As 2022 comes to a close, perhaps the things we’ll remember most about the year in movies are that Tom Cruise is still a movie star (and a maniac) and James Cameron is still an incredible filmmaker (and also a bit of maniac). Looking back at it, while it doesn’t seem like it was a great year for movies, 2022 doesn’t necessarily seem like a bad one either. Television certainly felt like it had a better year. But only time will tell. These things have a tendency to morph over time.
Looking at the bright side, we got back to going to theaters to see movies again (many of the movies released in 2021 did not play in theaters due to COVID concerns) and we got more of Daniel Craig’s absurd Southern accent as Benoit Blanc (Benoit Blanc > James Bond, don’t @ us), and we also got Aubrey Plaza starring in a great movie (in addition to getting her fun performance in White Lotus), and The Menu gave us a lot to think about modern food culture, and hey Jordan Peele gave us another thought-provoking horror movie.
Anyway, enough babbling. That’s not what you came here for. Without further adieu, here are our ten favorite movies of 2022. Getting honorable mentions are Babylon, Jackass Forever, Fresh, Bones and All, and Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe. We’re sure our top selections will be greeted warmly and without controversy.
10. Avatar: The Way of Water
Hey, remember James Cameron? The director who made two Terminator movies? He also made Titanic, which became the biggest movie of all time, at least until 12 years later when he made Avatar and then that became the biggest movie of all time. Ever since Titanic people have been predicting disaster for James Cameron with his inflated budgets and seemingly impossible demands. But he delivers … every single time. This time, the conventional wisdom became, oh, well, no one cares about Avatar anymore. It’s been 13 years and people have moved on. It’s not part of the cultural zeitgeist anymore. And now here’s Avatar: The Way of Water, with its absolutely dazzling presentation (it’s hard to call them just “effects”) and a story that’s deeper, richer, and more poignant than the first film. It’s not going to be another 13 years until Cameron’s next film (Avatar 3 is due in just two years) and it looks like James Cameron and his Avatar stories will be very much part of our lives for the foreseeable future. — Mike Ryan
9. Glass Onion
Rian Johnson’s Knives Out surfaced in 2019 like razor-sharp, hard-crackling lightning in a bottle. The film served up a buffet of whodunnit goodness, and it also gave us Daniel Craig delighting in leaving Bond behind in favor of Benoit Blanc, Chris Evans wearing a sweater like no other, and Ana de Armas in her breakout role. Could another edition possibly harness the same magic but with an almost entirely different cast? Hell yes, it could and it did, and Johnson managed to weave a set-up that miraculously makes sense during a pandemic. Even with that specter looming in the background, this follow-up was sheer entertainment.
Craig returned as Blanc with a whole new cast of potential murdermakers to relish. Dave Bautista as a scantily clad social media sensation was only one of the ensemble highlights, and the endless buffet of cameos could not be stopped, nor did the story’s twists feel gratuitous or implausible. Instead, the film danced through mischief and swung bigger and better with a series of bewitching wrinkles and knots that made me forgive the 2+ runtime. In fact, I barely noticed the passage of time because this film is fun and cerebral and makes perfect sense when all is revealed. Also, one of the greatest TV murder detectives in history made a (bittersweet) cameo, for crying out loud. Netflix really should have run with a longer theatrical window, but at least it’s streaming for Christmas. — Kimberly Ricci
About halfway through Todd Field’s TÁR, I remember thinking, what on Earth am I watching? It just seemed to be about a woman, Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett), who has constant successes as a composer, but also seems oblivious and impervious to really anything else. Her life is one nonstop accolade. There’s even the scene that starts the film: a quite long Q&A hosted by The New Yorker that overstays its welcome, but as we learn in the back half of the film, that opening scene is needed to truly show the dichotomy of how far she falls. Her life was pretty much a steady stream of accolades, but after some serious allegations made against her, those accolades slowly disintegrate. Not all at once, but there’s a scene where Lydia assumes she’s getting praise from her neighbor when in reality all that neighbor wants her to do is turn the music down. It’s a movie that didn’t click for me until the final act, but then makes the whole rest of the film fall into place perfectly. — Mike Ryan
7. The Banshees of Inisherin
The entire cast here – Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan – are stellar in Martin McDonagh’s wonderful and heartbreaking story about what happens between two friends when one of the two doesn’t want to be friends any longer — and Gleeson’s Colm doesn’t have any other real reason than life is short and it’s time to move on from Farrell’s Pádraic. Set against the backdrop of the Irish Civil War, yes, Colm’s decision seems unfair and mean, but there’s also something poignant about it. That moment when we wake up and realize we’ve been wasting a lot of time and maybe we don’t have as much of it left as we think we do. But hurt feelings have a way of escalating emotions, as Colm’s shunning of Pádraic turns much more dark and twisted as the film goes along. — Mike Ryan
6. Emily the Criminal
Debt is a living thing, a parasite that feeds off its host, swapping ambition and hopefulness for desperation and envy. Director John Patton Ford understands that and paints an absorbing picture of how owing can slowly own a person with Emily the Criminal, which debuted to great acclaim at Sundance and is now streaming on Netflix. Suffocating under $70,000 worth of student debt, Emily (Aubrey Plaza at her absolute best) has swapped dreams of an art career for the draining daily drudge of catering corporate lunches, unpacking spilled pastas and oversized salads for office drones. When a friend turns her on to a just-a-bit-illegal way of making some extra cash, she jumps – reluctantly at first, but soon with both feet, a taser, and an admirable fearlessness that sees her stealing luxury cars and pawning off TVs packed to the brim in her four-door sedan. Plaza is reserved, but there’s a troubling anxiety bubbling beneath her surface that makes every move unexpected – whether she’s double-crossing friends or tracking down a thief who marked her neck with a box cutter moments earlier. To spoil the ending of Emily’s too-believable descent into a life of crime would be to spoil the entire film, but it’s safe to say, like the rest of this compact thriller, it doesn’t disappoint. — Jessica Toomer
5. The Menu
Shortly after The Menu was released, it became the central example in an Esquire essay entitled “Eating the Rich Shouldn’t Be So Satisfying,” with the subtitle, “The Menu, Triangle of Sadness, and Bodies, Bodies, Bodies, while clever roasts of the wealthy, ultimately end up pandering to their audience.” Further down, writer Max Cea writes, “The movie (…) paints its characters as caricatures of the wealthy. (…) The guests are punching bags that are all too pleasing to hit. But after all the cutlery has been cleared? You may be left with the sensation that the film spent its efforts smacking air.” I saw a few versions of this criticism going around, and without getting into a debate about over-pandering or whether poking fun at the rich should or should not be “easy,” I feel compelled to point out that “eating the rich” is not what the movie is about.
The Menu, which even Cea notes is clever (sharpest dialogue of anything released this year, it should’ve been a lock for screenplay nominations) is about an unhinged acclaimed chef, played by Ralph Fiennes, who has brought together this group of, yes, unlikeable rich people, to his own private restaurant island in order to punish them. Or at least, include them in his grand finale. If The Menu was about eating the rich, Fiennes’ character would be the hero. He’s not. He’s merely an artist who has become embittered by the fact that he has climbed the mountain of artistic success, only to find that, at the top, the only people who can afford to engage with his work are the very rich. Most of whom are, yes, detestable, and not really who he set out to work for. The Menu explores the limitations of for-profit art, which is neither a simplistic take nor a pandering one. It describes a dilemma artists have faced since at least the Rennaissance and the fact that it’s possible to enjoy The Menu for the razor-sharp joke writing and knockout performances (Hong Chau in particular), without “getting” it is a testament to its quality. The Menu is not about “dunking on the rich.” That just happens to be one of the many things this great movie does well. — Vince Mancini
4. Everything Everywhere All At Once
Hollywood-conquering Marvel had the movie with “multiverse” in the title, but it’s indie A24 that had the best multiverse movie of the year. Everything Everywhere All at Once is more than a gimmick, however. It’s, first and foremost, a heartfelt drama about a family, led by the iconic Michelle Yeoh, the resurrected Ke Huy Quan, and the dynamic Stephanie Hsu, trying to get by in an unforgiving world. The brilliant mashup of science fiction, martial arts, and Wong Kar-wai films wouldn’t work without the focus on relationships at the center of the story. Put another way, Everything Everywhere All at Once will likely become the Best Picture nominee to feature a future staple of wedding speeches (“In another life, I would have really liked just doing laundry and taxes with you”) and a butt-plug fight. Marvel could never. — Josh Kurp
I’ve seen so many movies these past few years that felt like the kinds of movies that I, as a movie lover who grew up on bombastic action movies from the likes of Jackie Chan, Steven Seagal, Shane Black, et al, was supposed to love, and I hated them. They bored me to tears. Bullet Train? Snooze. Nobody? No thanks. The Gray Man? No way, man. The action sequences in movies like Black Adam and Thor: Love And Thunder felt like things to fast-forward through, not relish. With all due respect to Ambulance, I had neared the point of existential crisis over this. Are all action movies this boring now? I was starting to feel like that episode of South Park where Stan turns 10 and everything he used to love turns to shit (literally). But then I saw RRR, S. S. Rajamouli’s most expensive and third-highest-grossing Indian film ever. RRR reminded me why big, stupid movies are fun. Every blockbuster director should study it. Is RRR a chauvinistic, thinly-veiled paean to ultra-nationalism? Yeah, probably. So is Top Gun 2, not to mention roughly 87% of American action movies. But RRR‘s stated villains are the colonial British, and if they’re not fair game for action movie villainhood I don’t know who is.
Themes aside, RRR simply looks like fantastic, an over-the-top visual spectacle that one simply can’t stop watching. It’s three hours long and I (an avowed long movie hater) was practically squealing with glee the entire time. At one point while I was watching it, my 9-year-old stepson and my nephew walked in. These are kids who are basically glued to screens 24/7 and never pay attention to anything for more than five minutes. They both walked in, stood behind the couch for a beat, and then, with mouths agape and barely blinking, eventually sat down and watched the rest of the movie. My wife did the same thing. RRR has this mesmerizing effect, and to some extent, everything else I say about it is irrelevant. In the same way that the funniest joke is the joke you can’t explain the mechanics of, the purest cinema is the kind that captivates in a way that transcends any discussion of themes, plot, performance, etc. (not that RRR is without great performances). RRR (currently streaming via Netflix) is the purest kind of movie; raw, uncut spectacle, in a way that feels like cheating (this is also true of the Jackass films). It made action movies great again. — Vince Mancini
Floating sinisterly along the peripheral edge of Jordan Peele’s latest horror hit is an angelic extraterrestrial nightmare, one with billowing limbs and a yawning black void at its core, ready to inhale any poor souls who stare at its maw for too long. As with everything Peele does, the unidentified flying object that rains blood from the sky, terrorizing a small horse ranch that caters to Hollywood’s whims, is a metaphor for many things. Our exhausting collective consumption of media. The oppression of Black and Brown people – and the attempts to document that. The greedy push and push of a human species that can’t be bothered to peacefully cohabitate with its natural surroundings. And the knowledge that whoever owns that “perfect shot” dictates history. But all of that is hidden beneath a fun-as-hell sci-fi horror film, one filled with standout performances from Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer, and anchored by the kind of arresting visuals and unsettling undertones Peele has perfected over the years. — Jessica Toomer
1. Top Gun: Maverick
That loud whooshing sound you heard this summer could have been one of two things: the sound of jet engines blasting out of movie theaters around the country or the sound of massive crowds rushing into and out of those same theaters to hear those jet engines in Top Gun: Maverick. The sequel to the original movie — released over 35 years later, which is kind of wild — picked up right where the first left off, in spirit if not chronology, with Tom Cruise and a bunch of new hotshot pilots (Miles Teller and Glen Powell leading the way) taking back to the skies and talking trash and sometimes riding motorcycles. It was a lot of fun and better than it had any right to be and one of the first real-deal, must-see movie theater movies we’ve had in a while. It was nice to get one of those again. Let’s do it again in another 35 years when Tom Cruise is… uh, 95 years old. He’ll probably still be up for it. You will, too. Don’t lie. — Brian Grubb