Top Ten of 2022: A Unity in Cinema

Jan 1, 2023

Top Ten films of 2022 . . . that’s a tough chore.

Once again, I’m coming in right under the wire. As I write this, my list of Top Films of 2022, we’re seven hours, 30 minutes from ringing in 2023 in Arizona . . . . or the Death Star blowing up for the umpteenth time.

And, it is time for this intrepid writer to share the films that made his Top Ten list from 2022.

Before I get into that, though, 2022 was a rather interesting year for cinema. I’ve hemmed and hawed between “flawed” and “spectacular” to describe cinema this year. I endeavor to see all of the mainstream films in the cinema (that’s right, I’m going to trumpet, “get your butts back in those seats” until I’m blue in the face.)

I reflect on 2022 and realize that several trends have cropped up, positive if for no other reason than they signify a shift in ideologies in Hollywood. Or is that San Jose?

Anyway, LGBTQ titles and characters within mainstream titles are on the rise and in the most surprising places. Bodily fluids splashed on our screens in astonishing detail; the beauty and power of the art of cinema are examined many times. In a first (for me), acting ensembles raised their hands to say, “we’re here together in unity.”

Unity. That’s an excellent way to describe the state of cinema in 2022. At least, the products we saw in front of us, and in a first, I’m going to bestow a Best Ensemble award. That’s because, in my seven years of being a critic, 2022 is probably the first year I’ve seen several ensembles that have elevated the entire cast of a particular film and the films they represented.

Ahhh . . . now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here are my Top Ten Best Films of 2022, along with Honorable Mentions. They are in no particular order.

The Whale (A24; now in theaters) – Anthony and I disagreed on the voracity of Aranofsky’s latest film, based on a stage play and filmed as a stage play, Brendan Fraser plays a teacher confined to his apartment. The story looks at depression, relationships, love, longing, and feelings of regret/revenge. Aranofsky plays the film darkly, and Fraser, Hong Chau, Sadie Sink, and Ty Simpkins are all outstanding. The Whale fits perfectly into the stealthy LGBTQ category, and Fraser’s performance is undoubtedly one to keep an eye on for more prominent awards.

Aftersun (A24) – Charlotte Wells’ debut about a young girl and her father on holiday in Turkey haunted me. Artsy and gutsy, Wells uses out-of-focus imagery as Sophie (Frankie Corio) recalls her father, Calum (Paul Mescal), through hazy memory. Through the vivid imagery, we get, rather quickly, a sense that Sophie doesn’t know her father, and Calum plays that out in a very vague way.

TÁR (Focus Features, now on digital VOD and purchase, and on Blu-ray and UHD BD) Singly, one of the best actress performances, comes from Cate Blanchett in Todd Field’s third film, TÁR. Blanchett plays one of the greatest living composer-conductors on the verge of conducting Mahler’s Fifth Symphony when tragedy strikes, derailing her plans. Field’s story, written specifically for Blanchett, slowly unravels the fallout from this tragedy. The film has sparked some interesting theories about its meaning, impacting critics and filmgoers alike.

The Banshees of Inisherin (Searchlight Pictures, now on digital, Blu-ray, and streaming on HBO Max) Martin McDonagh achieves status once again on my year-end list for a film in which Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson have a falling out as two good friends on a fictional Irish isle. Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan co-star, rounding out a terrific ensemble. Dark, drab, light, and spiteful, Inisherin is a highlight of McDonagh’s career.

Everything Everywhere All at Once (A24, now on digital and Blu-ray) A24 is undoubtedly having a banner year with me, I must say. The Daniels’ story, part fantasy, part genuine, is yet another film where the ensemble elevates the story. It is the Daniels’ imaginative use of technology that carries the story, ultimately. Indeed, Michelle Yeoh will be nominated for Best Actress; Jamie Lee Curtis is a hoot and should get a nomination for Best Supporting Actress, as should Ke Huy Quan (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, The Goonies) in Best Supporting Actor. Quan came out of retirement for this film, and the cheers haven’t stopped for him since.

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (Netflix Studios, now streaming on Netflix) Of the two Pinocchio films to hit audiences this year, del Toro’s stop-motion animated film has depth and courage to re-tell this story it did, in a dark yet comedic and touching way. Co-directed by Mark Gustafson, and featuring a voice cast to die for, including Ewan McGregor, David Bradley, Gregory Mann, Ron Perlman, John Turturro, Finn Wolfhard, Cate Blanchett, Tim Blake Nelson, Christoph Waltz, and Tilda Swinton, McGregor plays our fearless narrator, Sebastian J. Cricket. The moral fibers of the story alone come from Sebastian, but they are meaningless without Gregory Mann’s Carlo/Pinocchio character. Waltz is sublime as Count Volpe, and Tilda Swinton once again reminds us why she’s such a fantastic actress as The Wood Sprite/Death.

Pearl (A24) My one lone horror film in the group, Ti West’s prequel to his excellent X, stands here for one reason: Mia Goth. Just as bloody as other films used other bodily fluids to convey their stories, Goth’s performance as the titular character gives a seven-minute monologue that I’m still thinking about. The Arizona Republic’s Bill Goodykoontz pointed out that her song and dance routine setting off her descent into madness is one of his favorite moments from 2022. The vulnerabilities Goth, West, and the character demonstrated are the two most important parts of the film and are worth seeing.

The Fabelmans (Universal Pictures) Steven Spielberg’s fictional biopic is, quite literally, the stuff that dreams are made of. Supporting a solid cast and an even stronger desire to tell his perspective on his childhood and his parents, the film’s message is hidden under a subtle exterior. That exterior is so modest that the film could be uninteresting. However, after years of watching Spielberg’s movies, I finally felt closer to the man I saw on stage at 2018’s South By Southwest when he unveiled Ready Player One. John Williams, celebrating his 90th birthday this year, returns to provide music. Michelle Williams is the highlight of the cast, but each character is rich and well-developed. Others talked, ad nauseum, about the final minutes of the film. Yet, for me, the journey to get to that point convinced me that Sammy Fabelman would go on to great things.

Nope (Universal Pictures, on digital, Blu-ray, and UHD BD) Jordan Peele’s third film is a Neo-Western science fiction horror film. That fits into at least one of my favorite categories and two of its off-shoots. Nope features an outstanding cast of Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Michael Wincott, Brandon Perea, and Keith David. It looked terrific on IMAX, and its reflection on the importance of cinema, even if briefly, makes it a standout.

Women Talking (Orion Pictures, now playing LA/NYC, expanding throughout January to other markets) One of the year’s most incredible ensembles comes in the form of a group of women discussing their future on an isolated Mennonite compound. The group plays out a crisis of faith and needs to decide whether they should separate themselves from their abusive husbands. Sarah Polley’s gorgeously shot film features Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, Ben Whishaw, Frances McDormand, Sheila McCarthy, and others.

Honorable Mentions of 2022

The following films represent a list of titles that impressed me. They merit mention alongside the ten films mentioned above.

Prey (Searchlight Pictures)

Empire of Light (Searchlight Pictures)

Avatar: The Way of Water (20th Century Studios/Lightstorm Entertainment)

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (Searchlight Pictures)

Top Gun: Maverick (Paramount Pictures)

Babylon (Paramount Pictures)

A Man Called Otto (Columbia Pictures)

The Woman King (Sony Pictures)

Armageddon Time (Focus Features)

Three Thousand Years of Longing (UAR)

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (Netflix)

Fire Island (Searchlight Pictures)

The Menu (Searchlight Pictures)

Close (A24)

In From the Side (Strand Releasing) – coming in January to limited markets

Where Butterflies Don’t Fly (Kam motyli neletaji) – this film is still on the festival circuit

Best Ensemble of 2022 – In a first for a first, two films tied for a Best Ensemble award from The Movie Revue. They are:

Women Talking (tie)

The Banshees of Inisherin (tie)

There we are. It was difficult to come to the Top Ten of 2022 because some honorable films mentioned deserve more significant praise. However, these films subjectively represent those films that touched me.

See you at the movies in 2023!

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