We’re finally getting back to normal, aren’t we? After a wild theater-less 2020 and a confusing 2021, 2022 was a return to cinemas, event films, and a significant number of great films, both big and small. So many great films that my Top Ten of the year had, at one point, 44 films on it. It was tough to whittle that list down to the Ten we have today, but I did it.
It’s the dawn of the new year, and now is the time to look back at the great movies of 2022. I caught over 100 movies released in 2022, and here we just have the best of the best.
Before we begin, a few repeat caveats that are worth noting once again:
-I did not see every single film released in 2022. There are several films that escaped my grasp due to altered release strategies, weather issues, and a number of life events that may have halted films, for the moment, from being seen. I still haven’t seen some of the notable films like The Whale or Empire of Light. If you know of a film that you think deserves to be on the list and it isnt…well, I may have not seen it yet. It happens.
-On that note, this is my personal list of Best Films of 2022. It’s not a list of your favorite films, and it’s not an objective list of the best films, just the ones that connected with me enough to make the list. There may be films that were “better made” that didn’t make my list, or films that may not have earned the coveted Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, and some that will miss the Academy’s selection of Best Picture, and that’s okay. So don’t be mad if something you loved last year didn’t make the cut. That’s the amazing thing about movies and art: we don’t have to love the same things to make them worthy.
-Along with all that, I should note that I crave discussion, dissection, and (respectful) disagreements. So comment below and let me know your personal Top Ten of the year (or just a list of favorites, especially if they aren’t on my list). I’d love to see what you loved last year.
Now, let’s get on with this…
-I never would’ve guessed that a Baz Luhrmann films would end up on this list. Nothing against the director, but I’ve never felt a connection with his work. While I mildly enjoyed his Great Gatsby adaptation, I wasn’t all that excited for his Elvis movie, although the casting of Austin Butler (who wowed me in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) and Tom Hanks (because, I mean, c’mon, it’s Tom Hanks) had at least intrigued me.
Elvis was a hyperactive piece of cotton candy that is held together by an incredible lead performance by Butler. His acting alone would have elevated this film to my Top Ten, but Luhrmann’s frenetic and psychotic direction ensures that his film is jammed with 6 hours worth of material even with a run time of 160 minutes. The film is, at times, overwhelming, but it’s never boring, and the directorial decisions to focus on the legendary status of Presley’s gyrations sending young women into pubertal fits of hysterics is only second to the choice to give credence to the largely-black influences on his music as well as using some of today’s artists to add to his legacy with interpretations of his works peppered into the narrative.
It’s a fascinating and emotional film that took this filmgoer from being a casual fan of Elvis to a diehard, like how Edgar Wright’s documentary on The Sparks Brothers accomplished a similar task in 2021.
- Top Gun: Maverick
-Another 2022 surprise! I watched the original Top Gun for the first time during the 2020 shutdown, and I thought it was…okay. I didn’t have a lot of strong reaction to the Tony Scott original, so the only element that had me excited for the long-gestating follow-up was Joseph Kosinski in the director’s chair. I loved Tron: Legacy and Only the Brave, especially the former’s ability to expand and further the narrative of the original. My love for Tron: Legacy pushed my excitement for what Kosinski could potentially accomplish with Maverick.
While I had faith in Kosinski as a director and Cruise as an action powerhouse, I didn’t expect the emotional reaction I had in the theater watching Maverick with a packed audience. Kosinski’s sequel captures the magic of being at the movies as a shared experience. The OOOHs and AHHHs being uttered in the theater helped elevate the situation for me. Sure, the main story is simple: Maverick is called in to train a set of the best fighter pilots in the world to destroy a dangerous set of weapons controlled by a potentially antagonistic government. It’s Top Gun by way of the Trench Run from Star Wars, I get it.
What’s masterful about Kosinski is that he’s able to take what works from the original and expand upon it, and also take what doesn’t work and alter it. The aerial action of the original and the emotional punch of Maverick and Goose’s tragedy is expanded here to the next generation. We get emotional closure to the Maverick/Iceman story, something I didn’t care all that much about. We also get something unique to this stage of Cruise’s career: his reckoning with mortality. Up until recently, it seemed that Cruise was unwilling to confront characters that weren’t young, clever, and immortal. Going in to his collaborations with Christopher McQuarrie (who contributed to Maverick’s screenplay), Cruise began to portray Mission: Impossible’s Ethan Hunt as an imperfect man, American Made’s Barry Seal as an idiot, and Maverick’s confronting his mortality and age as he and his profession are slowly being phased out.
- The Inspection
-I’ve spoken a lot about SHOE movies, where I’m able to step into the shoes of a character who is nothing like me so I can walk a mile in their life. While I will never know what it’s like to be a gay black man joining the Marines, for 90-some minutes, I can walk in their shoes. Director Elegance Bratton’s intimate story of Ellis French (played masterfully by Jeremy Pope, someone I’ve been unfamiliar with), who goes as far as to join the Marines in order to have a place to sleep and a meal to eat and perhaps a little purpose and direction, absolutely floored me.
French is a man who has been kicked out of his home by a bigoted mother, living on the street, and sees his last opportunity for survival by entering a world that will hate him for being gay, and he takes all the little moments to embrace his truth while hiding it from the general population. Bokeem Woodbine is excellent, as always (why is he not in absolutely everything?) as the leader of the training camp. Bratton’s direction is deft, always elevating the material when it has the potential to dip into melodrama. There are a number of scenes that, when described, could be played as sensational or unrealistic, but Bratton’s able to find the connection and the realism within the moment.
There’s another excellent element of The Inspection that I really appreciated: its run time and pacing. The Inspection runs a tight 95 minutes, which is the perfect run time for this film. It’s clean, it isn’t overindulging in unnecessary filler, and it moves at a breakneck pace for a movie that is mostly character interactions. Far too often, these late-year movies seen as “Oscar Bait” tend to overstay their welcome, but The Inspection is swift and never loses the intensity of the drama.
-I saw Till at the Twin Cities Film Festival with members of Emmett Till’s extended family, and it was so affecting, without relying on the gruesome details of the lynching, that my wife and I drove home in silence. It saddens me that this story wasn’t a bigger part of our country’s history. I was never taught anything about the story of Emmett Till in my schooling, and didn’t know about the story until the short film, My Nephew Emmett, earned an Oscar nomination.
Led by Danielle Deadwyler in perhaps the best performance by any actor this year, Till is an affecting story of grief and perseverance, but more than that, it’s about overcoming that grief and anger and using it to affect real change in the world. Deadwyler is able to channel Mamie Till-Mobley’s undeniable pain and yet I understood some of her extreme choices and the internal character arc of her struggle with joining a movement and risking turning her son’s death into political theater until she realizes that the love she shared with Emmett is the driving force to both affect real change and show the nation that her son was a real person who existed and mattered.
Credit should also be given to Jalyn Hall as Emmett Till, a performance of limited screen time and maximum impact. He plays Emmett with a heightened sensibility so that when he is killed, that absence is felt for the rest of the film. I was also impressed with Frankie Faison as Mamie’s father, Whoopi Goldberg as he mother, and Sean Patrick Thomas as Mamie’s husband. The film is full of great performances all being overshadowed by the heartbreaking work of Deadwyler in a career-making role. I can’t imagine a world in which she doesn’t walk away with the Oscar this year.
- Women Talking
-While Women Talking doesn’t have a great title, it certainly is true. This is a movie that features predominantly women talking. I was unimpressed with the poster and marketing (I’ve only seen a trailer playing once this entire year), this one is a word-of-mouth movie, and one of the most compelling films of the year.
Sarah Polley’s film establishes all the rules and mythology very quickly and then sits back to allow the performances to pick up the narrative and carry it all the way through. Women Talking is set at a religious colony where the women have discovered that some of the men have been sexually assaulting them for years and blaming it on “demons” and now have to decide if they will stay in the colony and forgive them, leave the colony and face eternal damnation, or stay and fight them.
This year’s Oscar ballet of Lead and Supporting Actress could just be actresses from Women Talking in all ten slots. There isn’t a faulty performance in the entire film, and I want to include Ben Whishaw in the conversation of great portrayals as well. If I had to pick the ones that really stood out, it comes down to Claire Foy and Jessie Buckley, but it’s because they both seem to have the MOST to do. That being said, I feel like every member of the principal cast gets a moment to shine. Polley uses each actress in several positions and stances as they discuss the potential options at play, and any time where the narrative could lose impact, Foy or Buckley inject the narrative with an outburst of energy that shakes the table up again.
As a person of faith, I also want to highlight something that isn’t being discussed as much here. These women are discussing the option of leaving the colony and BEING DAMNED TO HELL. To confront one’s own faith and be willing to sacrifice your position in the afterlife for your stance is utterly terrifying, and it makes their conversation all the more intense.
- Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris
-I honestly can’t tell you how I ended up seeing Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris. I’m sure one of the other critics I follow mentioned enjoying the film, but I ended up at a screening and I loved it. This is inherently not the type of movie that sings to me. I have shit for fashion sense, and I base most of my outfits on whatever the hell the mannequin is wearing at the store. I’ve never wanted to own a fancy dress. All that being said, so many films lean on intensity, depressing elements, and heavy drama. Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is a feel-good movie with so much heart and joy spread across the narrative.
Lesley Manville impressively crafts a character that never becomes schmaltzy and unbelievable within a potentially ludicrous framework. This is a film that features a number of performers who understood the assignment and make the most of it. Jason Isaacs shines in a limited role as the drunkard friend of Mrs. Harris. Isabelle Huppert plays the “villain” of the tale, the Dior director who does not see Harris as worthy of the dress she so desperately desires and seeks to find any way to keep them separate. Lambert Wilson capably plays a potential suitor who treats Harris to the sights and sounds of Paris. Alba Baptiste also shines as Natasha, a Dior model with hopes to do a whole lot more with her life. This is a terrific cast and a delightful film that surprised the heck out of me and is sure to entertain anyone who gives it a try.
-Alright, let’s go in the exact opposite direction with X, from director Ti West. I’ll be honest, I’ve not been the biggest Ti West fan. I’ve felt positive enough on a number of his projects but none of them have connected with me in the way I had hoped, outside of The Sacrament. All that aside, I felt like the trailer for X promised the exact movie he dropped. I love the horror films of the 70s and 80s, I’m a slasher fan, and the way in which West interweaves the adult film genre with the horror genre and seemingly celebrates all the ways in which they both compare and contrast with one another, especially during the time frame of the movie, is really something exciting. West is playing with the genres while also honoring them and the people who used them for a jumping off point, and the cast is a wildly eclectic group led by the incredible turn from Mia Goth in a dual-role performance that finally puts her in the conversation as an actress.
As these adult film actors are picked off one-by-one by the jealous killers of our narrative, the film allows a certain amount of pity for the villains while also being a cautionary tale about living your life as much as you can while you are young enough to do so. The way in which West showcases the violence of the film also adds a level of artistic understanding which makes each death scene a visual treat, particularly when one character is hacked apart in front of his vehicles headlights, covering the brights in a coat of red which shines upon the killers (chef’s kiss). Sure, X keeps its themes and metaphors relatively surface-level, but for what it’s trying to be, X absolutely succeeds (and Pearl is pretty solid as well).
- The Northman
-I’ve been a fan of Robert Eggers since The VVitch came out (though I was a little late to the party catching that one) and the more I watch The Lighthouse, the more I love it, so when I heard that Eggers was getting a sizable budget upgrade for his next film, a Viking epic based on the legend of Amleth, I couldn’t be more excited to see it and I couldn’t be happier with the result.
The casting was near-prefection, from the burly-Alexander Skarsgard as the vengeful prince of a slain king to Claes Bang as the betrayor, and just about everyone in between, including Eggers regulars Anya Taylor-Joy (is there any role she can’t do?) as the enslaved sorceress and Willem Dafoe as the scenery-chewing and flatulence-flinging fool, but where the film rises above the simple tale is in how Eggers tells it. Using striking visual storytelling and unique presentation alongside finely-detailed sets, costumes, and customs, Eggers is able to imbue his legend with fantastical elements while still retaining a historical backdrop that feels altogether timeless. I’ve watched The Northman at least 4 times since it came out and I keep going back, and if you missed it, now is the time to rectify that problem.
- The Black Phone
-I’ll admit I’m breaking a rule here. I tend to only allow films in my Top Ten if they premiered in the calendar year, while The Black Phone began a festival run in 2021. I realized very late that this was the case, but I love this movie so much that I’m willing to break my rule for it.
Based on the story by Joe Hill, directed by Scott Derrickson, and scripted by C. Robert Cargill, there’s a lot of strength behind the camera which combines to make the best adaptation of a Hill story while also being the best film in both Derrickson’s and Cargill’s filmography, not an easy feat. The Black Phone is universal themes executed well, with two of the best lead performances from younger actors in recent memory with Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw as siblings Finney and Gwen, respectively.
Ethan Hawke also elevates the material immensely while delivering a truly iconic horror performance that will be talked about for decades. His take on the Grabber, a reinterpretation of the kidnapper and slasher from Hill’s initial story, created in part with Derrickson, Cargill, and a wonderful selection of prop masks created by Tom Savini.
- Everything Everywhere All at Once
-I saw EEAAO almost a year ago, and I’m shocked that it stayed at #1 all 2022 long. That’s not for lack of trying, though. 2022 has been an excellent year in film, and the fact that this little wonder just stayed in my mind for months and multiple viewings has only made me appreciate it more. It’s a movie that has gotten better with each viewing, allowing me to enjoy all the little nuances and moments in the character arcs. EEAAO has an excellent film logic built into its multiverse of madness, one that didn’t make 100% sense to me until the second time I’d watched.
Great action scenes, comedic and absurdist visual gags, and an everything bagel might make for entertainment, but what elevates EEAAO is how all of it comes down to characters and story. Well-written, complex characters with real human flaws portrayed excellently by all involved, and a story that uses over-the-top fantastical elements to convey real human issues. It’s a powerful tale of love and family within the context of the conflict between nihilism and true purpose and it’s my favorite film of 2022.
There you have it. My Top Ten Favorite Films of 2022. I’ve said my piece, now it’s time to say yours. Leave your Top Ten of the year in the comments section below. I’d love to hear what you loved last year.
-Kyle A. Goethe