2022, a year of cinematic tributes, big-screen spectacles, a continued surge of streaming, and, of course, superheroes reigning supreme. The medium continues to see its highs and lows following the peak of the pandemic, but revisiting these films, it’s hard not to look at the past year as anything less than grand.
10. The Batman
Whenever a fresh-faced artist introduces Batman to a new generation, we expect something revolutionary. Tim Burton returned Batman to his dark roots, setting a gold standard for superhero movies. Christopher Nolan created a Batman who could seemingly exist in the real world, kicking off the modern area of grounded comic book adaptations. Matt Reeves finds the middle ground between Burton’s otherworldliness and Nolan’s sophistication, but The Batman never feels like a retread. This is the first live-action Batman movie to fully embrace film noir with a detective story driving the plot. The film is just as much a psychological horror film warranting comparison to David Fincher. It’s also the first time more emphasis is put on Batman than Bruce Wayne.
La La Land was Damien Chazelle’s ode to the fools who dream. Babylon is another love letter to Hollywood, but it’s also something of a Dear John letter. Chazelle captures Hollywood at its most majestic and at its most depraved. Sometimes, Chazelle conveys both within the same scene. Early in the film, we’re treated to what appears to be a continuous shot, exploring a swinging, jazzed-up playground of debauchery and sin. This is 1920s Hollywood where anything goes. At least until sound enters the mix.
8. Avatar: The Way of Water
For almost 13 years, people have been wondering when Avatar 2 is coming and if the first film was worthy of its record-breaking box office. As someone who still thinks highly of the 2009 blockbuster, I’m happy to say that Avatar: The Way of Water is not only real, but it once again proves never to doubt James Cameron. The long-awaited sequel is another masterstroke of visuals, world-building, and action. Like its predecessor, the story isn’t without issues. Funnily enough, where everybody compared the first film to FernGully, The Way of Water has a subplot reminiscent of FernGully 2: The Magical Rescue. We’re not here for the writing, though. We’re here for the experience, and The Way of Water is one you’ll want to have on the big screen at least twice. For a three-hour-plus epic, that’s no easy feat.
7. The Banshees of Inisherin
Friendship is forever, except when it’s not. The Banshees of Inisherin is a surprisingly relatable depiction of a friendship fading. I’ve had more than a few friendships (and relationships) that I’ve contemplated ending. In some cases, it was as simple as hitting an unfriended button. Now and then, though, the other person didn’t know how to let go. To be fair, I’ve also been in the position of clinging to a relationship that, in retrospect, wasn’t working. Although Martin McDonagh’s film takes place in the 1920s, the central dynamic can easily apply to modern times. Even at its strangest, Banshees of Inisherin understands the twisted side of human nature.
Todd Field hit the ground running with In the Bedroom and Little Children, the latter of which is arguably the most underrated film of the 2010s. It took another 16 years, but Field has finally directed a third feature, TÁR. He also might’ve guided Cate Blanchett to her third Academy Award. Field has been described as an “actor’s director.” TÁR is another testament to that statement. While we go into every Blanchett picture expecting a great performance, she unearths what could be a career-best in TÁR. Blanchett commands the screen like a conductor, even as the titular Lydia Tár loses control of her surroundings.
5. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
Although we rarely leave the Airbnb, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On creates a world of its own where even an ordinary tennis ball can feel otherworldly. The film possesses the magic realism you might find in a Studio Ghibli project like My Neighbor Totoro or The Secret World of Arrietty. The most enchanting movies aren’t always the ones that transport you to realms where anything can happen. It can be just as bewitching peeling back a layer of reality, finding something extraordinary that was hiding in plain sight the entire time. The film also puts a fresh spin on the familiar animation trope of a small creature finding their family. While I won’t say if there’s a family reunion, Marcel does find the confidence to come out of his shell. He might inspire you to do the same.
4. Top Gun: Maverick
Top Gun: Maverick might not have the same impact on pop culture, but it arguably surpasses the original in almost every department. The flight sequences are a revelation of sound, editing, and cinematography, making the audience feel as if they’re in the cockpit alongside Tom Cruise. While the practical effects will be the main talking points of most articles, Maverick is also stronger on a thematic and character level. That’s partially because Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is older now, walking a fine line between the hotshot we all know and the stern instructor responsible for the safety of his students.
Some movies are lucky to have one or two unforgettable sequences. With RRR, you could easily make a Top 20 list of the best scenes with room left over for a few honorable mentions. You wouldn’t think that a film with animal attacks and dance-offs would be tonally consistent. Yet, director S. S. Rajamouli not only pulls off a godlike juggling act of tones, but genres as well. Simultaneously, Rajamouli has delivered the year’s finest musical, action-adventure, and bromance. It also manages to be a love story, a (sort of) historical epic, and the ultimate gateway drug to Bollywood for western audiences. 2022 gave us a lot of movies about people going to the movies, but RRR is WHY we go to the movies.
2. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
Disney’s Pinocchio (the 1940 classic, not the live-action remake) is in a league of its own. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio creates another league. To compare the two is apples and oranges, or perhaps pine and oak in this case. As a story about fathers and sons, though, this version from del Toro and Mark Gustafson is the most profound exploration of unconditional love. It’s also a thought-provoking story of humanity and individuality, which is made all the more creative when you consider that the characters are puppets (one quite literally). David Bradley gives a heartbreaking voiceover performance, but the Geppetto puppet is equally deserving of an Oscar. Also, Cate Blanchett as a monkey? Perfection!
1. Everything Everywhere All at Once
Raccoons, googly eyes, rocks, piñatas, suggestively shaped trophies, and rear ends. What do these elements all have in common? Absolutely nothing, and yet everything. There’s a moment in Everything Everywhere All at Once where Jamie Lee Curtis (unrecognizable as an IRS inspector) says, “I can see where this story is going.” For the audience, that statement couldn’t be further from reality. Once in a blue moon, I see a film that can only be defined as a true original. Swiss Army Man is one example, mixing farting corpses, erections, and pathos. Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert have followed up that film with a cinematic rollercoaster that triggers every sense and emotion in ways that few others have.
Honorable Mentions (In Alphabetical Order): Aftersun, Barbarian, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Bros., Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers, Close, Emergency, The Fabelmans, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, The Menu, The Northman, Nope, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, She Said, Till, Turning Red, The Whale, The Woman King, Women Talking, X.