After binging through 210 films released in 2022, I still feel like I have blind spots. Films from excellent filmmakers, like The Eternal Daughter, Close, and There There have still alluded me. That said, it becomes impossible to see everything when you watch additional films as research (to understand a director) or binge TV shows to catch up with the franchise (MCU). Yet 2022 will stand out to me as one of the great years of cinema because I know there are so many gems to uncover in an already vivid tapestry of a year. Yet sitting down to write my Top 10 films of 2022 list is more challenging than most years.
2022 may not immediately jump out as a great year in film, partly because of the lackluster films being considered on the awards circuit. Yet there are works of incredible personal significance scattered throughout the year. There are beautiful statements of purpose from immortal directors, technical marvels that have not fully been unwrapped, and genre flicks that refuse to yield to mainstream audiences.
Reflecting on 2022, I will think of an incredibly deep year in horror. I will remember that animation refused to be ignored, with at least fifteen great films for audiences of all ages. I rated thirty films as a 9/10, the most I’ve felt deserved that mark since 2016. Finally, it was fun to be back in theaters. It’s cliche, I know, but something about sitting with friends laughing a Jackass, taking in the spectacle of Pandora, or dropping bombs on a rogue nation just hit differently.
Before we jump in, here are some quick honorable mentions that missed my ten spots.
Top Gun: Maverick – Tom Cruise tried to save movies in theaters. Honestly, so much fun that he might have done it. Expect it to top another yearly list later in the week. Catch me on the beach playing dogfight football.
All Quiet on the Western Front – A stunning and visceral exploration of war. All Quiet earns a place alongside Saving Private Ryan and Come and See as war flicks that rip your heart out. I will never get the sound of this score out of my head.
Happening – I cannot imagine a more timely film as a young girl attempts to circumvent anti-abortion laws in 1960s France. However, considering it first premiered at Venice in 2021, this one had its finger on the pulse. Gorgeous performance Anamaria Vartolomei is impossible to ignore.
Avatar: The Way of Water – It’s old news, but Big Jim Cameron makes them on another level. He nearly revolutionizes how movies will be made in the future, so expect yearly check-ins as time goes on.
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On – The hardest film to leave off my list also broke my heart. Taking the YouTube shorts and adapting them into a heartbreaking story shows some next-level talent. But, to make it so gorgeous and life-affirming took me by surprise. Here’s your number 11, if you’re wondering.
Alan’s Top 10 Films of 2022
10. Turning Red – Directed by Domee Shi
Spawning an incredible pop band single while telling a captivating coming-of-age story is no easy feat. Yet Turning Red hit every emotional checkbox one would expect. Exceeding funny and wildly personal to first-time feature director Domee Shi, Turning Red soars on every level. The animation astounds, showcasing real animated visual effects in several smoke-bound sequences. A Kaiju fight finds its way into the story, with an Acapella finale and mother-daughter reconciliation.
Disney and Pixar may have struggled this year, but a film like Turning Red will endure. In ten years, you’ll have fans of this film as diehard as the new Ratatouille hive. I was early on that train, and I bought the tickets to this from the moment I saw it. Unfortunately, sending it straight to Disney+ remains one of the most frustrating decisions of 2022 by any company. This would have killed on the big screen.
9. X – Directed by Ti West – Full Review
An homage to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the Porn Chic movement of the 1970s, X forces us to live in the grimy space where sexploitation and gore horror meet. The story of a bunch of young adults going to make an adult feature on a farm takes a turn when the owners of said farm start killing the renters. One of the funniest films of the year, X blasts the doors off, secretly spawning an excellent 2022 sequel(Pearl).
Ultimately, Ti West is concerned with pursuing fame and those who believe their lives are meaningless without it. It is far from the only film to cover the topic, but to do so with such style is rare. The cast also features stunning performances, including Mia Goth working a double shift as our protagonist and monster. Brilliant makeup work and simple yet effective production design only further sell us on the road trip gone wrong feature. It’s fun, messy, and the best original slasher in over a decade.
8. Fire of Love – Directed by Sara Dosa – Full Review
A true love story, Fire of Love surprises as a gorgeous nature documentary. Following Katia and Maurice Kroft, partners, lovers, and scientists, we observe the incredible career they built as volcanologists. Told like a French New Wave film, with poetic narration from Miranda July, Fire of Love provides its subject with a loving tribute highlighting their scientific contributions. Simultaneously, it asks big questions about our lives and how we spend them.
The touching documentary features some of the most beautiful imagery you will ever see in a movie. The lava flows are hypnotic but dangerous all at once. Even with its artistic spin, Fire of Love genuinely educates its viewers about the types of volcanos and how the Krofts were instrumental in the research we’ve completed. There’s melancholy (the two would never have children because of their devotion to their work) and joy (as they globetrot to receive prestigious honors). The image of two little french explorers (donning red beanies and blue sweatsuits) simply walking along a volcano while a geyser of lava flows into the sky will always stick with me.
7. RRR – Directed by SS Rajamouli
One of the stunning surprises of 2022, S.S. Rajamouli delivers an epic adventure in RRR. The fictionalized account of the friendship between two freedom fighters for India’s independence, RRR never shies away from its roots. The Tollywood film fluidly swaps between English and Telugu while pulling from cinematic visuals of both cultures.
The “Naatu Naatu” dance sequence is among the most joyous moments of 2022 and instantly lets you know you’re into something special. However, the hand-to-hand combat set pieces throughout blow away American blockbusters this year. In a year where DC and the MCU released more than a half-dozen comic book films, RRR lionized two men as true superheroes. They may seem like they have superpowers, but their power stems from the legends and stories they inspired in those who fought alongside them. There is a reason they endure to this day. The performances from N.T. Rama Rao Jr and Ram Charan Teja are spectacular. RRR is the only one of the three-hour epics in 2022 to deserve its entire runtime and will be one that begs repeat viewings for decades. It is instantly timeless.
6. The Fabelmans – Directed by Steven Spielberg – Full Review
When a master decides to reflect on their life, they often find their journey unrelatable. However, Steven Spielberg remains one of the signature filmmakers in American cinema today. Rather than frame his own story as one of misunderstood genius, or some destiny waiting for him on the horizon, he’s a dumb boy obsessed with capturing his world on a camera. Played by an excellent Gabriel LaBelle, Sam Fabelman must reckon with his love for art and a family that is splitting at the seams.
The Fabelmans does not unlock the Spielberg myth, despite playing up some of his best stories (particularly one with a great director). Instead, he unlocks his truth about filmmaking. For all the love you may have for it, the process is grueling and intensive. You’ll make enemies and change how you see the world. You may feel like you’re on top of the world, only to have reality crash into you minutes later. The process of creation is the high, and the fallout may hurt. Yet it’s a gift to see the world as few others can. How we navigate that love, that hurt, and devotion will change for each of us. That monomaniacal pursuit may be worth it in the end.
5. Bones and All – Directed by Luca Guadagnino – Full Review
Another horror film that uses the road as its canvas, Bones and All functions on a dozen levels. One can say it’s an allegory for drug use. Another may use the Reagan Era to point toward the AIDS epidemic. But Luca Guadagnino wisely uses this world to focus on two people who crave connection (and human flesh). Putting the cannibal love story into a Badlands road trip helps Bones stand out.
The two leads, Taylor Russell and Timothee Chalamet, push Bones and All into the stratosphere. Russell continues to build an impressive resume, and it’s hard to imagine many actresses can deliver vulnerability and a thirst for belonging like she does. Chalamet became the internet’s boyfriend long ago, but like Leo before him, he showcases the talent, drive, and good taste to continue his upward ascent. Why make a Dune or a Wonka if you can’t play a bisexual cannibal between movies? Finally, Mark Rylance wanders into Bones and All with one of the most upsetting performances of the year. Once you see his depiction of Sully, he will burrow himself into your mind.
4. Everything Everywhere All At Once – Directed by Daniels – Full Review
Finding out who we are through our passions has never felt so hopeless. Yet Daniels (Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert) craft a masterpiece of discovery and self-worth. In many ways, it’s the most challenging balancing act of any film in 2022. Everything Everywhere All At Once must first dig into the pointless nature of nihilism, forcing us to understand its purpose. Not only that, we have to feel its weight on our lives. Otherwise, the Jobu Tupaki character has no power.
However, Daniels turns the tables and forces us to consider an alternative: that every one of our actions matters to someone, somewhere. Framing the absurdist film through the language of music videos, The Matrix hand-to-hand combat, video game powerups, and anime visuals, Everything Everywhere All At Once can feel heavy. In many ways, it’s perhaps the most unique vision presented by a filmmaker (in this case, a filmmaking duo) in 2022. Yet Everything Everywhere All At Once combines the Daniels’ unusual imaginations with a heartfelt and earnest plea to be better to one another. It may be cheesy, but that’s the point. To be cynical is easy, and to believe in something is hard. Also, Ke Huy Quan delivers the performance of the year.
3. Decision to Leave – Directed by Park Chan-Wook – Full Review
Unfortunately, American cinema is zapped of sex. While there are approximations of romance and love, we are often forced to endure leads with little chemistry. In the 1980s, sexually charged erotic thrillers ruled the multiplex. Today, they’re nearly non-existent. Leave it to Park Chan-Wook, director of Oldboy and Stoker, to bring out the big guns in Decision to Leave. Not only does he channel a truly doomed romance. He pushes us to wallow in the depths, one that is passionate yet repressed.
No two actors showed better chemistry in 2022 than Park Hei-il and Tang Wei. From the moment they pair up, sparks begin flying. We find ourselves drawn into the romance, despite full awareness of the danger. Heavy echoes of Fatal Attraction, Body Double, and Vertigo squeeze into the frames of Decision to Leave, crowning the film in the context of beloved noirs. Mystery and romance entwine, and the passion of their performances soon consumes us. Wei delivers the best performance by an actress in 2022, and director Park showcases the style and technical brilliance of a true master. Perfectly paced and immaculately shot, there are no character dramas on level Decision to Leave.
2. Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinochio – Directed by Guillermo Del Toro & Mark Gustafson – Full Review
Every year, it appears that I am suckered into a Top 3 pick because I cannot hold my emotions in check. After losing my grandmother in 2022, I was confronted with a story of love against all odds. One is about parenthood and wanting the best for someone even after we’re gone. We may be unable to see the effects of our love, but that passion and heart create a person that will go forward into the world long after we’re gone.
Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio pulled my heart out and asked me to go about my day. Small moments continue to sit with me, such as the way Gepetto hands Pinocchio a hot chocolate that feels like they were built for me. They are moments too personal to explain but show the intense attention to detail from the filmmakers and the artisans who put this film together. Del Toro and Mark Gustafson examine our ability to love and lose, only to love again and again and again. Yet without the precise ways in which this film astonishes as a visual spectacle, it would be easy to write this off as a vain attempt to retell this story. Instead, we witness a thing of pure beauty with a heart few other films ever possess.
1. Nope – Directed by Jordan Peele – Full Review
To overcome my emotional feelings about Pinocchio, a master crafted an instant classic. This story will be dissected and reexamined for decades by those in and out of the film community. While his last two features, Get Out and Us, made my Top 10s. This year, Peele emerges victorious in his most complicated cinematic achievement yet. It at once satirizes our hustle culture, populating the world with characters who are only out to bring fame and worship to their lives. Yet it asks us to worship at the feet of spectacle while being a technical marvel in every aspect. As a director, Peele has come a long way from Get Out, itself a masterpiece in its own right. Peele forced himself into the canon, cultivating a third feature that handles visuals and themes at a level no active filmmaker can achieve.
The film questions our relationships to images, both real and imagined. Tying into the early days of Hollywood, Nope examines the exploitation of black performers and how capitalistic structures seek to exploit things out of their control. People die searching for the perfect image, a camera shot, or a reel that will put their names in the history books. Others become blinded by luck, unable to understand that they never truly controlled their environments or success. As Peele layers themes on top of themes, the ambition reaches a breaking point. When it does, Peele lets the air out of the balloon, delivering the audience a conclusion that will not be forgotten anytime soon.
Nope will be an unknowable film to many, yet every time I have watched it, the visual signifiers and screenplay take me in a new direction. Perhaps that is most important in why films endure. Nope challenges us to find its meaning. More importantly, it does not hold our hand to find that meaning. Instead, it trusts us to cultivate our ideas about the images and sounds Peele and his team craft. Peele chooses to ask more important questions. No film will satirize our current culture nor feel more essential to understanding the world now than Nope. It is an achievement for this moment, this year, and for all time.