From blockbusters to box-office bombs, these are the best films of the year according to our chief film critic.
This article is part of our 2022 Rewind. Follow along as we explore the best and most interesting movies, shows, performances, and more from this very strange year. In this entry, we explore the critic’s picks for the best movies of 2022 as chosen by our chief film critic, Rob Hunter.
We’re still dealing with the realities and repercussions of a global pandemic, but in many ways, 2022 is the year most parts of life returned to normal. That includes movies — both production and releasing — as theaters filled up once again and each week saw the arrival of new movies to screens big and small. Even better? Many of them are great!
There were, of course, hundreds of films released in 2022 in the U.S. alone, and while I tried my best, I absolutely did not see all of them. That said, I watched over 150 new releases, which is no small potatoes. So with that caveat, and the understanding that movie lists are subjective, the fifteen titles below represent my picks for the best films of 2022. The order and contents will definitely change in the weeks, months, and years to come, but for right now — this is it.
Roughly a third of my choices were produced overseas, while most are born out of Hollywood. Some of the movies are blockbusters, while others tanked at the box office. Genres run the gamut from dramas and action to horror, comedy, and beyond. The common factor among them, though, is that they’re all unforgettable, fantastic, and highly watchable (and rewatchable).
Now keep reading for my picks for the best films of 2022!
15. Top Gun: Maverick
While saying Tom Cruise “saved” theaters in 2022 is more than a little reductive, there’s truth in the reality that his long-awaited legacy sequel put butts in seats and kicked moviegoing back into gear. That alone would be worth celebrating, but the icing on the jet-fueled cake here is that Top Gun: Maverick is also a damn fine piece of cinematic entertainment. Cruise and director Joseph Kosinski honor Tony Scott’s original but also surpass it in nearly every way. Cruise balances teethy confidence with a heavy heart, the aerial action is captured with a focus on practical, “you are there” set-pieces, and the damn thing is so good it makes Miles Teller likable again. The thrills and emotional beats are so well-crafted and executed that we don’t even care that the third act is basically ripping off Star Wars.
14. The Fabelmans
Sure, more than a few beats in Steven Spielberg‘s autobiographical coming-of-age tale are as on the nose as the title itself, but as the old saying goes, there’s still magic in them thar tropes. Gabriel LaBelle feels authentically at home in young Spielberg’s skin as a teen exploring his love of film against the backdrop of his parents’ crumbling relationship. Paul Dano, Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, and Judd Hirsch are all equally terrific. Still, it’s LaBelle who guides us from the freewheeling imagination of childhood past the point of no return. His creativity as a filmmaker is evident at a young age, and Spielberg teases those beats while crafting his film with even more visual wonder. From a tense sequence watching the boy discover a truth about his parents to a final shot revealing a master filmmaker at play, it’s a lovingly honest look at what drives the legend.
20th Century Studios
Some might write off Zach Cregger‘s genre feature as being too slight for a “Best Films” list, but this is my list, so yes, one of the year’s most entertaining and surprising movies has made the cut. It’s a rarity for a horror/thriller in that it delivers story zigs and zags that genuinely surprise, but they never feel like random choices. The film is actually very precise, not just in its stylish and captivating visuals but in its story too. It’s the kind of movie best suited for a blind first-watch, but even rewatches deliver laughs, thrills, and an underlying commentary on legacy evils — both personal and societal. Georgina Campbell makes for a fantastic lead as a young woman with the misfortune of double-booking an AirBnB with a stranger (an equally terrific Bill Skarsgård). It’s a wild ride from start to finish, and even more so than 2021’s Malignant, it’s a reminder that great horror can also be great fun.
12. God’s Country
Tension is the focus of Julian Higgins‘ tight and taut dramatic thriller about one woman’s confrontation with the limits of her patience. This is no Falling Down, though, and Thandiwe Newton‘s character has a long way to go before she decides enough is enough. That build-up is the source of the film’s suspense and tension, but it’s bolstered by a society prone to marginalizing concerns and fears until something irrevocable happens. She stands up throughout, as evidenced in her declarative statement that “we have to fight back, every time, all the time,” but the question remains as to how hard we fight and to what end. The film is fantastic, but Newton is somehow even better with a character fed up with the assholes and the indifferent. It’s a hard character to get right as she could easily tip towards the unlikable or standoffish, but we’re instead drawn to a familiar soul as the slights and aggression build.
Romain Gavras‘ rage-filled, fast-moving look at a fictional standoff between French youths and the police opens with an eleven-minute oner and doesn’t take its foot off the gas until the end credits. A young man killed by the police stirs the populace, and soon the outraged have turned a Parisian apartment complex into a fortress. Story and character seep in between action beats and heightened drama. While some have taken issue with the film’s final frames, it’s actually a perfect note to end on as Gavras’ themes of unchecked violence come clear with fiery precision. We as a species are far too prone to conflict, whichever side of the political/ideological divide we fall on. We’re only lying to ourselves when we claim moral superiority as an excuse for striking out. Serious stuff, but it’s also a beautifully shot action film of sorts that hits hard.
One of 2022’s great cinematic disappointments has been the negative reaction to Damien Chazelle‘s big, boisterous, and endlessly audacious look at old Hollywood. Everyone’s talking about the elephant shit or the wild montage at the end. Still, the nearly three hours in between those beats are filled with rich character, sincerely heartbreaking observations, blackly comic laughs, bodies in motion, a surprisingly high body count, a ten-minute detour into horror with Tobey Maguire, and pure love for the highs and lows of the industry. Hollywood is as beautiful a place as it is ugly, and the common denominator is the people hoping, dreaming, and clawing their way up and down the ladder of success. Diego Calva makes for an engaging stand-in for audiences, while star turns by Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt, Jean Smart, and more bring the clash of shifting times to life as the business moves from silent films to talkies. Sad, messy fun, and a beautiful ode to celluloid immortality.
We’ve all seen too much. Too much violence, grief, despair, shock — too much of everything, really, in a world where screens shine in our faces 24/7. At a certain point, the line between positive and negative spectacles begins to blur, and that’s where Jordan Peele‘s latest comes in with a story about our incessant need to see and in effect, be seen. Peele weaves together a story about adult siblings struggling with their family business (Hollywood’s first and only Black-owned animal wrangler ranch), possibly nefarious visitors from space, and a shocking incident that turns a popular sitcom soundstage into a bloodbath while still creating big, bold entertainment that thrills and entertains in equal measure. Daniel Kaluuya, Steven Yeun, Michael Wincott, and the amazing Keke Palmer all shine. Easily his best film, Nope teases strands of Spielberg and Shyamalan while still being a Peele film through and through.
Todd Field made his feature debut in 2001 with In the Bedroom, followed it in 2006 with Little Children, and now sixteen years later, has written and directed his third film. Like the earlier two, Tár is critically acclaimed and guaranteed to land Academy Award nominations, but his latest is also far more of a character study than a traditional narrative tale. That and the epic 158-minute running time might put some viewers off, but those who give themselves over to Field and lead Cate Blanchett are in for a thought-provoking journey. Lydia Tár is an acclaimed female composer/conductor in a world dominated by men, but she’s far more than a mere statistic. The character is rich in layers, truths, deceits, strengths, and weaknesses, and her fall from grace becomes the one thing she can’t alter with a flick of her baton. Field isn’t making a declarative statement on her character here. Instead, he’s inviting viewers to see Tár in her entirety.
7. The Banshees of Inisherin
The last time writer/director Martin McDonagh brought Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell together, the result was 2008’s blackly comic gem In Bruges. The trio has now reunited with a film that, while less violent, is every bit as sad, hilarious, and memorable. The pair are lifelong friends on a small Irish island until suddenly, one wants out of the friendship. What follows is a tale filled with big laughs, disturbing turns, and serious truths about the choices we make regarding both ourselves and others. You’ll most likely see yourself in the desires and frustrations of both characters making for a prickly emotional ride. As great as both Farrell and Gleeson are, they’re matched by supporting turns from Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan, both of whom find unique ways of cutting through the bullshit in eloquent and raw ways.
6. Decision to Leave
Park Chan-wook has always been a filmmaker prone to delivering unforgettable films. 2003’s Oldboy remains his most often discussed, but in the two decades since, have seen several more films, including three (Lady Vengeance, 2005; Thirst, 2009; The Handmaiden, 2016) that outshine that hammer-wielding classic. Well, now a fourth can be added to the list as Decision to Leave pairs a deceptive mystery with a love story in a beautifully seductive fashion. A detective investigates a man’s death and falls slowly, irresistibly in love with the dead guy’s wife — who maybe had a hand in his death? Park and cinematographer Kim Ji-yong shoot this journey with an exquisite eye for detail and real purpose behind every shot. It’s as engrossing on that technical front as it is on the narrative side, with drama, humor, and sexiness all magnified as a result. Tang Wei mesmerizes, Park hae-il compels, and the film simply delivers.
5. Avatar: The Way of Water
Hi, my name is Rob, and I’m no fan of James Cameron‘s Avatar. Didn’t care for it back in 2009, was still unmoved after a rewatch last year, and the end result was an indifference towards this sequel. And yet… Avatar: The Way of Water is an absolute spectacle pairing its visual brilliance with powerful emotional beats. While the first film’s effects were impressive, watching this one on the big screen feels like a nature documentary filmed on an alien world. The film immerses you in its flora and fauna to the point where the line between reality and CG almost disappears. Cameron remains a master at crafting set pieces, and the entire last hour is a series of them with escalating emotional stakes and thrills around every turn. The biggest difference here, though, is that he nails the emotional element sorely missing the first time around. Our hero has kids now, and they might not all survive this latest incursion by greedy, violent humans.
4. Everything Everywhere All at Once
Every year sees dozens of fantastic films and marvelous movies, but sometimes even the truly great ones get by with a lack of genuine creativity. The filmmaking duo of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (aka The Daniels) are no strangers to unloading their wild imaginations onto the screen, as evidenced by 2016’s Swiss Army Man. Still, their latest raises the bar on imagination in cinema to a whole new level. A not-so-simple tale of relationships in crisis — a wife and her husband, a mother and her daughter — that spins into the screen’s wildest multiverse adventure filled with action, science fiction, drama, comedy, and heartbreaking thrills engulfed in love, depression, and honesty. Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan are getting well-deserved love, but goddamn if Stephanie Hsu isn’t the emotional glue holding it all together. All three bring humanity in a sea of silliness and creativity. You will laugh, you will cry, and you will lose your shit over Raccacoonie.
3. Women Talking
The past few years have seen a few films highlighting the abuses related both forward and backward to the #MeToo movement, but while most have dealt with real individuals (fuck you, Harvey!) or organizations (looking at you, Catholic Church!), Sarah Polley‘s latest takes a decidedly different tact. Her latest film adapts a book by Miriam Toews (itself inspired by a real event) about the women of a remote religious community who decide enough is enough when it comes to sexual abuse at the hands of the men. Polley keeps the focus almost exclusively in a barn loft as the women talk, debate, and argue over their three options — do nothing, stay and fight, or leave. We’re wisely not shown the abuses, but hearing the women speak on it (even in general terms) is absolutely devastating. The back and forth is intelligent, heartbreaking, logical, angry, and raw, and while you feel their fear and rage, you can’t help but also bask in their courage. The entire cast is aces with soul-crushing, fist-raising turns by Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Ben Whishaw, and more. Tune out other distractions and give yourself over to this one.
I’ll admit to a possible caveat right up front here — I watched this film about a young woman’s memory of her dad while holding my three-month-old daughter in my lap. So yes, I made myself an easy mark, but I’d bet my daughter’s college fund* that Charlotte Wells‘ film would have affected me equally strongly if I had watched it alone. Wells tells the story of a daughter’s memories, of her father, of their last trip together, of his love for dancing, through a narrative built on feeling rather than story beats. Brief images of her as an adult remind us that we’re looking backward, seeing interactions and emotions destined to affect the future. The love between a troubled man and his pre-teen daughter becomes the most beautiful heartache. Paul Mescal is earning deserved raves for his performance, but young Frankie Corio is every bit his equal. We love what they have, as cracked as it may be, and for this short moment in time, what they have is perfection.
Look, at the end of the day, this ranked list of movies is like every other ranked list of movies — it’s subjective. More serious fare typically sits atop lists like these, films like the brilliant titles directly above in the 2nd and 3rd positions, but I’d be lying if I pretended any film other than RRR deserved this spot. I’ve rewatched the three-hour-plus film twice since first catching it back in March, and the damn thing continues to amaze, impress, and deliver the purest entertainment the screen has seen in ages. I’ve championed the action on this year’s Best Action list — it’s fantastical, creative as all hell, and never less than exhilarating in its ridiculous ambitions and memorable execution — but RRR is also so much more than just an action movie. I’m not even talking about the historical, cultural, and religious subtext. That’s all interesting enough, but what lands it at number one is its ability to instill awe, wonder, and joy while reminding you about the magic of the movies. Some films wring tears from my eyes with sadness and heartache, but S.S. Rajamouli‘s RRR is the first movie to make me cry from pure joy. Its blend of the silly and the sincere is so exquisitely crafted that the result is a series of scenes so audacious that any other film would be content delivering just one of them. Add in the rousing score, the enthusiastic bromance, and the kind of electricity that could make a dead man dance, and you have a movie that leaves you smiling for many months to come.
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*This is not a legal statement and should be viewed solely as illustrative and/or performative, so please don’t tell my wife.
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