Another year is coming to a close, believe it or not, my fifth year writing one of these lists. More than any of the previous years — when films like Roma and I’m Thinking of Ending Things topped the lists — this has been a year of great change for me. In the first year post-Covid closures I’ve ventured back into theaters more and yet seen fewer movies than anytime in the last few years. As a result this is the first time in some time my list will feel somewhat incomplete. Despite monumental change for me personally, the types of film that spoke to me remained quite consistent. My favorites of 2022 feature a great deal of coming of age stories, a theme that still resonates with me as much at age 28 as it did at age 23 when Lady Bird topped my 2017 list.
Still, there are quite a few films left to see this year and things can still change a lot. For now, here are my top 10 films of 2022.
This year was a special one in film and I’m disappointed that I didn’t have the time to write a top 25 for it. Limiting myself to just 10 films means a lot of incredible movies got left behind. In no particular order, here are some films that I would have loved to include and encourage people to see, along with a few brief words on them:
Fire of Love: I always like to have a documentary in my top ten but the narrative offerings were just too good this year. Fire of Love is easily the best doc I saw in 2022 and a beautiful love story too
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio: Not to be mistaken with the Zemeckis monstrosity, GdT takes care to turn the classic story on its head and decry the lessons of obedience as tools of oppressors.
Lingui the Sacred Bonds: A movie I haven’t seen come up much, but in my opinion its the best of a handful of 2022 releases about what women suffer through when they are not afforded access to abortion care. Obviously very timely and well acted too.
Top Gun: Maverick: C’mon, this movie rips.
10. The Banshees of Inesherin
One could call me skeptical when the rapturous acclaim began to roll in over Martin McDonagh’s Banshees of Inesherin. I wont soon forget the similar, if slightly more divisive, reaction to his last Oscar buzzy film; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. While that particular piece of cinema left me cold, Banshees of Inesherin couldn’t be more jaunty and insightful. At once an arresting allegory for the Irish Civil War, a conflict that turned brothers against one another almost overnight, McDonagh’s newest is also just a wildly entertaining actors piece about what happens when your best friend stops liking you. Colin Farrell turns in what would be (if not for another film on this list) a career best performance as a dimwitted nice guy and the cast around him equally lifts the film with portrayals ranging from hilarious to tragic.
9. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Look, anyone who has read my reviews or listened to my podcast will know that dunking on Elon Musk types is the quickest way to a high rating for me. Rian Johnson does that with alacrity in Glass Onion and thats not even what makes this film special. It is at once so of a piece with its predecessor and yet broadens the scope and tone in a way that totally distinguishes it. Just like Knives Out, the extended cast is phenomenal — Janelle Monae especially — and the eat-the-rich ethos oozes through every delightful scene, but Glass Onion brings more humor, more pointed satire and more goofy self reflection to the mix. What a brilliant sandbox Rian Johnson has built for himself after being unjustly chased out of A Galaxy Far Away by the angry mob. I hope he makes these movies forever.
8. Decision to Leave
Back to back detective stories on this list and they couldn’t be more dissimilar. While Benoit Blanc is dismissive and full of disdain for his lead suspect, Hae-joon (Park Hae-il), the detective at the heart of Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave holds a much different connection to his subject. This is less a detective mystery than it is an ill-fated romance. Our investigator here falls into an almost obsessive infatuation with a woman who may or may not have, but almost certainly did, thrown her husband off a cliff. Through some masterful editing and picturesque cinematography, Hae-joon’s stakeouts become almost voyeuristic dates with his suspected black widow. Decision to Leave is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful films of the year, visually and narratively as it paints the fragile portrait of a man in crisis.
7. Women Talking
A group of women in a religious commune, at last pushed to their limits by nightly assault at the hands of the men in charge, gather in a barn to talk about the collection of bad options facing them moving forward. Condemned to hell by their abusers should they choose to leave, forced to continue enduring hell on earth should they choose to stay. The stakes could not be higher for everyone involved in Sarah Polley’s talkie and that tension flows through with each argument presented. The brilliance of Women Talking comes not just from this drought decision forced upon the women by the men, its in the burdens imposed upon these characters by their very faith. Arguing the merits of their liberation is just the beginning but a decision to leave would only be one step for these women whose very religion is both the cornerstone of their existence and the millstone around their necks. Polley wrings the most out of this stellar cast and puts to screen a thoughtful, incisive look at the abuses and burdens faced by women to this day.
6. Everything Everywhere all At Once
What is there to say that hasn’t been already about The Daniels Sci-Fi epic Everything Everywhere All at Once. While I’m not ready to crown it the best of the year like so many of its passionate fans, it is rare to find a film that so delicately threads the humor, chaos, spectacle and deep emotion that only movies can provide. How many years does a top ten list include a film that will both provoke tears and feature a scene of people fighting over the ability to sit on a butt plug shaped trophy? In an era of increasing blockbuster dominance, it means a lot to get such a life affirming tale built for the big screen. Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan are knockouts in this too.
5. Turning Red
Here is where the coming of age theme really kicks into overdrive. Turning Red, the far superior Pixar of 2022 is the story of Meilin Lee, (Rosalie Chiang) the daughter of a first generation Chinese-Canadian family, who turns into a giant red panda any time she gets too emotional. Turning Red is, on technical merit alone, a beautiful and dynamic piece of animation filled with anime influences and tons of 90s nostalgia. The story too is lovely as Mei-mei’s transformations are more than just a comic gag. Allegorical in a few ways — the red panda is a pretty clear menstruation proxy but also can be seen as representative as a metaphor for the first generation experience or even just for growing up and balancing desire with responsibility. Whatever message resonates with individual viewers, one thing is clear, Turning Red is not only the best Pixar film since Toy Story 4, but one of the very best films in general of 2022.
Aftersun is not quite a coming of age story of both a young father and his daughter simultaneously, but that description wouldn’t be far off. This semi-autobiographical film follows 13 year old Sophie (Sophie Corio) on a Turkish holiday with her 30 year old father, Calum (Paul Mescal). Not much background is given beyond that, but its readily apparent that Sophie has spent most of her young life without much involvement from her father and Calum, even 13 years later, is barely capable of taking care of himself, let alone a daughter. Devastating as it is inventive visually, Aftersun paints the picture of a young girl forced to grow up to quickly and a young man who, try as he might, seems incapable of growing up himself. Paul Mescal gives a heartbreaking performance and Charlotte Welles direction is some of the best of the year.
3. Hit the Road
In recent months, the world has gotten a pretty clear view of the oppressiveness of the ruling regime in Iran. Of course the iron grip held over Iran has existed for years and it quietly sets the background for Panah Panahi’s Hit the Road. Panahi’s debut follows a family full of personality as they barrel across the Iranian countryside desperately trying to reach the border and free their elder son from his pursuit by the government. It’s never fully clear why he must escape, but that hardly matters in telling the heartrending — and often very funny — story of a family’s love and dedication for one another. Despite the dour subject matter, Panahi finds hope and laughter at every turn and the creativity with which he moves the camera and orchestrates his set pieces make for a bombastic debut of an exciting new voice in world cinema.
2. After Yang
Kogonada’s feature debut, Columbus, was a meticulous meditation on love as told through the lens of Midwest architecture. The man loves his symbolism and with After Yang he has a whole Sci-Fi playground to work in. When a family’s adoptive android son, Yang, begins to malfunction, each member is forced to reckon with his absence. That absence is imagined on screen in the empty hallways and quiet rooms that were once walked by this not quite human being. Ghostly “memories” downloaded from a chip in Yang’s CPU haunt the family’s patriarch as he grapples with just how alive his robotic child actually was. After Yang is a bold and beautifully realized swing, taking a genre full of action and distilling it down to a deeply human dissertation on grief and and the power of Mitski’s music. Colin Farrell is operating at a career best here and newcomer Justin H. Min matches him step for step, providing an eerie performance that nails the uncanny valley between man and machine.
1. The Fabelmans
I have a confession to make: I’m not the biggest Spielberg guy. Notice how I saved this hot take for last to delay relinquishing my cinephile card. Don’t get me wrong, Raiders of the Lost Ark is a stone cold masterpiece, and I’m of course partial to other classics like Jurassic Park, E.T. and Jaws. I just have never felt much more than awe at the craftwork brought each outing by the prolific director. The Fabelmans is my favorite Spielberg movie, its also the best movie of 2022.
Spielberg has long resisted making the type of autofiction that we get here and that very hesitancy informs the humility The Fabelmans finds in his origins in a way that something like Belfast simply couldn’t for Kenneth Branagh. The film follows a young Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle) all throughout his youth, discovering a love for cinema and letting that passion take control his life and strain his relationships. In one particularly knowing moment, Sammy is cutting together a reel of a family camping trip he filmed and discovers, in the margins, the loving glances and embraces between his mother Mitzi (Michelle Williams) and family friend Benny (Seth Rogen). Although their connection is apparent throughout, Sammy can only see it through the lens of his camera just as he has always viewed the world and his life since the moment he set foot in a theater. Spielberg’s vision for film is both his gift and his curse, to tell that story required the opening of old wounds and a story that dug deeper than most of the stylish blockbusters that made him America’s most well known director.
That same ethos is what make The Fabelmans the year’s best. What makes film great — something Spielberg seems to have understood intrinsically for his whole life — is its ability to open up a window into the world we think we know and completely shift our perspectives. Some realizations can only be made through the scope of a camera lens. Spielberg, and his on screen avatar Sammy, chase these truths like addicts. We are lucky to be here to see the work of one of cinema’s great bards.