It's time to look back at the best films of the past twelve months. What I noticed in compiling this list is that innovation was important to me in 2022. Most of the movies on this list take big, bold, ambitious swings. We live in a time when the major studios mostly crank out familiar franchise installments, so I really prized originality this year. Even the two sequels included go above and beyond what their predecessors did. My choices reflect a sincere appreciation for their desire to show me something new. Here are my choices for the Ten Best Films of 2022:
Honorable Mention: Studio 666 - I love horror movies and comedies, and my favorite band is Foo Fighters, so I was automatically in the bag for this horror-comedy starring Dave Grohl and his fellow Foos. But the movie was actually better than I anticipated. It's legitimately a well-crafted example of the subgenre. I almost included Studio 666 on the proper list, but my intense love of the band certainly amplified my enjoyment. In other words, I would have liked it with a different band, just not as much as I did with my favorite band. Therefore, I award it this Honorable Mention status. (RIP Taylor Hawkins.)
10. Fresh - Daisy Edgar-Jones plays a single woman who seemingly finds the ideal man in Sebastian Stan. Then he takes her for a romantic getaway to his remote house, and she finds out that, oh no, he's crazy AF. I won't spoil the secrets for anyone who hasn't seen this darkly comedic chiller, but Fresh is consistently unpredictable, going to increasingly twisted places without ever losing its sense of character or story. Both leads are superb, and the movie has something to say about the pains of dating in the modern world.
9. Soft & Quiet - Odds are you haven't heard of this independent thriller, despite coming from noted production company Blumhouse. Shot in a single, 90-minute unbroken take, the story first introduces us to a group of women who form a white supremacist group, then makes us watch the horrific repercussions of their chance encounter with two biracial sisters. The single-shot thing isn't a gimmick. Because it unfolds in real-time, the movie has a harrowing, you-are-there quality that chills you to the bone and offers a disturbing view of racism in America. This one leaves you shook.
8. Avatar: The Way of Water - James Cameron's sequel is bigger, longer, and more visually lush than the 2009 original. What I like about the movie is that – when seen on a big theater screen, in 3D, and with a good surround sound system – it delivers a full-on sensory experience. Sure, there are corny parts of the story. Who cares? The Way of Water is exciting and fun, with underwater sequences that are breathtaking.
7. Triangle of Sadness - Ruben Östlund's stinging satire of social class became infamous for its 15-minute-long vomiting sequence, but the film is so much more than that. Told from the perspective of a male model and his influencer girlfriend, the story revolves around a bunch of entitled rich people on a luxury yacht. They eventually end up stranded on an island where the yacht's “toilet manager” is the only one with any survival skills, making them thoroughly dependent on her. Östlund delights in showing not only how the power balance shifts, but also in reminding us that balances of power are perpetually shaky to begin with.
6. Everything Everywhere All at Once - Directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert made a movie that is a unique mash-up of science-fiction, comedy, drama, martial-arts, and action – and it works as all of them. Michelle Yeoh's strong, emotional performance grounds the wild multiverse-hopping mayhem in something very human. I've only seen this film once, and suspect that a second viewing would reveal layers that are elusive the first time, so let's put an asterisk next to the #6 ranking on this list.
5. The Menu - This movie has what is quite possibly my favorite screenplay of the year. Writers Seth Reiss and Will Tracy took the time to create a mystery that makes total sense and where every piece fits together just right. It's a marvel of plotting. Add Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy giving pitch-perfect performances as, respectfully, a demented chef who may be planning to kill his diners and a sarcastic patron who sees through his nonsense, and you've got the recipe (no pun intended) for a wicked, and unexpectedly funny, thriller that keeps you enthralled from start to finish.
4. Babylon - Oscar-winning filmmaker Damien Chazelle turned in a big, brash, unapologetically outrageous look at the debauchery of old Hollywood. The story follows multiple characters, including an alcoholic silent film star (Brad Pitt) and an up-and-coming actress (a sublime Margot Robbie), as they experience the wild highs and devastating lows of show biz decadence. Admittedly, this movie is not for every taste, but I adore the way Chazelle shoots for the moon and refuses to play anything safe. The story goes from a raucous comedy to a shattering drama, celebrating the insane history of Hollywood in the process.
3. RRR - The year's least-likely cinematic sensation was definitely this 3-hour Indian import. It contains near wall-to-wall action, all of which is staged with equal parts innovation and over-the-top berserk-ness. (Is that a word? Well, it is now.) The mayhem only stops for four-and-a-half minutes, during which we get one of the best, most joyous musical sequences ever committed to the screen. Entertainment value here is off the charts.
2. Top Gun: Maverick - I saw this Tom Cruise-led sequel three times in 2022, each time marveling at what a superior piece of mainstream blockbuster filmmaking it is. In fact, it executes that style as well as it can be executed. That's no small feat. There's a reason why this sequel to the 1986 hit earned more than $700 million domestically. Aside from upping the ante considerably in the action department with thrilling aerial scenes, it satisfies on an emotional level, creating real stakes for Pete “Maverick” Mitchell. Sure, a lot of it is formulaic, but the movie is so well done and so much fun that the overall effect leaves you feeling adrenalized and giddy.
And my choice for the Best Film of 2022 is:
1. The Fabelmans - Steven Spielberg has made another masterpiece, this one of an autobiographical nature. Gabriel LaBelle does outstanding work as Sammy Fabelman, a teenage aspiring filmmaker whose parents (Michelle Williams and Paul Dano) are different types of supportive. Smart, funny, and deeply-felt, the movie works as both a domestic drama about the impact of divorce and a tale about the life events that influence a budding director. For my money, The Fabelmans can stand alongside any of Spielberg's certified classics. And no movie this year had a better final shot.
For the flip side of 2022, check out my list of the Ten Worst Films of 2022.