Top 22 for 2022: Movies, movies, movies
Forget the Oscars and check out my personal favorites and disappointments
I used to do best-of movie lists when I started blogging (Top 13 for 2013, Top 14 for 2014, Top 15 for 2015, Top 16 for 2016, Top 18 for 2018), and I usually accompanied them with a list of disasppointments (2013, 2014, 2015, 2018). At one point the disappointments list got so long that the law of diminishing returns made me stop listing favorites.
Then the pandemic happened, and I almost stopped watching movies. I could not watch them at home because I would often fall asleep, and the lockdowns made going to the theatre a logistical nightmare. I honestly thought Tenet would be the last movie I ever saw in a theatre, because I could not imagine a future where I would have to sit through 2+ hours of middling entertainment while keeping a mask on. I still keep a Tenet ticket stub in my wallet as a reminder that the future is difficult to predict.
In 2022 masks were no longer required, and Hollywood was trying really hard to lure me back inside a theatre. My experience was mixed. Most of the time I could recognize an agenda in the movies (a filmmaker friend of mine calls these turnkey-movies), and I found the self-flagellation permeating Western cinema a little too on-the-nose. It is one thing when Bong-Joon Ho makes an (anti)racist film in 2013, it is another when privileged westerners decide to white-lotus the shit out of each other in 2023.
Yet, there were enough memorable movies last year that I was able to put together a top 22 for 2022. Most of the movies listed below were seen in a movie theatre (which greatly enhances my movie enjoyment), and not many of them will be rememebered a year from now. Yet I had fun watching them, and I decided to share them with you. The disappointments are under a paywall, as my comments about them tend to be more ranty. (NOTE: The movie titles are hyperlinks to the trailers.)
(HONORABLE MENTION) Top Gun: Maverick - Joseph Kosinski
Believe it or not, I hadn't seen the original Top Gun until this year. I only knew the hilarious Quentin Tarantino monologue, and I still think that monologue is the best thing about the original. But time has done different things for Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer, and seeing them briefly come back together gives the sequel emotional resonance. While that resonance is a nice side-effect, Maverick is all about spectacle. The movie has fun with cliches, and I have to admit I did not see the ending coming. It is big, loud and proudly Tom Cruise-ian. Or should I say American?
22. Moonage daydream - Brett Morgen
Moonage Daydream is a collage of interviews and video inserts from David Bowie's life, without a narrator to give meaning to any of it. It is 140 minutes of watching Bowie passing through different artistic phases, often contradictory, always fascinating. It is an intimate portrayal of an artist that gets wiser as he ages. I kept waiting for Bowie to get to my current age, hoping for some brilliant insight into middle age, but the movie ended right before it reached that special moment.
21. Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio - Guillermo del Toro
Pinocchio is probably del Toro's worst film, but I would take bad del Toro any day of 2022. The stop motion animation is breathtaking, the Pinocchio story is updated so you won't know what happens next, and the anti-fascist sentiment anchors the movie to del Toro's other cinematic masterpieces. And if you cannot get enough of del Toro, I highly recommend his Cabinet of Curiosities streaming now on Netflix.
20. Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths - Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Iñárritu follows in the footsteps of Cuarón (Roma) and makes a very non-commercial, sort-of autobiographical movie for Netflix. This is the movie you make after you have collected all the imagineable awards, and yet you are still suffering from an incurable impostor syndrome. Iñárritu lets loose all his fever dreams, gets Darius Khondji to dazzle with his cinematography and long takes, and invokes the spirit of Felini in the most magical way.
The Key & Peele sketches showed that Jordan Peele is a master historian of cinema, and Nope is his valentine to movies. By documenting the efforts of a group of people to film UFOs, he is also documenting the process of creating moving pictures, from the Muybridge racehorse to today. Nope is nowhere near the brilliance of Get Out, but it is still an enjoyable mix of nostalgia and social commentary.
18. Black Phone - Scott Derrickson
Black phone continues the collaboration between director Scott Derrickson and actor Ethan Hawke that started with Sinister in 2012. It is fun to see Ethan Hawke cast against type as the villain, and the black phone conversations with victims of child kidnappings are genuinly disturbing. It is reassuring that Blumhouse still knows how to make and market a low-budget horror movie.
17. Licorice Pizza - Paul Thomas Anderson
With Licorice Pizza director PT Anderson returns to the 70s and realizes it wasn't all about Boogie Nights and Inherent Vice. Sure, cultural norms were different, but there were still teenage crushes, ambitious grifters, and small record stores. I was lukewarm about the entire movie until Paul McCartney's 'Let me roll it' rolled in. After that I couldn't get the smile off my face.
There is nothing particularly original about Smile, but it is scary. I am not talking only about the jump-scares, which are cheap and frequent, but also about the existential dread that comes with the realization that the only way to pass on a curse is to kill another human being. In that scenario, most people opt for suicide. Some don't.
15. Everything Everywhere All at Once - Daniels
I loved the Daniels' hilarious Turn Down for What video, I admired their head-scratching Swiss Army Man, and now I am happy for them and the mainstream success of EEAAO. That being said, EEAAO lost steam by the halfway point, and it could not keep my attention through all the galaxy-brained googly-eyes universe-jumping. I saw this movie to escape the alternate reality of a brain mapping conference, yet there were times during the movie when I wished I could skip back and forth, or at least press the pause button.
14. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On - Dean Fleischer Camp
A lucky recommendation and a long flight across the Pacific acquainted me with Marcel the Shell. A whimsical story that recalls the themes and style of Michel Gondry, it follows an anthropomorphized shell that realizes the world is too big and scary and then tries to do something about it. Figuratively and literally a movie about breaking (out of) one's shell, it is an animated romantic comedy that found its way to the Oscar race, and I sure hope it wins it!
13. The Lost Daughter - Maggie Gyllenhaal
I am not sure if this movie qualifies for a 2022 list, but circumstances kept preventing me from seeing it last year, despite my enthusiasm. Elena Ferrante, Olivia Colman and Maggie Gyllenhaal are a match made in heaven, and the story of a woman who may or may not have been a good mother is the movie equivalent of manna. Parenthood mistakes are painful to revisit, but this movie shows that there is some solace to be found in hindsight.
12. Petite Maman - Céline Sciamma
Another move that is technically from 2021, but I needed to write about it. After so many bloated 3-hour movies, this 70-minute visual poem about childhood, parenthood and death felt like a palate cleanser. Twin sisters Joséphine Sanz and Gabrielle Sanz play a mother and a daughter, yet through some unexplained time-travel scenario they are both the same age. Petite Maman would make an excellent double-header with the Lost Daughter, and for this one you could also invite your children to join.
11. Avatar: The Way of Water - James Cameron
Very few people thought that the Avatar sequel will validate James Cameron as Hollywood's leading visionary. Yet Cameron once again proved critics wrong by creating a movie that overtook his own Titanic to become the third highest grossing movie of all time. The Way of Water screenplay is as mediocre as that of the original Avatar, but the visuals are stunning, and seeing it in the best possible theatre is a must. Magic awaits you after you put on the 3-D glasses and dive beneath the surface of Pandora. My kids agreed that the Avatar original (also re-released in theatres this year) is a better movie, but they haven't been the ones waiting for 13 years for Cameron to strike gold again.
Kazuo Ishiguro adapted this remake of the Kurosawa movie Ikiru. Bill Nighy is perfectly cast as a tight-lipped Englishman who discovers he is dying of cancer. His transformation is not very surprising, but the surprise comes when he dies half an hour before the movie ends. What is there to witness after the main character dies? Quite a lot, it turns out. What starts out as a character out of a Magritte painting transforms into an inspiration for an entire community. The way his torch is carried on is a perfect mix of cynicism and realism.
9. Bodies, bodies, bodies - Halina Reijn
A group of Gen-Z friends gets together in a house during a storm, and a bunch of bodies start piling up. The Agatha Christie inspiration is evident, but the venom and disdain towards the protagonists is very 2022. The moment their cell reception goes down, they start accusing each other of horrible (and not so horrible) crimes, all the while oblivious to who is killing whom. Dutch filmmaker Halina Reijn hates, hates, hates the people in this movie, taking them places where the HBO series Euphoria didn't dare.
8. X - Ti West
The year saw many horrors about toxic masculinity (Men, Vengeance, Barbarian), but none had the punch or the originality of X. Sure, the men in it are assholes and they get killed off first. But the movie also has something to say about toxic femininity, especially after you realize that Mia Goth plays two characters in the movie.
7. The Banshees of Inisherin - Martin McDonagh
McDonagh is a rare playwright that knows how to make movies. The Banshees of Inisherin has all the trademarks of a chamber drama, yet the dialogue is explosive and the visuals are hard to shake off. The digital amputation that drives the story is a perfect metaphor fow how men escalate conflict, and Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson have a toxic chemistry that makes everything go boom at the end.
Tàr is a mirror held up to culture warriors so they can argue about the pros and cons of #MeToo, white privilege, and other trigger words that are driving the 2020s cultural discourse. However, it is also a fascinating character study of an individual who has many of the virtues and the flaws of highly successful people. Can you separate the art from the artist? The titular conductor Lydia Tár would say yes even if it means scraping for work in dingy basements in the Philippines. But the movie about her is way more ambigious, and more powerful as a result.
5. RRR - S. S. Rajamouli
If you have never seen a Bollywood movie, RRR is a great place to start. Over the top in every imaginable way, it manages to provoke laughter, empathy, and awe in equal measures. The anticollonialism story is just a backdrop onto which Rajamouli has crafted elaborate set pieces, first-class production design, blood-pumping action, larger-than-life personalities and contagious song-and-dance routines. RRR is first-class entertainment!
I was not prepared for the Northman. I didn't know Robert Eggers (Lighthouse) directed it, I did not know Björk and Anya Taylor-Joy were in it, and I definitely didn't expect it to be so bloody and ruthless. This is a bleak movie, and no amount of star power (Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe, Alexander Skarsgård, Ethan Hawke) can brighten its commercial potential. However, it is a brave retelling of Hamlet, uncompromising, difficult to stomach, and impossible to forget.
3. Vesper - Kristina Buožytė and Bruno Samper
Vesper is a Lithuanian coming-of-age story that manages a unique challenge of being inspired by Cronenberg and also being a crowd-pleaser. Yes, there are some disturbing visuals, and the dystopian elements are dialed up to 11, but even though it takes place in a world where genetically engineered crops mean starvation for most of the population, it avoids being too bleak by focusing on a strong-willed teenage hero and several sympathetic AIs. Vesper has one-of-a-kind world-building and it is truly worth seeing on a big screen!
2. You won't be alone - Goran Stolevski
Blood, not beauty! This is what the old woman tells her apprentice in this disturbing Macedonian horror about a body-switching witch. The movie manages to be both bloody and beautiful, even though it appears impenetrable on the surface. Filmed in an ancient Macedonian dialect, with an ever-changing gallery of main characters that cross ages and genders, it is a pure miracle that it got the highest praise from prestigious publications, prominent economist bloggers, and even from my favorite movie critic. Somehow the movie disappeared from end-of-the-year lists and Oscar nominations, but it is still one of the most powerful Macedonian movies ever made.
1. Matilda the Musical - Matthew Warchus
This is the movie I watched the most in 2022, partly because of my kids’ fascination with it, and partly because it is subversive in the best possible ways. With each viewing I became more aware of how precious, precocious and prescient it is. The musical numbers are innovative and earworm-y, the title character is a poster child for disobedience of authority, and the headmistress Miss Trunchbull is as revolting as Roald Dahl intended her to be (no sanitization to be found here). Matilda was adapted for the screen by Dennis Kelly (Utopia), and I greatly appreciated the finale where all of the Trunchbull apologists are dancing on her toppled statue, yet Matilda stands still, always an outsider. It took a while to explain to my kids the irony of the ending, but I think they became better human beings after they understood it.
And now for some movies that did not live up to my expectations. These are not necessarily bad movies, but there was something about them that rubbed me the wrong way. Keep in mind that I still haven't seen the Fabelmans, Amsterdam and Babylon, so the list might undergo some changes.