If there are a couple themes to the past year in movies, they’d have to big swings and long runtimes.
Matt Reeves reinvented The Caped Crusader as an emo Bruce Wayne in the 176-minute-long The Batman. The directing tandem known as The Daniels made the best multiverse movie of the year (sorry, Doctor Strange) with the mind-bending Everything, Everywhere All at Once (140 minutes). Todd Field opens Tár (158 minutes), his first film in 16 years, with a 15-minute long Q&A with Cate Blanchett’s titular character. Ruben Östlund centered the entire second act of Triangle of Sadness (147 minutes) around explosive bodily functions on a luxury yacht. Steven Spielberg made his own biopic with The Fabelmans (151 minutes). James Cameron took 13 years to follow up Avatar with Way of the Water (192 minutes). Ryan Coogler had no choice but to go bold with certain decisions after losing his lead actor in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (161 minutes). All make our list of the best films of the year.
Not every swing was a home run. We’re decidedly mixed on the frenzied, borderline-parody Elvis (159 minutes), Damien Chazelle’s cocaine-fueled Old Hollywood odyssey Babylon (189 minutes) and Andrew Dominik’s agonizingly depressing Marilyn Monroe story Blonde (166 minutes). But at least none of those ended up on our worst” list.
Here are our 25 favorite movies of 2022, and five for the birds. — Ethan Alter, Marcus Errico, Chrissy Nguyen, Kevin Polowy and Raechal Shewfelt
Not surprisingly behind the chills and jump-scares one of 2022’s most shocking horror movies: The Ring and It producer Roy Lee. Surprising: That it was all birthed from the mind of writer-director Zach Cregger, (previously) best known for his improv comedy stylings on The Whitest Kids U Know. Georgina Campbell stars as a woman whose rental home was double-booked. Campbell’s Tess decides to stay at the place anyway, albeit with a completely unknown man (Bill Skarsgård), leading to what can only be described as a gruesome, truly unnerving, very surprising nightmare. — R.S.
24. The Northman
After The Witch and The Lighthouse, maybe Robert Eggers didn’t want to be pigeonholed as the slow-burn folkloric horror guy. Because Eggers unleashed a can of fury on us with The Northman, his pulsating 136-minute fever dream of pure uncut revenge savagery starring Alexander Skarsgård as a Norse prince who goes full-tilt Inigo Montoya on the bastards that killed his father when he was but a wee viking boy. Nicole Kidman is in it, too, and she brings the fireworks. Focus Features gave Eggers upwards of $70 million to make Northman, but the film failed to crack even. Let us repent by all watching it at least 10 times on streaming. — K.P.
Sometimes the best horror movies come from the very simplest concepts. A shark stalks teens swimming in the ocean. A kid sees dead people. A videotape curses you to death if you watch it. In Smile, Parker Finn’s gloriously terrifying feature-length adaptation of his 2020 short film, it’s witnessing one spectacularly creepy smile that damns victims in a Ring-esque death chain. Come for the multitude of spine-tingling jump scares, stay for the gutsy performance of Sosie Bacon (daughter of Kevin Bacon, being psychologically tormented in nearly every minute of the film) as the psychologist desperate to break the cycle. Those smiley Trader Joe’s employees will never seem the same. — K.P.
22. Triangle of Sadness
Ruben Östlund (The Square) swears he’s not shouting “Eat the rich!” with his splendidly odd dark comedy about a feuding model couple invited onto a luxury cruise for obscenely wealthy. Part Parasite, part Captain Phillips, all Östlund, Sadness’s madness has become most famous for its extended (like super-extended) puke-and-poop sequence as spoiled seafood clashes with heavy turbulence, but it’s the film’s surprising third act — cleverly kept secretive in the marketing — that reaps the biggest rewards. What a voyage. — K.P.
21. The Batman
Robert Pattinson as an emo Caped Crusader… really? While not the most conventional casting, R. Battz delivers in Matt Reeves’s reimagined take on the iconic hero. The film leans into the character’s Detective Comics origins with the Dark Knight matching wits with Paul Dano’s twisted Riddler, trying to solve a series of grisly murders (inspired by the real-life Zodiac Killer) while navigating a romance with Zoë Kravitz’s proto-Catwoman. Unlike another would-be DC franchise launcher this year (*cough* Black Adam *cough*), we’re looking forward to spending plenty of time in The Batman’s expanding Gotham in the coming years. — M.E.
What’s more terrifying than online dating? Well, according to Fresh, nothing. A Sundance breakout, this utterly delightful horror flick is anchored by Sebastian Stan’s unhinged performance as a charming cannibal who supplies victims’ meat to carnivorous gazillionaires. While Stan chews up scenery along with victims, co-star Daisy Edgar-Jones holds her own as his one female captive who refuses to end up on a serving plate. Chock full of twists and squirmy-gory meal prep, Fresh will make you think twice the next time you swipe right. — M.E.
The big winner at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Nikyatu Jusu’s debut feature confidently blends the real-life horrors of American domestic work with eerie elements borrowed from African folklore. Anna Diop’s mesmerizing star turn bridges the gap between the two worlds, capturing both the vulnerability that can accompany being a Black woman in white spaces and the resolve of an immigrant who refuses to be exploited. With methodical style and slow-burning tension, Nanny offers something more lasting than easy jump scares — it’s a plunge into psychological horror from a bold new filmmaking voice. — E.A.
18. Fire of Love
Talk about your fiery love stories. The award-winning documentary Fire of Love profiles married volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft, who criss-crossed the globe from one hot spot to another until their untimely deaths during Japan’s Mount Unzen eruption in 1991. Director Sara Dosa was granted full access to their archive, and unearths some of the most spectacular volcano footage ever to play on the big (or small) screen. But the beating heart of the movie is the lifelong partnership between the Kraffts, who lived — and died — their way. — E.A.
Hustle combines two of Adam Sandler’s favorite things: sports, and continually proving to the world that he’s one of the best actors in the whole damn industry. Three years after delivering a career-best performance in the cinematic anxiety attack Uncut Gems (a performance apparently no one at the Academy saw), Sandler shines again as a scout for the Philadelphia 76ers who bets his livelihood on a diamond-in-the-rough prospect (Juancho Hernangomez) he discovers on the streets of Spain (there he is betting again). And it’s funny, it’s touching, it’s exhilarating. Hollywood has proven it’s not that difficult to make a good sports movie. But we weren’t expecting this one to be so great. — K.P.
16. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
Nicolas Cage got a lot of attention, and rightfully so, for his stellar (if not reaching) performance as, well, Nic Cage in April’s unbearably great The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. It’s one of the national treasure’s best performances since we got double the Cage in Adaptation. But let it also be known that Weight is also one of the best bromantic comedies to come from Hollywood in years thanks to the deliriously fun chemistry between Cage and co-star Pedro Pascal. Everyone around them wants chaos; they just want to bro out and watch Paddington 2. — K.P.
15. Avatar: The Way of Water
This is the way… that James Cameron returns to Pandora and the top of the box office charts. The boundary-pushing filmmaker waited 13 years to release his follow-up to the 2009 global blockbuster, and the next-level visuals featured in The Way of Water proves that his army of tech wizards weren’t sitting around twiddling their thumbs. An enjoyable — if long — adventure on its own terms, the sequel also effectively lays the foundation for the next phase of the Avatar franchise, which Cameron promises “goes nuts.” As a certain cyborg once said — we’ll be back. — E.A.
Jordan Peele making an eerie homage to Steven Spielberg? Yes, please. Keke Palmer and Daniel Kaluuya give impressive performances as siblings who run their family’s animal wrangling business, while Steve Yeun plays a former child star who’s the sole survivor of a horrific on-set incident and Brandon Perea amuses as a tech operator. If you haven’t seen Nope yet, that’s really all you should know going into it. It’s fitting that Peele tried his hand at producing a Twilight Zone reboot, because Nope feels like the most cinematic, visually stunning Twilight Zone story ever told. — R.S.
13. Women Talking
Adapting Mariam Towes’s acclaimed 2018 novel, writer-director Sarah Polley retains the basic setting and narrative: a religious community where the female population (played by Rooney Mara and Jessie Buckley, among others) is seeking to leave after enduring a series of attacks committed by the men in their midst. At the same time, she also expands the book’s intimate canvas into a deeply moving parable for what one generation of women owes to another. Trust us: You’ll never hear “Daydream Believer” the same way again after Polley’s epic needle drop. — E.A.
12. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
Before she very nearly became a statistic in the opioid epidemic, celebrated photographer Nan Goldin saw numerous family members and close friends die before their time. Laura Poitras’s remarkable nonfiction portrait connects Goldin’s personal history with her present-day activism, spearheading a campaign to hold the Sackler family accountable for their role in unleashing Oxycontin on the world. Even as her efforts succeed, Poitras reminds us in a devastating finale that full justice for the wealthy and powerful can remain elusive. — E.A.
11. The Menu
We’ll have what Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy are having. The former Voldemort and future Furiosa head up a sterling ensemble cast in Mark Mylod’s pitch-dark “eat the rich” comedy, set in the world of high art Haute cuisine. As Fiennes gleefully chews the scenery as a Jim Jones-esque chef, Taylor-Joy grounds the proceedings with grace notes of spiky defiance and winking humor. Already an under-the-radar theatrical hit, The Menu will re-heat well as a streaming-era staple. — E.A.
10. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Director-writer Ryan Coogler had the unenviable task of making a sequel to global phenomenon and Oscar Best Picture nominee Black Panther in the absence of Chadwick Boseman, who portrayed the titular hero before passing away from cancer in Aug. 2020 at the age of 43. Packed with stellar performances led by Letitia Wright (Shuri), Angela Bassett (Queen Ramonda) — both reckoning with grief and loss in the aftermath of T’Challa’s death — and newcomer Tenoch Huerta (Namor, the mutant god-like leader of underwater city Talokan), Coogler succeeds with the emotionally rich, visually stunning and action-packed Wakanda Forever. The sequel’s greatest strength lies in how it deals with the passing of T’Challa head-on, never shying away from the sadness of a life cut short too soon. The carefully-woven narrative manages to honor the legacy of Boseman without sacrificing its superhero thrills and still pushing the beloved franchise forward. Wakanda Forever is certainly the best of the MCU’s Phase 4, a film that managed to exceed unprecedented expectations. — C.N.
In exploring the discovery of the sunken Clotilda, the last known slave ship to arrive in the U.S. (more than half a century after the trafficking and sale of human bodies was outlawed) in Alabama’s Mobile River, documentarian Margaret Brown also turns the lenses on the people of Africatown, known descendants of the enslaved people on that ship, in this phenomenally illuminating and profound history lesson. In turn Descendant makes one of the most striking arguments for reparations ever put on film, the people of the reeling, polluted Africatown still being victimized by the same wealth and racial power structure today that existed in the 19th century. The argument “but that was hundreds of years ago” simply doesn’t cut it here. — K.P.
8. Weird: The Al Yankovic Story
It took Stanley Kubrick and company 400 days to shoot the master filmmaker’s final movie, Eyes Wide Shut, which he called his “greatest contribution to the art of cinema.” It took Eric Appel and company only 18 days to film this actual masterpiece, and I call it that with only the slightest hint of hyperbole. Of course, a Weird Al “biopic” is complete farce, somewhere around 3 percent true, according to Appel. Yankovic is one of our greatest satirists of all time. And Daniel Radcliffe and Evan Rachel Wood are Oscar-worthy (again, only slight hyperbole) as Weird Al and his “girlfriend” Madonna. Between Spinal Tap, Walk Hard, Popstar and now Weird, here’s hoping Hollywood never stops making fake music biopics. — K.P.
Todd Field’s penetrating drama isn’t technically a documentary… but don’t be alarmed if you come out of the film believing Lydia Tár is a real person. That’s how deeply Cate Blanchet burrows into the role of the titular conductor, who experiences an epic fall from grace over the movie’s expansive two-and-a-half-hour runtime. Directed with pinpoint precision by Field, Tár is one of the most intensely insular movies ever made, with audiences invited inside of Lydia’s increasingly troubled mind as she goes from celebrated to canceled. It’s a ride that might be too intense for some, but if you’re on the movie’s peculiar wavelength, it’s a symphony of greatness. — E.A.
6. Top Gun: Maverick
‘Its a tall task to produce a sequel to any movie as ingrained in our culture as 1986’s Top Gun — the motorcycle ride to “Take My Breath Away,” swooping fighter jets, that volleyball game and the bar scene with pilots serenading their instructor — let alone 36 years later. But somehow director Joseph Kosinski, returning star Tom Cruise and company did it. They forged an action movie entirely fit for 2022, with just enough nostalgia sprinkled in to make fans of the original cheer. No wonder it was also a big-time winner at the box office, becoming the fifth highest grossing movie of all time. — R.S.
5. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Rian Johnson has done it again. It would’ve been damn near impossible to top the writer-director’s brilliant 2019 whodunit Knives Out with this highly anticipated follow-up. But the fact that he comes even close is a triumph in itself. Glass Onion is just as star-studded (an Elon Musk-like Edward Norton! Janelle Monae! Kate Hudson! Daniel Craig again, of course!) and again takes some mercilessly hilarious stabs at the rich and the right, but it’s also a far showier affair, leaving New England for a private Greek island overflowing with tech gadgetry. Most impressively, though, is how Johnson once again crafts an impossibly meticulous murder mystery that’s ridiculous fun lies in peeling off its layers – and maybe crying some with laughter, too. — K.P.
4. The Fabelmans
In the wake of Avatar 2 premiering, there’s been a lot of talk about “betting against James Cameron.” Namely that you should never do it. What about Steven Spielberg? Was there ever any doubt that his most personal story yet, the heavily autobiographical Fabelmans, would also be one of the best films he’s ever made? It’s fascinating watching his cinematic alter-ego, Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle) fall in love with filmmaking, sure, but the deep emotional resonance of Spielberg’s self-told biopic comes with the heartfelt revelations he makes concerning the demise of his parents’ (Michelle Williams and Paul Dano, both stellar) marriage. Plus that final scene (and surprise cameo) is an absolute banger. — K.P.
3. The Woman King
Move over Maximus, and back to the rack with you, William Wallace. Viola Davis looks Gladiator and Braveheart right in the eye and says, “Hold my sword.” The dramatic powerhouse-turned-action star headlines Gina Prince-Bythewood’s rousing period epic, which elevates history into myth — much like the films the director is clearly inspired by. Set in 19th century Africa, it deals directly with the continent’s brutal legacy of slavery in the context of a dramatic story about mothers and daughters. And did we mention the action? Prince-Bythewood stages multiple battle sequences that’ll leave you rattled and rolled. — E.A.
2. The Banshees of Inisherin
British-Irish writer-director Martin McDonagh has made a lot of fans over the years with sometimes violent, darkly comedic crime fables like In Bruges (2008) and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017). Banshees, however, is the most glorious thing he’s done yet. McDonagh loses the crime element, mostly — unless suddenly deciding you no longer like your best friend and drinking buddy is a crime (and it should be), as is the case with the stubborn Colm (Brendan Gleeson) and poor Pádraic (Colin Farrell), which it should be. This delightful, hilarious, moving and just-bloody-enough gem features Farrell’s best performance to date and infectious “fecking” Irish dialogue as memorably distinct as Fargo’s Midwestern quips. One of the few movies from 2022 we we’d watch over and over. — K.P.
1. Everything Everywhere All at Once
The best superhero movie of the 2022 also happens to be the best film of the year. But in a twist, this feature wasn’t churned out by the Marvel machine or the DC crew; and instead of a Hollywood Chris, it was fronted by an unlikely, middle-aged duo of Michelle Yeoh and former Goonie Ke Huy Quan. Everything Everywhere All at Once is a heart-rending dysfunctional-family dramedy disguised in trippy, action-packed multiverse mayhem, at turns breathtaking and mind-boggling. A rewarding watch, no matter which universe you’re from. — M.E.
And the five worst…
5. Don’t Make Me Go
A bittersweet father-daughter road trip dramedy starring John Cho, whom we agree should be starring in pretty much everything? We were prepared to love the stuffing out of Don’t Make Me Go, which follows a terminally ill single father who drives his daughter across the country to meet the mother who abandoned her. Most of the movie itself is fine – never that funny, never that heavy, never that memorable. But its god-awful ending is one of the worst, most manipulative climaxes we’ve seen since Robert Pattinson died on 9/11 in Remember Me. We won’t spoiler it here, but please don’t let anyone make you go and find out. — K.P.
4. Hotel Transylvania: Transformania
You’d think losing one of its main stars, especially when that star is Adam Sandler, would contribute to the fourth installment of Hotel Transylvania being a total yawn. But to his credit, Brian Hull fills in dutifully for The Sandman (who must’ve really known considering he passed up that sweet, relatively easy animated franchise money) fills in dutifully as Drac. Beyond finally revealing what The Invisible Man looks like (grasping at straws here), the plodding, very sporadically entertaining Transformania offers nothing new. Critic Christy Lemire said it best, though: “There’s no reason for this movie to exist.” — K.P.
3. Deep Water
Once upon a time, a sex-drenched, star-powered drama overseen by Adrian 9 1/2 Weeks Lyne would have gotten moviegoers all hot and bothered. Sadly, not even the prospect of seeing real-life exes Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas get it on onscreen could put a pulse into Lyne’s first film in 20 years. To be fair, this adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith novel feels like it was heavily re-edited after the fact to omit the salaciousness that run underneath the director’s signature works in favor of a more somber tone. Fatal Attraction? More like, Fatally Boring. — E.A.
In a generously candid Director’s Reel interview, Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, etc.) admitted he’s never been very fond of the “master of disaster” nickname he’s been bestowed. And yet he keeps making them. Unfortunately, Moonfall might be his most disastrous release yet, an epic box office bomb that can’t even make its absurdly ridiculous B-movie premise (yep, the moon is actually falling, which spells certain doom for Earth!) remotely watchable. — K.P.
Despite Jared Leto’s best efforts, Morbin’ time was over before it even began. After extended COVID-related delays, Sony’s Spider-Man spin-off about Marvel’s vampish anti-hero finally arrived in theaters where it promptly withered like a bloodsucker who went too long between feedings. And while Morbius acquired a temporary second life as an internet meme, that didn’t translate into ticket sales. Sony is still forging ahead with plans for a live action Spider-Verse with the upcoming Kraven the Hunter and Madame Web films, plus another Venom sequel. But Leto’s living vampire seems DOA for now. — E.A.