2022 was a year where theaters came roaring back in full swing, providing grand, and sometimes too-long, spectacles of indie and blockbuster filmmaking from the major studios to the small distributors and even overseas in ways that reminded us why the movies are so special. Narrowing down my favorite films of the year from 300 to 10 was difficult, as so many movies stood out to me for many different reasons, from documentaries to international cinema. I’m still re-watching some movies over the Holidays and seeing how they hold up on repeat viewings, as some I may have initially given a score of eight out of ten to have bumped up to a nine and found their way into my final ten favorites of the year, while others have slid out just barely missing the list. As a result, a few honorable mentions include (in alphabetical order) “Babylon,” “Bros,” “The Fabelmans,” “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio,” and “RRR.” And now, here are my top ten favorite films of 2022…
10. The Batman
Director Matt Reeve’s definitive (yes, I said it) take on the caped crusader was the Batman movie I’ve been waiting my whole life to see. While Christopher Nolan’s more grounded take on the character was a breath of fresh air in the mid-2000s, a few mediocre to poor attempts since put Reeves and a perfectly cast Robert Pattinson in the best position to give us the best version of the iconic character we’ve seen yet. Focusing on Batman’s detective skills to an extent not seen previously in other live action versions of the character, we were provided a manhunt procedural that at times felt like we were watching David Fincher’s “Se7en” but set in Gotham City with enough story to fill a miniseries on HBO. The scope was sprawling; the design was dark and grimy, and the score by Michael Giacchino was an all-timer, sitting comfortably alongside other iconic work previously provided by Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer. Grieg Fraiser followed up his Oscar-winning cinematography on “Dune” with another stunning series of images that will last in my mind for a long time. He may not be the best Bruce Wayne (an opportunity worth exploring in the upcoming sequel), but Pattinson proved the naysayers who only still know him as that boy in the “Twilight” films (Get with the program people! He’s a great actor!) wrong as his intense eyes pierce through the black cowl highlighting Batman’s intellect and resolve and giving us quite possibly the best on-screen version of the character yet. Working alongside the corrupt police force in his early years as the dark knight to solve a series of murders and bring hope back to a city that much like our own is on the verge of losing it, “The Batman” laid the foundation for another masterful series of films should the creative team behind the scenes return and the powers that be at Warner Bros. and DC don’t mess it up.
9. The Whale
Darren Aronofksy’s latest is one of those films that fell a bit on a re-watch for me and was in danger of missing the top ten altogether. Still, few movies could capture my emotions the way this film did, something which did not waver after my second viewing as I found myself an inconsolable mess of tears, empathy, and reflecting on my own life just as the 600lbs obese Charlie does as he comes to the end of his. With a never-been-better career comeback performance from Brendan Fraser, Aronofsky channels what he brought in 2008’s “The Wrestler” to allow an actor the opportunity to showcase what a talent he always has been. His vulnerability, warmth, and sadness broke my heart and repaired it more times than I could count as we frustratingly watch a lovable but flawed man self-destruct in ways that reminded me of Mike Figgis’ “Leaving Las Vegas,” all while contained to a single location for its running time. I wholly understand the critiques volleyed at “The Whale’s” screenplay by playwright Samuel D. Hunter, adapting his own play to the screen. Still, the film’s themes spoke to me in a highly personal way that I couldn’t shake (and won’t go into detail here), searing themselves into my brain thanks to the performances from Fraser and strong supporting work from Hong Chau, Sadie Sink, Samantha Morton, and Ty Simpkins. The score by Rob Simonsen has been one of my favorites this year, as it sets a depressingly bleak mood that slowly morphs into triumph by the end, culminating in the film’s breathtaking final five minutes. A divisive film since its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, this has always been a love-or-hate-it film, and I’m proudly one of those who unashamedly still love it.
Every year I see countless documentaries. This year I broke my record of how many I saw in a single year due to being on a few nominating committees and attending more film festivals than ever before. From “Sr.” to “The Territory,” “Fire Of Love,” “Descendant,” “All That Breathes,” and “All The Beauty And The Bloodshed,” this year had a ton of documentaries vying for a spot on this list. Still, I saw one film as a late last-minute addition to the Sundance Film Festival lineup, and it stayed in my top ten throughout the year. Even before Russia invaded Ukraine on my 32nd birthday this year, Daniel Roher’s “Navalny” had tremendous staying power with me thanks to its thrilling story of one man fighting against overwhelming odds and inspiring an entire nation to rally to his cause. The thriller genre elements, tight runtime, and one of the most, if not the most, jaw-dropping sequences of the year involving a prank phone made this an entertaining but vitally necessary documentary in understanding just how dangerous the Russian regime truly is and how, if we work together, we can like Alexei Navalny, rise and show them we’re not afraid and hopefully, someday bear witness to good prevailing over evil. Navalny is still sitting in a Russian prison for simply daring to oppose Vladimir Putin because Putin knows how threatening Navalny and the movement he started are to his tyrannical ruling over the Russian people. The fact that the world witnessed in horror a month later just how far this madman is willing to go to extend that rule only fuels just how important this film truly is. As the filmmakers have said, the very act of speaking about this film and hopefully convincing some of you to watch it is the least someone like myself can do in attempting to free Navalny and restore peace to a part of the world that desperately needs it right now.
7. Top Gun: Maverick
After my sixth viewing of Joseph Kosinski’s “Top Gun: Maverick,” I finally had to concede that this was one of my favorite films of the year. I initially, and still do, have some issues with its basic screenplay, a commonality I share with James Cameron’s epic sequel “Avatar: The Way Of Water.” But while that mega-blockbuster is still highly regarded by me, “Top Gun: Maverick” just barely edged it, and SS Rajamouli’s exceedingly bombastic and entertaining “RRR” out to land in my top ten as my favorite blockbuster experience in theaters this year. The nuts and bolts filmmaking approach by Kosinski and producers Tom Cruise (who, after watching the behind-the-scenes videos, you would think he was a co-director on this film) and Christopher McQuarrie to capture aerial photography in a way never before seen is awe-inspiring, and the results by cinematographer Claudio Miranda left me speechless each time I saw the film in IMAX and watching it at home repeatedly since. Where “Top Gun: Maverick” really exceeds, though, and why I think it had such a warm reception from audiences, grossing over $1 billion and becoming Cruise’s biggest hit to date, was the relatable, old-fashioned story of someone who everyone thinks is past his prime but is still showing the next generation that they’ve still got it. At 60 years old, Cruise is showing no signs of slowing down, delivering one of his better performances of the last few years filled with movie star magnetism, charm, and a surprising amount of emotional depth (the touching scene with Val Kilmer is a particular highlight) while pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in filmmaking to deliver a singular experience for audiences who have grown so tired of the lazily manufactured blockbusters of today. Add a power ballad by global superstar Lady Gaga over your end credits, and “Top Gun: Maverick” sent me out on an exuberated high upon leaving the theater that I wanted to recapture over and over again. I want more filmmakers to aspire to this level of commitment in their blockbuster filmmaking if we’re going to continue down the path we are on where sequels, franchises, and blockbusters continue to rule the multiplexes. You can create anything on a computer, but it takes real skill and determination to capture something for real in-camera, and believe me, audiences know the difference.
6. All Quiet On The Western Front
Edward Berger’s German re-telling of Erich Maria Remarque’s famous 1929 anti-war novel of the same name shook me to my core when I unassumingly saw it at TIFF this year. I was familiar with the 1930 Best Picture Oscar winner by Lewis Milestone but what I saw here truly blew me away. Probably the best non-horror horror movie I saw this year, “All Quiet On The Western Front,” features some of the most brutal and realistic depictions of combat I’ve seen since 1998’s “Saving Private Ryan.” World War I was a nightmare for every man who fought in it as the scale and methods of fighting a war had evolved to terrifying heights featuring tanks, aerial planes, flamethrowers, poisonous gas, machinegun fire, and more. The body count was higher than in any other war previously fought, as the threat of death could come from any direction at any time. Berger’s chaotically controlled approach, coupled with some of the most effective uses of a limited budget this year, resulted in an onslaught on the senses that rattled my body and jolted my soul. The cinematography by James Friend is some of the best of the year (and why no awards voting body is acknowledging this is beyond me), and all other crafts from makeup, production design, and sound are firing on all cylinders. The score by Volker Bertelmann is also unlike anything I’ve ever heard in any other war film, creating an unsettling mood that keeps you on edge throughout. But the final key component to this film’s success is Felix Kammerer’s astonishing performance. As a young man, filled with nationalism, unaware of the dangers that await him and his friends, the sheer terror and hopelessness he can convey as he struggles to survive each passing day against such overwhelming odds in what must’ve been an exhausting performance is all the more remarkable when you realize it’s his feature acting debut. Berger took what could’ve been just an admirable but tired effort and transcended it with an unforgettable cinematic experience (with brief moments of haunting stillness and quiet beauty to contrast the film’s more aggressive battle scenes) to create a notable work that deserves to stand alongside the 1930 Best Picture winner rightfully.
5. Women Talking
Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking” features the year’s best ensemble. No room for debate whatsoever. Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, Sheila McCarthy, Michelle McLeod, Kate Hallett, Liv McNeil, August Winter, Ben Whishaw & Frances McDormand. All of them. Not a single false note. Each performance is perfectly modulated and afforded ample opportunity to shine, whereas most other filmmakers would’ve focused on only the big names of the cast and struck an imbalance on who to highlight the most. And that’s what sets “Women Talking” apart from so many other films that are out there: Polley’s film takes chances and does things, unlike her (predominantly male) contemporaries. The sexual assaults inflicted upon the colony’s women are never shown, but we only catch glimpses of the aftermath. The effect is even more impactful than if it were gratuitously displayed, something we’ve seen sadly far too many times before but don’t to need here. “Women Talking” is a powerful film about women made by women and serves as a thought-provoking conversation starter on the nature of forgiveness, self-preservation, and communal healing. Polley’s adaptation thoroughly examines the women’s decision on whether to stay and fight, leave or do nothing. It asks questions, explores all possible angles, inspires debate, and pushes us toward a place of understanding and healing. The fact that, like “The Whale,” it takes place primarily in a single location and tells its story in under two hours is a testament to Polley’s direction and skill in working with actors to elicit the depths of our emotions, sometimes triggering but also offering us a ray of hope as we push on in a society that continues to undermine and oppress women at every turn, stripping them of their rights. “Women Talking” provides optimism that the next generation’s story will be different than theirs and, through Ben Whishaw’s August Epp, shows how we men can still be a part of that process by being respectful, listening, and understanding when we’re needed and when to stay out of the way.
4. Marcel The Shell With Shoes On
I had no idea who or what Marcel The Shell was when I randomly stumbled into a screening at the Telluride Film Festival for this back in 2021. The viral video that had taken YouTube and the internet by storm a number of years ago managed to fly under my radar. All I knew was the film had screened the day before to a pretty enthusiastic response from some people I respected, so I decided to check it out. What followed was the most wholesome, delightful, and moving movie I had seen since “Paddington 2.” Dean Fleischer-Camp’s “Marcel The Shell With Shoes On” gives the 1-inch-tall shell his own feature-length movie, and I could’ve watched his journey to find his family for another 90 minutes once it was over. You know the phrase “this person must be protected at all costs?” That’s how I felt about this sweet fictional character (as I lovingly stare at my life-size replica of him on my shelf as I write this). Combining stop-motion animation with documentary-style live-action filmmaking and injecting himself into the narrative, Dean Fleischer-Camp captures a genuine feeling of positivity through the sometimes melancholic poignancy that weaves its way through the film as Marcel struggles to find a sense of community and connection in a giant and complicated world. Jenny Slate delivers, for my money, the best voice performance of the year, fully expressing and balancing Marcel’s loneliness and cheerful outlook on life with humor and heart at every turn. I never would’ve thought this adorable little guy could make me laugh and cry in equal measure, but that’s the power this year’s best-animated film holds.
3. The Banshees Of Inisherin
I’m a big Martin McDonagh fan, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that I very much enjoyed his latest feature film, “The Banshees Of Inisherin.” Something about the way he balances dark humor with drama to create these contemplative layers of tragedy, pathos, and longing has always stuck with me. However, I was not prepared for his directing skills to jump up so considerably from “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” to this. I think following the backlash to his last film from certain quarters, heading back to his Irish roots (his parents are both Irish despite him growing up in England) and scaling his story back by placing it on a small fictional Irish isle in 1923 against the backdrop, but wisely not directly featuring, the Irish Civil War, with a small cast of characters was precisely the move he needed to make. In this regard, “The Banshees Of Inisherin” is more like his acclaimed plays than any movie he’s directed before, and as a result, it plays to his strengths better as a storyteller. Colin Farrell delivers the best performance of his eclectic career, even topping his previous best work with McDonagh on “In Bruges.” Compare that 2008 film with what he, Brendan Gleeson, and McDonagh are all delivering in their reunited effort this year, and the result is far more mature and profound, offering layers of introspection and meaning on the nature of loneliness, purpose, and legacy. While there are some sharp laughs to be had, the film naturally takes a dark turn, pushing its themes and its characters further until it reaches a standstill and, much like McDonagh’s previous work, ends on an open note leaving the audience left to contemplate what they have just watched and where these characters are going. Cinematographer Ben Davis and composer Carter Burwell return from “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” with expectedly solid work, and Gleeson provides a subdued turn as a weary, perhaps slightly mentally ill man who is thinking more about the end of his life than he is the beginning, unlike Farrell’s Pádraic who is blissfully content to live in the present with no discernable thought about the future or what he will leave behind after he’s one day gone from this earth, other than perhaps being nice to others and “good, normal chattin’.” However, it is the supporting turns from Barry Keoghan and a sensational Kerry Condon that steal the show and leave an indelible impression as they round out the ensemble, flawlessly communicate McDonagh’s words, and make for one excellent feckin’ movie.
It’s been sixteen years since Todd Field last directed a feature film with “Little Children,” and it feels like he had something to prove with all of the missed time in between when he gave us “TÁR,” the film and one of cinema’s most complex and fascinating original characters, Lydia Tár herself. So fascinating, in fact, that many feel Tár is based on a real person when they watch the movie, a credit to Field’s writing and presentation of the character brought to vivid life by the wonderful Cate Blanchett in what might possibly be the crowning performance of her already celebrated career. In one of the most thoroughly well-researched screenplays of the year, Field thrusts us into Lydia’s composing world, where she is at the top of the mountain within a male-dominated industry, a position she had to work hard and claw her way to in ways which are never shown but are communicated through carefully chosen dialogue and curiously revealing moments of character. A twenty-minute-long opening scene involving a Q&A with her tells us nearly everything we need to know about her, as it’s all about what Lydia is masking underneath the facade she’s presenting to the world rather than the intellectually stimulating and downright impressive answers she’s providing. The cracks in her nature begin to show as Field takes us not on a rise-and-fall story, but simply a glorious, 158-minute-long fall brought upon by a combination of Tár’s own doing due to her abuse of power and the ever-changing cancel culture-fueled society around her, which she remains woefully ignorant towards. Displaying a Kubrickian style of control over every frame of this meticulously crafted character study, we see the good and the bad qualities of Tár but are never forced by Field to see her one way or the other. There is an inherent trust he has in his audience, which is so welcomely appreciated amongst the many other stories we receive from filmmakers today, and “TÁR” is all the better for it as we’re forced instead to confront not Lydia Tár herself, but our own selves on what we think about the various systems of power across multiple industries today and the lengths people will go to get to the top and what they will do once they’ve reached the top. “TÁR” is not about providing us answers, but through its tightly controlled tone, sense of style, Blanchett’s incredible characterization, and the coatings of nightmarish imagery as Lydia unravel and spirals out of control, it instead provides one of cinema’s all-time most exceptional and exciting new characters.
1. Everything Everywhere All At Once
Every now and then, you’ll watch something that you just know in the moment is speaking to you on such a deep, resonating level that you don’t need to debate once it’s over if what you just watched was great or not. You can feel it throughout your whole body, heart, and mind. 2022 provided us with many maximalist projects, but much like “Parasite,” my favorite film of 2019, which combined many different genres to offer something purely uncategorizable, the filmmaking duo known as Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Sheinert) gave me, and so many others, a smörgåsbord of cinematic flavor and fulfilling nourishment that by the time Evelyn Wong and her daughter Joy are finally able to cut through the noise of the film’s mammoth seemingly never-ending third act climax in a parking lot and have a grounded conversation simply as mother and daughter about their fractured relationship and the possibility of re-connecting at a time when all of us are feeling so disconnected from the world around us, I was reduced to a puddle of tears knowing full well by then that I what I was watching was the best film of 2022. The zany energy, sometimes sophomoric humor, other times exceedingly clever humor and the wonderfully dazzling world-building of verse jumping across multiple parallel universes to unlock our full potential is all going so hard at 150% that the Daniels run the risk of burning out their audience and for some, that indeed has and will continue to happen as more people discover “Everything Everywhere All At Once.” It’s intentional, and the Daniels are committed to the bit throughout as they pack jokes on top of jokes, action on top of action, sci-fi concept on top of sci-fi concept, pushing us to the brink of insanity when really what they’re doing is pushing us to expand our minds of what is possible in cinema today from a purely existential viewpoint. I cannot recall the last time a film had me thinking so strongly about my place in the universe, the regret of my past failures but the hope of my unlimited potential for the future. When “Everything Everywhere All At Once” reached its end and I was finally able to exhale, I walked out of the theater feeling ready to take on the whole world, inspired to do the best work of my life and leave behind a positive impact. I still believe this film has the ability to change people’s way of seeing the world and guide them in a positive direction towards change and self-betterment if they are willing to give themselves over to the wonky madness the Daniels have created. In a year where we received an MCU movie about the multi-verse, “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” put all other films in their respective genres to shame. Michelle Yeoh was finally given a lead role in an American film that not only highlights what an incredible action star she is (we already knew that) but also allows her to show many sides of herself that we hadn’t seen before simply because no one had given her the opportunity to explore and play to this extent before. It’s easily the best and most well-rounded performance she’s ever given, fitting with the film’s theme of defying expectations and showcasing her full potential. After making his acting debut nearly forty years ago in “Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom,” Ke Huy Quan was also given the opportunity to show the world his many talents as the goofy but likable Waymond Wang. Like Yeoh, he too gets physical in the film’s action scenes and displays moments of heartbreak and comedy in a role that deservedly has received many accolades so far and will open up many more new doors to him. And Stephanie Hsu gives what is to me the breakout performance of the year as Joy/Jobu Tupaki, a role that is deceptively tricky to pull off, but she does it with swagger, essentially poking fun at the film’s ridiculousness and commanding the screen every moment she’s up there. Jamie Lee Curtis and James Hong also deserve credit for going all in on their characters and meeting the Daniels’ vision, rounding out one of the year’s best ensemble casts. I could go on and on about the film’s philosophical undertones, the dysfunctionality of the Asian American family dynamics, breakneck editing, soundscape, and absurd set pieces (Talking rocks, hot dogs for fingers and Racacoonie, anyone?). However, I will leave you with something I wrote back in October when I knew that “Everything Everywhere All At Once” was firmly in the Oscar race after wanting so desperately for it to be a contender way back when I saw the film in March but was nervous about its chances back then; In this universe, with its endless possibilities, “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” with its blend of genres, original storytelling, heartwarming story, and irresistible cast, might just be the right film at the right time, as long as voters open their (googly) eyes to it.
What do you think of my list? Please let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account. Be on the lookout for more of our Top 10’s for 2022 as we say goodbye to the year and say hello to a new one. Thank you everyone for a memorable year. Our annual NBP Film Awards and the NBP Film Community Awards will come in a few weeks to allow you all some time to see those final 2022 awards season contenders and vote on what you thought was the best 2022 had to offer. Till then, Happy New Year!