Given that any critic’s views are by their very nature subjective, the lists that follow do not claim to be definitive or even directive. They’re merely my personal favorites and those of my esteemed colleagues on the THR reviews team. If they reflect, clash with or challenge your own tastes and opinions, that’s a good thing; if they inspire you to seek out a title you haven’t yet had time for, or might not even have been aware of, even better. Either way, this was a solid year for movies, albeit one that for me came to an underwhelming close.
While theatrical grosses remain in post-COVID recovery mode, the studio blockbuster reasserted itself with bright spots on the box office landscape including Top Gun: Maverick, Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, The Batman and Black Panther: Wakanda Forevernot to mention a potential behemoth on the immediate horizon with Avatar: The Way of Water. And the breakout success of Everything Everywhere All at Once showed that the stylistically adventurous indie fringe could still yield an ecstatic cult phenomenon.
As usual, most of the highlights premiered in the glittering showcases of Cannes and Venice, both of which clocked strong editions. But one by one, the year’s most anticipated prestige releases disappointed, at least in my admittedly sometimes minority opinion.
Despite its fine ensemble work, I found Sarah Polley’s Women Talking too circuitous in its arguments about sexual predation and trauma to build much dramatic vitality. Relating memories of his parents’ separation and his early sparks as a fledgling filmmaker, Steven Spielberg applies a manicured gloss to a messy family breakdown, which made me feel a nagging detachment from The Fabelmans, one of the first times a Michelle Williams performance has left me cold. Likewise, Olivia Colman’s turn in Sam Mendes’ nostalgia-infused but empty Empire of Lightwhich is four or five different movies all struggling to settle on a tone.
The overplotted Glass Onion muddied the throwback delights of the Knives Out formula with high-concept fuss; David O. Russell’s inordinately busy period caper Amsterdam was dead on arrival; and all the ostentatious technical virtuosity on display in Damien Chazelle’s bloated survey of Hollywood’s transition from silents to talkies, Babyloncouldn’t muffle that movie’s irksome moral superiority.
Almost all those films have plenty of impassioned admirers, so go ahead and disagree. In the meantime, read on for my best of 2022, followed by the picks of Jon Frosch, Lovia Gyarkye and Sheri Linden. — DAVID ROONEY
1. The Banshees of Inisherin
Lifting a title from the archives of his early writing but apparently little else of that abandoned project, Martin McDonagh created his most emotionally resonant work, a wry exploration of Irish isolation played out as a two-man civil war. The flawless ensemble is headed by the director’s In Bruges leads, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, in a melancholy duet about a lifelong friendship abruptly broken that’s darkly hilarious until its graceful swerve into pathos.
2. Decision to Leave
On its elegant surface, Park Chan-wook’s masterful romantic thriller might subdue the erotic charge of his last feature, The Handmaiden. But this intoxicating encounter between an insomniac detective and an enigmatic murder suspect — played with smoldering conflict by the magnetic Park Hae-il and Tang Wei, respectively — bristles with sensuality and yearning, fusing the seductive currents of cool neo-noir with the stormy peaks of great melodrama.
Cate Blanchett’s towering performance as an internationally celebrated orchestra conductor echoes the Mahler symphony that’s next on her schedule, with the obsessive exactitude of a great string section and the buoyancy of reeds punctuated by the thunder of perfectly timed cymbal clashes. But Todd Field’s caustic character study — his first film in 16 years — contextualizes that jagged portraiture within a provocative consideration of power dynamics, celebrity and blithe privilege, pitiless in its observation of unraveling self-possession.
In terms of tangible plot incidents, relatively little happens in Charlotte Wells’ stunning memory piece. A woman in her early 30s contemplates a summer vacation on the Turkish coast with her father 20 years earlier, when she was on the brink of self-discovery and he was not quite hiding a heavy veil of melancholy. But the drama’s illuminating intimacy, observed with tenderness and precision, is powerfully affecting, as are the subtly revealing performances of a heartbreaking Paul Mescal and the gifted young Frankie Corio.
5. Bones and All
It seems inconceivable that the gory odyssey of two young cannibal lovers drifting across 1980s Middle America could be one of the lushest romantic experiences on any screen this year. But Luca Guadagnino finds the pulsing, horror-drenched heart in this dark, poetic dream of a movie, and via the exquisitely tough but fragile performances of Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet, he compresses a world of liberation, life-changing connection and crushing loss into one heady summer.
Lifting his inspiration from Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar but exchanging the 1966 classic’s lofty spirituality for more earthbound empathy, Jerzy Skolimowski’s compact miracle of a movie gives us a donkey’s unblinking eye view of human cruelty, broken by occasional reprieves of transcendent compassion. With its long stretches of silent reflection and haunting images that pierce the soul, this was the year’s most hypnotic shot of pure cinema.
7. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
With sensitivity, suspense and as much narrative urgency as any fiction feature in 2022, Laura Poitras’ probing documentary takes a candid look at the life on the edge of photographer Nan Goldin, at the gritty immediacy of her art capturing American subcultures and the passionate commitment of her activism, helping to bring down the Big Pharma monolith that had so scarred her family.
8. Armageddon Time
James Gray’s most personal film revisits his childhood in 1980s Queens for a family remembrance steeped in corrosive regret, a mournful reflection on white privilege in an America shaped by the rise of Reagan and Trump. Banks Repeta’s emotionally alert performance as the director’s stand-in is flanked by incisive work from Jeremy Strong and Anne Hathaway as the liberal parents whose blind spots amplify his failings towards his Black friend, imbued with raw hurt by Jaylin Webb. Anthony Hopkins brings restraint, wisdom and a deep vein of sorrow to the boy’s loving grandfather.
9. The Inspection
The boot camp drama can be a minefield of cliché, but Elegance Bratton, in his lyrical and intensely moving narrative debut, artfully sidesteps those traps with unguarded autobiography. In a fierce breakthrough performance, Jeremy Pope holds nothing back, playing a character drawn from the director’s experience as a queer Black man determined to prove to his homophobic religious mother — a revelatory Gabrielle Union — and to himself that he can reverse the downward trajectory of his life by becoming a Marine.
10. The Quiet Girl
There were countless more ambitious films this year but few that so unerringly and satisfyingly achieve everything they set out to do as Colm Bairéad’s gentle Irish-language drama about a neglected child sent to stay one transformative summer with distant relatives whose kindness is not dimmed by their pain. Led by a gorgeously intuitive performance from newcomer Catherine Clinch, this is an absolute jewel, deceptively modest but overflowing with delicate feeling.
Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order): After Yang; Close; Corsage; Great Freedom; Happening; Montana Story; From Bears; Nope; Prey; Saint Omer
Jon Frosch’s Top 10
2. One Fine Morning
3. Armageddon Time
4. The Cathedral
6. Bones and All
7. The Inspection
8. Saint Omer
10. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order): Anaïs in Love; The Banshees of Inisherin; Descendants; Lingui, the Sacred Bonds; A Love Song; mr. Bachmann and His Class; Paris, 13th District; Return to Seoul; Top Gun: Maverick; Women Talking
Lovia Gyarkye’s Top 10
1. Saint Omer
2. Lingui, the Sacred Bonds
4. Everything Everywhere All at Once
5. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
6. The Eternal Daughter
7. Free Chol Soo Lee
8. Decision to Leave
9. Riotsville, USA
Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order): Anaïs in Love; Descendants; Funny Pages; The Inspection; Katrina Babies; Marcel the Shell with Shoes On; The Menu; Return to Seoul; Smile; Soft & Quiet
Sheri Linden’s Top 10
1. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
4. The Cathedral
6. Louis Armstrong’s Black and Blues
7. The Eternal Daughter
9. Armageddon Time
10. Dos Estaciones
Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order): All That Breathes; The Banshees of Inisherin; Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio; Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power; One Fine Morning; The Quiet Girl; Return to Seoul; Three Minutes: A Lengthening; Till; Women Talking