Film 2022: The Year’s 10 Best
The tops in cinema.
The tops in cinema.
By Matt Brunson
In 2022, folks had no problem finding films representing everything, playing everywhere, and reviving the theatrical experience all at once.
The COVID crisis isn’t over, but you wouldn’t know it from the numbers. Before disaster struck, the total domestic gross between 2015 and 2019 topped $11 billion annually. That came crashing down in 2020, as the closing of the theaters and the stay-at-home mandates resulted in a paltry $2.1 billion take. Things perked up in 2021, as restrictions were lifted and theaters attempted to get back to normal. The haul that year was $4.4 billion, with the top four moneymakers being — what else? — superhero flicks and the top 10 comprised of nothing but superheroes and sequels.
This brings us to 2022, which found another sizable uptick in total domestic gross: $7.3 billion. Of course, that figure isn’t up to the pre-COVID average of $11 billion, but we’re getting there.
So the good news is that the movie theater is again thriving. The bad news is that moviegoers pretty much only want to see the aforementioned superhero flicks and sequels (and occasionally horror films) when they leave the house. With money being tight and with streaming services offering so much content, audiences have reserved the big screens almost exclusively for large-scale movies that will allow them to take to the skies, fight alongside caped crusaders, or visit strange lands.
Consequently, smaller titles have suffered tremendously. Movies like The Banshees of Inisherin, She Said, and Women Talking were never going to be blockbusters anyway, but the current business model has hurt them even more, and the belief in some quarters that titles like these should have debuted on streaming might disappoint true cineastes but unfortunately makes sense.
Tár cost $35 million and grossed $6 million; The Fabelmans cost $40 million and grossed $15 million; Babylon cost $78 million and grossed $15 million; Amsterdam cost $80 million and grossed $14 million. (International added to these totals, but not by significant amounts.) There were of course exceptions — the biggest major-studio hit that wasn’t a franchise title was Elvis with $151 million in the bank, while the indie smash of the year, of several years, was Everything Everywhere All at Once with $70 million. But for the most part, expect studio heads to crunch the numbers and decide that, while variety might be the spice of life, it’s the same-old same-old that will ultimately save cinema.
But forget the box office for the moment — the only numbers to be crunched here are those pertaining to Top 10 placement. Here, then, are my picks for the 10 best movies of 2022, followed by 10 worthy runners-up and other assorted superlatives.
THE 10 BEST
1. TÁR (Todd Field). The best film of 2022. Cate Blanchett delivers the performance of the year in writer-director Todd Field’s superb motion picture, a character study so piercing in its analysis and so precise in its details that many have believed composer-conductor Lydia Tár to be an actual person. Instead, she’s a marvelous movie creation: an artistic genius with a supportive wife (Nina Hoss) and a loving daughter, but also a bully, a manipulator, and a tyrant. Tár is a rarity in contemporary cinema in that it’s a movie that matters beyond the multiplex, the sort of brainy fare that has inspired almost as many think pieces as straightforward movie reviews. Impressively, the film isn’t pro- or anti- anything. Rather, it trusts viewers enough to allow them to absorb, understand, and appreciate the complexities inherent in cancel culture, in identity politics, and in the perpetual battle to separate the art from the artist.
2. THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN (Martin McDonagh). As the Irish Civil War rages in the distance, two best buddies on the island of Inisherin engage in an uncivil war of their own making, as Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) abruptly ends his friendship with the “dull” Pádraic Súlleabháin (Colin Farrell). Caught in the crossfire are Pádraic’s sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon) and the young Dominic Kearney (Barry Keoghan), two individuals constantly undervalued by the majority of their neighbors. This is generally described as a “seriocomedy” and a “tragicomedy,” although the humor frequently curdles in the face of the story’s bleakness. There’s no shortage of meaning or metaphor in this robust tale of suffocating depression, crippling loneliness, and the necessity of investing one’s life with purpose and passion. Bonus points, too, for featuring the year’s best ensemble cast, bar none.
3. SHE SAID (Maria Schrader). The year’s most unjustly overlooked movie is this riveting docudrama concerning one of the key events that gave birth to the #MeToo movement: the investigation of Miramax head Harvey Weinstein, accused of sexually assaulting dozens of women over the decades. This isn’t a sensationalistic tale about hotshot journalists smelling blood in the water; rather, it takes a nose-to-the-grindstone approach by sticking with New York Times reporters Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) as they do the necessary legwork in their pursuit of justice. It’s this very meticulousness that enhances the picture’s potency.
4. AFTERSUN (Charlotte Wells). Fashioned as a memory piece, this remarkable debut feature from writer-director Charlotte Wells focuses on an 11-year-old Scottish girl (Frankie Corio) and the relationship she shares with her youthful, troubled father (Paul Mescal) as they spend time together at a Turkish vacation spot. For a movie that initially seemed slight upon first glance, this has haunted me like no other title on this list, refusing to stray too far from my thoughts — or my emotions — since first viewing it a few weeks ago. And you won’t find a rawer moment in 2022 cinema than those few seconds of a deep, despairing cry.
5. THE NORTHMAN (Robert Eggers). The writer-director of The Witch and The Lighthouse (the latter making my 10 Best list for 2019; go here) takes on Hamlet before it was Hamlet, working from a 12th-century legend about a Viking (Alexander Skarsgård), his dysfunctional family, and his quest for revenge. The rousing result is an immersive experience in which the supernatural easily commingles with reality and in which witches and seers carry as much weight as kings and queens. Eggers provides a seat to a searing, soaring spectacle that’s heavy on the blood and sweat but light on the tears. Now who’s up for a game of Knattleikr?
6. THE MENU (Mark Mylod). At the risk of making The Menu sound like a movie about cannibalism, this wicked dark comedy is a far tastier “eat the rich” offering than the overcooked Oscar contender Triangle of Sadness. In a career packed with underrated performances, Ralph Fiennes delivers yet another — he’s Julian Slowik, a master chef who has a special evening planned for his carefully selected clientele, a guest list that significantly doesn’t include the last-minute date (Anya Taylor-Joy) of a fervent foodie (Nicholas Hoult). The art of the meal and the consumer’s craving for more more s’more are just two of the topics explored in this culinary delight.
7. EO (Jerzy Skolimowsky). Robert Bresson’s 1966 French classic Au Hasard Balthazar, which centers on the life of a donkey, was famously described by Jean-Luc Godard as “the world in an hour and a half” and maintains its reputation as one of the all-time greats. Whether this Polish import, loosely inspired by the Bresson flick, similarly sticks around for the long haul remains to be seen — after all, is there enough room at the head of the film history class for two movies about donkeys? — but, for now, it’s a keeper. Like its predecessor, it’s a seemingly simple tale that’s deeply soulful, and it avoids cheap sentiment and unearned pathos at every turn.
8. OFFICIAL COMPETITION (Gastón Duprat & Mariano Cohn). Fans of Hollywood-insider flicks like The Player and S.O.B. should dig Competencia oficial, which takes place in Spain but features the types of narcissists and nitwits found on any film set. Penélope Cruz plays Lola Cuevas, an eccentric director who’s hired to bring a notable novel to the screen. Her leading men are stage star Iván Torres (Oscar Martinez) and cinema star Félix Rivero (Antonio Banderas), the former an insufferable snob and the latter a shallow buffoon. Caustic scenarios and note-perfect performances keep the laughs coming in this lively endeavor.
9. EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE (Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert). Loved their 2014 “Turn Down for What” music video, hated their 2016 debut feature Swiss Army Man. And now the filmmakers known collectively as Daniels have returned with another zany project that further proves they not only think outside the box but outside the multiverse as well. This nigh indescribable piece, anchored by lovely turns by Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan (the former Short Round, back on screen after a 20-year hiatus), is alternately exciting and exhausting, smart and sophomoric. But at no point is it anything less than a blazing original.
10. X / PEARL (Ti West). Separately, they might not have made this list; together, how could they not? X is a savvy throwback to those ‘70s terror tales like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes, movies that illustrate why city slickers have every right to be scared of country rubes. Pearl is the singular prequel, less a straightforward horror yarn and more a psychologically probing character study. Elevating both films are the phenomenal performances by Mia Goth, playing aspiring porn starlet Maxine Minx and the elderly Pearl in the first picture and the youthful, hopeful Pearl in the second.
The Next 10 (Honorable Mentions, In Preferential Order):
11. The Fabelmans
12. Argentina, 1985
14. Moonage Daydream
15. The Inspection
16. The Good Boss
17. Bodies Bodies Bodies
Colin Farrell, The Banshees of Inisherin
Javier Bardem, The Good Boss
Paul Mescal, Aftersun
Jeremy Pope, The Inspection
Brendan Fraser, The Whale
Cate Blanchett, Tár
Mia Goth, X and Pearl
Michelle Yeoh, Everything Everywhere All at Once
Ana de Armas, Blonde
Frankie Corio, Aftersun
Best Supporting Actor:
Brendan Gleeson, The Banshees of Inisherin
Ke Huy Quan, Everything Everywhere All at Once
Paul Dano, The Fabelmans and The Batman
Brian Tyree Henry, Causeway
Barry Keoghan, The Banshees of Inisherin
Best Supporting Actress:
Kerry Condon, The Banshees of Inisherin
Carey Mulligan, She Said
Hong Chau, The Whale and The Menu
Nina Hoss, Tár
Gabrielle Union, The Inspection
Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris
Pompo the Cinephile
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Thor: Love and Thunder
2022 Movie I’m Most Sorry to Have Missed:
Living. Looking forward to catching up with this one in ’23, as I’ve long been a fan of Bill Nighy (who earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination for this).
2022 Movie I’m Least Sorry to Have Missed:
Halloween Ends. The 2018 Halloween reboot was mediocre at best, and 2021’s Halloween Kills was abysmal at best and, uh, equally abysmal at worst. I’m perfectly OK with not knowing how this Halloween ends.
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