A sign that cinematic output has been throttled and distribution channels are at least modestly improving, for the first time in 20 years I actually saw every flick on my “must watch before I make my best of 2022 list” list. Even though I wait until the February issue to drop this list, typically at least one contender hasn’t been made available in Omaha yet. Not this year. That’s right, if something doesn’t appear here, it’s not an oversight, baby! You can assume I intentionally left it out and rage accordingly. Let me be clear, I did see “Tár.”
Every year’s top 10 has its own anomalies. What struck me most this go-round was how much the top five movies in particular are in quasi-conversation with one another. A marathon of those would be fascinating and exhausting. In specific, my top two are basically reverse sides of a scarred thematic coin. I also didn’t intentionally set out to load my list with warrior women, but I ain’t mad at that. You know what, enough context, let’s just do this. You’ve waited long enough.
Writer/director Alex Garland’s film has worn in my memory better than the immediate aftermath of its viewing. I’ve had more conversations that stemmed from this movie than any other this year. It isn’t just a folk horror metaphor about the toxic pain of loving men; it provides space and context for people who have seen it to share their own tales of terror.
Although essentially just a retread of classic dude-bro historical action epics with Viola Davis, I was shocked at how the basic beats felt fresh and new. From its exceptionally staged fighting to sensational supporting performers, it is better than almost all of the “Braveheart”-type films it is compared with, and not just due to having 100% less Mel Gibson.
Don’t trust a best of 2022 list without this on it. Hands down the surprise flick of the year, writer/director Zach Cregger’s debut feature-length film was stylish without being shallow, clever without being smug, and the most pleasantly uncomfortable horror film of the year.
7 – “Prey”
Surprise: I didn’t even write a review for this “Predator” sequel. It dropped on Hulu, and my biggest complaint was that it would have played spectacularly in theaters. Watching at home while a Native American warrior (Amber Midthunder) outhunted an alien and outlasted the cloying condescension of her tribe was still dope. A near-perfect use of genre and sci-fi conceit, and the dog lives? It was a shoo-in.
I did manage to make it to the theater for the one week Netflix deigned to grant writer/director Rian Johnson’s latest. I then immediately watched it again the night it dropped on the streaming service. Boy does it play well as a rewatch … I’ve loved watching soft-brained talking heads get furious at the film’s skewering of the rich. I’ve loathed the discourse about whether “Glass Onion” “deserves” to be on top 10 lists. It’s on mine, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Irish writer/director Kate Dolan has my full attention. The second folk horror entry on this list, the film has the ookiest scene of the year, and it’s a dance number. The score is hypnotic and intense, the acting is chilling, and the thematic scab it scratches about family burdens is picked raw. Roger Ebert preached at judging films by the context they establish for themselves. This was singularly consistent.
I am confident that becoming the only director to ever make my top 10 list with each of his first three films is the distinction that Jordan Peele has most sought. Unlike “Get Out” and “Us,” “Nope” boasts meta-criticism about the film industry and takes Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death” as a literal horror inspiration. My top five this year all center on the search for meaning and purpose. “Nope” argues for a responsibility ethos while delivering a unique extraterrestrial in ages.
Writer/director Saul William’s lyrical, surreally sci-fi fairy tale packs a wallop. Not only in terms of how the Afrofuturist tale unpacks gender constraints but in how it forces confrontation on issues that are known but ignored. It is metaphorical and lyrical at times, abstracting its arguments. Other times, it is chanting obscenities at Google. Its contribution to the conversation about the meaning of life is that we shouldn’t forget about those for whom life is hell.
2 – “The Banshees of Inisherin”
You know a film is good when I can’t stop thinking about a review I read about the film. Walter Chaw’s essay on writer/director Martin McDonagh’s disquieting drama is must-read and one of my favorite reviews ever. He astutely, and quite personally, breaks down the brutality of human interaction shown in this emotional sledgehammer of a movie. Colin Farrell is at his career best, yes. The trappings of the film are lovely, sure. But its unflinching, honest assessment that we are doomed to find meaning only through our relationships is a tragic take on the lesson offered by its spiritual companion. That companion is the film you’ll find at the top of this list.
1 – “Everything Everywhere All at Once”
As if it could have ever been anything else in this top spot. The reason everyone keeps talking about it is because it is, in fact, that good. What “Banshees” says is what this film believes, but it spins that into something beautiful. Its nihilism isn’t the sullen, disappointed kind. It sees true beauty in the fact that we can weave the meaning of life in the space between those we love. Jobs don’t matter. Money doesn’t matter. Nothing matters but the relationships we make. We are not held to a specific plan, design, or purpose. We are just here to love and be loved. Isn’t that terrifying? But isn’t that beautiful. Any film that makes you cry at a conversation between rocks and at Jamie Lee Curtis with hot dog fingers was never going to be anything but the best movie of the year.