The genre doesn’t matter, but the craziness of the story and how the directing team of The Daniels did so much with so little in terms of visual effects is one of many, many reasons why EEAAO is my favorite film of the year. Getting to be in Austin at SXSW for the premiere and getting the chance to hear the co-directors and star Michelle Yeoh about how the film was a labor of love was the icing on the cake. The link to my review of the film out of South by is here, so please read it and ignore the grade at the end. The only one that matters is right here. 5/5 (A+)