I like to think that, overall, 2022 was a better year than 2021. There were some down moments, to be sure – Billie Eilish won an Oscar before Lin-Manuel Miranda, I had to move my mother into hospice, Republicans retook the House, basically every celebrity we still cared about died, AMC charged us more money to shove Nicole Kidman down our throats before every feature, I got COVID, Donald Trump is running for President again, and I turned 40.
But there were also a lot of really good parts. This blog crossed 100 subscribers, and some of my YouTube videos making fun of trailers have gotten thousands of views. I got to work my local election and see in real time how this country rejected the denialists and insurrectionists on a massive scale. True, liberals lost the House, but only by a few seats (clearing the way for Kevin McCarthy’s humiliating road to the Speakership), and they actually gained a seat in the Senate, to say nothing of unprecedented success in gubernatorial races and state legislatures, turning the feared “Red Wave” into a Red Puddle. I cashed and made final table in three poker tournaments. I got to make a video with my nephew and have a true “Uncle Bill” moment. I completed my first gig as a Head Writer on a game show, and got hired for my second (currently in progress), meaning my career is finally advancing the way I hoped it would when I first moved to Los Angeles eight years ago.
And when it comes to movies, things finally feel like they’re back to normal. I can go pretty much wherever I want, I can see most anything that piques my interest, and unlike the last two years, we’ve seen some genuinely great examples of experimentation, with filmmakers taking real chances with their art rather than just a) playing it safe with franchise fare, or b) soliciting awards with depressing entries that only remind us how miserable the world can be WHILE we’re living through said misery. I’m not saying this was a stellar year by any means. There was still a lot of crap to wade through. But as of December 31, I saw 116 films, which might be a record for me (and the number has already increased since the calendar turned over from tracking down documentaries), and the best of those will stick out way more in my mind than most of 2021’s best output.
We’ve still got a ways to go before everything feels right again, but we made way more progress last year than I thought we would, both within the narrow context of cinema and in the wider world. So while we wait for the powers that be at the Academy to make their decisions, getting ourselves ready for the annual Oscar Blitz, let’s take a look back at what we all just collectively endured and accomplished.
The 10 Worst Films of 2022
10. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
I always start with the worst offerings of the year, so we can get the shit out of the way as quickly as possible. I had extremely high hopes going in to the Doctor Strange sequel, as the title character is one of my favorites of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, thanks to the absolutely pitch perfect performance from Benedict Cumberbatch in his first solo outing as well as his side appearances.
But my God this was a misfire. The production was extremely rushed after Scott Derrickson left to direct The Black Phone (more on that later), and even though the project was handed to Sam Raimi, he barely had time to add anything to it because of the shortened timetable. They didn’t even have an ending until halfway through shooting. The chaotic scheduling shows through in the finished product, which abandons every dangling plot thread from the first Strange movie, shoehorns in alternate dimension cameos that play like a bad episode of What If…, and with some rare exceptions like the musical note fight or the zombie ghost Strange, the visual effects leave a LOT to be desired.
However, all that pales in comparison to the film’s biggest sin. In yet another effort to commoditize its audience, Disney basically served notice to all fans of the MCU movies as well as casual viewers by making Scarlet Witch the bad guy, and using her imaginary children from WandaVision as the impetus for her villainy. In no uncertain terms, the suits told us all that if we don’t watch everything, including paying for Disney+ to watch all of their streaming shows, we’re not allowed to truly follow what’s going on or have a chance at enjoying the experience. If you only watch the movies, you’ve only known Wanda as a hero after being saved in Age of Ultron. You have absolutely no context for how she has kids or why she’s suddenly willing to commit genocide for them, especially when they don’t exist and never have. There was no “madness” in the so-called “Multiverse” (which was about three parallel universes), and no method in Disney’s “madness” other than corporate greed.
This was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back for me, as Disney all but said to my face that I was no longer welcome unless I was willing to pay to see every bit of bullshit they churn out. I’ll still watch Marvel movies on an individual basis for the sake of the blog and the hope of entertainment, but whatever interconnectivity might exist… I just don’t care anymore.
9. Minions: The Rise of Gru
It’s not that this movie was guaranteed to suck, but I’ve definitely outgrown the title characters and their shenanigans. You can only tell the same joke so many times before it stops being funny, and with a few exceptions, I hit that point about midway through Despicable Me 2. I’m not above toilet humor. I can still find farts funny on occasion. Hell, I still watch Family Guy (I’m literally doing that right now as I’m typing this). But there’s a limit, and when that’s all you can lean on, I find myself struggling to give a shit.
The real sad thing, however, is that this wholly unnecessary sequel to a spinoff could have been great. The idea of Gru actually learning the craft of villainy from a seasoned veteran in the form of Wild Knuckles had a lot of potential. Instead, it’s barely a fraction of the film’s runtime, and even then it’s kind of in a Stockholm Syndrome context. If the film was willing to go that dark with it, I’d have been on board, but when all you’re really trying to do is sell toys, there’s no such thing as actual creative thought. That’s why you have a metric fuck-tonne of continuity errors in this movie, including basic timeline ignorance that shows that the creators don’t even watch the previous entries to check their own work. I mean, how hard would it have honestly been to make Gru the appropriate age based on his appearances in the first Minions movie, or to at least acknowledge that he’d met Dr. Nefario before? They bent over backwards to cram retconned callbacks to Vector in there, so why not do something in a prequel that actually makes logical sense? Had they put in even minimal effort to make this follow-up fit into its own universe, it would have easily escaped the 2022 basement, and might have even earned a full recommendation.
8. The Son
Awards Season can be something of a craven affair at times. The studios are betting heavily on their marketing strategies to get them prestige and hardware, and by extension increased box office for some of what they feel are their more artistic films. And given the success of Florian Zeller’s last outing, The Father, it only stands to reason that Sony would let it ride for his next project, The Son. They even delayed the wide release of the film into January (after its qualifying run in Los Angeles in late November), hoping that their campaigning would pay dividends during what is traditionally the worst month for new movies. It’s a strategy that one or two studios try each year, and there is reason to believe that it will work more often than not.
But The Son is very much NOT a good movie. It’s maudlin dreck that trivializes mental illness and suicide for the sake of cheap melodrama. Hugh Jackman does his level best to try to elevate this exercise in blaming everything on your dad even when it’s your fault, but this god-awful material cannot be saved, just like the pissy teenager at the center of it all. This was clearly designed to be a Best Actor vehicle for Jackman, who is one of the greatest actors out there, one deserving of an Oscar at some point in his career. But not for this. This is just transparent, disingenuous nonsense masquerading as profound. By the time the little asshole offs himself (telegraphed from about the 10-minute mark), I was actively rooting for it to happen just to put a decorative olive on this shit sandwich.
7. The 355
Yeah, remember this dumpster fire? The very first movie I saw in 2022 was also one of the worst. There’s generic action schlock, and then there’s this piece of crap. It’s bad enough that just about every spy flick cliché in the book is thrown at us, but it’s compounded by the insistence from Jessica Chastain et al that because this time they’re doing it with women, we’re not allowed to point out how insanely flawed it is, lest we be labeled as sexist. A bad movie’s a bad movie, no matter who makes it, and this is a bad fucking movie. To think that Chastain honestly thought this would be the beginning of a franchise.
Far too many films this Awards Season have pontificated and postulated about the power and magic of movies, and far too few of them actually delivered on that promise, with Babylon being the worst of the bunch. Easily the most polarizing picture of the year, the critics who rank it among 2022’s best are decidedly outweighed by the rest of us, who just could not connect with Damien Chazelle’s three-hour parade of bullshit, er, elephant shit. The funniest part is that in the aftermath of the movie bombing at the box office, its defenders basically tried to publicly shame the detractors for “celebrating” the failure of an “original” movie while we simultaneously complain about too much franchise fare.
The fallacy of this argument is three-fold. One, Babylon is not an “original” film. It’s what would happen if you put Singin’ in the Rain and The Wolf of Wall Street into the teleporter from The Fly, creating an unholy hybrid that satisfies no one. Two, nobody is “celebrating” its lack of success. There are people like me who are somewhat satisfied that audiences agreed with our opinions on the whole, but no one’s out there teabagging Margot Robbie like a 12-year-old playing Call of Duty gloating over his kill (though I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a deleted scene in this movie to that effect). We might applaud the failure of an IP movie because hopefully it would portend the end of lazy sequels, reboots, remakes, and prequels, as that trend has gone on way too long, but no such sentiment exists for Babylon. Three, two thoughts can exist simultaneously. Even if people were dancing in the streets about the film falling well short of expectations, they can still do that justifiably – thanks to the deluge of bodily fluids and shameless awards baiting to cover up what is just a bad movie overall – and still want to see an end to the franchise machine. How is it in any way hypocritical to want subpar films to fail? That’s the whole point of criticism, to promote the good stuff and denigrate the terrible stuff, in hopes that the public will vote with their wallets accordingly.
And like I said, in a season where so many entries grandstand about the power of movies, this one is the least effective in its messaging. It’s three hours of drug-addled excess, piss, shit, blood, and cum, and then in the final 10 minutes it tries to buy it all back with one of the characters literally watching the very film Babylon is ripping off, followed by a Cinema Paradiso-esque montage of great movies, as if Damien Chazelle is trying to retroactively take credit, not just for Singin’ in the Rain, but the entire film industry, which is about as conceited as anyone could possibly be. You can’t literally have an elephant shit on a guy’s head and then try to appeal to our sense of nostalgia and sentimentality. It’s not only insulting to our intelligence, but it’s beyond intellectually and artistically dishonest. If I had to do a book report on Moby-Dick, and instead I turned in 10 blank pages that I used to wipe my ass followed by one paragraph at the end about how majestic whales are, any teacher would flunk me instantly and probably have me arrested. So what makes you think I’d buy Chazelle’s nonsense for even a second?
5. Don’t Make Me Go
I normally love John Cho as an actor, and God bless him, he does his best in this manipulative tear-jerker, but there is no redeeming Don’t Make Me Go. Father-daughter movies have a rich well of stories to tell, and road trip films almost always have a certain degree of charm. This is the exception that proves the rule in both cases.
Playing a terminally ill single dad, Cho takes his teenage daughter on a cross-country trip, ostensibly to attend his college reunion, but in reality he’s hoping to introduce her to her birth mother, so that she’ll have a guardian after he dies. In the meantime, he wants to teach her as many life lessons as possible. While contrived, this is a noble endeavor, but unfortunately, his daughter is an entitled brat who is not even remotely receptive to the idea of parental controls or even reality. At every turn she attempts to question his integrity because he chose to give up on low-percentage dreams in order to give her a loving, stable home. She’s utterly incapable of assessing the consequences of any actions, because she feels she shouldn’t be subject to any, always opting to throw caution to the wind because she might enjoy herself or have a positive outcome.
And just like The Son, what the film thinks is a twist ending is so obviously telegraphed through her shit characterization that by the time the axe falls, I’m glad for it, because it removes a truly terrible person from the equation. The opening narration tries to trick us by saying we’ll hate the ending but hopefully enjoy everything else. Nope, I just hated all of it.
4. Jurassic World Dominion
It wasn’t hard, you guys. It wasn’t hard to do a good Jurassic Park sequel. All we wanted was a good adventure where dinosaurs do cool dinosaur stuff, one where there were some stakes to the proceedings and potential meaning in the deaths, and – after the last abomination – for the franchise to finally make good on the promise of seeing dinosaurs interact with humans in the real world.
That’s it. Lemon squeezy. And yet, Universal and Colin Trevorrow pulled the rug out from under us again. Instead of dinosaurs and man coexisting, we got an opening montage and Chris Pratt lassoing something that easily weighs several tons. Instead of a fun adventure, we got the fan service reunion of the original film’s surviving cast, a bunch of locusts, the return of Maisie, a retconning of Maisie’s backstory, and Pratt choking a dilophosaurus. Instead of stakes and meaningful kills, we got a random douchebag on an e-scooter and a lazy caricature of Apple CEO Tim Cook getting chomped.
Just like with Doctor Strange, the sin isn’t so much that the movie sucks, it’s that the studio and the filmmakers knew how to do right by the audience and they actively chose to do the opposite, confident that viewers would salivate like Pavlov’s dogs and eagerly fork over their money for the same exact shit, even when it’s literally the opposite of what was promised and what we as paying customers asked for.
You almost have to put in more effort to get it this wrong than you would to just deliver the goods as advertised. Supposedly this is the end of the franchise. I’ll believe it when I (never) see it.
3. The Princess
As a piece of disposable entertainment, this isn’t all that bad of an idea. A princess is locked in a tower and has to fight her way out to avoid marrying some evil guy who wants to murder her family. Sure, why not? You might have some laughs, get a decent action sequence or two, and maybe just maybe turn Joey King into a certified badass. Remember, she was the young version of Talia al Ghul in The Dark Knight Rises. We saw her climb out of the Pit 10 years ago. Surely she can be awesome on a descent this time, right?
As it turns out, wrong. This was one of the laziest, most chintzy films I’ve seen in a long time. King’s character doesn’t even get a name. She’s just “The Princess.” That’s how little effort went into this. The fight scenes are a complete farce, looking like bad video game levels in between lengthy cutscenes to deliver clunky exposition and flashbacks. The stunt work is utterly shameful, as muscular brutes who would easily kill King with a soft backhand have to lumber around and pretend she’s more agile. You don’t even need close-ups to see that the swords are plastic. The visual effect of one goon being set on fire makes the climactic fight from The Power Rangers Movie look like Avatar. Literally every good guy gets stabbed at some point, and yet no one has visible wounds.
Sometimes you can just tell that no one even bothered, and this is one of those times. Every once in a while this makes for a funny moment because it’s so badly done, but this is the kind of thing you see in a straight-to-video Steven Seagal movie, not a serious release on a major streaming service that was ostensibly meant for theatres.
Between this and The Princess, I momentarily considered retiring the “This Film is Not Yet Watchable” column, because two of my three F-grades in 2022 went to movies that I pre-endorsed as that month’s “Redemption Reel.” At least with the former, you could fool yourself into thinking that the trailer was advertising a better movie than was released, as the scenes in that preview were literally all the good bits from the final film. But with Blonde, the appeal was meant to be two-fold. On one hand, you have Ana de Armas, one of the biggest rising stars in Hollywood, taking on what appeared to be a very serious role as one of cinema’s most tragic figures. Two, Netflix was making history with the film, as it was the first streaming release to be given an NC-17 rating by the MPA. Surely there had to be something truly envelope-pushing to warrant such an extreme decision, especially since Netflix was leaning into it.
But none of that potential was realized on the screen. Apart from a scene of JFK forcing fellatio from Marilyn Monroe and some wholly ill-advised and inaccurate depictions of abortion, there was nothing that could be considered controversial. Instead it was just gratuitous teasing. As for de Armas, her performance was the same tired, breathy impersonation that literally every other actress who’s played Monroe has given, utterly without any distinguishing features.
More importantly, Andrew Dominik’s film is needlessly pretentious and shoddily made. He can’t decide on a color palette or an aspect ratio to save his life. His script, based on a fictitious biographical drama novel, is horribly stilted and needlessly aggressive, and the underlying concept of her doing everything to satisfy an absent father is so tawdry it might as well be on Pornhub. We were promised an audacious and ambitious look at Marilyn Monroe, what we got was a Lifetime movie with tits.
1. Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank
I didn’t want to see it at all after I learned that it was a declawed animated remake of one of my all-time favorite films, but in my quest to clear all 27 submissions for Animated Feature, I bit my lip and gave it a shot. Every fiber of my being told me to stay away, and I should have listened.
This is awful on every conceivable level. It recycles Blazing Saddles almost beat for beat, but with none of the edginess and social commentary of Mel Brooks’ comedy classic, mostly because as a kids movie, it’s not allowed to take an actual chance. Gone are the great jokes, thoughtful yet silly conversations about race, tremendous acting, and musical numbers. In their place is Michael Cera whining, Samuel L. Jackson using PG-rated versions of his normal profanity that children won’t understand anyway, Ricky Gervais lighting farts and flushing a giant toilet, and an oh so adorable perfect little girl character who ends up saving the day so Paramount can try to sell toys.
The original film is one of the boldest, most risky and challenging movies ever made. This blasphemous remake is the exact opposite. It’s a soulless cash grab that adamantly refuses to try anything different or say anything worthwhile. The fact that Brooks himself not only signed off on this but performed in it makes me seriously question his mental acuity. Literally the entire cast of the first movie is spinning in its collective grave right now, all but begging Mel to join them if this is what he’s going to do with his art.
Wow, that took longer than expected. As much as things have improved this past year, apparently the bad stuff got even worse in tandem. Well anyway, on to some more pleasant matters, as I hand out my own personal awards for 2022!
Most Underrated Film of 2022
Emily the Criminal – Aubrey Plaza gives a terrific performance in a thriller that mostly follows the rules, but has a few stellar moments, mostly due to the central character fighting against a rigged system in a way that maintains her agency throughout. It was in and out of theatres pretty quickly over the summer, but it’s finally getting some traction on streaming.
Most Overrated Film of 2022
The Fabelmans – Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really good movie, but it’s not nearly to the level of greatness that its advertising would indicate. Of the slew of “Movie Magic” entries this Awards Season, this semi-autobiographical tale of Steven Spielberg’s coming-of-age comes the closest to getting it right by actually occasionally showing us some cool early film tricks, and most of the cast does really well. But it’s far too precious at points, and Spielberg is completely unwilling to call out his substitute mother (Michelle Williams in the same sainted/aggrieved mother performance she’s been giving since at least Brokeback Mountain) for any of her objectively bad behavior. It’s worthy of some awards consideration, but it’s not Best Picture quality, no matter how much it insists upon itself.
Best Animated Film
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On – Or if you think it doesn’t count because there are live actors in some scenes, Wendell & Wild. More on both of them to come.
Supporting Actress Nominees
Jamie Lee Curtis – Everything Everywhere All At Once
Kate Hudson – Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Stephanie Hsu – Everything Everywhere All At Once
Nicole Kidman – The Northman
Keke Palmer – Nope
Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert – Everything Everywhere All At Once
Martin McDonagh – The Banshees of Inisherin
Honorable Mention for Best Director and Best Screenplay
Rian Johnson – Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Best Scene of 2022
Like it could be anything else. This is the genius of Everything Everywhere All At Once distilled in two minutes of silent beauty. In such a short space, on a practically blank screen filled only with a desert landscape, two large rocks, and on-screen text, the bonkers story gets placed in an absolutely mind-blowing perspective that’s funny, endearing, profound, intellectually challenging, cinematically gorgeous, and devastatingly simple. It puts all that we’ve seen into an easily relatable context while reminding us of the endless possibilities that await us in the wider world. It’s everything and nothing in one incredible moment of clarity, both for the characters and the audience, and it’s the closest any moment of film came last year to pure perfection.
Biggest Disappointment of 2022
That would be Elvis. Austin Butler gives a fantastic, star-making performance, one worthy of serious Oscar consideration, but apart from that, the movie falls woefully short. Baz Luhrmann succumbs to all of his worst directorial impulses, from inserting modern music with an incredibly anachronistic tone, to substituting spectacle over anything resembling nuance and thoughtful storytelling, to working his editors into the ground by having the entire movie basically be one giant montage with every transition and graphics wipe in the book, and all for no discernible reason other than what feels like adult-onset ADHD.
And then, of course, there’s Tom Hanks. What in God’s name did America’s Dad do to deserve this, you know, other than not whip his belt off and lay the smackdown on Chet when he had the chance? The makeup job, the Foghorn Van Leghorn accent, the copious sweat, it’s all just so much to take in and so bad on every level. Even the best actors put in a bad performance now and then, but I lay the blame for this one squarely on Luhrmann, who seemed to take Hanks’ universal admiration as a personal dare. It feels like he didn’t want to create a villain that the audience hated, but create a situation where an audience could actually hate Tom Hanks, and if so, that may be the most ostentatious achievement of the whole movie.
Most Pleasant Surprise of 2022
This somewhat backhanded compliment goes to Barbarian. I had very little hope for this small indie horror film, as it appeared from the trailer to be a fairly obvious torture trap for a needlessly stupid and naïve protagonist. Instead, Zach Cregger gave us an uncharacteristically smart lead in Georgina Campbell, calling attention to the trappings of the genre while still finding ways to have her fall into entirely unforeseen ones, delivering legitimate scares and suspense to what could have been a fairly pedestrian affair. Justin Long and Bill Skarsgård give diametrically opposed (but no less brilliant) performances as a toxic, predatory male and someone who genuinely tries to dispel the trope, respectively. And when it comes to our monster… wow. That was a design I did not anticipate at all, and the fact that Cregger is able to wring actual pathos from her tragedy is not something anyone was prepared for. It wasn’t a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination, but given the scant resources and the basic framing, it was way better than it had any right to be!
Finally, we wrap things up as we do every year, with double the positivity! As always, I begin with the 10 worst films of the year, and I end with the 20 best. Because while I’m willing to watch just about anything (and if you ever have suggestions or request, I’m all ears), I do try to see as much of the better stuff as possible. No one goes to the movies planning to see something terrible. We always hope for a fun, entertaining time, and occasionally we get something truly artistic and superlative. So on the whole, I do end up seeing a lot more good than bad. Of the 116 films I saw during calendar year 2022, only 27 were graded at C+ or below. That means about 76% of what I saw had something solid to recommend. And even a good number of the subpar entries had their moments.
It’s nearly a 3-to-1 margin as far as quality is concerned, so it only makes sense to highlight more of that than harp on the stuff that didn’t connect. These are the rankings as of December 31, and it’s possible that they’ll change for me in the leadup to the Oscars as I track down more entries and potential nominees. But as far as what I actually saw in 2022, this is my list.
The Top 20 Films of 2022
20. Holy Spider
There’s always something to be said about a dangerous film, one that challenges not only audience perception, but pushes the boundaries of legality in the name of art and speaking truth to power. Such is the case for Denmark’s Oscar submission, Holy Spider, a fictional crime procedural spin on the real-life case of the Spider Serial Killer who terrorized sex workers in Iran. Not only is the case compelling, visceral, and a testament to the fourth estate (though that’s the fictitious part), the fact that it’s willing to hold a mirror up to the inequities for women in Iranian society is pretty daring. The government has already warned about criminal consequences for the filmmakers if they ever set foot in the country, so you know they touched a nerve. That alone would make the movie worth seeing. The fact that it’s tremendously made and superbly acted place it among the most essential works of the year.
19. Little Nicholas: Happy As Can Be
I just fell in love with this little guy, just as apparently his creators did. The film itself is a delightfully-animated origin for one of France’s most beloved comic strip characters from the 1950s, filled with gentle good humor and pure affection, both for its cartoon and real-life subjects. The story of two friends writing and drawing together was endearing, and Nicholas’ adventures felt like a time capsule of the best memories from my own childhood. I couldn’t help but smile the whole way through.
18. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande
I never thought I’d say this about a 63-year-old woman, but Emma Thompson looks really good naked. Of course, that’s about the 90th most important concern in this absolutely brilliant intimate comedy about sex work, repression, self-confidence, and the evolution of romance over the last few decades. Thompson and co-star Daryl McCormack play off one another about as well as you could ever hope, their one-room, four-act deep dive into human sexuality a combination of elite-level comedy and touching character study. This is pretty much the peak of COVID filmmaking, and honestly the type of movie that should be taught in sex ed classes.
I didn’t get to see too many documentaries in 2022, but this one came in just under the wire as one of the best. Alexei Navalny is an international hero for his crusade against Vladimir Putin’s corruption, and for that he’s a political prisoner after surviving an assassination attempt. This brash, take-no-prisoners documentary not only explores how his life almost ended, but how he’s only been empowered as a near-martyr in the aftermath. If nothing else, the scene where he tricks a Russian scientist into admitting to the plot to murder him is eye-popping in just how blatant and careless the whole affair was, and Navalny is there to both gawk and laugh at the whole thing!
16. Goodbye, Don Glees!
Where a film like Don’t Make Me Go failed miserably at telling an engaging coming-of-age road trip story, this anime succeeds in droves. Coming off their first year of high school, and their first year apart, childhood friends Roma and Toto are at a crossroads when it comes to the secret club they had for themselves as kids. One wants to maintain it at all costs, while the other wants to dissolve things and move on to more mature matters. It’s only with the introduction of a sudden third member, Drop, and a quest to recover a missing drone, that both get perspective on how their lives have changed. Gorgeously animated with a tender approach and a gut-punch ending I did not see coming, this is a shining example of how you do these tropes properly.
Jordan Peele is three for three, folks! Keke Palmer, Daniel Kaluuya, and Steven Yeun all give great performances in this combination sci-fi/horror spectacle that once again delivers excellent scares through the lens of Black Americana. The camera work is superb, the mythology behind the threat is beyond intriguing, and the monster is far more effective than anyone could have imagined if they were just told it was a man-eating saucer-shaped balloon. I continue to be in awe of how well Peele is able to tell a chilling, resonant story that keeps audiences on the edge of their seats.
14. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
If you didn’t laugh your ass off at this, I don’t know what to tell you. Nicolas Cage fully leaning into his own perceived insanity for the sake of a buddy caper film is just goddamn genius. The fact that Pedro Pascal can match his manic energy step for step is nothing short of miraculous!
13. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
As I said earlier, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness sapped the last hopes I had of giving a damn about the continuity and interconnected nature of the MCU. That said, as its own film, Wakanda Forever was a home run. The tributes to Chadwick Boseman were tasteful, fitting, and not the least bit exploitative. Namor, like Killmonger before him, is among the best villains in the entire franchise, cementing the fact that this corner of the universe actually cares about character development. Angela Bassett does a tremendous job in what could have been a throwaway role. Even the CGI improved from the last one. If the rest of the MCU could rise to this standard, I might still be fully engaged. Instead, this stands as a reminder of what could – and should – have been.
12. All the Beauty and Bloodshed
Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family that runs it are arguably responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths thanks to the opioid epidemic. Sadly, because they’re literally too big to fail, being powerful billionaires, they will never see the inside of a jail cell for their crimes, and whatever pittance they pay in fines will bring no comfort to their victims or the loved ones of those lost. Still, there are crusaders like Nan Goldin out there working tirelessly to claim whatever small victories might be had. Through her advocacy and influence as a renowned photographer, she’s used her platform to help remove the Sackler name from the art world, a moral win in a world with so few of them. Learning about her life story, her tremendous output, and her late-stage fight for justice after overcoming opioid addiction herself is more than enough for Goldin to earn the mantle of “Hero.” Let this film introduce her to a public desperate for inspiration.
11. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
There were two Pinocchio movies made last year. One is beautiful, insightful, and has an amazing meta context for the modern world. The other was shit out by Disney in their unending death march of live-action remakes. Thank whatever God might exist for del Toro’s version, which allows us to forget the other one even happened.
The songs are creative, heartfelt, and fun. The voice acting from the likes of Ewan McGregor and David Bradley is nearly perfect. Pinocchio’s half-finished design speaks to the devastation of Gepetto’s broken heart. Using Mussolini as a stand-in for the folly of autocracy and fascism is one of the most thoughtful touches in any film all year.
And most important of all, Cate Blanchett plays a monkey. Is there anything she can’t do?
10. The Banshees of Inisherin
There is literally no better filmmaker in the world when it comes to cinematic melancholy than Martin McDonagh. Darren Aronofsky once held that title, but with The Banshees of Inisherin, the baton has been well and truly passed. Reuniting from their time in another McDonagh masterpiece, In Bruges, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson have a lived-in rapport, both personally and professionally, which not only allows them to have a 100% natural chemistry, but it also grants a meta credibility to their on-screen relationship, which is ironic and tragic on both sides.
Staring down the autumn years and wondering what legacy they’ll leave behind, both main players want the same thing out of their lives, meaningful acknowledgement. They just go about it in completely different ways, so it’s easy to see why their longstanding friendship might fall by the wayside. It’s sad, but understandable. When Gleeson takes the extreme step of mutilating himself to get his point across, the film goes from dreary Irish tragicomedy to a pantheon-level treatise on ego and empathy. Add in a wonderful supporting performance from Barry Keoghan as a hopeless and witless romantic, and this might end up being McDonagh’s magnum opus.
9. The Black Phone
This is the film Scott Derrickson left Doctor Strange for, and he absolutely made the right decision. The best horror film in a year filled with great entries, The Black Phone takes a fairly simple premise of child abduction and a creepy killer and turns it into an intense story about standing up for yourself and solving problems when it looks like there’s no one to help you.
As it turns out, there are ghosts willing to aid our hero Finney, but honestly, you could have made them figments of the boy’s imagination, and the whole thing still works wonders. The basement where he’s held captive by “The Grabber” (a deliciously off-putting Ethan Hawke wearing a mask with detachable parts so you never fully see his face until the end) is essentially an escape room where all the tools Finney needs to save himself are there with him, if only he can figure out how to use them. The ghosts give him hints and clues, but he still needs to put it all together himself, and watching him overcome his fear to save himself is compelling and thrilling, because there are literal life and death stakes to the game.
Meanwhile, Madeleine McGraw puts in the best performance of any child actor this past year, as Finney’s pious yet shit-talking sister Gwen. Seeing visions in dreams about her brother’s peril, she interprets these signs as a divine gift, but she’s not above asking Jesus, “What the fuck?” for his apparent ambiguity and lack of clear answers. She not only provides a great deal of comic relief to release the tension from some of the more heavy Finney scenes, but her role also serves as a much-needed bit of bullshit-calling on the trope of Judeo-Christian defaults in supernatural horror.
Yeah, good call, Scott. Good call.
8. Moonage Daydream
I’ve said this before, but I normally don’t care for archival documentaries. However, what Brett Morgen has done here is nothing short of immaculate. Using the edit bay as his stage, Morgen took thousands of hours of interviews, music videos, concert footage, and various TV and film appearances to create a pure stream of consciousness journey to the cosmos in exploring the life and art of David Bowie. It’s weird, disjointed, experimental, lyrical, confusing, empowering, and altogether glorious. Bowie would have had it no other way.
Animation had a huge resurgence last year after a deeply disappointing 2021. One of the main reasons why is because of truly ambitious works like Inu-Oh, an anime fever dream that renders ancient feudal Japanese history as a rock opera filled to the brim with lights, color, and song. One of the most imaginative films of the year, the idea of turning performative poetry and dance about the histories of the honored dead into high-concept stage shows led by what feels like the anime equivalent of Freddie Mercury is inspired. Watching the titular dancer transform over the course of the film as he calms the souls of those who died in battle while a blind monk basically invents heavy metal with a biwa is a sight to behold, an absolute feast for the eyes and ears.
6. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
We’ve been waiting patiently these last three years to see what labyrinthine puzzle Rian Johnson had in store to follow up the amazing Knives Out, and he did not disappoint. Once again toying with genre conventions and audience expectations like puppets on strings, Johnson has crafted another deliriously funny whodunit that reinforces what makes these films so much fun while playfully mocking their foibles. Daniel Craig, now mercifully free from James Bond, really gets to stretch his legs this time as Benoit Blanc, aided once again by a totally game supporting cast, with Kate Hudson as the surprise MVP. Just as before, Johnson creates a story filled with fleshed out characters with potentially murderous motives, from Ed Norton to Kathryn Hahn, all of whom could be plausible suspects because of how meticulously they’re tied in to the main crime and each other.
But in yet another brilliant subversion, Johnson finds the sweet spot through sheer stupidity. Like a farcical Occam’s Razor, he shows us how the simplest solution can often be the correct one, whether “simplest” applies to a set of circumstances or an entire person. The audience can once again play along with the caper in a way few films are able to pull off, only losing sight of the goal because we’re laughing so hard at the crisp writing and madcap performances. Seeing Hudson try to dramatically quip that the whole situation is “so dumb it’s brilliant,” only for Craig to snap back, “No! It’s just dumb!” is the funniest single exchange of the year. Not only is the delivery perfect, but the moment is earned through Johnson’s virtuoso orchestration.
A guy. Throws. A Leopard. AT ANOTHER GUY! And that’s only at the halfway point! This is the most insane movie of the year, and my God did I love just about every second of it. I can’t even list off all the awesome things that take place in this flick, because I literally don’t have enough hours in a day. The acting, the stunts, fucking “Naatu Naatu!” This film bombards you with all the craziness your reptile brain can handle, all while sneakily relaying a fun, inspirational fantasy about two heroes of Colonial India joining forces in the name of freedom and brotherhood. The intensity only lets up in the briefest moments, including an intermission, which elevates this movie above all the other lengthy entries this past year that showed absolutely no respect for your bladder.
It boggles my mind to this day that India chose Last Film Show as its Oscar submission instead of this.
4. Wendell & Wild
If you’ve ever loved a stop-motion animated film, you likely have Henry Selick to thank for it, as it was his careful hands behind such great works as The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline. Now, with Wendell & Wild, he’s given the world another eye-popping, imaginative look at the macabre in a way that even the youngest of audiences can appreciate.
Co-written with Jordan Peele, Wendell & Wild is that rare film that actually has a purpose for killing off the parents of its main character. When Kat loses her mother and father in a car crash, it sends her into a spiral of grief and survivor’s guilt that manifests through delinquency and petty crime, threatening to make her a statistic of America’s prison-industrial complex. The unfathomable sadness and responsibility she feels at their deaths is palpable, because it could end up destroying her life, even though her parents’ final act was to save it. She’s so deep in her remorse and personal Hell that she’d rather throw away this precious gift as penance for what she thinks is her fault. Even well-meaning people who only genuinely want to help her process her pain and lead a normal fulfilling life can’t get through to her.
Meanwhile, our titular demons, sensing an opportunity for their own betterment, are not so much evil as they are eager to prove themselves to their devil father. Their trip to the world of the living and their contract with Kat to resurrect her parents is in service to a more noble cause of independence and self-reliance. On the one hand you have someone who can’t go on with her life without her parents, and on the other you have two sons who want to make their own way despite their love for their parent. It’s a wonderful juxtaposition from a thematic standpoint.
And of course, the animation is just unbelievably great, filled with memorable designs and panache in the execution. The warped world somehow makes sense within context, despite the surreal and even grotesque constructions. It all comes together in a way that almost defies logic, but somehow it sticks the landing in a poignant, tender, and humorous display that will tug on your heartstrings, tickle your funny bone, and pose surprising questions about the nature of our existence. Truly spectacular.
3. Decision to Leave
South Korea didn’t even get a nomination for International Feature until Parasite, and that masterpiece went on to win Best Picture. Now, Park Chan-wook follows in Bong Joon-ho’s footsteps with his own contender for the best overall film of 2022, Decision to Leave, a deep, brooding, cerebral mystery that takes the conventions of classic film noir and makes them feel new again.
From the moment we see our lead detective, Hae-jun, putting drops in his bloodshot eyes due to insomnia, we know that we can never fully trust what we see. As such, when he investigates a possible murder and a femme fatale widow, we as an audience are conditioned to question everything. This is a story that dances in the margins and delights in its subtleties, making you second guess every line of dialogue, every sideways glance, every curious bit of body language, every clue that arises as Hae-jun pieces together the truth.
The reason this works so well is because of how intimate Park makes the characters’ respective stories and interactions. As Hae-jun spies on Seo-rae from outside her apartment, the editing whooshes him into an imagined shared space, where he can freely observe and know her on a deeper level. One of the most wonderfully-choreographed scenes of the entire year involves an interrogation over fancy sushi, with each party cleaning up afterward in a kind of sync that evokes ballet, as if they’ve known each other forever despite being total strangers. Hitchcock would be proud.
2. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
In a year where animation came roaring back in a big way, this was the best. Dean Fleischer-Camp and Jenny Slate combined to make one of the cutest, funniest, and most darling characters to ever take the internet by storm, and now in a full-length film, his journey feels incredibly big despite his tiny stature.
The combination of stop-motion with live-action is top notch here, as Marcel’s natural curiosity and ingenuity makes him an endlessly endearing lead. But within all the playful japes and clever gadgets to help him get around, there’s an achingly beautiful story about loss, loneliness, and perseverance in the face of impossible odds. With no companion other than his aging grandmother, Marcel puts his best foot forward every day and dons a brave, jovial face to conceal his insecurities and fears. Meanwhile, the tiny seashell gives audiences a clinic in coping mechanisms and the ability to adapt to the harsh realities of the world. It makes his victories feel all the more triumphant, and his setbacks all the more devastating.
I mean, the film made me cry to “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” for God’s sake. What more could you want? Well, I’ll tell you.
1. Everything Everywhere All At Once
Normally when I gush about a film that comes out early in the year, it’s because I expect it to eventually be overtaken by something that comes out later, typically during Awards Season. I’m not as susceptible to the marketing as some voters are, but I do recognize that, on the whole, most of the best stuff does come out at the end of the year rather than the beginning. But nothing came close.
This movie had everything you could possibly want in a cinematic experience. There’s an insanely compelling cast, led by Michelle Yeoh in the best role of her career. There’s an incredibly relatable story about family and the choices we make, all of it based in the purest of emotions, love. There’s an amazing exploration of generational trauma from both sides of Evelyn Wang’s lineage. There are mind-blowing action set pieces, stunt work, and visual effects, all produced on a fairly modest budget of only $14.3 million (compared to the $200 million spent on Doctor Strange). You got the resurgence of Ke Huy Quan and a breakthrough role for Stephanie Hsu. James Hong and Jamie Lee Curtis give phenomenal performances as characters that are wholly against type for them. The “Daniels” deliver controlled chaos with an uncanny directorial eye coupled with the funniest script of the decade to date.
But most importantly, the film is not for one moment afraid of its own oddity. Through the sheer batshit craziness that’s put on display, from a black hole made out of a bagel, to hot dog fingers, to trophies shaped like butt plugs that trigger expert martial arts skill, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert keep everything incredibly and surprisingly grounded within the context of the randomness of life, with all the joy, pain, beauty, and sadness that entails. At the core of all this is a deeply human story of how the choices we make affect the world around us, both in grand and miniscule terms, but the important thing to remember is that those choices are still ours to make, and whenever possible, we should choose the paths that lead to happiness, and that hopefully make the world a better place, even if it hurts you in the moment. You should always strive to be accepting, even if you don’t understand the experiences of others. And you should always do your best to extend a hand of empathy, love, and honesty, even when that seems impossible.
The fact that such a small film could condense all of the confusion and glory of life into just over two hours is extraordinary. That it could make you laugh hysterically for minutes on end and then make you tear up as a rock with googly eyes chases another rock is astounding. That an antagonist can beat a man to death with a dildo, instantly tilt her head to change into an array of costumes that would win any season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, and have a genuine emotional breakdown that makes you just want to hug her is inspired. That this A24 movie actually delivers on the promise of a “Multiverse of Madness” while Disney merely phoned it in is testament to the power of what true artists can do when given the chance. That this film does more to demonstrate the “magic” of movies than any of the also-rans that profess to know it without showing it is an indictment of self-indulgent narcissism in cinema. That all of this happened in a way that almost felt effortless on screen is to perfectly encapsulate the theatrical experience.
If there’s one common thread binding all of the best and worst films of 2022, it’s ambition. The pictures that took genuine risks and tried something new, regardless of the size of the budget or the power of the studio, those were the ones that shined the brightest. A photographer took on the giants of the pharmaceutical industry through the power of her art. A stop-motion master dared to show children the beauty in death. A major franchise found a way to go on without its star in a way that was innovative and respectful. A shell made us cry. Feudal Japan became the stage for a laser rock show. It’s these legitimate attempts to take a chance and not do the same old thing that gave us the best experiences in the multiplexes and arthouses in 2022, whereas the worst of the bunch were the ones that didn’t even bother putting in even the most rudimentary efforts. A sequel punished its audience for not watching a TV show in advance. Another one couldn’t be fussed with its own canon. Yet another lied directly to its audience for a second straight time. Gratuitous messes tried to pass themselves off as profound while offering no justification other than their own insistence. Asshole children demanded we reward their asshole behavior because they’re sad.
You can see the difference pretty clearly. For the two years preceding, we were all in a state of numbness and shock, dealing with a global pandemic that threw the whole world into disarray. And as such, when it came to movies, for the most part we just took what was on offer, grateful for any semblance of normalcy and entertainment comfort food. But this past year, we came back. We went back to work. We saw our families again. We traveled. And we got back to the theatre. And after so long away, it became apparent that what really mattered to me (and hopefully to a lot of other people) was to see my patience, loyalty, and effort rewarded with a noticeable effort on the part of the industry and art that I love so dearly. When it was clear that a movie was trying, I enjoyed it, with the most ambitious products earning their spot here. When it was clear that they weren’t trying, I despised it, with the laziest also earning their place.
That’s why Everything Everywhere All At Once is the best film of 2022 for me. More than any other, it reminded us of how much cinema means to the world, and how joyous and wonderful it is when the potential of the artform is fully realized.
That’s all I’ve got. I apologize for the novella. We’re two weeks away from Oscar nominations, so before you know it, it’ll be time to put on our Blitzin’ shoes! In the meantime, there are still plenty of documentaries to see, and of course, I have to get started on 2023’s canon, with the first new review of the year coming soon! Join me then.
Join the conversation in the comments below! What was your favorite film of 2022? What do you think was the worst? Can we all just collectively agree to pretend Tom Hanks never did that accent? Let me know!