Pretty much every year I’ve done this list (since 2007), I’ve published it soon after the beginning of the year to coincide with the bevy of other year-end lists. But every year I’d end up watching more movies after publishing that would have been eligible and affected my list.
So I realized: what’s the rush? This year I took my time and saw what I could to give myself the best chance at an accurate accounting of my favorites of the year. I didn’t see everything I wanted to, but I did my best.
What makes my 2022 film year unique is that, according to my Letterboxd profile, I gave 4 stars (out of 5) to 18 movies, with nothing rated higher that stood out above the crowd. Maybe that says more about me than the movies themselves, but that still left me without a clear frontrunner.
Given that unusual parity, I thought it fitting to do an unranked, alphabetical list this time—something I haven’t done since 2014. All of these movies, plus many of the honorable mentions, stuck with me for different reasons.
On to my top 10…
Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood
Richard Linklater’s latest film synthesizes elements from two of his previous ones: it’s the memoiristic nostalgia of Boyhood mixed with the rotoscope animation style of A Waking Life. This is a closely observed, gently told, fantastically wrought, and personally held story that shows off Linklater’s knack for capturing the beauty of the quotidian. (Streaming on Netflix.)
Come for the absolutely gangbusters opening 10 minutes and stay for the tense, heart-pounding drama of Children of Men-meets-The Battle of Algiers in a French apartment complex. It’s hard to watch at times, but also has a “can’t look away” quality that makes it both deeply cinematic and compassionate at its core. (Streaming on Netflix.)
Avatar: The Way of Water
Much like Top Gun: Maverick, James Cameron’s long-gestating sequel offers incredible spectacle, impressive CGI, and powerful emotional beats that elevate its rather rote plot and character development into epic myth. Though, unlike Maverick, the resplendently rendered fictional world itself is the star even above the performers. Bring on the sequels!
I’ve been on a slightly downward trajectory with writer-director Damien Chazelle’s filmography: high on Whiplash, mixed-to-positive on La La Land, then kinda bored with First Man. His latest on Hollywood’s bacchanalian early years is everything but boring and jolted my Chazelle Meter back upward. Also a great (unofficial) prequel/double feature with Spielberg’s cinema-obsessed The Fabelmans.
Decision to Leave
South Korean writer-director Park Chan-wook is back after 2016’s The Handmaiden with a riveting slow-burn whodunit featuring Park Hae-il as an insomniac detective on a murder case and Tang Wei as his prime suspect—and complicated love interest. Part Gone Girl, part Vertigo, yet fully its own creation, the film combines Park’s technical prowess with a terrifically twisty narrative and a haunting conclusion. Don’t sleep on this one.
In this impressive debut feature from Carey Williams, three college roommates—two Black and one Latino—ready for a night of partying when they discover a young white girl passed-out drunk in their house. How they deal with that turns into a high-wire racial reckoning, tragicomedic social satire, and beautiful portrait of male friendship. Like Superbad meets Get Out. (Streaming on Amazon Prime.)
In a year full of autobiopics (Inarritu’s Bardo, Mendes’ Empire of Light, Gray’s Armageddon Time), Spielberg’s personal tale of the dark magic of moviemaking reigns supreme, and serves as a cinematic Rosetta Stone for his iconic decades-long career. It’s also the funniest Spielberg has been in a while. Michelle Williams and Paul Dano deliver top-notch performances, but it’s Gabriel LaBelle who wins the movie and our hearts with his earnest and affecting turn as the teenaged Spielberg stand-in Sammy. That kid—just like the man he represents—is going places!
A dirty, cringey, and gut-bustingly funny soul-cleanse. There’s just something about this crew of delightful degenerates debasing themselves for the sake of entertainment that warms my heart and makes me laugh harder than just about anything else.
Top Gun: Maverick
Much like Avatar: The Way of Water, this dominated the box office, saved movie theaters (according to Spielberg), and provoked couch-jumping enthusiasm among its admirers. Though, unlike The Way of Water, it did so with sheer movie-star charisma atop the spectacle. Maverick, Cruise, and movie theaters: not dead yet.
I’ve realized that I will appreciate almost any movie that has something to say about religion, and that’s the case with this adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s excellent novel starring Florence Pugh as a skeptical nurse tending to a “miracle” child in mid-19th century Ireland. (Double feature recommendation: Anne Fontaine’s 2016 film The Innocents.) (Streaming on Netflix.)
Other movies I enjoyed:
- The Banshees of Inisherin
- Everything Everywhere All At Once
- Turning Red
- Emily the Criminal
- The Northman
- Glass Onion
Non-2022 movies I watched and enjoyed:
- Summer of Soul
- The Hunt for Red October