Favorite Films of 2022
Updated: Jan 24
I know nothing of life, except through the cinema- Jean Luc-Godard
Maybe the movies aren’t dying. For all the talk about the death of cinema, great films every year still manage to, like Samwise Gamgee once said, “shine out the clearer.” The way we experience them, however, is changing and as an advocate for the theatrical method, I am perturbed. The future haunts, but cinema, as always, comforts. You just roll with the punches in life, as Tilda Swinton’s Rosalind says in Joanna Hogg’s The Eternal Daughter. Meanwhile, cinephiles will keep watching movies, inevitably embracing whatever emerges while fighting to keep the art form’s past alive and protected from the suppression of the corporations that are transforming the ways in which current films are distributed and marketed. Somehow cinema is in the midst of an identity crisis without complete change.
Jean Luc-Godard, Peter Bogdanovich, and Sidney Poitier died in 2022. Martin Scorsese, one of our greatest filmmakers and preservers of film, is 80 years old. Steven Spielberg released an autobiographical film; in The Fabelmans he openly, and almost disturbingly, displayed the truth behind his pop-culture shaping greatness as well as the complicated essence that is cinema, the greatest art form in the world. Perhaps it’s easy to get existential about cinema at the moment, but with such reflection comes romance and reminders of why we love the movies. “Movies are magic,” Spielberg’s mother claims, which is, ironically, one of Spielberg’s darkest films. A saccharine statement to be sure, though its veracity holds and is necessary for our cynical times.
If cinema does die somehow, some way (I hate to even imagine such a scene), stories will continue to be told. Though cinema is the best way to tell stories, it is only a medium through which we experience them. The stories, the people who tell them, and the characters we sojourn with for however long, are what matter. However, no art form better represents this than cinema. For now we’ll wait while continuing to enjoy the movies that are getting made in spite of these turbulent times, or in some cases, because of these turbulent times. Artists are resistors and challengers to the ignorant and arrogant and the artists behind a lot of this past year’s films resisted the myths and backwardness of the hill that many in America forever stand on.
“Cinema is in a state of restless flux,” Leonardo Goi of Mubi Notebook observes, “as lovers of the embattled artform, we’re all the better for it.”
Here are my top 20 favorite films of 2022:
20. Emily the Criminal
A stellar debut from John Patton Ford and starring an inspired Aubrey Plaza as a college graduate loaded with student debt and struggling to find a job. The title tells you the path she takes, though it’s a smart, taut thriller.
19. White Noise
I haven’t read the source material (Don DeLillo’s 1985 novel of the same name), so I can’t speak comparatively to its tone here but I can imagine it’s more adept at steering a more cohesive thematic line that’s a bit convoluted in this film. However, I was fully on board from the start. I like to think Baumbach is just having fun here and letting loose, taking on an unusual story. Though it is his typical genre (family drama), it’s elevated to new heights and makes for a boisterously cinematic look at the role we play in our own demise. Then there’s the credits sequence featuring LCD Soundsystem- the best music moment of the year.
Criminal that this didn't recieve one Oscar nom. Never have I had such a visceral response to a film as that 4-5 second shot of the people screaming in terror as they’re sucked into the tube of the living alien spacecraft. Jordan Peele’s film is layers upon layers of genius. A spectacle about our obsession with spectacle along with the role of race in film history combining in a purely cinematic, enigmatic, and Spielbergian thrill. Though Peele is no Spielberg, I don’t mean that pejoratively, he’s just on a whole level of his own.
17. All Quiet on the Western Front
I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality over an abyss of sorrow."
- Erich Maria Remarque
It's quite a departure from the novel- reducing the company to just four friends, substituting Kemmerich's comfortable boots for, rather, a pile of boots to be recycled for new recruits. The second scene with the clothes getting stripped off dead bodies and shipped back to Germany to be reused is more harrowing than the opening scene that precedes it. Though the opening scene and it's tracking shot is more terrifying than all of 1917. Then that score, wow, it sounds almost industrial (and the first time we hear it the scene is very factory-like, getting the newly cleaned clothes to new recruits like they’re a human assembly line happily coasting to the trenches of hell and death), reflecting the new modern world. It's a war film with all the conventions of a horror film. The jump scares are shell barrages, the monsters are tanks and the torture is flamethrowers while the warning signs (which soldiers can’t heed) are limbless/headless torsos hanging in trees. Any last vestiges of traditional warfare are gone. Welcome to the 20th-century. Welcome to modernism.
Back to differences from the novel- an interesting new twist on Kats' death, ingeniously moving the timeline to just four days before the November 11th armistice, the shell-hole scene is unbearably heart-wrenching (and like the rest of the film, it lets the visuals and sound do all the explaining- Remarque's description of the French soldier's gurgling and Paul's agony in listening to it is captured perfectly here and without the "comrade" monologue- I was squirming in torment), and then Paul's death scene does not reach the heights of the novel nor the 1930 film. However, like the novel, the film in intensely visceral, relentless, graphic, barbaric, and pointless. Which is the point.
Blood is in almost every shot. Whether it's smoke turning red from machine gun bullets pelting charging bodies or muddy puddles filling up with red mist or leaking wounds from the dead, red pervades the film, the more you see it the redder it gets until towards the end it literally turns black, clogging a small bullet wound (not even shot from the enemy) and poisoning his organs. No Man's Land is contradictory, there's an incalculable amount of men out there- they just no longer have souls, dead or alive.
The officers negotiate a ceasefire slowly but surely and safely. The General feasts on delicious meals while his men are slaughtered like pigs, though he is the most piggish of them all- short and stout with a plum for a face, representing Remarque's observation in the novel: "It is very queer that that the unhappiness of the world is so often brought on by small men." He refers to the new German government as "perfidious." He calls himself a soldier and laments the fact that he's never seen combat and his sending the soldiers on a raid fifteen minutes before the Armistice is, though not in the novel nor accurate, a brilliant decision. There is no logic to men like this. Their tribalism (in the modern, pejorative connotation) and misguided sense of pride and honor will always result in the downfall of others. And it is, unfortunately, beyond resonant today (ahem, Putin/Orbán/ others).
It doesn't reach the heights of the likes of Come and See (which is the greatest anti-war film ever made, though I saw it in a theater which would have certainly helped the case for this Netflix film) and I would even take the D-Day scene from Saving Private Ryan over it, but it's elevated by that final scene. Paul is the last of his company ("We are all at once terribly alone; and alone we must see it through"), his choice to fully partake and go all in is not foolish nor reckless, it is war. No matter how much more time there is for the war to carry on. There is no reason nor complexity to war. It is them or us, it is savagery, it is primeval, it is survive or die. Why does the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month suddenly stop the killing? Why are they enemies one minute and neutral acquaintances the next? Why is Paul stabbed at 10:59 AM on November 11th, 1918 for... no reason at all?
Tossed on the glittering air they soar and skim,
Whose voices make the emptiness of light
A windy palace. Quavering from the brim
Of dawn, and bold with song at edge of night,
They clutch their leafy pinnacles and sing
Scornful of man, and from his toils aloof
Whose heart's a haunted woodland whispering;
Whose thoughts return on tempest-baffled wing;
Who hears the cry of God in everything,
And storms the gate of nothingness for proof.
- Siegfried Sassoon
Mia Goth is excellent in Ti West’s prequel to his earlier 2022 release X (didn’t make my top 20, but it’s also great). A throwback to classical filmmaking and a disturbing look into what happens when one is persistently out of reach of love. A sequel set in the 80s is coming soon.
15. The Banshees of Inisherin
Recent winner of Best Comedy/Musical at the Golden Globes. Do not be mistaken, this film is not a happy one. Martin McDonagh is one of contemporary cinema’s greatest writers (he’s also a playwright) and with Banshees he provides a moving tale of a friendship ending on account of: “I just don’t like you no more.” And Colin Farrell plaintively responds with his eyebrows raised, “But you liked me yesterday.” Throw in that tender performance from Barry Keoghan and it’s near perfect.
14. You Won’t Be Alone
A Malick-esque body horror about the beauty of life. I wrote about it here.
Demands your attention like so few films do these days. Goes way beyond the unfortunate labeling as a “cancel culture film.” I was exhilarated by Cate Blanchett’s performance and its precisely subtle, cinematic storytelling relying on the strict engagement of the viewer. Incredible camerawork just dazzles the decline we’re seeing on screen, neither endorsing Lydia Tár nor completely ridiculing her. It’s a masterwork from the long absent Todd Field.
12. Armageddon Time
“It’s hard to fight, isn’t it kid?”
I understand the objections to Gray’s film here. Yet while there’s a lot to critique, there’s more to appreciate.
This is quite a complicated undertaking for Gray in the first place and I think it’s indeed a nuanced exploration of the intersection of race and class. A lot of the darts thrown at the film is the definitely underdeveloped Black character- Paul’s friend Johnny. I think we have to understand here that Gray, as he usually does, is not making any statement in any way. He’s not asking for pity or sympathy or atonement.
Though it is an extremely personal film, as all his films are, he’s simply telling his story and unambiguously depicting these themes of guilt and privilege, as he does so masterly, through uncompromising images extracted from memory growing up as a Jewish kid in Queens. He’s just telling it how was and how it still is.
Yes, there’s no justice for Johnny but there never was and still isn’t. And he’s not being used for Paul’s “growth” or “arc.” How much would building up Johnny’s story have helped? I immediately want to watch the film again and see how much Paul himself, is developed, cause it’s not much if at all (the ending isn’t him learning anything, it’s him continuing to be somewhat keen and aware). Because this is a story of America in the 80s and where it’s going through the lens of a 6th grader who knows no better. He learns from his grandfather to stand up for others that are discriminated against but he doesn’t understand the full scope of what exactly that means or entails. And of course he fails when confronted with such a task because, first of all, he’s 11 and second, the system- the dream that is America- demands that you don’t speak out, don’t give handouts, don’t succumb to moral weakness, and don’t acknowledge the less fortunate, the ones without a “leg up.” And third, he really believed in their dream. That they’d get away, he was already picturing Johnny as an astronaut and he an artist en plein air on the beach. He just doesn’t know yet that his American dream will always be squashed by his American reality (Johnny knows, he’s just still trying regardless because, unlike Paul, he has no choice.).
It’s the humans in the margins of a system run by the elites of schools like Forest Manor who suffer the most. And this is the story of Paul and Johnny’s American realities. Each one’s version. Paul’s plight, being privileged and able to utilize the advantages of whiteness by passing with a different name (thanks to his family) is having no choice and feeling the guilt and shame. Johnny’s plight, being a Black kid in the nascent years of Reagan’s election victory, is inevitably far worse and irreducible.
It’s simply an artist ingeniously making his art with his signature emotional heft, abstract portrayal of the inner life intertwining with history, and clear sincerity and honesty all undercutting the faux realism of his frames.
It’s also a tender story of memory, home, family, and decency. And it’s quite an achievement from one of our greatest moviemakers today.
Haven’t gone a day without RRR (Rise-Roar-Revolt) crossing my mind since I watched it. My initial response was a shrug, though distance made me want to enter its extravagant world again and never leave. The endless possibilities of cinema in one epic tale of friendship. An absolute blast, not a second of its three hour runtime is wasted.
10. After Yang
What if you could go through a collection of recorded memories by a lost loved one? That’s the premise of this movie about grief that we all needed. Though what Colin Farrell’s tea aficionado is mourning is an A.I. “techno-sapien” named Yang. When Yang suddenly malfunctions one day, Farrell’s Jake assures his heartbroken daughter that he will get Yang repaired. We don’t see much of the futuristic world, only what truly matters in this profound study of loss, love, and what it means to live, even if it's through the lens of an android.
9. Hit the Road
Not your average road trip film. Panah Panahi’s film about a family traveling by car through Iran leaves you questioning, until the very end, when the harsh, sad truth is revealed. Though it’s moments of levity belie it’s sadder moments and helps the viewer to keep riding along. A gut-wrenching extreme long-shot portrays the length of a mother’s love, which extends well beyond the frame- after the reason for the road trip is unveiled and after the destination is reached.
8. Top Gun: Maverick
The blockbuster of the year. Tom Cruise might just be the savior of movies. Top Gun Summer 2022 will never be forgotten.
7. Bones and All
Luca Guadagnino’s cannibal love story is, simply put, a really neat film. It doesn’t seem like it should work, but Gaudagnino’s sincerity and empathy is moving. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s score is one of the best of 2022 and Taylor Russell gives one the best performances of the year next to a reliable Timothee Chalamet. Gaudagnino is an astute filmmaker.
6. Decision to Leave
Park Chan-wook is at the height of his craft here. Hitchcock but in the 21st century. Turning the detective/police procedural on its head, Park Chan-wook’s classicism is refreshing. And no one balances absurdity with genuine emotion like him. The self-awareness of its humor and heartfelt emotion help to belie each in such a way that the laughs are louder and the emotion is sincerely, deeply felt. A perfect film in every sense.
The best movie about movies from 2022 is Damien Chazelle’s Epicurean Hollywood saga. As Brad Pitt’s Jack Conrad says, “everything that happens on screen means something” and it’s easy to admire Chazelle’s audacity to prove just that with Babylon. Taking its name from the biblical story, Chazelle’s film hilariously glorifies and laments (and embellishes) the great 20th century art form through the transition of sound to talkies during the hedonism and debauchery that William Hays and the burgeoning studio system of the 20s was still learning to contain before the production code would finally enforce proper behavior and its strict “morals” both on and off screen in the 30s. The final 20 minutes are a doozy (near religious experience only cinema can provide) and as a budding film history scholar, I can’t wait to revisit this. I grinned wide at Li Jun Li as Lady Fay Zhu (stand-in for the real Anna May Wong) doing her Marlene Dietrich impersonation as well as the reference to the “Fatty” Arbuckle scandal.
The movie is, also, insane and had my heart pumping. Chazelle’s tracking shots make the decadence glamorous and there’s a cracked-door shot to rival Scorsese’s in The Irishman, even if the blood spatter is less subtle in its tragedy. Every frame means something. There’s always progression for better or for worse. We don’t know what will come out of Hollywood and cinema’s current crisis in the 2020s. One thing is for sure- we’ll keep looking back as we move forward. The ghosts of celluloid and the angels of 24 frames per second will haunt us always. Because they mean something on the screen of their time and they still mean something on the screen of eternity.
4. Petite Maman
“But the last goodbye wasn’t good.” Céline Sciamma’s film is a tender, emotionally hard-hitting story about rediscovering the magic of childhood and seeing a parent as you never saw them as a kid and still refusing to see them in the same way as an adult. A painful reminder that we forget to love and to always love again.
3. Everything Everywhere All At Once
A movie I wasn’t dying to see when I saw the trailer was one of the best of the year. Few films do what this one does. Crying one minute, instantly laughing the next. An experience like no other; madness so moving you’ll feel buoyant and alive like never before. Everything, everywhere, it’s all beautiful.
2. The Fabelmans
To not like Steven Spielberg is to not like cinema. One cannot claim to like cinema if they do not appreciate Spielberg. His autobiographical The Fabelmans is more than a love letter to movies. It’s a dark, psychosexual exploration of what it takes to relieve oneself of familial pressures and finding that relief in an obsession so indispensable there’s no turning back. It’s a movie for artists, dreamers, and cinephiles alike. Especially the ones who find themselves on the outside of their upbringing and have no choice but to claim an apparatus that will sustain them in this external position. Under this, however, is Spielberg’s trademark of heart, sentimentality, and passion captured by a camera that is unlike any other filmmaker’s. Spielberg is the movies and the movies are Spielberg.
A perfectly crafted and emotionally calibrated film that is truly an anomalous experience of cinema. Nothing has ever hit me as hard as Charlotte Well’s debut film. It has to be seen and felt. A perfect film and one I will never forget. I wrote more here.
Honorable Mentions: Benediction, The Eternal Daughter, Elvis, Prey, To Leslie, Fire of Love, On the Count of Three, Women Talking