The 10 Best Movies of 2022

We have made it to the end of another year, which came with another onslaught of new movies. On the whole, it was a really good year for film. Looking over my list of watches, there are at least 100 movies that came out this year that I would recommend. My honorable mentions list won’t be quite that long, but it was difficult to decide on a cutoff point. For the main list, I’ve limited myself to 10 particularly standout films. And, as always, I was not able to see everything (the highly acclaimed Aftersun remains the elusive unicorn, out in the fields for me to catch on some future date).

These are the best movies I saw in 2022. Happy New Year.

Honorable Mentions: All That Breathes, Avatar: The Way of Water, Bad Axe, The Banshees of Inisherin, The Batman, Emergency, The Eternal Daughter, Flux Gourmet, Happening, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, Mad God, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, Murina, Nanny, No Bears, The Northman, The Outfit, Pearl, Please Baby Please, Resurrection, RRR, Scream, Triangle of Sadness, Turning Red, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

10. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed

My list begins with two amazing documentaries (a third, All That Breathes, just barely missed the cut). I don’t think I adore All the Beauty and the Bloodshed to the same extent that other critics do, but it has stuck with me. Laura Poitras does with ease what would come off cumbersome in a lesser documentarian’s hands, which is to capture the weight and beauty of artwork (in this case, the photography of Nan Goldin) that captures the weight and beauty of other people’s lives. There is a recursive quality to this exercise which could be ruinous to the doc, but Poitras is careful to allow the viewer to sit with these snapshots and the stories that they tell.

At the same time, Poitras has to balance this biographical work on Goldin’s career with the artist’s current activist work against a family of wealthy museum donors whose money stems from the exploitation of the opioid epidemic. Poitras ties the two strands together using a bald compassion that emanates straight through the screen.

9. Fire of Love

Sara Dosa’s Fire of Love is a gorgeous portrait of a relationship. It’s not just a love story of two raconteur scientists who bond over a shared passion for volcanoes; it is also a love story between those volcanologists and the volcanoes themselves. Katia and Maurice Krafft filmed volcanoes for years and became notable media personalities as a result.

This alone is intriguing material for a documentary, but Dosa’s ability to use their footage to capture what it is about the tremendous natural formations that delighted and inspired the Kraffts really sends Fire of Love over the top. The film is beautiful, and it accomplishes the rare cinematic feat of humbling the human condition against the vast, majestic power of nature.

8. The Fabelmans

I went into The Fabelmans pretty sure I was getting a schmaltzy love letter to filmmaking as told through the semi-autobiography of one of Hollywood’s most appreciated directors. And the film certainly is that. It is also, however, a lot of other things. In large stretches it feels episodic, rife with unpredictable incident and carefully placed moments of pathos. Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner balance the tone shifts of this with deft hands. The film sandwiches a scene involving a monkey wreaking havoc on the Fabelman’s living room with scenes involving anti-Semitic bullying. It is something that probably shouldn’t work but does without sacrificing anything in the three scenes.

The film is also beautifully shot and edited with precision. The whole thing is a breeze to watch.

7. Three Thousand Years of Longing

The one thing George Miller’s Three Thousand Years of Longing had to accomplish to satisfy me was to be transporting. The stories within this movie are not diegetically transporting, as the film consists largely of two characters speaking in a hotel room. But Miller ports over his mastery of visual storytelling into this otherwise very talky script, and the combination of the two is a fine balance.

Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton are two of my favorite performances of the year here – again, most of what they are doing is talking, and they make it exciting all the same. A film whose story triumphs the liberatory nature of storytelling is perhaps too on the nose for some, but it worked for me with ease, like a well-done sleight of hand trick.

6. Bones and All

Quiet, elegiac, and haunting. But also passionate, performative, and grotesque. Luca Guadagnino combines the sensibilities of his previous two films – the macabre of Suspiria and the tranquility of Call Me By Your Name – to perfect effect. Guadagnino has a keen sense of the bodily; a good fit for a film about the hunger for flesh.

Art house cannibal films are nothing new, but Bones and All makes the premise feel fresh with its episodic, road trip framing and light melodrama. As Maren (Taylor Russell) drifts through the country, pausing occasionally for chapters equally weighted with dreamy and nightmarish qualities, I sank deeper into this movie’s trap. That trap: a languid quagmire of adolescent yearning and carnal urges, which seeps through the frames like blood through fabric. It’s wonderful and tense and achingly beautiful.

5. Tár

One of the most well-constructed films of the year, paired with arguably the best performance of the year, Tár is an easy winner. A character study in narcissism may seem unappealing, but Cate Blanchett adeptly plays the double-edged blade of Lydia Tár’s imposing will and the alluring pull of her professional stature. And director Todd Field composes the film like a horror-thriller, a haunting ghost story. Fittingly so. Tár is haunted by the skeletons of her past and present, and the audience is haunted by her terrifying intensity. The film is a dense knot of discomfiting emotions reverberating outward from its central figure, infecting those around her at every turn. The result is a propulsive film that plays at an eerie mezzo piano.

4. Decision to Leave

A spellbinding genre exercise, concatenating the crime thriller with romantic drama for a real tone poem of a film. Subdued as it is, Park nevertheless delivers a visually pleasing experience with the help of DP Kim Ji-yong and editor Kim Sang-bum. Tang Wei also delivers one of the year’s best performances as the elusive and soulful Seo-rae, a murder suspect in the film’s central criminal plot. Hers is perhaps my second favorite acting performance of the year next to Cate Blanchett. Her performance is one of openness and vulnerability, despite her character being consistently held at arm’s length from the audience.

3. Hit the Road

Panah Panahi’s Hit the Road is one of two films in 2022 about covert border crossings in Iran. The other was his father’s film, No Bears (also quite good, by the way). Jafar Panahi has been making political films that flirt with censorship laws for over a decade, and earlier this year he was arrested on stayed charges related directly to this.

His son’s new film is equally politically charged, but it also resonates with a distinct pathos and personality which is simply enchanting. The majority of the film takes place in a car, but Panahi’s filmmaking saves room for the immense expanse of the surrounding landscape and well-timed flights of fantasy that momentarily whisk this family away from their present predicament. Hit the Road is a masterful debut. I watched it for the first time two weeks ago, and it is already begging for a rewatch.

2. Nope

Jordan Peele’s directing career has been one of the more exciting narratives coming out of Hollywood in recent memory. It might be an unpopular opinion, but I think his films are getting better as he goes along. Nope is his take on Jaws, and, like Jaws, it is so effortlessly watchable that it feels like a magic trick. Peele crafts exquisite set pieces with ease, again and again. Every individual element of Nope is sewn together with care, from the sumptuous cinematography to the clever visual effects to the most minor of performances. It is not a perfect film, but it is the most fun I had in a movie theater this year (twice, plus once more at home).

1. After Yang

No film this year floored me with its emotional preoccupations like After Yang. I watched it twice within the 24-hour rental period during this year’s virtual Sundance. That was back in January, so it has rested in my top 5 for the entire year. Nothing has topped it, because it plays at a meditative register that pulled me in so completely that I couldn’t shake it. I still think about scenes from it to this day. Quiet scenes about seemingly banal things like glasses of water. Scenes trembling with empathy about what it means to recognize another’s humanity. After Yang is what I go to the movies for.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)


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