Amidst the debates about the state of cinema in 2022, the demise of mid-budget cinema, and the dominance of superhero movies, one thing remained true: there were plenty of good and great films that were released this year. Which is why I hope the influx of cinema-nostaligia projects from filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, Sam Mendes, and Damien Chazelle were intended tributes to the magic of imagination instead of eulogies for a dying art form. Included below are my Top 10 Films of 2022 + 10 honorable mentions, which reflect my eclectic taste: blockbusters, documentaries, independent films, and international features.
1) Decision to Leave
2) Everything Everywhere All At Once
The feeling I had coming out of Everything Everywhere All At Once was similar to what I felt as a 15-year-old after seeing Being John Malkovich. The filmmaking duo known as the Daniels’ threw everything they could think of on the screen and have made a movie of limitless imagination – one in which you cannot predict what happens from one shot to the very next. In what’s presumably our dimension, Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) is a stressed out laundromat owner. In another, she has hot dogs for fingers. But at the heart of this dizzying metaphysical spectacle is a genuinely heartfelt notion of how we see each other and treat each other. Whether you were fully on board or the movie lost you along the way, there’s no denying that this was the MOST movie of 2022 that you could get with the price of a single ticket. Currently streaming on Prime Video.
3) Top Gun: Maverick
You may have heard of it. The year’s biggest and best surprise is Top Gun: Maverick. I didn’t know what to expect from a sequel released 36 years after the late Tony Scott’s original, but THIS is how you do a summer blockbuster. I haven’t seen a big-budget studio picture this exhilarating since…well, Tom Cruise’s last Mission: Impossible flick. Director Joseph Kosinski directs with style, providing just the right dose of nostalgic callbacks while also providing the new young cast with plenty of moments to shine. The number of “hell-yes” moments this movie has demands that it be seen on the biggest screen possible. I’m kind of bummed its theatrical run is over. It’s endlessly re-watchable and should remain in cinemas well into perpetuity. There’s a moment in Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation when a character deems Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt as “the manifestation of destiny.” The same could be said for Tom Cruise’s persona. Currently streaming on Paramount+.
4) Crimes of the Future
Crimes of the Future is the movie only David Cronenberg could make and only make at this point in his life. Billed as his return to the genre he created – the body horror film – Cronenberg, now 79, has created something of a Greatest Hits compilation laden with his signature themes. In the not-too-distant future, humankind can no longer feel pain, and performance artists (Viggo Mortensen and Lea Seydoux) carry out invasive surgeries in front of a live audience. As their bodies evolve, the world around them decays and this is brought magnificently to life by the film’s production design. An unexpected feeling of melancholy permeates the weird proceedings. There’s a poignant notion here about opening yourself up and accepting death. Or is it a critical one about artists releasing their work to the masses being subjected to a public dissection? This is the best film of David Cronenberg’s six-decade career. Currently streaming on Crave.
Set in the late 90s, Aftersun chronicles a summer holiday in the life of 11-year-old Sophie (Frankie Corio) and her father (Paul Mescal) that consists of late-night karaoke, hotel buffets, and lazy hours by the pool. Slowly, it becomes clear that these are memories that are filtered through Sophie’s adult mind. Charlotte Wells’ semi-autobiographic debut feature is a small movie of enormous impact. Wells has a good feel for small period details that accumulate in one’s mind and how we remember those we have lost. I lost my father last year and this film took me back to the summer trips we took in the 90s. The film’s power is cumulative – the assurance of its craft may go unnoticed early on. But when the past and present converge in a liminal space set to Queen & David Bowie’s Under Pressure, I dare you not to sob. Currently in theatres and coming soon to MUBI.
6) After Yang
The first great film I saw in 2022 was Kogonada’s After Yang. Set in the not-too-distant future, a married couple (Colin Farrell and Jodie Taylor-Smith) acquires a techno-sapien named Yang (Justin H. Min), not just to help out around the house but to serve as a big brother to their adopted Chinese daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja), helping her connect to her Chinese heritage. And as the title suggests, After Yang is about what happens one day when he goes unresponsive as all AIs do. Even describing this premise to friends had me feeling choked up. Each shot is an architectural marvel and Kogonada’s poetic meditation on memory and loss tackles grand existential questions. Like Aftersun, this is a film about the weight those small moments in life have. If this sounds heavy, well, there’s an incredible opening dance-off sequence that’s guaranteed to bring you joy. Currently streaming on Crave.
The filmmaker that best embodies Roger Ebert’s principle of cinema as an empathy-generating machine is Hirokazu Kore-eda. The Japanese filmmaker is doing what he does best – tackling themes of family, class, and choice – in his first Korean-language picture with his dream cast. Two baby brokers, an orphan child and a mother go on a strange road trip so that she can try to sell her newborn on the black market. There are two cops pursuing them. And there’s a murder. If you’re wondering why we should care about characters involved in child trafficking, that’s part of the magic trick Kore-eda manages to pull off. He asks us to set aside our judgment. In doing so, we grow to love these amoral characters; we find their flaws relatable and understand their choices. Broker may sound grim but this is one of 2022’s most delightful offerings. Bring Kleenex. Currently in theatres.
8) The Banshees of Inisherin
Great feckin’ movie. Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell reunite with their In Bruges writer-director Martin McDonagh for a black comedy set in their native Ireland. The conceit this time: the deterioration of a lifelong friendship when one of them (Brendan Gleeson) decides, unprovoked, that he no longer likes the other (Colin Farrell). “But ya liked me yesterday.” Farrell’s delivery captures the humor and the heartache of this richly layered tragicomic tale. The film presents an idyllic community set against the backdrop of the Irish Civil War and it couldn’t feel more relevant to our current divided times. Between this, After Yang, and The Batman, Colin Farrell is having the greatest year of his career. The Banshees of Inisherin is the bleakest and funniest film of 2022. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait another 14 years for these three to work together again. Currently in theatres and streaming on Disney+.
S.S. Rajamouli’s RRR is a kindred spirit to Everything Everywhere All At Once in that it was a word-of-mouth sensation and it could have easily obtained that movie’s title in that it is A LOT, SO VERY MUCH MOVIE, ALL THE TIME. Seeing this at a sold-out screening at TIFF Bell Lightbox perfectly exemplified what going to the movies is all about – I wasn’t prepared for the level of excitement that rippled through the screening room. Here’s a maximalist action spectacle with jaw-dropping set pieces, kinetic camerawork, and an infectiously joyous musical number. A character wields a motorcycle like a battle-axe (!!!) and it’s like the 16th best moment. This is also a bromance for the ages in which the two men are on opposite ends of the political and cultural divide in 1920s India. Bring on RRR2! Currently streaming on Netflix (the Hindi dub version, not the original Telugu).
10) All The Beauty and the Bloodshed
Laura Poitras’ All The Beauty and the Bloodshed is several documentaries rolled into one: a formally graceful portrait of the life of groundbreaking photographer Nan Goldin, her art, and her activist efforts against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma and its owners, the Sackler family (who have used their pharmaceutical wealth to fund major museums). Each of these stories would make a worthy standalone film but Poitras gracefully threads these narratives together to create a weighty and substantive work of art. The amount of archival footage and imagery is extraordinary but what resonates most is Goldin’s voice as she candidly details her bouts of addiction, her experience with sex work, her abusive relationship with her boyfriend, her AIDS activism, and all the loss she experienced in her lifetime. This is the superhero story of the year – in holding such powerful figures accountable, she draws beauty from the bloodshed. Currently in theatres.
Honorable Mentions: Avatar: The Way of Water, The Batman, EO, The Fabelmans, Fire of Love, Happening, Hit the Road, Pearl, Tar, Women Talking
Also: The Blue Caftan was the best movie I saw at TIFF this year. It’ll be released sometime in 2023 and is guaranteed to end up on next year’s list.