The Best Films of 2022 From the magic of movies to movies that truly felt like everything everywhere all at once, here are our favorite films of 2022.
The Best Films of 2022
After a few years when the movies were struggling, 2022 saw film come back in a major way. Thanks to Tom Cruise, an abundance of Marvel films, and the return of the Jurassic world yet again, 2022’s box office was the biggest its been in years, and with the recent releases of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Avatar: the way of water, it seems like the theatrical experience isn’t going anywhere any time soon. As a great scholar once said, heartbreak feels good in a place like this.
But beyond financial success, 2022 has been a brilliant year for film. From massive blockbusters to nuanced indie films, this year has been packed to the brim with great films, to the point that it’s hard to narrow down the best of this remarkable year to just 25 films (hence the notable absence of Morbius. Sorry Morbi-heads).
With form-breaking documentaries, stunning animated films, moving dramas, hilarious comedies, and formidable releases from around the world, 2022 has had something for everyone.
Without further ado, here are our top 25 films for 2022.
Ever since his return from directing after his “retirement” of sorts, Steven Soderbergh has explored telling expansive stories with a minimalist approach. But Soderbergh has rarely been as successful with this combination as he is with Kimi, the story of Angela (an excellent Zoë Kravitz) an agoraphobic tech worker who may have found evidence of a violent crime through a virtual assistant program. Despite largely taking place in Angela’s apartment, Soderbergh makes this The Conversation-meets-Home Alone story feel expansive, and surprisingly, Soderbergh might have given the world the most optimistic film of the COVID age, where he shows that the solutions for our most difficult times might come in the help of others.
24. Moonage Daydream
The life of David Bowie is so expansive, so remarkable, and so ever-changing, any attempt to compact all of that into one movie would seemingly be futile. But Brett Morgen‘s Moonage Daydream comes about as close as one could ask, showcasing the breadth of genius and the many lives that existed within Bowie. Morgen’s documentary is almost a sensory overload, but Morgen allows Bowie’s work to speak for itself, showing who Bowie was through archival footage, concerts, interviews, and most importantly, the music itself. Moonage Daydream is a lovely celebration of Bowie’s work in all its forms, a testament to the life and ambition of an incredible artist.
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23. Decision to Leave
The beauty of Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave comes in how the director can set his table with so many ideas, diversions, and elements, all making for an overly exquisite experience. Not only does Park Chan-wook blend this detective mystery with one of the best romance stories of the year, but Decision to Leave is weirdly funny, full of dark humor that fits in perfectly with everything else he’s presenting. With Decision to Leave, Park Chan-wook places all the pieces on this impressive table before sitting us down for a sumptuous meal that proves himself once more to be a fascinating director who can blend all of these ingredients together and make it all look effortless.
22. Avatar: The Way of Water
Avatar: The Way of Water reminds us throughout that no director is quite like James Cameron in terms of scale, spectacle and ambition. When he’s at his best, Cameron’s films are tremendous experiences unlike any other. Cameron knows exactly how to construct a great action scene, not only in making the sequence exciting, emotionally powerful, and engrossing, but in just the basic mechanics of how a scene should function, putting other action directors to shame. Thirteen years after first introducing the world to Pandora, Cameron returns with a film that improves the weaknesses of the first film, improves the script and characters significantly, and creates one of the most extraordinary experiences one can have at the theaters.
21. All Quiet on the Western Front
1930’s All Quiet on the Western Front is quite possibly the greatest war film ever made, so it’s impressive that Edward Berger’s own take on Erich Maria Remarque’s book largely manages to capture the same level of unrelenting terror and tragic inevitability that made that original adaptation so powerful. Berger’s version makes the audience feel the griminess of war, the never-ending nightmare that seeps into your skin like the blood splatter from your fellow soldier. Even in the rare moments of joy, All Quiet on the Western Front never forgets the horrors that surround these soldiers at every turn. War is hell, and Berger makes us feel every lick of the flames.
Unfortunately, Happening comes at a time when it feels even more important and necessary than ever, but even without that added importance on Happening’s back, Audrey Diwan has made a needed film about abortion and the dangers of going backward, and what that could mean for those involved. Through the character of Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei), Happening shows that this is a choice that no person should have to face alone, and that doing so makes this choice an even more difficult one to handle. Diwan’s reflective, quiet tone only highlights the sheer dread of this situation, and shows that restrictions and taboos about such issues only make this world a more cruel and terrifying place. With Happening, Diwan has crafted a horror story that is becoming a haunting and very real possibility.
No film this year was as much film as RRR, S. S. Rajamouli‘s bonkers story of new friends, revolutionaries, insane action sequences, impressive musical numbers, wild animals, and basically anything else you could ask for. Rajamouli’s gem throws everything and the kitchen sink into this movie that simply must be seen to be believed. But among all the unbelievable things on screen, RRR is so effective due to the friendship between Komaram Bheem (N. T. Rama Rao Jr.) and Alluri Sitarama Raju (ram Charan) at the center, a bond that makes RRR more than just a spectacle, and grounds it in one of the best relationships in a film all year.
18. Marcel the Shell With Shoes On
Marcel the Shell With Shoes On, like its title character, is far more than meets the eye. On the outside, it looks adorable and delightful—which it is—but on the inside, there’s a ton going on, as the difficulties and tragedies of life are seen through the eyes of a one-inch-tall shell. Camp and Slate are able to expand Marcel’s story in a way that doesn’t stretch out this concept, but rather, expands the possibilities of Marcel’s grandiose world and shows us our world from an entirely new perspective. Marcel the Shell With Shoes On is a film with massive ambitions and an even larger heart.
Chinonye Chukwu‘s staggering and infuriating retelling of the story of Emmett Till’s (Jalyn Hall) horrific death truly comes to life thanks to the performance of Danielle Deadwyler as Mamie Till. Deadwyler is giving the best performance of the year in Till, a role that needs to be quiet, nuanced, deliberately handled, and powerful without being loud. Mamie Till’s story is heartbreakingly tragic, a story in which a mother’s worst fears come true. Not only that, but in that nightmare of a situation, she decided to give everything she could to make sure this monstrous incident never happens to someone else. It’s the type of scenario that is impossible to imagine being in, and yet, Deadwyler makes Mamie’s thought process understandable and tragic in its own way. Chukwu brings to life a story that is extremely difficult to explore, and Deadwyler’s standout performance makes the audience feel this mother’s inconceivable sorrow deep in their bones.
With Babylon, an over-the-top story of old Hollywood and the shift from silent films to talkies, Damien Chazelle has created an orgy—both literal and metaphorical—of madness that can’t help but remind of the wild adventures of The Wolf of Wall Street and Boogie Nights. Chazelle’s three-hours-and-change epic is frequently ridiculous, manic, and constantly heightened in a way that certainly isn’t period-accurate. This mayhem is enough to make Babylon work, but Chazelle has filled this story with characters that show the fragility of life in the spotlight, and how easily it is for people to move forward and leave certain stars behind. Yet Chazelle’s absurdist take on this integral period in film history is less about the details and more about going along for this ride, excess to the extreme that leads to one of the best and most singular experiences in film all year.
15. Cha Cha Real Smooth
Between his first film Shithouse and now Cha Cha Real Smooth, the multi-hyphenate Cooper Raiff has told stories with love, warmth, and a ridiculous amount of heart. Raiff’s films are honest and open in ways that these types of films rarely are, where we feel compassion for everyone on the screen, and that comes through because of Raiff’s care for these characters. With only two films, Raiff has proven himself to be one of the most exciting filmmakers today, telling stories that are emotionally honest and lived in, without any pretensions and with an unabashed tenderness. Cha Cha Real Smooth is a lovely showcase for all of Raiff’s immense talents as a considerate writer and director and as a lead actor who can embody the vulnerability and naïveté that his stories thrive in.
14. Jackass Forever
The Jackass franchise has always been a testament to adult friendships, making crazy ideas a reality, and the resilience of the human body. Jackass Forever is ingenious, disgusting, and one of the most hysterical films you’ll see this year, while also managing to be a wonderfully touching celebration of these jackasses and their history together. In this is the end for this group that is circling their 50s, Jackass Forever is a fitting conclusion to this ludicrous series for Johnny Knoxville and the rest of the original team, but shows that no matter what comes next, the spirit of this series and these dumbass guys doing dumbass stuff together will always live on.
13. Bones and All
Bones and All is as if Luca Guadagnino took the tragic love story of Call Me By Your Name, blended it with the disturbing tone of 2018’s Suspiria, and sent that unholy creation on a road trip. Guadagnino makes this cannibal trek a journey of self-discovery, the connections we desperately crave, and the sad truth that it may be impossible to ever really know someone, even if there’s an immense amount of love between two people. As the young cannibal Maren (Taylor Russell) traverses the United States with Lee (Timothée Chalamet), she craves a normalcy that she’ll never be able to obtain, and life has put her down a path where she has to adapt or perish. This heartbreaking reality is key to Bones and All, the idea that no matter how hard we try, we’ll likely never have the understanding that we want in a world that is cruel and unforgiving.
12. The Batman
It takes a lot to bring a unique version of Batman to the screen, but Matt Reeves was clearly up for the challenge with The Batman, presenting a captivating and rich world that reinvigorates characters we’ve already seen on screen over and over again. With The Batman, Reeves prioritizes the shadows of Gotham, setting up this city in a way we’ve never seen before onscreen, bringing to life the world around Bruce Wayne. Instead of heroes and villains that live in black and white, Reeves has presented a city defined by the gray. The Batman doesn’t redefine what we know about this character, but through Reeves’ direction, we’re showing a Batman story that feels fresh and new. While most other Batman films focus on the hero that comes out of the darkness, Reeves has focused on the darkness that hero came out of, which makes all the difference.
11. women talking
Sarah Polley‘s Women Talking, her first film in over a decade, is one of the most mesmerizing and haunting films of the year, featuring one of the best screenplays and casts of 2022. With films like Away We Go, Take This Waltz, and the documentary Stories We Tell, Polley has shown the weight of shattering emotional decisions, but never have they felt as dire and urgent as in the conversation being had in Women Talking. Polley has returned to directing with what might be her finest film so far, a striking and potent look at women’s rights, the stories we tell to avoid the truth, and the difficulties it takes to make the right choice.
10. Everything Everywhere All at Once
Maybe no film this year lived up to its name quite like Daniels’ Everything Everywhere All at Once. If the directing pair had spent every minute of the last six years since making Swiss Army Man filming this true multiverse of madness and putting together this reality-hopping world, it would make perfect sense. It’s rare that a film crams as much into it as this one does, yet without feeling overstuffed or ridiculous for the sake of being audacious. There’s a method to the madness here, led by an incredible ensemble complete with some of the best performances of the year (Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan, especially) and some truly ambitious and ballsy filmmaking. Of all the many realities within this film, it’s great that we live in a reality where a film like this can exist.
9. Return to Seoul
If Everything Everywhere All at Once showed us the many different paths our lives could take, Davy Chou’s incredible Return to Seoul shows just how many lives we live in the one life we’re given. Freddie—played by the absurdly great Park Ji-min in somehow her debut role—comes to South Korea for the first time since being adopted and being raised in France. This experience changes her in unexpected ways, as the film shows subsequent trips back, and how drastically she changes over the course of several years. Chou has made a remarkable film about trying to return home when that home no longer exists, and trying to find one’s place in that confusion.
With his third film, Nope, Jordan Peele is at his most expansive, his most adventurous as a filmmaker, and having more fun than we’ve seen from him in his already impressive filmography. Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer are wonderfully game in Peele’s take on the alien film that blends unnerving imagery and an astoundingly clever concept with just the right amount of humor that breaks the tension when it all becomes almost too unbearable. But Nope is also just amusing-as-hell, and after two horror films, Peele makes a crowd-pleasing adventure that feels more in line with Steven Spielberg films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind or Jaws. With Nope, Peele once again proves that he’s not just one of the most interesting filmmakers working in horror today, he’s one of the most interesting filmmakers working, period.
There are few filmmakers who can pull off a slow burn the way that Todd Field does, and sixteen years after Little Children, Field returns with his best film yet in TÁR. About half of TÁR is dedicated to simply showing Cate Blanchett’s title character excel at her job as a composer and conductor, a genius at her craft who seems to be in complete control of her life and surroundings. But then, Field starts hinting at the manipulations, the microaggressions, and the people Lydia Tár has walked over to achieve her success. It’s the type of story that demands the audience watch it a second time, so they can pick on the hints and small choices that show the true nature of Tár’s character early on. Watching TÁR and both Blanchett and Field’s at work is, well, like watching a great conductor orchestrate every note with perfection. It’s great filmmaking that is quiet, subtle, and takes its time to get things just right.
In what feels like an incredible personal and meaningful true story from writer-director Charlotte Wells, Aftersun is a story all about perspective, whether in how the form of a room can alter how we see things, or how years away from an incident can make us feel an entirely different way about how we experienced something. There are moments in Aftersun where Wells shows us memories through the reflection of a turned-off television or through old video tapes, as if they’re almost too uncomfortable to face head-on. Centering around a father (Paul Mescal) and daughter (Frankie Corio) going on vacation together, Wells combines the joy with the unshakable pain, in an exploration of depression, love and memory. Aftersun feels lived in and real in a way that few filmmakers can present, but Wells does it beautifully here.
5. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Story
It’s a damn shame that one of the most enjoyable theatrical experiences of the year only stayed in theaters for a week. If Knives Out was Rian Johnson‘s way of reconfiguring the mystery film, Glass Onion is Johnson’s way of once again defying the expectations of the genre in a wholly unique way, by withholding key details, giving some away earlier than expected, hiding clues in plain sight, and completely upending what the audience thinks is around the corner. It’s so much fun to watch Johnson playing around in this sandbox, especially with a cast that is clearly having a ball with this material. Glass Onion proves yet again that Johnson is a film disruptor of the highest order.
4. The Banshees of Inisherin
When Martin McDonagh is firing on all cylinders, there’s simply no other filmmaker like him. In The Banshees of Inisherin, McDonagh packs his incredible script with hilarious jokes, poignant moments of reflection, and a fascinating underlying metaphor of civil war. Ben Davis’ gorgeous cinematography brings to life the Irish coastline, and let’s not forget about the star of the year: Jenny the donkey. But McDonagh’s latest is primarily a showcase for it’s impeccable cast, led by Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, and some of the best supporting performances of the year by Kerry Condon and a delightfully strange Barry Keoghan. For feck sake, McDonagh went all out with The Banshees of Inisherin.
3. Top Gun: Maverick
When talking about Top Gun: Maverick, it’s hard not to sound hyperbolic, but this long-in-the-works sequel absolutely deserves all the praise. Maverick improves upon the original in every conceivable way (well, the soundtrack doesn’t have Berlin, so that’s one strike against it), and does so in a way that might make this one of the greatest sequels ever made. Top Gun: Maverick easily has some of the most exciting action scenes to ever hit the skies, and Tom Cruise gives a performance that shows every side of the actor that has entertained us for decades, reminding us why he’s such a massive star that can still make a movie that earns over a billion dollars. Top Gun: Maverick is a marvel of a film, one that will truly take your breath away.
2. After Yang
Like Kogonada‘s debut Columbus, After Yang is a film that seeps into your bones and sticks with you for a long time. Kogonada perfectly crafts a tremendously beautiful and quiet story of loss, the impact that our lives have on the world and the people around us, and what it means to be human. Kogonada says so much without saying much at all, letting the emotions of these characters tell the story. But After Yang also has style for days, a film that remains cool, refreshing and light, despite its heavier topics, and Kogonada knows how to frame a shot in a way that makes every scene striking. And in a year in which Colin Farrell was seemingly everywhere, his reflective performance here might be his best role this year. Plus, let’s not forget that After Yang has the year’s most ingenious opening credits, a ridiculously charming dance sequence featuring the entire cast. Even though After Yang centers around a near-future sci-fi-ish concept of a family who is trying to fix their android son and brother, Kogonada tells a deeply human story that is hard to shake.
1. The Fabelmans
2022 has absolutely been a year about the magic of movies. This year, we’ve seen movies that have brought back the theatrical experience in a big way (Top Gun: Maverick, Avatar: The Way of Water), movies about making movies (Nope, Clerks III), the joy and impact of watching films (Empire of Light, After Yang), the insane past of movies (Babylon), and about the filmmakers who make our favorite films (BARDO, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths, Armageddon Time). But when we talk about the impact of movies, and the true power that a great film can have, it’s hard to not talk about Steven Spielberg, who has made dinosaurs come to life, brought aliens to Earth multiple times, presented some of the most horrific and harrowing moments in human existence, created the summer blockbuster as we know it, and redefined pretty much every genre he’s made a movie in. For many of us, Spielberg was one of the first filmmakers who showed us just how magical movies could be.
Yet while Spielberg has always shown masterly control over his stories from behind the camera, unlike many filmmakers, we rarely learn much about Spielberg from the films he gives the audience. Sure, there are parts of E.T. or Close Encounters of the Third Kind that feel like they’re addressing parts of his childhood, but Spielberg has never felt like he’s intentionally trying to talk about himself with these films. He can make the impossible a reality, but it always seems like he keeps his personal life close to his chest.
Which is what makes The Fabelmans feel like such a departure for Spielberg, a thinly-veiled look at his childhood, showing where his love of films comes from, his family life that both nurtured and worried about this passion, and the stories that made him who he is. Most of us have grown up with Spielberg and his films in a way that makes it feel like we’ve always known him, but with The Fabelmans, Spielberg sits us down and tells us his beginnings, his story, and the deep adoration for film that brought around so many classics of film.
But The Fabelmans also feels like Spielberg’s most playful film, as if this is a conversation with the audience about his childhood. He’s winking at us, he’s showing us parts of himself that he’s never shared, and he’s seemingly having a ball in this look back at his life. From a very early age, we see a desire to bring his dreams to reality, attempting to recreate moments from The Greatest Show on Earth, and showing a love of film from the very first one. When we see the young Sammy Fabelman (Mateo Zoryon Fracis-DeFord) watch the screen for the first time, it’s almost like we can feel our first time watching Jaws or Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Spielberg also shows how his love of film has become an obsession of sorts, and how his love of art is most important to him. We especially see this through the Fabelman family, as we see the complications in the marriage between Sammy’s mother Mitzi (Michelle Williams) and father Burt (Paul Dano), who love each other, but never quite seem to see eye-to-eye. But it’s Mitzi’s theatricality and Burt’s practicality that make Sammy who he is and the great director he’ll one day become.
But even with this great cast that also includes Seth Rogen at an all-time best, Judd Hirsch, who pops in for one scene and steals the show, and an incredible cameo of David Lynch, the true star of The Fabelmans is Gabriel LaBelle as the older version of Sammy Fabelman. LaBelle has to make us feel the wonder that film has on his life, and he does so brilliantly. In this deeply personal story, Spielberg puts his life story in the hands of LaBelle, and he illuminates The Fabelmans through his take on the younger Spielberg.
From the opening moments showing the power that film had on a young Spielberg, to the hilarious final shot that has Spielberg laughing with the audience and letting us know we know the rest of the story, The Fabelmans is an exquisite look at the origins of one of the most skillful directors Hollywood has ever known. Spielberg makes the personal feel relatable, and once more, shows us a new layer to his abilities. If 2022 was a year about the magic of movies, it makes perfect sense that Spielberg would be the one to best illustrate that point.