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The Best Films of 2022

The year 2022 saw the return of many moviegoers to the big screen after a hiatus of 2+ years. Big budget 2022 releases include Top Gun: Maverick, Avatar: The Way of Water, The Batman, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and a new Knives Out mystery. But those blockbusters shared the limelight with indie darlings like Nope and Everything Everywhere All at Once. The big screen is hardly the favored platform of all, however. A quick look at the quantity of movies released according to Letterboxd in the past few years shows the movie making never stopped. Conclusion: More movies than ever released exclusively via streaming platform.

Number of movies released in 2020 - 32,889

Number of movies released in 2021 - 34,139

Number of movies released in 2022 - 29,538 (final numbers could adjust)

Still, it FELT like there were more movies that came out this year. This year, I saw 182 movies. As usual, my best of list leans heavily towards indie movies telling unique stories, presenting new perspectives, or showing a clear and uncompromising vision. I do make way for two domestic blockbusters, but most of these movies escaped the general population's radar. It drives me nuts when I hear people bemoan the lack of new stories. Step outside the blockbuster list and you may just find what you are looking for.

Although I have put these in order, It kills me to do so. I would heartily recommend any of these to the right viewer as a mind-blowing watch for the evening. Happy hunting! Movies without streaming information can be bought or rented on the usual channels.

The Top Ten List 

A man and woman on a motorcycle

10. Top Gun: Maverick, directed by Joseph Kosinski (Paramount Pictures)

In a world where sequels threaten to take over the film industry, the follow up to Top Gun waited in the wings for 36 years – a decision that pays off in a big way. No longer is Maverick the cocky young stud he once was. Even a rebellious soul like Maverick must inevitably surrender to the twin storm troopers of time and regret that come with age. Time marches on, and Maverick (and Iceman) knows this all too well.

Maverick gets pulled in to train a bunch of talented but untried young pilots assigned to fulfill a mission none of them can truly prepare for. He comes face-to-face with his past and his greatest shame when one of those students turns out to be Rooster, the son of his deceased best friend, Goose. Tom Cruise plays the role of older and wiser captain with finesse, showing his competence as an actor and stuntman. He tries to impress upon them the weight of the assignment and the risks of failure, but he can't do this as a teacher. Only Maverick the pilot can show them. We the viewer must sit through a third of the movie before that moment comes, and it's every bit worth the wait. Let's face it – we came to see Cruise fly planes.

Top Gun: Maverick streams now on Paramount Plus

A boy swims next to a whale

9. Avatar: The Way of Water, directed by James Cameron (20th century Studios)

I already went deep on why this movie worked for me in my full-length review. My doubts about this being a worthwhile sequel have been erased. 

Avatar: The Way of Water is now in theaters and will land on Disney Plus around the end of January.

8. The Woman King, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (Sony Pictures)

This lush and richly detailed historical war epic about the Agojie warriors -- defenders of the West African kingdom of Dahomey – features gorgeous cinematography and a cast of fierce female characters of color who find a sisterhood in fighting alongside one another. Viola Davis is a force to be reckoned with but all of the minor characters put in equal heft and give her something to push against.

Thuso Mbedu has had my heart since her performance in Underground Railroad. She expresses a full range of human emotions and does it with such dignity. Lashana Lynch is an absolute beast and is now my total woman crush. Sheila Atim is the best friend of General Nanisca and is equally scary. The interactions of this band of women are an absolute joy, and the battle scenes are some of the best of this year and on par with some of the best fight choreography of all time. Seeing that fighting done by women makes it all that much better.

7. Close, directed by Lukas Dhont (A24)

Belgium's official entry for the Academy Awards this year, Close breaks your heart, punches you in the gut, and finally plants a lip-bruising kiss as it sails out the door. Capturing the soul-crushing time between childhood and adolescence, Lukas Dhont pairs up with screenwriter Angelo Tijssens for their second partnership after 2018's Girl.

Léo (Eden Dambrine) treasures his friendship with Rémi (Gustav De Waele), his companion since childhood. The two share an openly affectionate relationship. But when his classmates question the nature of their relationship, Léo feels flustered and begins to distance himself from Rémi, leaving his friend feeling abandoned. Léo will come to regret his choice through the course of one devastating school year.

Few leave middle school unscathed, and Dhont represents that time in a kids' life with pain-inducing accuracy. As they enter the schoolyard on the first day, we see their demeanor change, accompanied by a remarkable distancing shot. The camera pulls back, showing a sea of children, making Léo and Rémi two small fish in a very large pond. Close demonstrates the social pressure on boys to not show weakness or any traits associated with femininity. Be prepared with tissues for this raw and emotionally intense story. Full review

6. Aftersun, directed by Charlotte Wells (A24)

A father (Paul Mescal) and daughter Sophie (Frankie Corio) spend rare time one-on-one during a vacation in Turkey. The trip is documented via camcorder and ends up being a film within the film. They laze about, enjoy the resort, and have a variety of revealing conversations. Paul carries an invisible weight on his soul that Sophie can sense, even if she doesn't understand what she's seeing. As an adult, Sophie wishes she could turn back time to reach her father then.

Paul Mescal knows how to play these characters, as first evidenced in Normal People. He's a bastion of calm and easy going "there" ness, but his characters often carry deep wells of regret and sadness that have been repressed and compacted into gut wrenching sobs. Frankie Corio is likewise impressive with her ability to play a tween girl coming of age, with unusual maturity. She is both innocent and attentive to the world around her.

Aftersun is a tender, aching statement on memory and the barriers that block us from really being present for one another. Parents and children rarely "know" each other at the same time. They exist in the same space, but they can never relate to each other in the same time period. Their connection exists through space and time and sometimes doesn't fully manifest until one is in the grave. This lovely meditation on memory also ends in a memorable dance sequence guaranteed to split you in two.

5. Bones and All, directed by Luca Guadagnino (MGM)

A blood squelching road trip movie and love story for the ages. Taylor Russell plays Maren, a sweet, shy, yet conscious-driven girl, who looks for love and acceptance despite being a cannibal. Abandoned by both of her parents, she goes looking for the mother she's never known. Her journey connects her with both Sully (Mark Rylance) and Lee (Timothee Chalamet), who both offer her versions of home and family.

At 28 years old, Russell's innocent look belies a grace and maturity way beyond her years. She's an old soul with an unusual vulnerability. Timothee Chalamet's Lee is a dreamboat and gracefully shares the limelight. Mark Rylance plays against type as a creep but really lands the part.

Luca Guadagnino shuttles them around the United States via pickup truck, visiting the gritty stretches of the American landscape. With an amazing skill for capturing the perfect snot bubble or drool drip on screen, Guadagnino excels at gruesome cinematography. They say the body keeps the score, and in Bones and All, bruised and bloody bodies are happy bodies, satiated bodies, and bodies in love.

A woman and a horse

4. The Wonder, directed by Sebastián Lelio (Netflix)

The Wonder caught my attention from the very beginning with an atmospheric creepy vibe and the most unexpected opening exposition since David Copperfield said, "I am born." Set in Ireland post-potato famine, English nurse Lib Wright takes a two week job as a watchman for Anna O'Donnell, who hasn't eaten a crumb of food in four months yet seems healthy. She "knows" nothing miraculous is going on and sets out to prove it, but she's wisely not in a hurry.

More than any historical period drama I've seen, The Wonder helps explain Irish culture without stuffy exposition. Florence Pugh carries such gravitas in every eyebrow raise and skirt flounce. She's part nurse -- part fierce protector. A true angel of mercy, if we remember that shepherds trembled with fear at angelic messengers. Also, it's great to see faithful actors like Ciaran Hinds and Toby Jones, as well as a star in the making Niamh Algar.

Even in the slow moments, the story captures interest with the eery score and brooding set pieces. The mystery itself could easily fit into the Sherlock universe, with the focus on psychology and human behavior. Lib's logical brain knows she will find an answer, even as those around her seem bent on dismissing her opinions. The Wonder will appeal to horror fans, as well as period drama people.

3. Speak No Evil, directed by Christian Tafdrup (Shudder)

This jaw-dropping social horror ends with one of the most shocking and brutal endings of all time. After befriending a Dutch couple during a vacation in Italy, Bjorn and Louise, a Danish couple, accept an invitation to that family's home six months after they meet. "It would be impolite not to accept," Bjorn decides. While Louise feels uncomfortable, she can't exactly explain why.

For most of the film, viewers feel unsettled, but that is easily eclipsed by the absurd and awkward things Bjorn and Louise do to avoid offending their hosts. On the other hand, the Dutch couple, Patrick and Karin, feel no shame. It's only towards the last quarter of the runtime that we, and Bjorn, realize how dire the situation truly is. By then, it's too late, and we can only howl and beg for the ending to come. This masterful film is accompanied by the operatic and mournful score of Sune Køter Kølster

2. Something in the Dirt, directed by Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson (XYZ Films)

This genre-defying film mixes the tropes of science fiction, mockumentary, found footage, and true crime into a delicious rabbit hole inside a puzzle box. The lives of Levi (Justin Benson) and John (Aaron Moorhead) become intrinsically linked when they decide to investigate the strange paranormal phenomena happening at their LA apartment building. Is it a ghost? Is it gravity? Geological anomalies? They decide to investigate together and film their experiments for posterity.

Benson and Moorhead made this film with a spare crew of three, and the results are delightful for fans of X-Files type "truth is out there" stories. The stretches of story with Levi and John are interrupted by interviews of talking heads – everyone from scientists to detectives -- who muse about what happened between these two. After a while, we can no longer determine if what we are seeing is the truth or a fabrication. Did the neighbors actually witness anything or did they manufacture it for some easy cash? Each segment only offers more questions. Benson and Moorhead obviously had great fun making this film and creating these characters, who seem very much like people everyone has met. The film won't mesh with everyone, but if you like films like Primer, Vast of Night, or found footage hybrids, you will love this movie. Interview with filmmakers; interview with editor

1. RRR, directed by S. S. Rajamouli (Hindi dub on Netflix)

Nothing can top RRR this year. It's the best movie of 2022. No movie has surprised me more. No single movie experience reminded me of why I love movies more. And this is combined with all the joy I received from passing it on and seeing others love it, too. Read my full review

Honorable Mentions (in no order)

The Cathedral, directed by Ricky D'Ambrose (Mubi)

The Cathedral is either the announcement of Ricky D'Ambrose as an auteur or a total mess. There's nothing like it. As Jesse grows up and comes of age in suburban Long Island, he tries to make sense of the interactions of his dysfunctional family through two decades. Inspired by photographs and director Ricky D'Ambrose's own memories of growing up in the 1980s, The Cathedral evokes the pain and confusion of childhood through one character's eyes.

This story begins before Jesse is born. We learn of his origin through an unnamed narrator that doles out random facts about Jesse and his family members with even, emotionless recitation. Jesse's family goes through the ebbs of flows of celebration, conflict, and the passage of time. The camera chooses to focus on objects in the room, rather than on the people inside the room. It's as if we are Jesse, looking at the shoes someone is wearing or the painting hanging on the wall. These moments are captured like snapshots in a photo album. The viewer is left to digest and make sense of it all, just as Jesse is trying to make sense of the family around him. When you are growing up, you aren't the captain of your own ship. You have to deal with the people in your family. There's no choice. Jesse watches it all like an observer. We are him, and he is us.

All Quiet on the Western Front, directed by Edward Berger (Netflix)

War movies are litmus tests for the time in which they are made. Here, war is a machine that feeds on the world's youth, spits out the bones, and is greedy for its next meal -- A never-ending ravenous hole.

The movie begins as many war movies do, with youth convicted that the war will make them heroes and men. That idea quickly evaporates as the shells begin to fall. Each moment, their humanity crumbles, until they are mindless zombies. In moments of clarity, they realize what they have become and sob with terror. But emotions are not allowed on the battlefield.

Many consider Saving Private Ryan to be the best war movie of all time. It has heroism, brotherhood, and violence in spades. An argument could be made that 1917 stole the cup. With the benefit of laser-focused storytelling, it allows viewers to follow Schofield as he completes one mission from start to finish. All Quiet doesn't allow for such luxuries. Spare moments of reprieve quickly become prequels for yet another tragic bloodbath.

There isn't even the solace of a lush soundtrack -- only the repeat of three tones that spell the doom of any person we lay eyes on. Meanwhile the decision makers get to enjoy luxuries from a distance while their comrades suffer. Each step of the story informs us that war is a foolish venture and courage a lie for the dreamers. Brutal and brilliant.

The Quiet Girl
, directed by Colm Bairéad (NEON)

This movie sneaks up on you through the telling. As the title says, it's a quiet picture. It takes care with the details, the little things that one does to show tenderness and consideration for another human being. Young Cait is one of many neglected children in a dysfunctional household. She's considered the troublemaker because she likes to wander off in a world of her own and wets the bed sometimes, too. When her mother's cousin offers to take her for the summer, she is treated with a level of tenderness and consideration unimagined. Cait begins to thrive and bloom under these new conditions.

There's a long heritage of stories of young people who thrive in the healing balm of nature, and The Quiet Girl can live in that space. They even show Cait reading Heidi, which seems an apt comparison. Lovely and meditative, The Quiet Girl celebrates the power in silence, of wells that run deep, of words that don't always need to be said. Full review

After Yang, directed by Kogonada (A24) 

After Yang introduces viewers to a futuristic world in which humans, clones, and AI (and perhaps other unexplored lifeforms) co-exist side-by-side. Jake (Colin Farrell) and Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) purchased an AI named Yang (Justin H. Min) as a big brother for their adopted daughter named Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja), to help her connect to her Chinese heritage. But when Yang malfunctions, Jake looks for someone who can restore his daughter's companion to working condition. His search leads him down unexpected paths.

Kogonada made a splash at Sundance 2017 with his feature film Columbus, which had beautiful architecture, a strong sense of place, and themes of family and heritage. After Yang continues this thread but increases scope to include existential questions about the nature of life itself and what makes a human. Yet these big questions never dominate the narrative. It's only after the story ends that you find yourself asking what it all means. The majority of the story focuses on Jake's search – first, for how to fix Yang, then how things look through Yang's eyes. As usual, when AI and humans mix in movies, questions arise about who is more "human": the creator or the created. Without going into spoilers, Jake has ample opportunity to contemplate different ways of viewing the world and clues he might have missed. Full review

After Yang can be streamed on either Paramount Plus or Showtime

Fire of Love
, directed by Sarah Dosa (NEON) 

Proving that science and love can walk arm in arm, Sara Dosa directs this compelling and detailed documentary about Katia and Maurice Krafft, two volcano researchers who fell in love and devoted their lives to unearthing the secrets below the surface of the Earth. Fire of Love almost functions as a scrapbook. Dosa uses both footage from newscasts, as well as the photos and video shot by the couple's hands, to share this lava-hot untraditional romance. Narrator Miranda July matches all of this breathtaking imagery with an engaging narration of their work together, culminating in their death on June 3, 1991, working on-site at Mount Unzen, doing the thing they loved best in the world.

While most people fled at the threat of a volcano eruption, the Kraffts wanted to be the first people there, and it's because of their courage that we have much of the images we have today. Swept up in their shared purpose and passion, the images take on a sensual, tantalizing glow. Fire of Love is a work of genius and surely one of the best documentaries of the year. 

Now streaming on Disney Plus