What can be said about 2022? Well, lots, actually, because this was a damn fine year for movies. Not to repeat myself, but every year is a great year for movies if you know where to look; in fact, 2022 was the best year we’ve had for movies since before a certain world-altering pandemic. We’ve seen a huge uptick in blockbusters, which is honestly relieving as they’ve been sorely missed. This was, after all, the year we’ve gotten the long-awaited Avatar 2, so 2022 is in the history books.
Much like last year, I’m listing off 9 movies that stood out the most to me in terms of quality, plus the final movie on the list which is my favorite of the year. It was such a great year for movies that it’s sad they all couldn’t make it on this list. If you’re curious what other movies I’ve seen and how they rank, check out my Best of 2022 on my Letterboxd. With all that said, let’s begin.
It’s dangerous to trust memories. Our minds can fill in the blanks and we have the raw power to rewrite history. It’s easy to lie to yourself, making a lost memory feel more complete based on your feelings in the present day. You can also trick yourself into putting closure on a distant memory where none may exist. Memories can be a form of escape, and Aftersun shows just how beautiful, but also terrifyingly dangerous it is to be lost in the past. I may not understand everyone I seemingly know, but my memories with them are what matters.
Using a miniDV, the blissfully ignorant Sophie is recording her stay with her loving but troubled father, Calum. She doesn’t quite understand him, just as much as he cannot understand her. Their detachment puts a confusing stake into their father-daughter relationship, but they do what they can to make each other happy. Now twenty years later, Sophie is reflecting on these tapes, while trying to understand Calum, both as a father and as an individual.
Frankie Corio is a shining star as the young and curious Sophie. She’s trying to understand the complexities of relationships, both loving and platonic. In a stunning show of childish ignorance, Calum asks Sophie if she wants to partake in singing lessons, where Sophie casually and swiftly responds that he can’t afford it. This strikes a soul in Calum’s confidence as a father and a man, but understands that Sophie doesn’t mean anything personal by it, it’s just the child-like straight-to-the-point one can expect. It’s this emotional richness that helps Aftersun reach the core of our emotions, our reluctance to reflect on past events and understanding relationships we didn’t understand at one point. Aftersun is impeccable.
The Banshees of Inisherin
What do you do when someone you consider to be a beloved friend turns on you and no longer wants you in their life? Do you accept their decision and leave them be, or do you show them abundant love and compassion to the point of driving them away further? Banshees of Inisherin dissects this notion. No other movie this year has captured the beauty and tranquility of friendship quite like this film has. Fantastically shot in the countryside of Ireland and masterfully scored by Carter Burwell, Banshees of Inisherin is among the most beautiful-looking films in the last few years.
On a remote island off the coast of Ireland, folk musician Colm Doherty abruptly ends his friendship with lifelong friend and drinking buddy Pádraic Súilleabháin. Despite being well-liked on the island, Pádraic is seen as being too boring and dull and Colm instead wants to work on his music. Hurt by Colm, Pádraic’s life is thrown into disarray over the sudden shift in their relationship. He desperately does everything he can to mend his broken friendship, only to end up driving Colm further away, which leads to a series of actions with devastating consequences.
As the cinematic form of a warm hug and a nice pint of beer, Banshees of Inisherin is an acid-black comedy full of heart, soul, and sensitivity. The tender love this movie can bring you is unmatched, with a closing scene that left this cold-hearted writer wiping away more than a couple of tears. Colin Farrell gives his all as Pádraic, one of the greatest performances of his career. Brendan Gleeson is just as enthralling as Colm. The movie balances its complex characters with uproarious tragicomedy, possibly being one of the funniest movies of the year mixed within its sorrow-filled drama. This movie is one for the ages.
In an era where superheroes seemingly run the global market, there’s one movie this year in-particular that dared to be different, breathtakingly bold, and stunningly horrifying. The Batman by director Matt Reeves is confident genre filmmaking from beginning to end. More importantly, the film had big shoes to fill; Batman is no stranger to movie adaptations, and with each prior movie standing out as a unique and compelling piece of Batman’s long history, Matt Reeves had a lot under his belt to live up to such a long and important legacy. Thankfully, he was up to the task and delivered one of the most impactful and emotionally-charged franchise movies of the year. As another action-packed comic book movie, it’s a breath of fresh air.
Two years after the reclusive billionaire Bruce Wayne donned the Batman persona, the sudden murder of Gotham City’s mayor plunges both Batman and Commissioner Jim Gordon into the sinister underbelly of the city. Hunting down the criminal known as the Riddler – an anonymous and intelligent psychopath with an arsenal of sadistic traps and tools at his disposal – Batman and Jim soon find themselves playing along with Riddler’s twisted games as they wrestle with a dark conspiracy that could put all of Gotham City into chaos.
The Batman is a triumph; with so many great Batman films, this one finally had the power to knock one’s socks off. Robert Pattinson is a godsend as Batman and Bruce Wayne, playing both respective roles with ease and formidability; quiet, charming, but also with the effortless capability of being genuinely terrifying when he needs to be. Zoe Kravitz is irresistible and emotionally captivating as Selina Kyle, and what more can be said about Paul Dano as Riddler, a villain who represents how far extreme internet culture can go if left to rot. With such a tight atmosphere and the beautiful world Matt Reeves has created alongside the gorgeously scored music by Michael Giacchino, I await more from this iteration. Better yet, it also has the very best Batmobile to ever grace the big screen.
Decision to Leave
Park Chan-wook is such an irreverent and daring visionary, balancing a dark tone with thoughtful emotion. His streak of dynamic movies continues with Decision to Leave, one of the most visually-striking and heartwrenching movies of the year. Decision to Leave is 2022’s best love story, leaving you with heartache and thrashing in your seat as you know what will happen but can do nothing about it so you just watch these tragic events unfold. That is film.
Detective Hae-Jun suffers from insomnia, works in Busan, and only sees his wife once a week. Hae-Jun is investigating the death of an immigration worker named Ki Di Soo, his body found at the foot of a mountain he often climbed at. He interviews Soo’s much younger wife, a Chinese woman named Seo-Rae, who is suspected of murdering her husband. What begins as nightly stakeouts outside Seo-Rae’s home soon becomes Hae-Jun eventually falling for her and imagining himself with her. As his sleuthing turns into a desire for romance, Hae-Jun enters a whirlwind of mystery and passion as he discovers the deadly truth of this case.
Show-stopping performances all around, namely from Park Hae-il as the danger-prone detective and Tang Wei as the femme fatale. As your feelings for their love begin to grow, so does your suspicion that something will go awry. Hae-Jun knows what he will get himself into, but is so lovestruck that consequences just don’t seem to exist. A powerful message and love that is oh-so rarely captured as authentic or painful.
Jordan Peele is beginning to prove himself as one of the most prolific and genre-defining horror directors of our time, especially in an age when originality seems in trouble. His movies tackle an array of complex themes and social issues, all intertwined in a story wholly entertaining and digestible for any movie-goer. His latest film, NOPE, is another trailblazing mark on his career, with such inventive concepts and sharp character-writing. It almost feels like a dream that Peele could make something so ingenious.
After the peculiar death of their father, OJ – a rancher and horse trainer for movies – and his sister Em discover something sinister hiding among the clouds above their ranch after their horses begin to disappear into the sky. The siblings try to hatch a plan to capture the entity on film, only for them to realize whatever it is may not be of planet Earth. Meanwhile, enigmatic local theme park owner Jupes uses the unidentified flying object for profit as a tourist attraction that may threaten OJ and Em’s way of life.
NOPE is terrifying, hilarious, and thought-provoking. The opening scene of a wrecked television studio with a blood-soaked chimpanzee is enough to ensnare anyone’s attention and desire to see just what may unfold in this new Jordan Peele nightmare. The movie brims with personality and energy on every corner, an absolute blast while also being genuinely creepy and disturbing. A fun crowd-pleaser about filmmaking and artistry, there’s a lot to love here. Still feel like there’s so much more to dissect in this one. Those band shirts everyone wore were pretty cool too. Jordan Peele should keep on doing this moviemaking thing, he’s pretty good at it!
The Northman by Robert Eggers is one of the most chaotic and epic movies of the whole year. The pure testosterone oozing from this movie is a sight to behold, with the barbarity on display being so explicit and jarring. As an exploration of death, pursuit of revenge, and the barbarity of man, it’s an enriching and thought-provoking cautionary story; as a movie where you get to watch a mythological fairy tale, it’s transcendent.
In 895 AD, Prince Amleth swears revenge on his uncle, Fjölnir, after he brutally murders his father and kidnaps his mother. Now an adult, Amleth is part of a ruthless band of vikings who mindlessly lay waste across the lands. After decimating a village, Amleth meets a Seeress, where he learns it’s fated that he will avenge his father. Discovering the location of his uncle, Amleth poses as a slave, working his way to murder Fjölnir. However, Amleth’s quest for revenge may just prove to be his own downfall as well.
Robert Eggers’ obsession with historical accuracy and the exploration of mythology is on full display here, and it never ceases to impress me. The fact the scope of The Northman is as big as it is shows his willingness to branch out and evolve his form in service of the film tells all. Alexander Skarsgard is genuinely terrifying as Amleth, a towering beast who could crush you with his pinky if the actor wasn’t so nice. Anya-Taylor Joy as a fellow captive slave and sorceress gives the movie the emotional complexity it desperately needs. The Northman is vile, brutal, and horrifying. Guys rock.
Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio
It can be said that 2022 is the year of Pinocchio, as we have been graced with three Pinocchio adaptations. All three were varying in quality… well, one was a derivative cash-grab that starred Pauly Shore, the other being another derivative cash-grab directed by the now-Disney-brainwashed Robert Zemeckis that served as a manipulative nostalgia-pandering of the 1940 classic masterpiece. So leave it to Guillermo Del Toro to provide us with one of the most entertaining, heartfelt, and thoroughly engaging animated films of the year. Brimming with love and confidence, Pinocchio is the movie the world needed.
In this whimsically dark reimagining of the fairy tale classic, carpenter Geppetto is stricken with sorrow after losing his son, Carlo, to a bombing by Austro-Hungarian military forces in Italy during World War 1. Using the tree he cut down, Geppetto created a new son; a wooden puppet. The puppet is brought to life by the Blue Fairy, where the curious young puppet must learn how to be a brave young boy in order to become one.
Breathtaking piece of animation. Watching the making-of featurette right after this was insightful stuff. Absolutely painstaking work but it more than worked out in the end. In the other iterations, Pinocchio learns lessons such as listening to authority without question and attend school to the bitter end. Guillermo’s adaptation isn’t so much about teaching Pinocchio important life lessons, as much as it’s about teaching him fervent love and unmatched kindness, juxtaposed with the movie’s themes of fascism and war. A very dark and bittersweet ending too; the movie oozes with Guillermo’s energy all over. Masterful music by Alexandre Desplat is enough. Robert Zemeckis found dead in Miami.
There comes a time in everyone’s life where they question what they are witnessing. Of all the mystique and strangeness that exists in life, there are lots of things we must question to have a better understanding of ourselves and our world. RRR also falls under this, as I had no idea what I was witnessing while watching it. An utterly insane tour-de-force, RRR must be seen to be believed.
Inspired by actual events, the film tells the story of two real-life Indian revolutionaries, Alluri Sitarama Raju and Komaram Bheem, their friendship, and their fight against the British Raj. Their lives are followed as the two journey outside their home, creating an unbreakable bond with each other. When war reaches home, they have no choice but to cast everything they love aside to protect their home, loved ones, and each other.
RRR is an emotional drama showcasing the infinite power of brotherly love; it also has flaming tigers, mythical battles against nature, and one man taking on thousands in a battle that would make The Raid blush. For an over three-hour venture, RRR constantly has your attention, its only drawbacks being its sensory overload as it throws everything on the table and then some. A deranged, thrilling, action-packed film filled with heart, friendship, and wonderful Hindi music. Movies can change the world.
There’s plenty of discussion of the art vs. the artist, and I’m always open to having those discussions. But is there objectively a piece of art that is indefensible because the respective artist is just so reprehensible and wicked? Tár seeks to answer that question, but is also so much more complex than anyone can give credit for. As you watch the main character’s downfall, the movie leaves you to fill in the blanks and decide if she is worthy of redemption, when so many movies now would spoon-feed you the answer of what’s right and wrong. That’s what makes Tár so enrapturing and difficult to dissect.
World-renowned orchestra conductor Lydia Tár is seen as one of the greatest living composers and first-ever female director of a major German orchestra. As the symphony that could propel her career even further approaches, a turn of events throws her life into disarray: an allegation from a former student whom she had sexual relations with. As she tackles these controversies that could spell out the end of her, Lydia is slowly driven to madness.
From an outsider’s perspective, Tár is a psychological thriller about cancel culture. The film proves to be more than that, instead opting to tell a story about the ignorance of the digital age and the dangerous pursuit of art. Tár is all things frightening, quiet, and deeply moving. Leave it to Cate Blanchett for giving the biggest powerhouse performance of the year.
2022’s Very Best: Mad God
Movies are magic. What more can be said? On top of being entertainment and a form of escapism, they have the power to shape lives and give us new insight on the world. Then there comes a movie – the one movie that is wholeheartedly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Phil Tippett’s Mad God is that exact film, where there is not one true way to define that movie. Mad God represents the audacious power of film and the artistry that resides within. Merciless and soul-crushing; dazzling and fearless. That is Phil Tippett, the mastermind visual effects artist behind films like Jurassic Park and RoboCop, who made the bravest and most electrifying movie of the year.
With zero dialogue throughout, Mad God follows a figure – shrouded in a jacket and gas mask – known as “the assassin” as he descends down into a nightmarish underworld via a diving bell. Equipped with only a map and a suitcase, the assassin must traverse through the terrifying landscape, encountering fierce monsters preyed upon even fiercer monsters, going on a cryptic mission across a merciless enslaved world run entirely by human shit.
Mad God is utterly bleak, with out-of-this-world, deeply upsetting puppet designs that are simultaneously grotesque and beautiful. Like a deranged hybrid of Tetsuo: The Iron Man and Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Mad God is everything you’d want from the medium of stop-motion and what you would expect from a veteran such as Phil Tippett. Mad God had an agonizing production cycle, and in those 30 years I imagine the movie has seen some change; and so has Phil Tippett, as it’s clear his view of the world has diminished over the years. Mad God reflects when the artist’s perspective of the world turns into one of hatred and hopelessness. While this may be a hard movie to watch for some, it is inarguably enchanting and powerful. The angriest movie of the year. It truly is a Mad God.