Nearly three years after every movie theater in the country closed indefinitely, this particular film cricket feels like things are surprisingly almost back to normal. Though I didn’t come close to my viewing numbers for 2019 (113), I easily beat my records for 2020 (74) and 2021 (83) with this year’s 98 movies, several of which I actually saw in a theater.
With the raw numbers out of the way, allow me to dispense with the usual disclaimer: the following only represents my personal favorite movies of the year, the ones I most wanted to watch again (and did), and not any attempt at telling anyone what the objective “best” movies were; that would be even more difficult and pointless than ranking favorites.
One major departure from previous years: there are 12 movies instead of only ten. This is because I couldn’t bear to separate the two that tied (also unprecedented in my previous lists), and then the tie just sort of gave me an excuse to add one more, just to make it an even 12. Whatever, 12 months in a year, 12 favorite movies, why not? If you’d prefer a more traditional top 10, just take your pick between X and Pearl and forget about Mad God (you probably wouldn’t appreciate it anyway, he shouted tearfully).
Due to the fact that I only saw 98 of the several hundred movies released in 2022, there will inevitably be at least one movie I see after this publication that should have made the list. If I had seen the incredible documentary Attica in time last year, for example, it not only would have made the list but likely would have topped it; ditto Another Round the year before. So take it all with a grain of salt, and if you have a favorite that’s not on the list, chances are good I either really liked it too or just haven’t seen it yet. Let’s talk about it in the comments!
RRR – This relentlessly entertaining Indian historical action epic begins with a pair of disclaimers. The first is that despite featuring characters based on real people, it is a fictional story and not meant to insult anyone of any caste or creed, an important thing to note for a movie whose message is very much Fuck the British, which given the time and place of the setting (1920 India), seems right and historically accurate. The second disclaimer is that there are no real animals in the movie, only computer-generated ones, which is equally important to note in a movie featuring more animals used as weapons than any other in history, taking that transcendent moment from Point Break in which Swayze throws a pit bull at Keanu to its logical conclusion around the midway point. That’s right, the scene in which a live leopard is hurled at a British officer is only about halfway through this absolute gem, which also features possibly the greatest dance-off in cinema history. It’s not just an empty spectacle, though, but really invigorating storytelling featuring two incredibly charismatic lead characters (and a pair of supremely hissable villains). I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed any movie more in 2022.
EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE – “You’re capable of anything because you’re so bad at everything.” Just one of many moments in this incredibly original movie that has the power to make me sad even while I’m laughing. Writer-director duo Daniels (Kwan and Scheinert) have crafted a multiverse epic for the ages, a brilliantly absurdist gem that follows every apparent throwaway gag down a stream-of-consciousness rabbit hole to its own universe “raccacoonie” is perhaps my favorite, and something I now call my cat).
More than living up to the enormity of its title, this movie is so hilarious and insane it is somewhat surprising it’s gotten so much Academy Award recognition. Underneath all the butt-plugs, hotdog fingers and googly eyes, though, are themes of human connection and the importance of the choices we make. That this extravagant work of lunatic ambition should also be so relatable and moving will come as no surprise to anyone who’s seen Daniels’ previous work, Swiss Army Man, or Scheinert’s solo effort, The Death of Dick Long.
NOPE – Like King Kong and Jurassic Park before it, Jordan Peele’s supremely well-crafted summer blockbuster is an undeniably enjoyable spectacle about the dangerous lure of spectacle. Featuring some of the most arresting images of the year (beginning with the very first shot), Nope is full of well-drawn characters, excellent use of foreshadowing, and gorgeous cinematography and production design.
Peele expertly uses fake-out jump scares and other familiar horror tropes to lure the viewer into a false sense of comfort, carefully building tension before ultimately revealing a truly unique endgame. Perhaps the most exciting concept of many is the movie’s realization of the alien life form itself, an excellent illustration of Lovecraftian otherworldliness, a form so alien we can barely conceive of it as organic physical life.
THE NORTHMAN – In his psychedelic ultraviolent metal Viking opus, Robert Eggers once again achieves an immersive picture of the horrors of living in the past. It also continues his previous works’ tradition of gloriously and ambiguously transcendent endings. Whereas The VVitch and The Lighthouse are more reminiscent of Hawthorne and Melville by way of Lovecraft, respectively, this one has really heavy Shakespearean energy; mainly Hamlet, but with a healthy dose of Macbeth in its DNA as well. Without question one of the most visually stunning movies of the year, The Northman presents a grim world with no true heroes, only slavers and slaves, our protagonist bound to a drug-induced prophecy given him as a child, destined only for violent death in service of a notion of honor. Valhalla Rising has a new competition as the definitive modern Viking movie.
A LOVE SONG – “I only want someone to hear my story, and I won’t keep you very long,” sings Blaze Foley on the transistor radio as Dale Dickey gives the most quietly heartbreaking performance of the year. It is a lyric that sums up this warm, wonderful movie quite well; this is the story of Faye (Dickey), and who she is and will be whether Lito (and also excellent Wes Studi) or anyone else lives up to her hopes or inevitably disappoints her. Like her old transistor radio, whatever she chances upon in life is, ultimately, the perfect song.
Or at least a good one. At 80 minutes and with only a handful of speaking characters, this is a rather small movie, but the majesty of the setting and the cinematography by Alfonso Herrera Salcedo, as well as the enormity of the intimacy on display, makes it feel epic in its own way. Writer-director Max Walker-Silverman’s first feature is my pick for debut of the year, and a long overdue showcase for the immense talents of the great Dale Dickey.
THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN – “I do worry sometimes I’m just entertaining myself as I stave off the inevitable,” Colm (Brendan Gleeson) says near the midpoint of Martin McDonagh’s Irish as fuck look at friendship gone sour and the crushing weight of unrealized potential in the face of mortality. It’s a dark comedy, sure, and one of the funniest movies of the year, but also deeply, bone-crushingly sad and bleak. “There goes that dream,” Dominic (Barry Keoghan) says almost casually during a moment of heartbreak, just one other example of the whimsically depressing tone of McDonagh’s excellent screenplay, perfectly matched by the brilliant cast, led by a never-better Colin Farrell as Padraic (not being Irish myself, I would never have guessed the correct pronunciation based on that spelling).
It is painfully fascinating to watch the way Colm projects his own dullness and fear of inevitable obsolescence onto Padraic against the backdrop of the Irish Civil War (heard but never seen as it continues across the water from the fictional island setting), with an interesting parallel in the still functional friendship between the bartender of the local pub, Jonjo, and regular customer Gerry (Irish comedy duo Pat Shortt and Jon Kenny, respectively). Plus, I gotta love a movie that so accurately represents the police as irredeemable scum.
THE FABELMANS – So instantly classic I feel like I’ve already been watching it and loving it for years instead of just a couple of months, Steven Spielberg’s latest is one of his best and certainly his most personal, a semi-autobiographical love letter to cinema specifically, but also art in general, and its capacity both for enriching lives and exposing hidden truths that could potentially destroy them. As someone who spent his childhood and adolescence moving from state to state and becoming more and more obsessed with movies myself, I found it very relatable and absolutely captivating.
As always, Spielberg shows his gift for working with young actors in the Fabelman children, but the adults are great too; it’s hard to single out one as my particular favorite, but Paul Dano is quietly brilliant as the practical-minded but supportive Burt Fabelman, and Judd Hirsch is just delightful in what amounts to a lengthy cameo. Speaking of which, part of me wants to be coy about this for those who have yet to see the movie, but… David Lynch plays John Ford in a Steven Spielberg movie! That scene and the final shot are two of my absolute favorite movie moments of the year.
DECISION TO LEAVE – A superbly well-crafted murder mystery (two, in fact) that doubles as a subtly beautiful and poignant love story. As in all his best work, director Park Chan-wook matches the poetry of the dialogue (co-written with longtime collaborator Chung Seo-kyung) with that of the visuals. Undeniably modern and innovative in its approach, it is also quite classical, with shades of Hitchcock and film noir, as well as modern classics of Asian cinema like In the Mood for Love and Memories of Murder. Though the violence and sexuality are subdued in comparison to Park’s previous works, there is nothing lacking in the way of depth and masterful storytelling craft; this is probably his best movie since Oldboy. A slow burn full of carefully orchestrated and haunting details that really gets in your head, Decision to Leave rewards repeat viewings.
X / PEARL (tie) – “The whole world’s gonna know my name!” So says Maxine/Pearl (both played by Mia Goth) in Ti West’s terrific double-feature exploration of obsessive desire for stardom and the twin horrors of rejection and aging. X is a wonderful amalgam of 70s grindhouse aesthetics, specifically referencing both The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Hooper’s less beloved follow-up Eaten Alive, as well as De Palma-esque split-screens and of course the low-budget but highly profitable “dirty movies” of the era. Pearl finds the creepiness in the old Hollywood musical aesthetic, especially calling to mind The Wizard of Oz, and ultimately creates a portrait of murderous mental deterioration that calls to mind Repulsion or Taxi Driver. Goth (who co-wrote Pearl with West) is remarkable in the double role, showing the parallels between Maxine and Pearl in X, even before we really get to know the latter character in the prequel. It all adds up, paraphrasing a character in X, to a couple of goddamn fucked up horror pictures. I can’t wait for the third one!
THE BATMAN – Not only the best Batman or DC movie since The Dark Knight, this one feels more like the experience of reading a Batman comic than any previous big-screen adaptation. It also serves up big tasty Se7en vibes right from the start, even before it really leans into them in the third act, which is always a pleasant surprise for a die-hard fan of that excellent 90s police procedural like myself. Director Matt Reeves wisely avoids the common superhero movie mistakes of dredging out the origin story again and including too many villains (though the characters of Catwoman and the Penguin figure into the story, the main antagonist remains the Riddler), favoring Batman’s detective side while not sacrificing the exhilarating action sequences he’s been nailing since his monster movie masterpiece Cloverfield.
MAD GOD – “Shot on location in Berkeley, California 1987-2020,” we are told at the end of Mad God, meaning this three-decade labor of love bests even something like Boyhood for sheer longevity of dedication. Of course, it helps that the movie is almost entirely stop-motion animation, so there was no need to worry about pesky things like actors aging. Phil Tippett, the ingenious visual effects artist behind creatures in everything from Star Wars to Jurassic Park and Starship Troopers, here shows what he can do without the constraints of MPAA ratings, dialogue, or even traditional narrative. Our nameless protagonist descends further and further into the nightmare hellscape of Tippett’s mind, a Virgil-less Dante in this hallucinatory, post-apocalyptic Inferno. Decidedly not for everyone, the creativity and imagination at work here are truly amazing. Despite the distinctly adult nature of the disturbingly sexual, violent, and scatological visual feast on display, I still felt the wide-eyed wonder of a child seeing King Kong for the first time.