The best films of 2022

Talking shells, people with hot dog fingers, and more

Best movies of 2022.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Getty Images)

2022 was a strong year for movies, and the year's cinematic highlights included ... talking shells and people with hot dog fingers? From this year's strongest Oscar contenders to indie titles and beyond, these were the very best movies of 2022:

Honorable mentions

  • Causeway (Apple TV+)
  • Cha Cha Real Smooth (Apple TV+)
  • Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio (Netflix)
  • The Menu (Theaters)
  • RRR (Netflix)
  • Resurrection (Shudder)
  • Triangle of Sadness (Video on demand)

30. Kimi (HBO Max)

Steven Soderbergh directs Zoë Kravitz in Kimi, which more than gets the job done if you're in the mood for a brisk, efficient little Hitchcockian thriller. Kravitz stars as Angela, a tech worker tasked with monitoring data collected from Alexa-style devices and who — in the same vein as Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation — believes she's overheard evidence of a murder.

It's "one of the meatiest roles of Kravitz's career to date," said Jason Bailey at The Playlist, "and she does right by it." On top of exploring the scarily ubiquitous role of technology in our lives, Kimi also happens to be set during the COVID-19 pandemic, tapping into themes that will resonate hard with viewers after the past few years — Kravitz's character, who works from home, suffers from agoraphobia and must acclimate herself to going outside — but in a way that isn't too on-the-nose.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.

SUBSCRIBE & SAVE
https://cdn.mos.cms.futurecdn.net/flexiimages/jacafc5zvs1692883516.jpg

Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

The result is an "inventive blend of throwback suspense storytelling and current concerns," The Atlantic's David Sims wrote, and Vanity Fair's Cassie Da Costa said the film offers a "searing yet slyly humorous portrayal of the modern technological landscape." And at less than 90 minutes, how could you go wrong?

29. Scream (Showtime)

The meta horror franchise returns with Scream, which, despite what its title suggests, is a sequel and not a remake.

Like the four previous installments, it combines a slasher flick with a satirical examination of film tropes. This time, the subject is "requels" — movies that are partially sequels and partially reboots, combining an old and new cast, like Star Wars: The Force Awakens — and toxic fandom surrounding divisive movies like Star Wars: The Last Jedi. This fifth outing also leans into the whodunnit aspect of Scream more than ever, building up the mystery of who's behind the Ghostface mask this time.

The result, Meagan Navarro wrote at Bloody Disgusting, is a "breathless, razor-sharp slasher worthy of the legacy," which Walter Chaw argued at Film Freak Central is actually "on par with the original" Wes Craven classic. Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega lead the new cast, but longtime stars Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and David Arquette also return. Critics pointed to Arquette, who gets a grizzled-hero-called-back-into-action arc similar to Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi, as the standout, with Deadline's Pete Hammond praising his "pitch-perfect" performance. As the movie's film geek character explains, it always goes back to the original.

A sequel with the surviving characters is already on the way and set for a March 2023 release.

28. Crimes of the Future (Hulu)

Master of body horror David Cronenberg (The Fly, Crash) returns after an eight-year hiatus with Crimes of the Future, the kind of film that wears the fact that audience members walked out in disgust during its Cannes Film Festival premiere like a badge of honor.

Set in a future where most of humanity no longer feels pain and the body has evolved in bizarre ways, it centers around a man, Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen), who finds himself continuously growing new organs (and, more often than not, speaking like he's always on the verge of vomiting). So Saul and his partner, Caprice (Léa Seydoux), work as performance artists, removing Saul's organs live in front of a crowd.

As that description makes clear, Crimes of the Future is unlike anything you'll watch in 2022, and "the ideas that Cronenberg puts forth are powerful and poignant," wrote The New Yorker's Richard Brody, while The Reveal's Scott Tobias praised Cronenberg for delivering "one strange or gross or beautiful image after another" — including, at one point, a dancing man covered in ears all over his body. Come for the imaginative, disgusting, and oddly compelling sci-fi ideas, stay for Kristen Stewart giving one of the weirdest performances of her career as she's tasked with explaining why "surgery is the new sex." Never change, Cronenberg.

27. Emily the Criminal (Netflix)

If you dug Aubrey Plaza's latest dramatic performance on The White Lotus, don't miss her in the excellent new crime thriller Emily the Criminal, in which her character really would have benefited from President Biden's student loan forgiveness plan.

The actress plays a woman burdened with $70,000 in student debt, who struggles to find a decent job that would help her pay it off due to a past felony conviction. So she turns to a life of crime, which starts slowly when she's recruited for a credit card fraud scheme but gets bigger and riskier. The film hits many of the notes you'd expect from the genre, but always approached on a grounded level. One nail-biting sequence, which sees Emily attempt to buy a car using a fake credit card but leave the scene within eight minutes to avoid being discovered, invokes near-Uncut Gems levels of anxiety. It's an "extremely impressive piece of work," wrote RogerEbert.com's Sheila O'Malley, while Polygon's Katie Rife called it "well-written and absorbingly paced."

But where Emily the Criminal really thrives is as a commentary on the student debt industrial complex and the gig economy, as writer-director John Patton Ford condemns the circumstances that would lead someone like Emily into this desperate situation. Plaza communicates such a relatable weight on the character's shoulders, as in an early moment where she is frustrated to discover a student loan payment she made was only applied to her interest. Another scene sees Emily's boss explicitly tell her she has no rights because she's an independent contractor. After beats like that, we can't help but be on Emily's side as she heads further down a criminal path that feels somewhat justified.

But even as the stakes escalate, the film presents no greater crime than a woman who refuses to pay her interns.

26. Avatar: The Way of Water (Theaters)

Say it with us: Never bet against James Cameron.

After a 13-year wait, it's almost hard to believe Avatar: The Way of Water actually exists, let alone that it's another visually stunning epic that in some ways improves upon Cameron's original blockbuster hit. 2009's Avatar was frequently criticized for its overly familiar story, and while The Way of Water isn't anything revolutionary, it brings us a more complex, richer narrative than the relatively simplistic original.

The sequel does suffer from some pacing issues, particularly during a second hour that can feel a bit aimless and like the plot is put on pause to focus purely on visuals. On the other hand, it's admirable that Cameron takes his time allowing us to fully soak in what we came for — the remarkably gorgeous environments of Pandora — and exploring this awe-inspiring, visually lush world he has spent so much effort creating remains a treat.

While the film may lag in places, The Way of Water's last hour is an absolute banger when it comes to satisfying action as Cameron pulls from several of his own best films, including Titanic. He also packs the sequel with even more fascinating sci-fi ideas than the first, especially the brilliant concept of a villain who's driven by vengeance, but based on the incomplete memories of the villain from the last movie, raising the question of whether these characters can even be considered the same.

All in all, The Way of Water is both "visually compelling" and "spiritually rich," wrote The Associated Press' Lindsey Bahr, while Empire's Nick De Semlyen said it serves as a "timely reminder of what cinema is capable of when it dares to dream big." It may have once seemed premature for Cameron to already be planning an entire decade of Avatar sequels, but if he can wow us with visuals like this every two years for the foreseeable future, we say bring it on.

25. The Woman King (Video on demand)

It's Viola Davis' world, and we're just living in it.

The actress commands every frame and delivers a powerhouse performance in Gina Prince-Bythewood's Braveheart-esque historical epic The Woman King, and seeing her at the top of her game is worth the price of admission alone. The film follows a group of female warriors in the West African kingdom of Dahomey in the 1820s, the same warriors who inspired the fictional Dora Milaje in Black Panther. The rest of the cast includes Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, and John Boyega. Lynch also turns in a strong performance, which might have made her the film's MVP were she not unlucky enough to be sharing the screen with Davis.

There was some controversy surrounding The Woman King's release regarding its historical inaccuracies amid claims the movie whitewashes the fact that in real life, Dahomey was a significant participant in the slave trade at this time. But Prince-Bythewood does acknowledge that our heroes are fighting on behalf of a kingdom that has profited off slavery, making for a more interesting, morally complex tale. The Woman King certainly does fudge the truth with history for the sake of creating a satisfying cinematic experience, though. But let's also not pretend it's the first historical drama to ever take those kinds of liberties. The trade-off is that Prince-Bythewood delivers exhilarating, well-choreographed action sequences and an empowering finale that will make you want to get off your couch and cheer, so long as you're treating this as a fictional tale inspired by history and not a literal history book come to life.

At the same time, The Woman King is more character focused than you might expect from the marketing, as Prince-Bythewood takes the time to fully flesh out each of her leads and their relationships so we're invested in all of the major battles and the film's soap opera-esque plot turns carry more weight. It's a movie that The Washington Post's Ann Hornaday wrote is "every bit as majestic and monumental as its title implies."

24. She Said (Video on demand)

Director Maria Schrader delivers Spotlight for the #MeToo era in this restrained but quietly powerful journalism drama.

Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan star in She Said as Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor, the New York Times reporters who broke the story of sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein in 2017. As we follow their investigation, Schrader gives Weinstein's victims the opportunity to tell their stories without ever having to show the assaults on screen, including in one case by bringing a real victim into the film: Ashley Judd, who plays herself.

But Schrader makes a few key decisions that elevate the material beyond a mere filmed Wikipedia page. One is the focus on the way both Twohey and Kantor have to juggle this important job with the responsibilities of being mothers, and Mulligan turns in a great performance while depicting Twohey as struggling with postpartum depression. Schrader also expands the narrative beyond just Weinstein, commenting on the larger culture that surrounded this exposé and making clear this isn't just about one man. An opening prologue even focuses on Donald Trump being elected president after facing allegations of sexual misconduct, underlining why women might have felt at this time that there was no point coming forward.

But "in place of firebrand feminism," writes The New York Times' Alexis Soloski, "the film emphasizes decency, perspicacity, and rigor." Indeed, it speaks to Schrader's confidence as a director that she doesn't feel pressured to shoehorn too many big dramatic moments into the proceedings. It's an examination of, and tribute to, the journalism process and how it really works, showing all the slow, difficult work over many months that goes into crafting a story that can ignite a movement and make a real difference.

23. The Northman (Amazon Prime Video)

Director Robert Eggers follows up The Witch and The Lighthouse with probably his most accessible film to date, The Northman, a viking revenge epic based on the legend that inspired Hamlet. Alexander Skarsgård plays Amleth, who sets out to avenge his father, played by Ethan Hawke, after he's murdered by his bastard brother.

Eggers had a reported budget north of $70 million, and it's certainly all on the screen, making for one of the year's most visually stunning movies — featuring a jaw-dropping fight sequence that takes place on an active volcano. The film is "so grab-you-by-the-throat intense because it renders a Viking prince's quest for vengeance as though fate were a force as real as the weather," Indiewire's David Ehrlich wrote, while Observer's Emily Zemler called it a "guttural, ferocious viewing experience."

Though it might be a bit more mainstream than Eggers' past films, he still infuses it with some delightfully strange choices that should satisfy longtime fans of the auteur director, particularly when it comes to Nicole Kidman's role. She doesn't get a lot of screen time, but she sure makes a big, bizarre impact. It's her best performance since those AMC ads!

22. The Batman (HBO Max)

After a string of critically reviled appearances, the Dark Knight returns to getting strong reviews with Matt Reeves' reboot The Batman. Robert Pattinson takes over the title role from Ben Affleck, and Reeves' take on the material is to hone in on the idea of Batman as the "world's greatest detective," approaching the movie like a classic film noir complete with voiceover narration and an absurd amount of rain. Unlike previous interpretations of Batman, this one also almost completely ditches the playboy Bruce Wayne persona, as he's depicted as being so unhealthily obsessed with crime-fighting as to have little semblance of a life.

The result of these choices is that despite being the third Batman relaunch since 2005, Reeves' version feels "breathtakingly alive and new," wrote RogerEbert.com's Christy Lemire, and The Playlist's Robert Daniels applauded The Batman for veering "far away from the current homogenous superhero landscape." Indeed, there are no connections to other DC movies, and if Joker was a riff on Taxi Driver, think of this as a riff on David Fincher's Seven. Pattinson's performance is "riveting," said The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney, and Zoë Kravitz and Paul Dano also won praise for their takes on Catwoman and the Riddler, respectively.

A sequel is already in the works with both Reeves and Pattinson returning.

21. Bones and All (Video on demand)

We can't say we were crying out for a cannibal Bonnie and Clyde when 2022 began, but we're happy Luca Guadagnino brought us one nonetheless.

Taylor Russell stars in the Call Me By Your Name director's new film Bones and All as a young "eater" (a.k.a. cannibal) named Maren, who goes on a road trip across the country after her father abandons her because she's become too much of a burden. During her travels, she meets a fellow eater: Lee, played by Timothée Chalamet. We learn all about this fascinating underground world of cannibals and the rules that characterize it, from the idea that eaters can smell one another from far away to the creepy realization that there are those who don't feel the urge to eat humans like Maren, but do so anyway.

But what really makes Bones and All work is that it's a tender, romantic coming-of-age love story that would be emotionally resonant even if you stripped away all of the cannibalism content. Cannibalism is used as a metaphor for feeling like an "other" in any way, and the film explores what a revelation it can be to come across someone like you at a young age after feeling alone for your entire life, as well as the anxiety of being unsure they'll truly see you for who you are. The fact that cannibals in this world are driven to eat people in a way they can't really help adds an extra layer of tragedy, fitting with the idea of struggling to accept yourself as a teenager.

"You chuckle — or grimace — at the premise," wrote the New York Post's Johnny Oleksinski, "but it really works in an artful, poetic, and enamoring way." Fair warning, though: Guadagnino doesn't skimp on the gore, so the squeamish should stay away from this one — or at least avoid eating a meal during it.

20. Barbarian (HBO Max)

If we were making a list of 2022 movies that are best experienced without any prior knowledge, Barbarian would easily come in at number one.

Zach Cregger's horror film arrived out of nowhere in September, only to be the most pleasant surprise of 2022 — sort of the same way Malignant did in 2021. Georgina Campbell stars as a woman who books an Airbnb in Detroit, where she has traveled for a job interview. But she discovers a complete stranger, Keith (Bill Skarsgård), is already staying there. Is this an honest mix-up, or is he a total creep who's planning to kidnap and murder her?

That's the initial setup, but without giving anything away, it's safe to say Barbarian is far more interesting and wild than its trailer or logline suggests. The fun lies in Cregger subverting expectations and abruptly shifting tones and time periods in a way that leaves us unsure of what kind of movie we're watching for much of its runtime. It's also surprisingly hilarious, and not just in the sense of how funny it is to witness Cregger reverse what we expect in a way that can feel like a prank on the audience. A scene involving Justin Long and a tape measure brings the house down more than most comedies released in 2022, and it's important to stress that Cregger is very much in on the joke.

Aside from all that, yes, it is actually scary, too. Barbarian is an "inventive, nerve-shredding horror film whose greatest shock is its unpredictability," wrote Screen Daily's Tim Grierson. If you've managed to go the past few months without getting spoiled, rush to HBO Max and watch it ASAP without even seeing the trailer first. You won't regret it.

19. The Fallout (HBO Max)

Jenna Ortega had quite a year. She's been blowing up in recent months after starring in the Netflix phenomenon Wednesday, but even before that, she turned in several sensational film performances in 2022 alone. In addition to Scream, she also played the survivor of a school shooting in The Fallout, Megan Park's intimate drama that only gained unfortunate new relevance after its release on HBO Max in January.

The shooting sequence itself — which tastefully keeps the violence off-screen but may still be too intense for some viewers — occurs in the first 10 minutes, allowing Park to use the rest of the runtime to explore the different ways its survivors grapple with the aftermath. For Ortega's character, Vada, that involves growing closer with a dancer from her school, played by Dance Moms' Maddie Ziegler, whom she becomes bonded with after they're forced to hide together in a bathroom stall during the attack.

Critics were particularly impressed with Ortega's performance in The Fallout, with The New York Times' Claire Shaffer deeming it a "star-making turn" for the actress. The movie as a whole is an "empathetic and often heartbreaking" directorial debut by Park, said IndieWire's Kate Erbland, while Mashable's Kristy Puchko praised it as a "superb tearjerker."

18. After Yang (Showtime)

From Columbus director Kogonada comes his follow-up, After Yang, a sci-fi drama about a family who develops a strong bond with a robot named Yang. But when Yang stops working, the father, played by Colin Farrell, sets out to fix him, an effort complicated by the fact that Yang wasn't purchased new, and the journey leads to some surprising revelations about his past.

That premise might sound sort of like a Black Mirror episode, but Kogonada is less interested in delving into the ins and outs of this sci-fi world than he is in writing moving conversations about the nature of life, death, and memory. Indeed, most of the film is just a series of these discussions, at one point including some surprisingly poignant musings about tea, all set to one of the most beautifully haunting scores of the year.

While low-key, it's a "gorgeous and wistful" movie, wrote TIME's Stephanie Zacharek, which The Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern said "reveals its beauty slowly, almost meditatively, and ever so tenderly." Plus, it features just one of several magnificent 2022 performances from Farrell, and if he wins an Oscar for The Banshees of Inisherin, we may just have to pretend it's also a little bit for After Yang.

17. X (Video on demand)

Ti West examines the slasher movie trope that having sex leads to death in X, in which a film crew travels to a farm in Texas to shoot an adult movie, where things ... do not go well. Heavily inspired by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, it's a crowd-pleasing genre throwback that provides lots of blood and guts but with plenty on its mind, including our fear of growing old and obsession with youth.

But one of West's key decisions that helps set the film apart is that he creates a "far more empathetic and complicated picture of" the villains then you'd expect, Nerdist's Rosie Knight observed — and one sequence involving the song "Landslide" is actually "oddly moving," Rolling Stone's David Fear noted. Yes, it's a slasher flick that might actually make you cry, and all in all, X is "one of the most fully realized pieces of horror cinema in recent memory," Collider's Chase Hutchinson raved.

The cast includes Mia Goth, Brittany Snow, and Jenna Ortega (who makes her third appearance on this list), though Goth is the stand-out, seeing as she's tasked with playing two different characters.

A prequel called Pearl was shot in secret before the first movie even came out, so it was released just six months later, and while not quite as strong overall, it's very much worth watching in a double feature with the original for another remarkable Goth performance. Goth will also be back for a third movie in the series titled MaXXXine. Who needs the Marvel Cinematic Universe when we have the X Cinematic Universe?

16. Bodies Bodies Bodies (Video on demand)

Gen Z gets the slasher it deserves in Halina Reijn's clever, razor-sharp satire Bodies Bodies Bodies.

The A24 comedy thriller sees a group of rich 20-something friends gather together at a mansion for a "hurricane party," where they play the murder mystery game Bodies Bodies Bodies. But soon, the power goes out, someone really ends up dead, and tons of finger-pointing ensues.

Reijn skewers her lead characters' privilege and overreliance on trendy buzzwords while also examining the dangers of jumping to conclusions based on little information, making this the perfect slasher for the social media age. The film is also largely about fake friendship, and it gets laugh-out-loud funny as the way everyone truly feels about each other is exposed. This is the kind of movie where someone revealing they don't actually like their friend's podcast plays like a bomb being dropped, and the phrase "upper middle class" is tossed around like a cutting insult. While the whole cast is great, Rachel Sennott is particularly hilarious and the film's clear MVP.

"It boasts a clever conceit and mostly effective execution, while also offering a refreshing take on the murder mystery," wrote Paste's Aurora Amidon. The solution to that central mystery is also the best kind of whodunnit conclusion, which ties all the themes together so thoroughly that while we don't see it coming, we quickly realize it never could have ended any other way.

15. Women Talking (Theaters)

Imagine tossing several of today's best-working actresses into a single movie that consisted almost entirely of Oscar clips.

That should give you an idea of what to expect with Sarah Polley's latest film Women Talking. Set in an isolated religious colony, it picks up as the women of the community realize the men have been drugging and raping them in the middle of the night. So the women, who are not allowed to learn how to read or write, take a vote on what to do: Should they do nothing, stay and fight, or leave? The latter two options tie after an initial vote, so a group of the women meet secretly to hash it out and come to a decision.

Women Talking isn't based on a play, but it sure feels like it was. Most of the film takes place in a single location and plays out like 12 Angry Men as the women go back and forth debating the best path forward. It's to Polley's credit that we find ourselves changing our own minds on what side we agree with throughout, as each argument is compelling. All of the characters are also distinct and sharply drawn for a movie that only gives us a look at a small slice of their lives, and every time one of the many phenomenal lead actors — including Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, and Jessie Buckley — launches into a monologue, we're glued to the screen.

It's a "smart, compassionate," and "beautifully lensed" film, wrote The Hollywood Reporter's Sheri Linden, which Time Out's Anna Bogutskaya said "imagines female emancipation as an honest, raging, caring experience." Women Talking asks thoughtful questions about how to best move forward after learning unspeakable crimes have been committed by men, whether these abusers can ever be forgiven, and what must be done to build a more just society. While there are no easy answers, it ends up being a tribute to the power women can have when they stand united, share their experiences, and refuse to be silent.

14. Happening (Video on demand)

Along with The Fallout, Happening is another 2022 film that won praise when it debuted but became significantly more relevant in the time since — in this case, due to the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade. The French drama follows a young woman, Anne, who unexpectedly becomes pregnant in 1960s France, where abortion is illegal.

Director Audrey Diwan makes a point of barely having the word "abortion" said out loud throughout the film, and whenever Anne so much as hints at the notion of terminating her pregnancy, a nervous pall falls over the scene, with even her own friends refusing to get involved and help her out. Diwan is unsparing in depicting not only the practical horrors that Anne goes through in her effort to obtain an illegal abortion, but the isolation she endures along the way, making for a brutal viewing experience.

But despite being set in the 1960s, most of the film feels "deliberately contemporary," The A.V. Club's Martin Tsai pointed out, "implying that it could easily take place today," and Empire's Ella Kemp says that a film that "could have felt like a sad yet distant period-piece has an urgency and immediacy."

13. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (Video on demand)

Wait, is a film adaptation of a series of internet shorts about a talking shell one of the most poignant movies of 2022? Believe it.

Jenny Slate voiced Marcel, an adorable talking shell, in the original web videos more than a decade ago, and the character has now made the jump to feature film — from indie darling studio A24. The shorts were mostly just childlike "interviews" with Marcel in real-world locations using stop motion animation, and the film continues that, retaining the character's heartbreakingly precious spirit but with an expanded plot: Marcel has been separated from his family and hopes to find them with the help of a documentary filmmaker, who has turned him into a viral sensation.

With this meta plot that incorporates audiences' real-life love for Marcel, the film tells a surprisingly resonant story about the power of community, and Slate, with her remarkable comedic timing, delivers some of the sneakily funniest one-liners of the year. It boasts a near-perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes, with Vulture's Bilge Ebiri writing that it's "gentle and sweet without ever being twee or precious" and io9's Germain Lussier raving it's "hilarious, poignant, surprising, and life-affirming." Nominate Marcel for Best Actor, cowards!

12. Turning Red (Disney+)

Pixar's Lightyear might have been a bit of a misfire over the summer, but critics found the studio's other 2022 release to be far more charming (and more deserving of a theatrical release): Turning Red. The first Pixar movie solely credited to a female director, it follows a young Canadian girl, Mei, who finds that whenever she becomes overcome with emotion, she turns into a giant red panda.

That fantastical setup serves as a metaphor for the anxieties of puberty, and critics were impressed to see an animated film from Disney so willing to openly discuss periods and female sexuality. "It treats periods and female puberty as something to be embraced, rather than be embarrassed about," CNN's Harmeet Kaur noted.

On top of breaking some new ground for animation, it's also just a consistently funny and creative adventure from Pixar, critics said, with ScreenCrush's Matt Singer giving the "original, heartfelt, beautiful" movie a perfect 10 out of 10 score. "As mature and smart as Turning Red is," Singer wrote, "it's also a really entertaining story, with an ending that is full of laughs as big as Mei's panda."

11. Petite Maman (Hulu)

What if we told you one of the year's best movies is barely 70 minutes long?

That's right: The film is Petite Maman, a short but sweet French drama from director Céline Sciamma (which technically came out in France in 2021, but wasn't released in the U.S. until this year). Imagine if you took a premise that could make up an episode of The Twilight Zone, but turned it into the sweetest, most precious thing you've ever seen in your life — and added in a bunch of cozy sweaters and picturesque fall foliage for good measure.

The film revolves around an eight-year-old girl named Nelly, whose grandmother has just died, and her mother takes her back to her childhood home. In her grief, Nelly's mother leaves. So Nelly ventures out to the woods, where she comes across a young girl who we soon realize is actually Nelly's mother when she was a child. As the kids play and spend time together, they both help one another, as the young version of the mother also happens to be preparing for an upcoming surgery.

Props to the casting department on this one, as Petite Maman managed to find two unbelievably charming young child actors who couldn't be more perfect for these roles — and who also happen to be twin sisters in real life. The Washington Post's Michael O'Sullivan raved Petite Maman is "powerfully, even arrestingly original; grounded in emotional truth; hyper-specific; deeply universal; strange; mesmerizing; and not a minute longer than necessary." Without the use of much score, it's a quiet, understated movie, but its final conversation between the girls is still an emotional wallop.

Besides, in a year of epic runtimes, a film that truly understands the joys of economic storytelling is one to be embraced.

10. Babylon (Theaters)

Damien Chazelle takes the shot of pure adrenaline that fueled Whiplash and applies it to 1920s Hollywood in his ambitious, sprawling epic Babylon. Although the runtime is intimidating, it doesn't luxuriate on a single scene, and the fact that the movie feels as cocaine-fueled as its characters makes three hours seem more like two.

Yes, this is yet another movie about making movies, but you can think of Babylon as a twisted rebuttal to Chazelle's own 2016 film La La Land. Shedding aside that movie's idealism, it depicts film production not as some sort of magical process. Instead, it's chaotic, stressful, and at times outright abusive to workers. Your director may literally get you killed if it means getting the shot he needs in time, and it can't be emphasized enough that this industry you love so much doesn't love you back.

Hollywood in general is also depicted as a dark, depraved place, which is where the many party sequences teased in the marketing come into play, and there's even the kind of disgusting humor you might expect out of a gross-out R-rated comedy. Yes, you'll see things in Babylon you'll immediately wish to unsee, and The Independent's Clarisse Loughrey wrote that the "debauched drama" is a "clear repudiation to those who once accused Chazelle of being too sentimental a director."

But Babylon is a movie that holds two thoughts in its head at the same time: Hollywood is an awful business that will chew you up and spit you out, but also the final product of a finished movie is pure magic, and being a part of the history of cinema is a privilege. Trying and failing over and over to get a single shot, or frantically attempting to capture a complicated sequence before losing the light, is depicted as the most exhausting, frustrating thing you could possibly imagine, which leaves the entire crew screaming at each other and on the verge of vomiting. And yet, when they finally do get that shot, we want to stand up and cheer.

Chazelle has described Babylon as a "​​love letter to cinema" but a "hate letter to Hollywood," and that's exactly how it comes across. He's enamored with the magic of the movies, while at the same time acknowledging, to hilarious effect, that the industry surrounding the movies is anything but magical.

9. Aftersun (Video on demand)

No 2022 film sneaks up on you more than Charlotte Wells' devastating directorial debut Aftersun.

Exploring the relationship between a father and daughter, Aftersun is a "brilliantly assured and stylistically adventurous work," a "beautifully understated yet emotionally riveting coming-of-age drama," wrote Mark Kermode at The Guardian. But it's best described as more of a tone poem than a movie, as it eschews any sort of traditional narrative structure.

The film follows a young girl, Sophie, and her dad, Calum (Paul Mescal), as they take a vacation together. But for much of its runtime, we just watch a series of small, seemingly inconsequential moments between them. Large stretches of screen time go by where seemingly nothing of significance is happening — or at least, the significance is not immediately clear — so patience is certainly required from the viewer.

As Aftersun progresses, though, Wells' purpose comes slowly into focus as we receive hints that not all is right with Calum, who is clearly struggling with depression and at one point casually remarks that he doesn't expect to live until age 40. We come to understand we're watching a depiction of the way Sophie is remembering this vacation with her father as an adult, with the context of events that happen later in life. Wells has described the film as "emotionally autobiographical," and certain scenes feel so specific and real, it makes you wonder if they are. The same way moments in our own lives that may have seemed unimportant at the time can take on greater significance when we reflect on them, that's also true looking back on Aftersun.

So while the film can seem aimless on a minute-by-minute basis, it ends up being a powerful meditation on the nature of memory, which adds up to far more than the sum of its parts.

8. Top Gun: Maverick (Paramount+)

Who could have predicted the biggest movie phenomenon of the year would be a Top Gun legacyquel?

Decades after the original, Tom Cruise returns as Maverick, who hasn't advanced much due to his insubordination and is on the verge of being kicked out of the Navy when, thanks to some help from his old buddy Iceman (Val Kilmer), he's called back to Top Gun and tasked with training a team of young pilots to fly a dangerous mission. Making matters more complicated: One of those pilots is Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw (Miles Teller), son of Goose, Maverick's late friend whose death in the original film still haunts him.

Top Gun: Maverick has become a rare sequel that critics almost universally agree is superior to the original, and it won particular praise for its practical flight sequences, with RogerEbert.com's Tomris Laffly noting the "authentic work that went into every frame generously shows." Critics were also surprised at how moved they were by the film, and all in all, The Associated Press' Mark Kennedy said Maverick is a "textbook example of how to make a sequel." Believe it or not, it's looking increasingly likely the film will be nominated for Best Picture and could even win, assuming the Academy feels the need for speed.

7. Glass Onion (Netflix)

Glass Onion is one of those films that's so accidentally relevant to the cultural moment in which it's released, it's almost spooky.

Rian Johnson delivers another lively, twisty whodunnit in this follow-up to his brilliant 2019 film Knives Out. Drawing inspiration from Agatha Christie, he brings back only Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), but otherwise introduces an all-new cast of characters and mystery. In this case, it involves a group of friends being invited to a billionaire's private island for a murder mystery game, where an actual murder occurs.

As with Knives Out, Johnson has a lot of fun setting his mysteries firmly in the modern era, so Glass Onion gives him the opportunity to skewer everything from wealthy people's privilege during the COVID-19 pandemic, men's rights activists, celebrities who whine about cancel culture after tweeting horribly offensive things, and more. In particular, though, the movie's commentary on billionaires was almost eerie to watch as Elon Musk was taking over Twitter; though the movie was shot in 2021, some dialogue feels ripped directly from November 2022 tweets.

None of this would work if the central mystery wasn't compelling. But with Glass Onion, Johnson finds another inventive way to turn the murder mystery formula on its head, while still delivering a fundamentally satisfying whodunnit; in this case, his take involves an interesting structural twist that occurs halfway through, which also makes the film even more fun on a second viewing. It's "an even bigger, funnier, twistier whodunnit," and "not only does Johnson recapture what made the first flick so special, he actually outdoes himself," wrote Slashfilm's Chris Evangelista.

We're still holding out hope Johnson will make his Star Wars trilogy. But if delivering a new Benoit Blanc mystery every three years for the rest of our lives keeps him too busy, it will have been worth the trade-off.

6. Decision to Leave (Mubi)

If Park Chan-wook directed Vertigo, it would probably look a lot like Decision to Leave.

The latest film from the acclaimed South Korean director behind Oldboy combines a police procedural with a romantic drama. It follows a detective, Jang Hae-jun (Park Hae-il), who investigates a murder and comes to suspect the man's wife, Song Seo-rae (Tang Wei). As his investigation continues, it's clear a strange romance between the two is developing, despite Hae-jun being married and Seo-rae very possibly being a murderer.

The murder mystery elements are solid, and the solution to what's really going on is satisfying. But the real star of the show is the crackling chemistry between Hae-jun and Seo-rae and their heartbreaking story of forbidden, dangerous romance. It's a "subtle masterpiece from Park," wrote the Chicago Reader's Maxwell Rabb, "braiding a heart-stirring tenderness into a murderous thriller." We're as drawn to this enchanting, mysterious woman as Hae-jun is, and Park fills the movie with one gorgeous shot after another and many fascinating visual ideas, including by depicting characters in locations where they're only imagining themselves to be.

Some of Decision to Leave's editing can create confusion during a first watch — especially when Park has Jang Hae-jun start to investigate other cases that we don't initially realize have nothing to do with the main story — so giving one's full attention over is crucial. If you do, though, don't be surprised to find yourself sucked in and ultimately shaken by its closing minutes, one of the year's most haunting endings.

5. The Banshees of Inisherin (HBO Max)

You've seen plenty of breakup movies, but what about a friendship breakup movie?

Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are both magnificent in this dark comedy from Martin McDonagh as a pair of friends, one of whom, played by Gleeson, decides to abruptly end the relationship for no apparent reason. Farrell can't figure out why, and the film mines this social dilemma first for dark comedy but eventually for existential drama. For McDonagh, the director of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and In Bruges, the film "feels like his most humane and deeply felt offering to date," wrote Entertainment Weekly's Leah Greenblatt.

As we learn more about why their friendship abruptly ended, the film explores deeper questions about how we choose to spend our time and whether it's important to devote our lives to leaving a lasting legacy. Gleeson's Colm, a musician, is obsessed with that, convinced he must spend his remaining years pouring himself into his art and not wasting time with simple, idle conversations with someone like Farell's Pádraic. But that's clearly not the film's perspective, and McDonagh calls on us to ask the question of if enjoying a happy, quiet life surrounded by loved ones is not, in its own way, just as meaningful.

The Banshees of Inisherin is funny, thought-provoking, and devastating, but weirdly hopeful all at once — and all for a movie with a premise that sounds like a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode synopsis.

4. Tár (Video on demand)

It's really saying something that Tár features what may be the greatest performance of Cate Blanchett's career.

But the actress delivers a tour de force in Todd Field's strange and sneakily funny Tár. Blanchett plays a famous conductor, Lydia Tár, who we're introduced to as someone at the top of the world. But as we slowly begin to see more and more examples of her abusing her power — presented subtly since the entire film is told from her perspective — Tár becomes a character study examining how someone at the top can come to feel indestructible, the corrupting nature of fame, and, yes, "cancel culture" — though not in the kind of simplistic way you might think if you saw that viral clip of Lydia "destroying" a "woke" college student.

The film is "one of the year's peak achievements," wrote the Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips, while Vulture's Alison Willmore called it a "total knockout, both austere and dryly hilarious."

Along with Glass Onion, Tár is also the movie this year that benefits most from revisiting it to unpack all the mysterious imagery and intriguing but cryptic beats Field has packed in, including the head-scratching motif that involves mazes appearing in various places for no explained reason. Also be sure to dive into Slate's Dan Kois' breakdown of the ending, which suggests there may be more "spookiness" going on in the last act than appears at first glance. Did you notice a figure lurking in the background like a ghost in multiple scenes, for instance? Even those who aren't overwhelmed with Tár's greatness at first may find themselves unable to stop thinking about it.

3. The Fabelmans (Video on demand)

Based on the premise, Steven Spielberg's The Fabelmans seemed like it might be an overly saccharine tribute to the Magic of the Movies and the greatness of Steven Spielberg himself. But we should have known he had something much more complicated in store.

The director's semi-autobiographical film is surprisingly critical of himself and often emotionally devastating. While he does explore how he came to love movies, the focus is more on the end of his parents' marriage, which gets brutally honest for a film that Spielberg claims he would have been fine making while they were still alive.

Further, he seems at times to be grappling with his own obsession with movies and not entirely seeing this as a positive thing. In one scene, Sammy Fabelman's great uncle delivers an impassioned monologue about pursuing a life in the arts, the thesis of which is essentially that making movies may tear him apart, but he has no choice to do so because he's addicted to it. At other points, Spielberg cops to the fact that the most important thing to him is always making the best possible movie, reflecting on the damage this can have on his personal life.

"Spielberg finally opens himself up to the audience in an extremely vulnerable and moving way" with the film, wrote Collider's Ross Bonaime, dubbing it another "masterpiece" by the director. It's a portrait of an artist as a young man told by an old man examining his own talents and love of making movies as a potential burden.

2. Nope (Peacock)

Jordan Peele is officially three for three. The director's third feature film after Get Out and Us is his most ambitious yet, a summer blockbuster spectacle that retains all the tension, comedy, and thoughtfulness of his previous films. Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer star as OJ and Emerald Haywood, who make a living training horses for use in Hollywood movies but are struggling to make ends meet after their father's mysterious death. But when a UFO begins visiting their ranch, they believe they've found a way to make a name for themselves: capturing proof of alien life on film.

What follows serves as a metaphor for the filmmaking process and an examination of the idea of spectacle, questioning our thirst for it and poking fun at the characters' desire to create it at all costs, even at great risk. Peele offers a unique twist on the alien invasion genre, filling the movie with terrifying original ideas, including a few sequences making nightmare-inducing use of sound design.

Some critics felt Peele may have been a bit too ambitious with his ideas, not all of which necessarily come together. But all in all, IGN's Siddhant Adlakha dubbed Nope "one of the most effective and purely entertaining summer blockbusters in years," while the Chicago Sun-Times' Richard Roeper praised it as a "masterfully audacious, wickedly funny and utterly outlandish sci-fi horror fable." Peele ultimately arrives at a similar conclusion about Hollywood as Babylon, exploring how satisfying it is to get one perfect shot while acknowledging that the industry itself will chew you up and spit you out — in this case, literally.

1. Everything Everywhere All at Once (Showtime)

If 2022 has a single must-watch movie, it's Everything Everywhere All at Once, the absurdist, imaginative sci-fi epic from directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. Michelle Yeoh stars as a laundromat owner, Evelyn, who must save the multiverse from a familiar foe by tapping into skills that alternate versions of herself from other universes have attained.

The film jumps back and forth between a central universe and wild alternate ones showing paths Evelyn's life could have taken — including a world where everyone has hot dogs for fingers. What keeps Everything Everywhere from going off the rails, though, is that its primary focus is telling an affecting mother-daughter story. And while it might at first seem like some of the alternate universe cut-aways are thrown in for the sake of one-off gags, the Daniels' greatest magic trick is giving each of them genuine emotional payoffs.

Critics were quick to draw comparisons to The Matrix, and Vanity Fair's Maureen Ryan wrote that the movie is "satisfyingly bonkers" but with an "emotional undertow that proves irresistible," while Empire's Ben Travis said it's a "cacophony of creativity that dazzles, delights, and defies explanation with every passing second." The film has a real shot at winning Best Picture in 2023, not to mention Best Supporting Actor for Ke Huy Quan and maybe even Best Actress for Michelle Yeoh, as well. No offense to Doctor Strange, but if you see one 2022 movie about a multiverse of madness, make it this one.

To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us